Director Francis Ford Coppola was insistent that he didn't want to use any kind of elaborate special effects or computer trickery when making the movie. He initially was given a standard visual effects team, but they told him that the things he wanted to achieve were impossible without using modern digital technology. Coppola disagreed and fired them, replacing them with his 29 year old son Roman Coppola, who set about achieving some of the effects by using old-school cinematic trickery. A thorough exploration of these effects can be found on the 2007 Special Edition DVD in the In Camera: The Naïve Visual Effects of 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' (2007) featurette and in the 'Heart of Darkness' article from Cinefax magazine (also found on the DVD), but some of the most interesting examples include: - When sitting in the train on his way to Transylvania, Jonathan Harker is looking at a map which appears superimposed on his face. This was a live effect achieved simply by projecting the image of the map onto actor Keanu Reeves' face on set. - In the same scene, outside the window, Dracula's eyes mysteriously appear in the sky, watching Harker as he travels. This was achieved by combining three separate shots. First, the shot of Gary Oldman's eyes was done with him wearing special makeup so that only his eyes would be visible when the image was projected onto the sky backdrop. The next shot involved the projection of the eyes onto the backdrop of the Carpathian Mountain set, making it appear as if two eyes are appearing in the sky. Then, a shot was taken of Keanu Reeves sitting in the train with the combined background/eye shot rear-projected through the window. - Another shot in this sequence involves a close up of Harker's journal with the train appearing to travel along the top of the book, blowing smoke across the pages. This was a forced perspective shot using a huge book and a tiny miniature train model. - After arriving in Translyvania, Harker is met by Dracula's carriage and the driver seems to magically reach out and lift Harker into the carriage. This shot was achieved by having the rider sitting on a camera crane which reached out and brought him towards Keanu Reeves. At the same time, the camera was moved to the right, so it appeared as if the rider's hand wasn't actually stretching, but was simply defying physics. For the lift, Reeves himself was also standing on a fake floor, which was in fact a movable rostrum which raised him up into the carriage. - As the carriage approaches the castle, there is a shot of the castle in the background as the carriage speeds along a narrow driveway. This was achieved by painting the image of the castle onto a piece of glass, and then positioning the glass in front of the camera whilst the scene of the carriage was shot on the sound stage. - The scene when Harker is shaving and Dracula approaches him from behind without a reflection in the mirror was shot by a classic technique as old as cinema itself. The actor with his back to the camera is actually Keanu Reeves double, not Reeves himself, and the 'mirror' is simply a hole in the wall, with the real Keanu Reeves standing on the other side in a portion of the set - hence when the hand touches the shoulder of the double there is no reflection to be seen because there is literally no mirror. - When Harker is exploring the castle, there is a shot of some rats walking on the ceiling upside-down whilst Keanu Reeves descends a staircase right-way-up. This was achieved by using a double exposure. First, the shot of the rats was done with the camera upside-down. Then the film was rewound and a matte box was placed in front of the lens so as to ensure only the correct portion of the image would be exposed. The camera was then turned right way up and the scene of Harker going down the stairs was shot. Due to the matte box, it appears as if the beam with the rats is above Reeves, and because it was shot upside-down, the rats appear to be defying gravity. - The first scenes in London after Dracula's arrival were shot with a real Pathé camera that was being hand cranked. It was also shot on a special Kodak stock to enhance the grain. There were no post-production effects added for this scene. - The scene when Dracula seems to magically catch Mina's bottle was shot by simply having two men and two bottles. On set Winona Ryder drops the bottle and Gary Oldman scoops down and catches it. The camera then pans up to reveal he is already holding it out to Mina seemingly without having raised his hand. In reality, the hand holding the bottle out is a double standing just behind Oldman, wearing identical gloves, and holding a completely different bottle. - For the scenes involving Dracula's POV, Francis Ford Coppola wanted to achieve something unusual, and it was ultimately decided to try to create something of staccato effect. These shots were created using an old piece of equipment called an intervalometer. When shooting at 24fps, an intervalometer trims the end of certain frames, and prevents the exposure of certain frames here and there, creating the 'jumpy' effect seen in the scene. Again, this was all accomplished in-camera, no post-production effects were added to the scenes.
Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder did not get along well at all during filming. The rest of the cast was shocked because the two actors had been friendly during rehearsals, then came back from a break in the schedule seemingly hating each other, with no indication given (then or later) as to what had happened.
In the scene where the heroes bust in on Dracula and Mina, Dracula turns into a bat-like creature and frightens the heroes out of their wits. Gary Oldman had problems with this scene, feeling constricted in the suit and not very scary. Francis Ford Coppola told him to whisper something scary into each actor's ear, which Oldman did with relish. No one knows what he said to them, but they all look absolutely terrified in the scene.
Director Francis Ford Coppola explains on the DVD commentary that Mina and Harker's wedding was a reshoot done at a Los Angeles Greek Orthodox church. They filmed the entire ceremony with a genuine Orthodox minister and realized afterwards that Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves really were married.
The little girl who played the child carried into the crypt by Lucy was genuinely terrified of Sadie Frost in her vampire make-up, and obviously wasn't expecting to do more than one take. Director Francis Ford Coppola and Sadie Frost had to do a lot of sweet-talking to the child in order to get her back in Sadie's arms for another go at the scene.
Gary Oldman was quite drunk the night they filmed the scene where he had to lick blood from Keanu Reeves's straight razor. The scene was filmed far beyond midnight, which added to the spirit of the scene and helped put the cast "in the proper mood".
At the first "cast meeting" called by Francis Ford Coppola, he got all the principal actors to read the entire Bram Stoker novel out loud to get a feel for the story. According to Anthony Hopkins, it took two whole days to complete.
Winona Ryder saw the script when it was originally going to be made as a TV movie, directed by Michael Apted. She took the script to Francis Ford Coppola, whom she had not spoken to since withdrawing from The Godfather: Part III (1990) due to exhaustion six months earlier. Coppola agreed to make the film, and Apted stayed on as executive producer.
During preproduction of the movie, director Francis Ford Coppola came up with the idea that when in the presence of a being such as a vampire, the laws of physics don't work correctly. This is why shadows often seem to act independently of the figure casting them, why rats can run along a ceiling upside-down and why liquid drips up instead of down.
Sadie Frost didn't bother auditioning for the part of Lucy as she figured that she was too physically similar to Winona Ryder. It was only after Francis Ford Coppola had real trouble casting the part, and had happened to see Frost's performance in Dark Obsession (1989), that she was approached.
In the scene where the count serves Jonathan Harker dinner after his arrival at the castle, the count mentions his ancestors were members of the Order of the Dracul. There was an actual Order of the Dracul (Dracul=dragon), an order of chivalry fighting against the Ottomans in the Balkans in the 1400s. Vlad Tepes, who the character of Dracula is loosely based on, was known as "Draculea", which means "son of the Dragon", as his father was a member of this order.
The name Dracula is borrowed from Vlad the Impaler, but the character of Dracula is never identified as being Prince Vlad in Bram Stoker's novel. Though he does identify himself as Prince Vlad in this film, the historical Vlad lived in the fifteenth century.
To help put himself in a grieving mood at Elisabeta's corpse in the opening prologue, Gary Oldman carried a photo album of his then young son Alfie during and would go through it before doing a take. Interestingly, he also doubled , but uncredited as the mysterious coach driver when Jonathan is taken into the castle from the pass.
Keanu Reeves said years after the movie came out that he wasn't happy with his work in it, stating he had been exhausted from making several films right on the heels of signing on as Jonathan Harker, and that he tried to raise his energy for the role "but I just didn't have anything left to give".
Costume designer Eiko Ishioka (who won an Oscar for the movie) had never seen a Dracula movie prior to being hired for this film. She was initially hired as the art director, but when Francis Ford Coppola saw some of her costume sketches, he immediately asked her to work as the costume designer.
The painting of Count Dracula which Jonathan Harker mentions after his arrival at the castle, is in fact a self portrait of Albrecht Dürer (a German painter, 1471-1528), but with Gary Oldman's face (the face of the young Count). The painting also served as inspiration for another vampire author's writings, Anne Rice, though she used it for her vision of a non-vampire character, that of Lasher, the spirit that haunts a family of witches in her series The Lives of the Mayfair Witches.
Director Francis Ford Coppola claims that Bram Stoker's name was included in the title because he has a tradition of putting the author's names in the titles of his movies that are adapted from novels, such as "Mario Puzo's The Godfather (1972)" and "John Grisham's The Rainmaker (1997)." Others have claimed, however, that Stoker's name was included in the title to avoid legal action from Univeral Studios, who claimed to own the rights to the simple title Dracula (1931).
Director Francis Ford Coppola notes on the DVD commentary that although the three actors playing Dracula's brides had agreed to appear nude in the film, everybody on the set was too timid to ask them to take off their clothes before filming their scenes. Coppola asked his son Roman Coppola to ask them, but Roman didn't want to do it, either, and asked another crew member to do it.
The majority of gowns worn by Mina/Elizabeta are in shades of green. In many cultures, green is associated with love, lust and sexual desire. Mina and Elizabeta's gowns also frequently feature leaf-motives, most likely Rosemary leaves, which symbolize both love and fidelity (in wedding bouquets) and death, loss and grief (in funeral wreaths).
At the beginning of the film, Jonathan Harker asks why the Count has purchased his houses in such specific locations, a question that is never answered in the film. The explanation given in the book is that the 50 boxes of Transylvanian earth were distributed throughout Dracula's houses in locations surrounding London so that Dracula would have many places to rest and regain his strength at daybreak, during which Dracula must rest only in either a coffin or the earth of his homeland (Transylvania).
Several elements of the film were taken from previous Dracula adaptations. Renfield being Harker's predecessor (the characters are completely unrelated in the novel) has been used in numerous previous Dracula films, starting with Nosferatu (1922). The scene of Dracula rising from his coffin for the first time is also taken from "Nosferatu." Dracula's line of dialogue, "I never drink...wine" has also been used in numerous previous Dracula films, originating with Dracula (1931). The idea of Dracula's motivation for coming to England being to find his reincarnated lost love was first used in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1974). The lunatics in the asylum rioting to signal the coming of Dracula was used in Dracula (1979). References to non-Dracula films include Dracula turning Mina's tears into diamonds, a reference to the Jean Cocteau film Beauty and the Beast (1946), Lucy's glass coffin, taken from the various versions of the "Snow White" story, and the window in Lucy's bedroom, taken from the Frank Capra film The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933).
Mina walks past an advertisement for the Lyceum Theatre and Henry Irving. Dracula author Bram Stoker managed the Lyceum, and Sir Henry Irving is rumored to be one of the primary inspirations for the character of Count Dracula.
The blue flame that the coach crosses over to enter the castle is mentioned in the original book. In the novel it is explained that on one night every year blue flames are seen over areas containing hidden treasures.
The film's original teaser trailer (which consists of blood forming the logo on a jagged surface and quick flashes of scenes from the film) was pulled from theaters by Columbia Pictures when patrons complained of it being too intense. This trailer appears on the Criterion edition laserdisc.
Originally, director Francis Ford Coppola had wanted to use highly impressionistic sets using only lights and shadows with minimum props. Instead he wanted to spend the entirety of the production design budget on the costumes. The studio however wouldn't allow this, and ordered him to build 'proper' sets.
It was Winona Ryder who brought the idea of redoing Bram Stoker's novel to Francis Ford Coppola's attention. She had been given a pile of scripts by her agent, one of which was titled "Dracula: The Untold Story". This was the first time Ryder had ever read anything to do with Dracula, let alone see a film about him. Coppola was interested as he saw it as a bridge-building exercise between him and Ryder after she had inexplicably dropped out of The Godfather: Part III (1990).
Costume Designer Eiko Ishioka was from Japan, and because the costumes had a Kabuki theater-like appearance, Gary Oldman's wig maker and hair designer Stuart Artingstall studied traditional Kabuki and Geisha hair styles and incorporated them into her unique and elaborate designs. Each wig was "built" and took many hours of painstaking work to thread each hair in a base individually, as is done in traditional opera companies.
One of the very few Dracula films in which, like in the novel, Dracula begins as a white-haired old man and becomes younger as he feeds on blood. His appearance as an old man is changed, however: in the novel he is described as "a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere," while in the film he wears a long red robe, is of average height, and does not have a mustache.
The battle scene in the prologue was originally intended to be performed with shadow puppets instead of actors. The idea was used later in the film when we see, in the cinema house, a shadow puppet battle similar to the prologue battle.
The main title music is reminiscent of the music of James Bernard, the composer of many of the Hammer Film Productions horror films of the late 50's, 60's, and early 70's, particularly the Christopher Lee "Dracula" films.
Writer James V. Hart started writing the screenplay in 1977. According to him, David Lean was the first choice to direct the movie, but was unavailable as he was working on Nostromo, which was eventually shelved after his death.
Although the film was never at risk of getting an NC-17 rating instead of an R (which is what Coppola and Columbia were aiming for anyway) from the MPAA, the director and studio agreed to cut some of the more ultra-gory images from the final film.
Miniatures were used extensively in the film. Examples can be seen when Dracula drops Mina off in the carriage; the house behind the gate is a miniature model. Also, when Mina looks out the window at Carfax Abbey when the men go there to sanitize Dracula's crates of soil, Carfax Abbey itself is a miniature model in this shot.
The Japan-based leadership of Sony was so new to Hollywood that after the film's record setting November 1992 premiere weekend, they asked the American executives if the $30 million+ box office tally was considered a good result.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Though the film is notable for being more faithful to Bram Stoker's novel than most other adaptations, numerous liberties were taken, including: The pre-title prologue and the subplot about Mina being the reincarnation of Dracula's wife are inventions of the film. The novel never explicitly identifies Dracula as Vlad the Impaler and Mina has no personal connection to Dracula. This alters later scenes taken from the novel, such as when Mina asks Dracula to turn her into a vampire and willingly drinks his blood. In the novel Dracula forces Mina to drink his blood and she is traumatized by the incident. * In the novel Dracula immediately dies and crumbles into dust after suffering the knife attacks by Harker and Morris. In the film he lives for several minutes after the attacks, and Mina delivers the final death blow. * In the film Van Helsing asks Mina for permission to hypnotize her, while in the novel it's Mina's idea and she asks Van Helsing to do it. * In the film Mina seduces Van Helsing and attacks him. This does not happen in the novel. * In the film Van Helsing presses a communion wafer against Mina's forehead to defend himself against her attack, while in the novel he does this to bless her and does not know it will burn her. * In the film Dracula transforms into large werewolf and bat creatures, while in the novel he only transforms into a regular wolf and bat. He also is not explicitly shown to have had sex with Lucy as in the film. * In the film, when Dracula is caught with Mina in her room, Jonathan comes into the room with the rest of the men. In the novel, Jonathan is also present with Mina when the men come into the room, lying in a stupor unable to move due to Dracula's hypnotic power over him. * In the film Dracula escapes Mina's room by turning into mist and going under the closed door, while in the film he turns into a hoard of rats and they scurry away. In the novel he turns into rats at Carfax Abbey while the men are destroying and sanitizing the crates of soil. * In the film Dracula transforms into a wolf and leaps into Lucy's room and attacks her. In the novel's version of this scene, the wolf is not Dracula himself, but a wolf escaped from the zoo that's under Dracula's hypnotic control, and it does not attack Lucy. In the film the escaped wolf appears when Dracula and Mina are at the cinema house, a scene not present in the novel. * In the film Dracula's brides call Harker into the room with the bed and when he lies down on it, they appear to rise up from beneath it, and they attack him before Dracula appears and scolds them. In the novel Harker wakes from sleep on a sofa and sees the brides standing before him, and Dracula appears before they have a chance to attack him. The brides also appear semi-nude in the film, while in the novel they do not. * In the film Renfield is shown to be Harker's predecessor and it's implied that his experience at Dracula's castle drove him insane, while in the novel Harker and Renfield are unrelated and Renfield's insanity is not implied to have been caused by Dracula. * In the novel none of the gypsies carrying Dracula to his castle are shot or killed. * In the film the blue flame is seen directly in front of Dracula's castle, while in the novel it's seen in the distance on the journey to the castle. The flame appears again later in the film, though only the one time in the novel.
Francis Ford Coppola screened the film for close friend, George Lucas. Lucas suggested that, in adherence to the vampire mythology, Mina should decapitate Dracula as the ultimate release for him to reach heaven. Coppola agreed and shot it three weeks before the film's release.
A scene that was storyboarded but not filmed involved Seward and Holmwood coming across the dead bodies of Harker, Morris, and Van Helsing impaled on posts before the climactic confrontation, and then realizing that this is simply a hallucination conjured by Dracula using his powers of psychological persuasion.