The Unicorn Scale: Bram Stoker's Dracula

By Talia Squires

October 31, 2021



Photo credit: Image/Columbia Pictures

Since being published in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been adapted countless times. There are reimaginings, retellings, graphic novels, plays, musicals (I need to find some of these), games, television shows, and of course, films. In honor of Halloween, I thought it would be fun to revisit one of my favorite versions. Let’s talk about Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

If you haven’t seen this or haven’t seen this recently, be prepared to yell “Ahhh, Baby Keanu Reeves” around minute 7. Don’t worry; he sticks around as Jonathan Harker, one of the main non-vampires. Along with Winona Ryder as Mina Harker, Gary Oldman as Count Dracula, and Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, this is a star-studded '90s extravaganza.

A baby faced Keanu Reeves wearing a victorian era suit in a dimly lit room.
Image/Columbia Pictures

Coppola clearly loves old horror movies and is not afraid to pay homage to the golden age of Hollywood. I appreciate the complete lack of modern (even modern for 1992) effects in here. It really adds to the dreamy splendor of the film.

Heads up, there will be SPOILERS, although I’m assuming that most of you know the general outline of the story. If not, you’ve been warned. Also, if you want to know more about how the Unicorn Scale works, check it out over here.

What I Liked:

Mina was an actual character with desires and motivations, and I feel like she is often portrayed as an object of desire with no will of her own. In this, she has some agency and falls in love with Dracula (or maybe a past version of Mina does, it's a little complicated). It's hard to blame anyone for preferring Dracula to the profoundly boring Jonathan. I've always found his character insufferable, even in the novel. Although much of the story is driven by all of these men trying to protect Lucy and Mina while also desiring them, she actually gets the last word in the film.

I know I’m not the only one who feels like Mina and her friend Lucy have some kind of sexual tension between them. Apparently, Coppola agrees with me as the two share a kiss in the shrubbery early on. It’s a pretty chaste kiss, but taken in the context of their giggling about sex and looking at some suggestive illustrations, it seems like this isn’t their first such kiss.

Lucy and Mina after sharing a kiss, laughing to themselves sitting near a garden.
Image/Columbia Pictures

Much later, when Mina finally gets the letter to join Jonathan abroad, the first thing she does is go to her friend Lucy. Lucy has been sick with a case of vampire, and Mina promises not to go to Jonathan unless Lucy allows it. When Lucy tells her to go to Jonathan, Mina gently and repeatedly kisses her friend's face before leaving to join her fiancé.

The human characters all seem to have a simmering level of desire under the surface that is not being fulfilled by the society of Victorian England. Every moment seems to have an erotic charge running under the surface. In one scene, Dracula stands behind Johathan, wraps his arms around him, and gently shaves his face. Is it a threat, a caress, a little of both?

Dracula holding a worried Jonathan by the neck as he holds a razor in his other hand shaving him.
Image/Columbia Pictures

There is, of course, the obligatory bisexual vampire orgy in which the three lady vampires in the basement seduce Jonathan and attempt to eat him. The orgy is an old-school game of guess the body part, and the lady vampires are playing with each other as well as Jonathan. A jealous Dracula charges in enraged that they attempted to take what he considered to be his. It’s implied that he meant they stole Jonathan as food, but again the act of eating a person is very sexual in this.

Although there are some bi moments, including a real vibe between Lucy and Mina and some strange chemistry between Dracula and Jonathan, this is really a story about being forced to hide your true passions and desires. This is something that I think most bi folks will be able to understand very well.

What I Didn’t Like:

You could argue this is a whole movie about sexual repression, a campy spooky gory wonderful movie about sexual repression that doesn’t actually avail itself to representation as we normally think of it. There are no out bi characters because the characters are afraid to express any desire. Sexuality and sexual desire are instead closely linked with vampirism.

When Lucy is ill after being bitten, she spends most of her time with a breast exposed, writhing orgasmically and groaning or trying to seduce the people caring for her. It seems that her own uncontrolled sexuality is what gets her in trouble in the first place. She is the more flirtatious of the two friends and the one who is lured out into the garden where she has sex with/is bitten by Dracula.

Desire and sexuality are things that need to be repressed. Jonathan gets trapped in a vampire orgy where he’s also lunch. Lucy writhes in diaphanous gowns. Dracula eventually awakens Mina’s own sexual desires, and eventually, she falls in love with him.

I would say that Dracula is oddly the most likable character. He lost the woman he loved and went a little batty. Yes, there was a lot of murder and blood drinking, but he did it for love. When he finally gets Mina, the object of his desire, he doesn’t want to turn her into a monster like himself. His resolve doesn’t last in the face of passion, but he tries. In fact, Dracula and Mina's passion end up being the most powerful force of the film.

Lucy with a large victorian dress smiles to someone off camera.
Image/Columbia Pictures

The Rating:

Ultimately this is a movie about sexual repression in Victorian England. It’s hardly surprising that there aren’t a lot of characters proudly shouting that they are bi and that most of the desire is about smoldering glances, lingering touches, and of course, eating people. That being said, a few bi moments did manage to shine through. Don’t watch this if you’re looking for an upbeat coming out story, but if you want a movie that explores what it means to have to hide your true desires, Bram Stoker's Dracula will be right up your alley.

3 Emojis of unicorn heads with purple mane.
Lucy as a vampire completely in white make up red lips and a white large dress walking with a stressed expression.
Image/Columbia Pictures


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