As the Nov. 13 opening of Francis Ford Coppola's vampire movie "Bram Stoker's Dracula" nears, the talk is that the highly anticipated $40-million project definitely is not for the faint at heart.
The word for months has been that it was too bloody, too erotic and too violent. Those who saw early versions at test screenings last summer say its gore level was way beyond anything in the director's "Godfather" films.
The result? In the intervening time, "Dracula" has been tamed by editing. Sources say the final, trimmed-down version still offers rivers of flowing fake blood, but the violence is much muted. Excised from the movie are some scenes that were deemed "too gross" for the average moviegoer.
According to a source who saw one version of Coppola's "Dracula" recently, the film comes across as "highly cinematic and stylish. It's constantly blurring horror and romance." Especially high marks were given to the detail in re-creating 19th-Century London.
The classic Gothic novel from which it is adapted has a complicated narrative, beginning in Transylvania in the 1400s, picking up four centuries later as Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) moves to London in search of the object of his desire. Anthony Hopkins is Oldman's nemesis. The film also co-stars Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves.
There are scenes in which Hopkins decapitates a young female vampire that are cross-cut with footage of someone slicing bloody roast beef. In another, Oldman licks a victim's blood off a knife. Also on the high-shock scale was an explicit encounter with Reeves and a trio of sexually voracious female vampires.
For one avowed Coppola fan, Reeves' performance came off as campy: "Bill and Ted go vampire hunting."
Apart from the more visceral reactions is the criticism that the story is hard to follow. Hopkins was subsequently brought back by Columbia in August to record additional narration. The film's opening sequence that sets up the drama was also re-shot.
But, the director's defenders say, since when doesn't a Coppola movie engender controversy? "We're making 'Dracula' here, we're not making 'Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,' " says co-executive producer Fred Fuchs. He called the film a "serious, intelligent adaptation" of Stoker's tale--one that explores the complexities of Dracula's personality as a man who acts in defiance of God, often in sexually deviant ways.
As to the director's fine-tuning, he countered: "Reports that it's been a troubled production are totally overblown."
Coppola himself even went on the record about such rumors. At the World Science Fiction Convention in Orlando, Fla., several months ago, he acknowledged that he was forced to scale back the bloodletting after showing a first cut to preview audiences.
The director said his interpretation of Stoker's original material is as "an erotic nightmare, whose message is that love is stronger than death."
Coppola was most recently quoted as saying that he believes that in the final cut, the sexual/blood/violence content have "all been balanced" with the picture's romance.