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Oscar Horrors: Redressing Dracula

HERE LIES … Eiko Ishioka’s costume work for Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), which smothered the rest of the nominees with reams upon reams of flamboyant fabric to slither away with the statue that year. And it damn well deserved it, too.

JA from MNPP here. In the fall of 1992 I was fifteen years old and had found myself in the first blushes of cinemania, and as a budding horror enthusiast I was obsessed with Francis Ford Coppola’s film before it had even come out. It was more difficult way back then before the internet so we relied on things called “magazines” to keep us in the know, but I went one step further where this movie was concerned – I bought the “pictorial moviebook,” as it calls itself on the cover, and I studied it like the bible. And with its heavy focus on Ishioko’s work it was the first time I’d ever given much thought to a film’s costuming.

As Coppola had said, he wanted the costumes to be the set…

And are they ever. Ishioka was a visual artist and had done some memorable work for the stage version of M. Butterfly and Paul Schrader’s 1985 film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters before this, and she brought with her an eccentric batch of influences, to put it mildly. From the human musculature that influenced Dracula’s armor in the opening scenes…

Visual splendor and bizarre influences after the jump...

… to John Lennon and Gustav Klimt…

… to the Australian fringed lizard that was the template for Lucy’s instantly iconic wedding / funeral gown…

… her costumes were like watching a Hammer film while on acid.

Nowadays with television programming like Project Runway where we see people told on a weekly basis to make a dress that looks like a Tupperware full of spaghetti it might seem quaint, but at the time for a kid in a small town this sort of symbolic expression through costuming seemed revolutionary.

It wouldn’t be until years later that I’d see similarly hallucinogenic outfits in the films of Kenneth Anger and Alejandro Jodorowsky, obvious precursors to this sort of thing, so there will always be a scorch-mark inside my head that looks like that billowing orange gown that Lucy meets her wolf-man lover in. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Do you recall your first encounter with Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)?

previously on Oscar Horrors

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Reader Comments (6)

This is one of those movies that I VIVIDLY remember seeing for the first time. I remember planning for it to come out. wondering what it would be like. everything. I remember it far more vividly than movies i thought were better than it was that year.

and the costumes were definitely a highlight. In the year's past i've often thought if he really wanted costumes as sets he should have done away with the sets and just really gone minimalist other than the costumes.

October 24, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

The sets are minimalist for a period film. The current DVD/BLURAY version of the film is digitally darkened, color saturation muted--this was done to recreate Coppola's intention and to match the archived answer print.

October 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Jason discussing costume design! Amazing.

These costumes are indeed stunning. I was disappointed when she wasn't nominated for "The Cell". I'm finally getting the chance to see "The Fall" in a week or two (it never received a release in Australia if you can believe it) and I'm sure I'll be disappointed all over again. At least she won the Oscar for "Dracula" though.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Oh yes. I was like 4 when the movie came out and my earliest memory of watching it was probably around 95/96. Nevertheless, as a kid I was a huge collectibles buff, everything from figurines to stickers, you name it. And I remember really well that for these chocolate-filled buns we have back here in Portugal (called Bollycao) they did a series on this movie. Suffice to say I glued a sticker of lizard-veiled-vampire-bride Lucy to my bed only to have nightmares with her for months :P

Love the movie and always have. Gary Oldman is outstanding in this and should've gotten much more recognition for this. I always tear up with Annie Lennox's "Love Song" while the end credits roll.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZé Vozone

I saw this movie when I was a kid, and the costumes were incredible to me! They fascinated me. The movie is kind of mediocre at times, and some of the scenes are downright laughable, but the costumes. . . wow. Just wow.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEsther

I never saw this film (I'm allergic to onscreen bloodiness, admittedly), but I did catch a clip one day years ago, a scene where Oldman and Ryder are talking in a public place whilst a movie is screened in the background, and being confused by the mash-up: Ryder's green dress (perhaps the one in the top photo?) and hat were very much of the mid-1880's, very correct in silhouette, whilst the film playing in the background was probably circa-1900's. (The Great Train Robbery? A Melies film?) I suppose Coppola was being purposefully anachronistic? Not seeing the film in context it merely felt sloppy - but that green bustle dress and hat were lovely. That's what I remember most. I would never have imagine petite Winona could have looked so good in that bustle and hat and not seem engulfed.

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice
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