Francis Ford Coppola's lavish version of Bram Stoker's classic novel is a visual cornucopia, overstuffed with images of both beauty and grotesque horror.

Coppola has assembled a virtual Who's Who of young screen heartthrobs, all of whom--from Winona Ryder to Gary Oldman to Keanu Reeves to Cary Elwes--do their stuff against a range of brilliantly realized settings. Count Dracula's Transylvanian lair has a deliberately tongue-in-cheek, mythological

aura, and Victorian England is brought to life through meticulous, and humorous, production design.

DRACULA also boasts some impressive special effects, and Coppola clearly enjoys recreating the cutting-edge technology of the late 19th century, from a primitive blood-transfusion apparatus to the earliest moving pictures. The problem is that the visual pyrotechnics and period detail tend to blunt

the dramatic impact of a narrative that's pretty bloodless to begin with. James V. Hart's screenplay sticks fairly close to Stoker's novel but loses steam after about 20 minutes, when continual cutting between different storylines creates more confusion than tension.

It's also hard to gauge the tone of this adaptation. Hart sets up an archly romantic relationship between the Count (Oldman) and a beautiful young woman (Ryder) who's a dead ringer for the love he lost centuries earlier. The couple's "love conquers all" scenes can't be taken seriously, but it's

not entirely clear how ironic DRACULA is intended to be. Not, that is, until the late arrival of Anthony Hopkins as Professor Van Helsing. Hopkins clearly recognizes this big, overblown, theme park ride for what it is, and wisely decides to inject some campy humor into the proceedings. The

resulting combination is fun--but not as much fun as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.