Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Cinema File #177: "Dario Argento's Dracula 3D" Review

As much as I am a horror fan, and specifically horror of the 70's and 80's, I've never really been all that much of a Dario Argento devotee. I've never disliked him as a director, but I've also never really been all that excited about him either. The last Argento film I saw before today was Two Evil Eyes, and evidently I haven't been missing much, as my brief bit of research on the last few decades of the director's work suggests that he's had something of a Shyamalanian drop in quality since I stopped paying attention. Now, I'm never one to take the word of critical consensus blindly, so when I saw that the man who brought us Deep Red and Suspiria had produced his own vision of Bram Stoker's Dracula, I was legitimately intrigued. This is an instinct that I now regret deeply.

I haven't read the Stoker novel since highschool, but just from the few things I do remember, I know enough to recognize how little this takes from the original source material. If you've seen it, you know what an absurd understatement that is, but I'll try to convey just what I'm getting at without too many spoilers, as if that really matters for a movie like this. The basic story follows the characters of Jonathan and later Mina Harker as they interact with the titular Count, who essentially owns the small rural village near his castle and has been terrorizing its citizens for years. The movie begins with a scene that if I didn't know any better I would have taken for the porn parody of a Dracula movie, complete with a far too clearly lit and staged sex scene showing everything but the insertion, and the quality only went down hill from there.

Actually, that's not entirely true. In retrospect, the tone and overall quality of the film is a bit schizophrenic, with the first half ascending to new heights of boring tedium, laughable performances and special effects, while the second half gradually morphs into the kind of mad cap schlocky insanity that I can actually get behind. This shift is marked by the arrival of Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing who instantly imbues new life and energy into a film badly in need of it, and he should have been in the movie a lot more and a lot sooner. Before his introduction, the only character I was really all that interested in was Renfield, who seems to be the only actor who gives a crap for large swaths of the movie, including the title character.

Beyond Bela Legosi's performance, I've always found the original Dracula to be a bit boring, but the first half of this movie puts the Tod Browning film to shame on this score. Characters mill about aimlessly, as if distracted from their lines or expecting a cut that comes late or not at all, at many points set against some of the worst green screen work I've ever seen in a movie. And on the special effects front, if even my incredibly low standards aren't met, you've got a problem, and this is just sad. Dracula turns into all sorts of creatures in this movie, an owl, a wolf, a swarm of bugs, and perhaps most notably a giant preying mantis (but never a bat, naturally), and even the best one of these looks like an FMV cut scene from a Playstation One game. I would laugh if it all weren't so emotionally draining.

As I said, the second half gets a lot better, but then only in comparison to the first half which is practically unbearable. Once we get to about the first hour mark we get our first legitimately fun moment as Dracula takes part in a particularly gruesome and over the top massacre of some conspiratorial townsfolk, and Hauer comes in pretty much right after this to start kicking vampire ass left and right for the rest of the movie. We get some cross stabbing, some immolation, and a nice climactic fight in a graveyard, even if the resolution involves the use of silver bullets, which as I've mentioned on this blog before, really need to be reserved for werewolves. Vampires have enough weaknesses that we can easily keep them separated.

Dracula 3D ends on a relatively high note I suppose, but only because so much of it is so terrible that you have to grasp at whatever straws you can to keep from letting the awfulness completely overtake you. It is as if this film wishes to entrance you as Dracula would a nubile victim, overpowering your will to resist with the sheer might and magnetism of its shittiness until you lack the strength to fight against its efforts to suck the life out of you. Rutger Hauer saves Mina from her fate just in time to save the audience as well, but much like the end of the film, what we are left with is a lot of pain and misery in the wake of this monster's demise, left to pick up the pieces and move on with our lives, or whatever is left of them. As much as I don't want to be a critic who uses puns, this movie sucks. It really, really does.

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