March 17, 2013

Mantis in Lace or Welcome to the Olive Garden, I'm Count Dracula, I Will be Your Waiter Tonight

Yesterday I finally watched Argento's 3-D version of Dracula and the results are just as dire as you must have already have heard from the other critics both online and elsewhere in the media. The fact that this film has so little to recommend it beyond the reputation of its director gives the whole project a sad glow of former glory, and now disappointment from those die hard Argento fans who will watch anything that bears his name. The producers of this film had insisted that Argento's name be part of the title and wisely so since there would be no other reason to give this film a go without it.

From the titles that flow across the screen as the audience is made to feel like they are flying through what looks like a Hammer films location of vintage Carpathia, we are aware that this is going to be a film based on a patchwork of other horror films that came before.The opening sequence takes its cue from Fisher's THE GORGON where a randy couple make love and then argue allowing the girl to run through a dark wood only to meet her death at the hands of a supernatural being.  The Warhol DRACULA is also referenced in scenes involving both Asia Argento as well as the other women in the cast. 

If you are remotely a fan of this man's work as I have been, you keep hoping that things will get better, however they do not. In fact they get a whole lot worse. The sheer lack of interest Argento invests in framing his set pieces regardless of content is just depressing. Dracula as conceived in this 3-D version is played by a fine actor named Thomas Kretschmann, whose line readings are devoid of any emotion which could have been effective if Argento had given this actor a real dramatic framework in which to play his role, instead he is introduced like a waiter at the Olive Garden. 

This was an expensive production for Argento to mount, simply because of the 3-D and if more attention had been paid to the script, which is so dreadful it is absurd to think it took four writers to create such a lackluster set of scenes. Filled with boring conversations that act as filler between the violence and mayhem, which oddly enough is very tame considering the director, that is, until its final conclusion...

Asia Argento is very disappointing as Lucy, a role, which in other versions of Dracula, always rivals the introduction of the three brides of Dracula. One of the memorable moments in any adaptation of the Stoker text is the entrance of these mysterious figures. Sadly, Asia is given next to nothing to do until she is brought over to the dark side and then she manages to hiss like she is at an audition for the part before being destroyed by badly conceived CGI fire.  This is a film rife with so many missed opportunities. For example: Asia Argento as the "Bloofer Lady" in Stoke'rs novel when Asia returns as an undead with a child in her arms. This could have been a great moment in the film, but like everything else here, Argento gives little consideration to creating any real intensity for his vampires.  The now infamous "Praying Mantis" moment where Dracula turns into one, as well as transforming into a swarm of flies, a wolf an owl, and it is suggested when Harker arrives at the castle, a spider. are so badly done it's simply laughable and not in a camp or fun way. It just looks like desperation on Argento's part to try and do something different for his fans to hang onto and I am sure many die hard admirers will do just that.

Rutger Hauer as an actor has long been a staple in direct to video fare and one cants help but feel his role here is to justify just where Dario's sensibilities were at this time of filming. Hauer arrives in this film very late in the game and looks dreadful and rather disinterested in the whole affair. It even looks in a couple of scenes like he is reading from cue cards.  This is a Van Helsing that is so devoid of any energy to combat evil that he almost phones in the whole performance.  

Dracula 3-D would have been a cult classic if it this version belonged to say Charlie Band around 1977 as perhaps a Full Moon release but in the marketplace of 2013 it is simply not good enough to even rate a Blu-ray except for the Argento name which still stands for a lot in spite of what this film may have done to his already tarnished reputation.  I will say in his defense that Dario Argento has contributed some of the most surreal and ultra violent films in Horror cinema. Argento has given so much to the spectator over the years that we must step back a moment and allow this film to find whatever place it will have in Dario's oeuvre. This must be regarded as one would his involvement in the more impersonal, finance-focused projects where he did not participate in the script process to the degree he did in such masterworks as DEEP RED. This version of Dracula may not stand the test of time as his other films certainly do, but perhaps enough time will pass that we can re-examine it within the context of a career that is without equal in the horror genre. Argento  has sparked an entire generation of horror filmmakers that followed in his wake with a collection of films that ran from the mystical triumphs of SUSPIRIA and INFERNO to the Gialli that became his signature. I would like to believe that Argento's DRACULA will not be his last film. So, before any of us decide to write Argento off as a fallen master of the macabre, lets wait and see what's on the slab shall we?

A clip from Dracula 3D....if you can stand it!


  1. I have to congratulate you David on actually watching the whole of this movie. I tried last night, and despite my best efforts, I faltered at the forty minute stage. Argento films have suffered from dreadful screenplays as far back as PHENOMENA (which is where I personally feel the rot started for Mr. Argento), but they always had a wonderful and surreal visual sensibility to fall back on. It would appear Argento cannot even provide that now. The CGI in this looked so cheap and tacky that I felt I was watching some pre-JURRASIC PARK CGI test film.

  2. Ooff - it looks and sounds like a piss-poor Italian knock-off of Coppola's film, down to the costume design, filmed on Dr. Who-in-the-80s video and dubbed by some half-asleep outfit working in between kung fu pictures. Thanks for taking the silver bullet on this one, David, for our mothers' sakes. Looks Dario couldn't even afford a real cross.

    After this, Giallo, Mother of Tears, Phantom, Card Player, Hitchcock, it's becoming scarier to believe a maestro like Argento could just lose his talent so completely that not a trace of it remains. Was he perhaps abducted and replaced by a reptillian stand-in. Or maybe -- as I sometimes worry about in my own writing-- he's said everything he has to say and is just coasting on reflex.

    Another thought - his best films were made in the late 1960s-70s, the time of est, acid, and free love. Today is the age of conservative demonizing, antidepressants, and idolotry. Since all his old films are avail. in great DVDs he maybe thinks he can't repeat himself... but it never stopped Hawks! Brother, film what you know, and exhume the art noveau doors!