My earliest memory of Dario Argento came not from seeing a movie, but seeing a commercial for one of his movies: SUSPIRIA. I was eleven, and there was this television ad with a woman (seen from behind) brushing her hair and putting a flower in it while singing, “Roses are red, violets are blue, the iris is a flower… THAT WILL BE THE END OF YOU!” as the ‘woman’ turns around to reveal a skeleton.
That freaked me out.
And that was the last time I was ever freaked out by anything Argento has ever done.
Now don’t get me wrong, I admire the huge influence Argento has had on the horror genre: John Carpenter has repeatedly named him as a major inspiration, he worked with George Romero on the original DAWN OF THE DEAD, and he wrote the script for Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS (1985), one of my personal favourites from that decade. He has an impressive body of work (SUSPIRIA, TENEBRAE, INFERNO, OPERA, TRAUMA, TWO EVIL EYES) and his work, while perhaps not as coherent as one might like, has often been beautiful and lyrical, evoking emotion rather than intellect.
But that can’t only take you so far. I’ve always found Argento to be on the Charlie Sheen side of sanity, and while he produced some nightmarish sequences in his movies, trying to view them as a whole is like trying to follow a monologue by Gary Busey while he’s eating a McRib sandwich. Argento certainly wouldn’t be the first horror filmmaker of his generation to go into decline. But at least many of those contemporaries of his have had the good sense to shift their attentions into other work, or at least for not tarnishing their reputations with later failures. I suppose it’s like when you hear about a veteran heavyweight boxer coming back from retirement after many years to have another shot at glory; you admire them, you’d love for them to have a taste of victory again, but you feel that dread in the pit of your stomach that they’re gonna end up on their asses on the floor of the ring looking like they just finished watching INCEPTION…
And I see that I’ve been putting off talking about Argento’s latest work, DRACULA 3D. That’s because the word ‘shit’ can only be typed so many times before you start to feel like you’re writing a Rob Schneider script. Francis Ford Coppolla’s adaptation of the Dracula story back in 1992 had its detractors, but for many it remained the definitive depiction of the Count, his love for Mina, and Dracula’s Nemesis Van Helsing. Many would question a need for another telling of the tale. Especially in 3-D. And from Dario Argento. And they’d be right.
And I didn’t have to wait long to have this confirmed. The movie opens with some of the cheapest looking credit sequences I have seen in a long time. I don’t mean minimalist, I mean cheap, and with that weird whistle music that will remind you of bad old horror and science fiction movies from the 50s. Is it intentional on Argento’s part? To evoke that nostalgia? I doubt it. What’s more ludicrous is that this appears after an opening title card that declares that the movie had received partial government funding, and identifies DRACULA 3D as “a film of national cultural interest.”
The movie opens like a thousand other Dracula movies open, in some Transylvanian village where a young couple sneak out to have sex in a stable, and after a contrived and idiotic argument (three writers worked with Argento on the script, proof enough that More can be Less) she walks off alone, only to be pursued and attacked by what appears to be an owl, but obviously isn’t…
Oh hell, I can’t proceed with a detailed synopsis of this. You know the story, though one of Argento’s liberties taken is keeping the story completely within Transylvania. Maybe I should just give you the highlights?
We have a Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann, who played the steamship captain in Peter Jackson’s 55-hour-long KING KONG) who kept reminding me more of an airbrushed Liam Neeson than a creature of the night, and comes across with all the majesty of a man booking his next haircut.
We have a Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA) who looks like Keanu Reeves, and acts just as well.
We have Jonathan’s wife Mina (Marta Gastini, THE RITE), who has the screen presence of a bag of fertilizer and reacts to the news of the apparent death of her husband with all the anguish of a woman losing a game of Suduko.
We have Mina’s flirty girlfriend Lucy (Argento’s daughter Asia, LAND OF THE DEAD), and admittedly Asia looks quite alluring in her nude scenes, though I suspect for many the erotic factor dips when you realise it’s her 72 year old father filming her.
We have a mix of crappy practical effects like an axe to the head, and crappy CGI when we see Dracula become Manimal and turn into wolves, flies, owls and, in one WTF? Moment, a giant praying mantis. Can I write that again, please? Dracula turns it into a giant fucking praying mantis. I don’t know if the eponymous vampire does that in the original book, but really…
We have a Van Helsing in Rutger Hauer (HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN) looking like he just arrived on set after a 19 hour flight, and aware too late that he’s helping bring a dog into the cinematic world, especially as he walks around sets that couldn’t look more like sets if they’d left the paintbrushes sitting around. That it takes more than an hour for him to appear, and only sticks around for ten minutes, doesn’t help.
There is one scene, though, that almost made me sit up and take notice: when Dracula invades a room where his human collaborators are planning to betray him, and proceeds to open a massive can of undead whoop-ass on them. But then, like an old man’s boner when his hot daughter in law walks by, it vanishes quickly.
I suppose the nicest thing I can say about it is that it is pretty much what I would expect a Dario Argento adaptation of Dracula would be like. I didn’t watch this in 3-D, because frankly the craptitude was enough in two dimensions. The trailer follows, watch it and employ the ninety minutes you’ve saved watching the full movie doing something better:
Director: Dario Argento
Plot: 1 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien. The D is silent. And has one of those umlauts hanging over it. Bitches love diacritical marks.