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Review: Dario Argento’s ‘Dracula 3D’

Review: Dario Argento's 'Dracula 3D'

With “Dracula 3D,” we finally know which of the great ’70s genre
filmmakers have fallen the hardest, and the answer is Dario Argento. The Italian
horror pioneer was one of the leading lights of the giallo movement, and early
career masterpieces like “The Bird With The Crystal Plumage” and “Suspiria” led
the way to later triumphs like “Tenebre” and “Opera.” Most knew the director
had lost a step in recent years: he closed a thematic trilogy that started with
“Suspiria” and “Inferno” with the dopey gorefest “Mother Of Tears” and was also
behind the borderline-unreleasable “Giallo.” But the latter case could at least
be blamed on a runaway production that ran out of money, while the former was a
trashterpiece delight. But there’s not a single moment of “Dracula 3D” where
you don’t look at the screen, forget all about those early genre touchstones,
and think, “What the hell is this?” You’d like a 3D Dracula film would be
something every horror filmmaker had on their bucket list, but if Argento
actually made this, it has to be because he bet someone he could make a movie

The story is a relatively straight-faced adaptation of the classic tale,
with Jonathan Harker (the awesomely named Unax Ugalde) visiting the reclusive
Count Dracula and disappearing under circumstances that are meant to be a
mystery to the audience who bought a ticket to “Dracula 3D.” Unfortunately,
this is one of those green-screen disasters where everything feels too
pristine, too clean: Dracula himself is played by the handsome Thomas Krestschmann,
having a great time, though his look feels straight from the makeup table.
There’s absolutely nothing lived-in about this man who exhales with grace as he
discusses the “children of the night.” Some moments, where the characters stand
in front of still backgrounds of castles and cabins, feel amateurish in 2013.
Other artificial effects, such as a choo-choo-realistic train station, look
like they’re derived from a ’90s PBS kids’ show.

The serviceable Marta Gastini is Mina Harker, Jonathan’s virginal bride, and
we have to wait for her to slowly get the clue that Jonathan has disappeared
because of Dracula: it’s great that there are no self-aware winks, of course, but
you really can’t just get up and make a “Dracula” movie in 2013 without
acknowledging you are the latest of the late to the party. At least Argento
gooses the proceedings by again recruiting his daughter, Asia Argento, to play
Lucy, who falls prey to the vampire spell, and gives Mina the hint
that Dracula is behind it all.

Enter Rutger Hauer as Abraham Van Helsing, a role that should be catnip to
the veteran performer who can bring both a knowing layer of camp as well as an
unironic gravitas to whatever garbage he’s in. Witness, and appreciate, how he
turned a gimmicky role in the grotesque “Hobo With A Shotgun” into a borderline
Shakesperean accomplishment, a “badass” posture given a surprisingly humane
level of depth. Here, any Hauer fan has to be heartbroken: he genuinely looks
lost and terrified, like he has no idea what’s going on, and is desperately
scrambling to remember his lines. His eyes dart in different directions
randomly, uncertain where to look, and his blocking is tentative and reluctant.
It’s cruel to imagine such a thing, but considering the history of this particular
Van Helsing, you wonder if he’s playing the part as a sufferer of Alzheimer’s.

It’s possible Argento knows he’s got a turkey on his hands, but he’s never
been too pretentious to avoid the juvenile appeal of the genre. Unlike other
filmmakers, he understands what 3D is best used for: blood and boobs. His craft
deserts him on more than a few occasions here, but there is one standout
massacre where Dracula keeps mutating into a CGI blur to fricassee a couple of
villagers trapped inside with him, tossing weapons at the audience and letting
blood fly so far into the air that it’s complete seconds before we see it spill
back into the frame from above. He also convinces daughter Asia to participate
in a completely gratuitous bath scene, though most of the cheesecake is
provided by the impossibly gorgeous Miriam Giovanelli as one of Drac’s minions. At least this thing was
fun to cast.

“Dracula 3D” is that rarest of bad movies: it feels impossible, like it
shouldn’t exist. Even Uwe Boll would have instituted some quality control at
some point. Entire backgrounds feel like unfinished effects, and the
performances seem like half the product of failed camp, and half the results of
actors who have no idea what their director wants, resulting in indifferent
staging when characters aren’t nude. The standout, and maybe the funniest movie
moment of the year, has to be when Dracula, a shapeshifter, becomes a massive
praying mantis, turning into the sort of Clip Art graphic you used to see on
the cover of “Goosebumps” books. This is the sort of movie that should be
playing in the background on an episode of “Tim And Eric,” and yet instead it’s
being released by IFC Films. Bring alcohol. [D-]

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