Dario Argento's Dracula 3D

Dario Argentos precipitous drop from the rank of elite horror director to laughable self parody has been one of the saddest things to watch as a genre fan over the last 30 years. Fans of the "Italian Hitchcock" (which I consider myself) have had the unfortunate task of watching Argento's skills erode since the end of his creative high point, 1987's Opera. To be fair, there have been some encouraging blips on the radar, the made for Italian TV film Do You Like Hitchcock?, the bat shit craziness of Mother of Tears, even the police procedural The Card Player had some redeeming value, and it's that value, those glimmers of hope that keep us coming back time and time again hoping that Argento can recapture some semblance of the genius he once showed.

It's those sentiments that keep leading us back to the Argento well. This time it's for his attempt at reinterpreting the classic vampire tale Dracula. Now I will be the first to admit that I am not, repeat not, an expert when it comes to all things Dracula, Vampire or Bram Stoker. I have seen numerous Hammer horror versions of the tale (Christopher Lee like a mother fucker), the Coppola version, and I love the 1979 Frank Langella version, but an expert I am not. So despite my misgivings I was sort of looking forward to seeing another version of the film.

Argentos version enlists Thomas Kretschman as the title character, his daughter Asia as Lucy Kisslinger
(Kiss Linger...it may be a thing, but I don't know if Argento is that clever), and Rutger Hauer as Draculas arch enemy Van Helsing. If any of that casting excites you, particularly Hauer's, keep your pants on. Argento mostly stays true to the book, but the changes he does make stand out like a sore thumb. In Argentos version it's Jonathan Harker who comes to "organize the Count's library." His wife, Mina, comes after him a few days later, but gets stalled by Lucy long enough (through non-nefarious means) for the Count to have his way (non sexually) with her husband. Van Helsing arrives later (a lot later) to vanquish Dracula (maybe) and the story is a wrap. It's the same basic paint by numbers Dracula tale we've seen time and time again.

It's clear by the way Argento approaches the film that he is a fan of both the Hammer version of the stories and the overwrought parts of the Coppolla version. Kretschmans performance is kind of all over the place. He's 65% Christopher Lee and 35% Gary Oldman...the problem is he's 0% Thomas Kretschman. The rest of the cast is adequate at best. Asia Argento can act...I've seen it, but you wouldn't know that by what she does here. She's used mainly as one Argentos pretty props.Which was novel the first few times he did it, but now it just seems a little creepy.

Like I stated above, Argento's film borrows heavily from the Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing Hammer films of the seventies. And that's when the film is at it's best, when Argento lets the craziness fly. Look no further than Dracula appearing as a swarm of flies at a meeting then destroying everyone there for everything this film could have been. However even it's craziness gets out of hand, the CGI preying mantis looks ridiculous. It's something that any reasonable director would have looked at and said "we have to do better."

But it's not going overboard that dooms the film. It's the over wrought down right whininess that Kretschman brings forth while trying to channel Oldman that makes the film almost impossible to watch. Much like Asia Argento, Kretschman can act. But for some reason Dario just cannot seem to get a good performance out of anyone! Even Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing, once he finally shows up in the film, looks bored out of his mind. I thought he was going to fall asleep in a couple of scenes. I often wonder if he would just let the film be in Italian rather than the clumsy English or clumsy dubbing that permeate his last few films. It just feels so unnatural and is again one of those things that never plagued an Argento film during his hey day....or maybe it's just extremely difficult for good actors to wrap their tongues around such a horrible script, regardless of what language it's spoken in.

As I prefaced above, I am not a Dracula expert, but I understand the duality that is being Dracula, how he is basically evil because he is heartbroken - a very simplified version yes, but essentially that is his conflict. Argento seems to understand this too, however he is not skilled enough as a writer (to be fair three other people helped with the script) to be able to show the subtleties of the duality. Showing Dracula massacre a room full of folks conspiring against him (in an admittedly awesome scene) then having him whine because he's misunderstood and lonely 5 minutes later. There have to be shades of grey to a character. One of the reasons Oldman's version of Dracula works - even as the lovelorn, heartbroken Dracula, is because that part of him is in everything he does. Argento's Dracula works in black and whites and fails when he does so.

Dario Argento's Dracula shows some flashes of the brilliance that used to permeate his greater works. Unfortunately, there is just too much of the same shit that Argento has been trying to sell us over the last three decades. It feels lazy, rushed, and under developed. It's a shame to see how far Argento has fallen...but I still hold out hope that one of his films will allow him to recapture some of his former glory. Dracula just isn't that film.

* 1/2 stars out of *****

Thanks For Reading and "Enjoy Every Sandwich"

No comments:

Post a Comment