July 12, 2013

Dracula 3D (2012)

I've been in two minds about writing anything about Dario Argento's "Dracula 3D" not because I'm a known hater of everything Dario Argento has ever produced apart from "Mother of Tears" (and Asia) but because everyone else in the horror movie reviewing universe has already been as negative as humanly possible about this film before me.

It's not that I usually care about being late in the game when it comes to movie reviews—I'm known for writing about what I want when I want—but this time it's annoyed me even more than having to put a lazy emdash parenthesis in the middle of my sentence. Really, what's left to say about "Dracula 3D" that hasn't been said hundreds of times before? Nothing. We all know that "Dracula 3D" is a terrible movie with mostly horrible performances, bad dubbing, cheap CGI, rushed action scenes, and no originality whatsoever other than a "WTF" moment caused by a giant praying mantis.

What makes everything worse is that every review reads like a carbon copy of the same thing. It's as if someone gave out a press pack before "Dracula 3D" was even released and said, "There ya go, have at it! Hate away!" Judging by the number of reviews which came out before any normal person had access to the movie, I wouldn't be surprised if that very thing happened either.

Yes, I know that the big name horror sites often get advance screenings and a ton of promotional goodies that the independent bloggers are unlikely to see, but even the little guys were hating "Dracula 3D" before it was available to the general public. That tells me two things: 1. They didn't even watch the film, and 2. They lazily copied what the "big names" had to say. While a few may have bothered to watch the trailer, the whole thing reeks of "Rex Reed Syndrome".

So just to be different and a total contrarian, I'm going to tell you what I liked about "Dracula 3D" based on watching it half a dozen times in its entirety. It will surprise you to know that, yes, I liked it. I don't think it's the greatest version of "Dracula" ever made or anything ridiculous like that, but it's not as bad as the "critics" would have you believe. Well, except for the giant praying mantis and other CGI of course.

The first thing that I noticed was how minimalist the set decoration was. While not exactly "Dogville", there's very little in the way of props which aren't necessary to the action. Now, while some people would blame that on the budget, it's clearly intentional. With a budget of over $5,000,000, it's not as if Dario Argento couldn't afford furniture or ornaments, he just decided not to clutter up the scenes with them.

I never thought I'd ever defend a Dario Argento movie, but stuff like this goes back to the "Chekhov's Gun" rule and shows that the director actually knows what he's doing. You can't write Dario Argento off as some hack who hastily threw everything together with the intention of making a bad movie. If you watch closely, you'll even see that more props and set dressing are added as the film progresses. Sometimes the reverse is true too. The effect is like a line drawing being filled in with more details the more you look at it or having unnecessary bits rubbed out. I'd say that was pretty damned clever.

Another criticism is that Dario Argento has too much nudity in this movie compared to his others, but I fail to see how that is a problem especially given that the source material is supposed to a analogous to sexual promiscuity in the first place. Although that oversimplifies the themes used in Bram Stoker's novel, the sexual and erotic nature of the story is one thing which every filmmaker has picked up on over the years. So what's the problem? Did people not find Miriam Giovanelli arousing as Tania? Or was it just that Dario filmed his daughter Asia naked in some perceived to be pervy way? We're talking about professionals here making a professional movie. In the case of Asia being filmed by her father, who's to say that he was even on set at the time? Let's face it, as someone who changed Asia's diapers when she was a baby, it's not as if Dario hasn't seen his own daughter nude before. There's no perversion here, just European arty types who aren't ashamed of their own bodies. Why should they be? It's how God created us! Anything else that you read into those few seconds of film are just your own sick fantasies.

The thing is, I thoroughly appreciate both Miriam Giovanelli and Asia Argento getting naked in "Dracula 3D". Both are incredibly gorgeous women although Asia does sometimes look a lot like her dad facially and it's slightly off-putting. The tease of nudity was always in the Hammer movies which "Dracula 3D" liberally homages, but it's well and truly realised here.

Yes, that's a segue (as I continue to write in a self-conscious and self-referential way just because I can) to all the other homages in "Dracula 3D". Of course the new Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann) dresses like Max Schreck in "Nosferatu" (1922), spouts the "Listen to the children of the night..." line from the 1931 adaptation, and crawls up the wall like Christopher Lee in "Scars of Dracula" (1970), so what? It's all inspired by Stoker. How is that anything to get bent out of shape over? Thomas Kretschmann's acting isn't exactly lousy, and the big action scene where he takes out a room full of peasants is absolutely fantastic. Even the hypocritical, prudish Americans should be appeased by the violence and gore which they find more acceptable than the horror of seeing a nipple or two.

People really don't like the love story aspect of "Dracula 3D", which is a shame since Francis Ford Coppola did well out of it. Again, Dario Argento is merely homaging all the other movie versions of "Dracula" which incorporated the same un-Stokerish plot. Thus, while not being the "definitive version" of Bram Stoker's "Dracula", "Dracula 3D" certainly ties up all the movie adaptations well enough.

Dracula fans have always hoped that someone will make a mini-series several days long which really puts the novel to bed once and for all, but it's not likely to happen any time soon. I can't fault Dario Argento for not overreaching himself here either. He's just not the right kind of director for an intrically detailed adaptation of a Victorian novel which nobody reads anymore. But why then choose to remake "Dracula" which is already the most remade horror story of all time? The answer is complicated, but I'll try to explain my theory at the end of this post.

What I enjoyed most about "Dracula 3D" was the languid pace which is so European and perfect for a vampire movie. I felt pleasantly relaxed and was able to get immersed in what little atmosphere there was. The lack of atmosphere is possibly my main criticism of the movie since it's neither Hammer-esque nor typically Argento. The CGI is weird and jarring although it fits as a new level of Dario Argento "surrealism". The correct interpretion of the giant praying mantis is to see it as an extension of Dario Argento's nightmare style. Imagine, if you will, that "Dracula 3D" is a cheese-induced dream of all the Dracula movies you've ever seen, and you can't dismiss it so easily.

The bad performances including Unax Ugalde's and Marta Gastini's woodenness, Rutger Hauer only stopping short of doing his trademark rolling of his eyes almost out of his head and back in again, every bit of bad dubbing, cheap CGI, the 3D gimmick, and fight scenes over before they properly begin, all point to Dario Argento making an intentional metamovie of a Dracula movie fuelled nightmare in the mind of one of today's typical 12-year-olds rather than the 12-year-old that the director once was himself. Dario Argento uses "Dracula 3D" to criticise contemporary horror movies. This is beyond Wes Craven's dated "meta" abominations for trendy teenagers by miles.

It didn't quite work, but I got what Dario Argento was trying to do here. I enjoyed it. I don't think it was an entirely sensible decision to get so radically experimental again at the end of his career or to alienate his dopey fantards who are still stuck in the '70s and '80s, but Dario has earned a lot more of my respect for doing this (and for making "Mother of Tears") than I ever would have given him before. I probably can't explain why as well as I could because there's always the danger of reading too much into a movie which was never intended, and I'm holding some things back in case I end up looking like a total fool when Dario Argento reveals that he just made a bad film because he couldn't be bothered to make a good one, yet the evidence of the movie makes me willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

If you have time, I suggest you all watch "Dracula 3D" again and think about what you're seeing. This isn't a product to be dismissed like the hobby horror DVD-Rs which get shoved in your faces at conventions. Like it or not, Dario Argento doesn't make "products"; he's an auteur. Should you choose to accept it, there's a message here about the nature of horror movies, remakes, and the state of the younger generation's levels of artistic appreciation from an old man's perspective.

"Dracula 3D" is the quintessential metamovie of every Dracula movie that you've ever seen before and is meant to be viewed as a half-remembered nightmare of a dissatisfied modern horror fan. To see it as anything else completely misses the point.

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