DraculaFest: Argento’s Dracula 3D

I know what you’re thinking. Has any movie with 3D in the title ever been worthwhile? Likewise, a film with someone’s name prepended smacks of self-indulgence. Can Argento’s Dracula 3D (2012) break the curse?

Well, it’s not a complete waste of time.

Caption

Do I have blood on my teeth? I can’t use a mirror.

If that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, trust your intuition. This film earned the benefit of a doubt as the brainchild of horror legend Dario Argento, creator of giallo classics like Suspiria and Inferno–not to mention producer of one of my all-time favorite films, Dawn of the Dead. He knows his horror. If this film fails to live up to that pedigree, it’s somewhat salvaged by a sly sense of humor. The soundtrack’s theremin wail recalls low-grade Hollywood horror of the ’50s and ’60s, and several odd choices throughout the story indicate that Argento is having fun, with healthy sides of boobs and blood. If you ignore the no-budget effects and avoid looking for much logic, it can be fun to watch. To a point.

We begin outside a small village in… Transylvania? Germany? Italy? I never figured that out. Fair maiden Tanja (Miriam Giovanelli) ignores the gathering storm that has shuttered the village to wander into the deep woods for an illicit booty call with her married boyfriend–who, despite his marital status, appears to live alone in a cabin out in the deep woods. You know what, if I question every ambiguity we’ll be here all day. Let’s just accept that details are vague and breeze through this. After a naked, full-bodied romp–this is an Italian film, after all–she heads home and gets picked off by an owl who happens to be Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann). She is avenged just in time for the arrival of Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde). As in Hammer’s Horror of Dracula, Harker accepts a position as Dracula’s personal librarian. Like his Hammer counterpart, he proves none too bright and the Count brings his book-filing days to a close in short order. His wife, Mina (Marta Gastini), arrives in town and quickly grows suspicious of the Count’s continued excuses for Jonathan’s absence. She’s staying with her friend, Lucy (Asia Argento), who’s secretly been trysting with the Count; he bites her behind the knee instead of on her neck to avoid detection, the clever dog. Thanks to a candle-lit nude sponge bath (see: Italian film, above) Mina discovers Lucy’s bite mark. She calls in professional vampire hunter Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer). After much bloodshed and many gross prosthetic effects, the pair dispatch all of the vampires, including Dracula, whose ashes scatter in the wind to form a cheesy wolf-head pattern before disbursing.

Oh, and at one point Dracula turns into a giant, eight-foot praying mantis and decapitates Lucy’s father.

Katy did what, now?

Katy did what, now?

See, until the giant mantis I wasn’t sure how much of the cheeky humor in this flick was intentional. Once that CGI monstrosity ambles up the staircase and sinks its mandibles into the old man, there is no longer any doubt that this is intentional schlock cinema. I have to say it’s one of the more memorable scenes in all the Dracula films thus far, for right and wrong reasons. Dracula never appears as a bat, but does eavesdrop on a town meeting while posing as a swarm of houseflies. This lack of self-importance saves the film from being utterly forgettable.

German actor Thomas Kretschmann makes a strange Dracula, standing ramrod stiff and growling sotto voce lines. His odd and understated performance is the antithesis of Bela Lugosi’s theatricality. Despite red-alert levels of blood and carnage, this Count never seems terrifying, even when disemboweling an entire room full of village conspirators. The rest of the cast points to several missed opportunities. Asia Argento makes a great Lucy, both before and after death, but her early demise is disappointing. Likewise, Rutger Hauer sparks interest as the vamp-killing Van Helsing, but he appears far too late to have much impact. Had we seen more of that pair, the film could have been much better.

Credit where due, though. Argento introduces a unique element to the story: the villagers have formed a pact with Count Dracula that allows him the occasional neck snack in return for his help in ensuring the village will prosper. How exactly he does this is never fleshed out, but it’s an interesting idea that should have been explored. Unfortunately, Drac wipes out all of the village elders at the first whiff of second thoughts. Another promising thread cut short. That could serve as the thesis statement of this film.

Argento’s Dracula 3D earns 0.5 out of 2 fangs out. A missed opportunity not helped by that extra dimension. But did I mention the praying mantis?

Up next: More italians! More Germans!