Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Dracula 3-D (2012) dir. Dario Argento

Logline: You've heard of Dracula, right? Well this is vaguely like that, but with more computer generated bloodshed, *spooky* animal transformations, Asia Argento snarling, and Rutger Hauer sighing though the last fifteen minutes. If you weren't already sold on this airtight premise, it's also presented in 3-D. You're welcome, audience.

For Argento completists, Dracula 3-D offers a new light in which to see and divide up the director's oeuvre. Alongside his noted gialli and supernatural horror films now rests a third category of film that summarizes his total output: the literary adaptation. Consisting of his hysterically pitched Phantom of the Opera (1998), "The Black Cat" segment from Two Evil Eyes (1990)-- previously the odd ducks in his filmography-- and now Dracula 3-D, these demented book-to-screen adaptations are as beguiling as the animal-to-vampire transformations that Thomas Kretschmann's whispering Dracula goes through in the latter film. Sometimes a vampire is a vampire one minute and a human-sized praying mantis the next; similarly, sometimes an adaptation looks like an adaptation before metamorphosing into a mess of ideas and images that more closely resembles a human-sized praying mantis than the book it was derived from. Argento's literary adaptations have little use or reverence for their source material, as evidenced by Phantom of the Opera's re-imagining of the deformed Phantom as a flawless English hunk and Dracula 3-D's omission of most of the novel's characters and transportation of the key setting from London to exclusively Romania (and hence losing all of the old-world-meets-new-world relevance of the novel). Loose adaptations aren't inherently wicked, but one as aimless and labored as Dracula 3-D certainly raises questions about the wisdom of departing too far from the generating material. Argento's film employs recognizable elements of Stoker's novel, Browning's adaptation, and Coppola's adaptation, but solely to further its bizarre Z-grade direct-to-video exploitation fodder. There is nothing of thematic interest or novelty pumping out from Dracula 3-D's punctured veins. It's schlock by any definition.

Some critics have theorized that the film is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but the ludicrous content of Dracula 3-D is no more frequent or insincere than anything we saw in Trauma (1993), Phantom of the Opera, The Card Player (2004), or Mother of Tears (2007). The notion that Argento has been playing a decades-long joke on his audience-- his films losing money all the while-- appears untenable, so our only recourse is to assume that this was a film that Argento and his crew earnestly believed would be frightening, provocative, exciting, and visually resplendent to a certain audience of filmgoers, perhaps an audience that they hold a certain amount of contempt for. There are no intentional stabs at cult goofiness here; there are only moments that display the numerous artistic limitations and miscalculations of those involved. It is as if they are without care making a film for an audience that they assume also does not care, that will consume whatever it is tossed as long as it carries the recognizable flavor of gratuitous bloodshed and exposed breasts. Argento's filmmaking is no longer merely lazy, but contemptible.

Why does Dracula 3-D exist? It's an honest question that pops into one's head after sitting through its near two hours of plodding, unimaginative bloodsucking: what creative or commercial compulsion helped to generate this film? It's impossible to find any such point of genesis within the film itself. Creatively, Argento finds little of interest to add to the Dracula mythos, taking what bits and pieces of Bram Stoker's novel and previous film adaptations he so desires and tossing them together at random in order to build towards a climax that features all the vampire vanquishing artistry of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), the movie. Commercially, it's laughable that any producer or financier with a hefty checkbook would have seen domestic or international box office potential in a bloated "classical horror film" laden with Myst-level computer generated imagery from a fallen Italian director, even if it were to bear the word "3-D" in its title. Consequently, Dracula 3-D is an abject creative and commercial failure, with almost no chance of recouping its 7.5 million dollar budget and not a ghost of a chance of recouping its director's reputation. Argento is lost to us in the perpetual mists of the Borgo Pass.


  1. I have read not a single favorable review of this film, but yours makes that darn thing sound so abysmally incompetent, I don't want to see it any longer.

    I'm going to pass some very harsh judgement on Mr. Argento here: He made 4 films that are undisputed classics (Bird, Cat, Deep Red & Suspiria). After that, it all became creative masturbation and regurgitation, with hit-and-miss results. I think he merely distilled Bava's style into fanboy grotesqueries that were impressive at the time. He then fell into the trap of believing his own hype and became hopelessly genre-bound. Add to that his incestuously perverse obsession with his daughter's naked form and Argento turns out to be the Italian Andreas Bethmann.

    Honestly, based on those 4 films I mention (and Inferno, which I personally like a lot), I want to like Mr. Argento and his work, but it is increasingly difficult.

    1. I'd seen enough of his later work to know that things got worse, but I hadn't a clue just how bad things could get. These last two months have been miserable on the viewing end, with each film being just a little bit worse than the last. It pains me to waste words on bad movies, but, really, I blame Argento for passing them off as worthwhile endeavors.

      Overall, I don't have as harsh an assessment of the man's total career as you seem to. In short, I adore everything up through Opera, warts and all. On the whole, sure, maybe his best works are style over substance (and what substance is there is often of a questionable nature), but for two decades it was quite a breathtaking style. But I think by now he's proven that he was never very aware of what made that style work (I wouldn't be surprised if we could lay the praise for most of those early successes at the feet of his collaborators.)

      I refrained from commenting on his seeming obsession with getting Asia naked on film in any of my posts, figuring that maybe it's not such a big deal in Italian culture. His equal obsession with scenes of violent sex from behind, however, is one I find more unnerving.

      Thanks for the comment!