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Dracula 3D (2012)

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Dracula 3D (2012)Starring Thomas Kretschmann, Rutger Hauer, Asia Argento, Miriam Giovanelli, Unax Ugalde

Directed by Dario Argento


For many, word that Dario Argento has made a bad film isn’t exactly news. I get it, even though I largely disagree with that stigma. I’m under no illusion that there’s a pretty sizable gap between his greatest works (everything pre-1990) and “modern” output (everything after it). With the exception of Phantom of the Opera, I’ve found lots to like about his later canon: the lingering and haunting psychological devastation of The Stendhal Syndrome, the playful homage of Do You Like Hitchcock? and the gonzo what-the-fuckery of Mother of Tears. Sure, it’s lesser Argento, but I’ve always had fun.

Which is precisely why Dracula 3D is such a downer. It’s not only the worst film in the director’s career, it’s a banal exercise in terrible CGI, laughable performances and inept staging. A movie so embarrassing that I sunk so far in my seat that I was on the floor by the time it was finished.

I know that negative reviews have a tendency to be hyperbolic, but Dracula 3D really is that bad. And worse, it’s a lifeless chore. It opens with promise (which might’ve been my short-lived optimism): a young lover on her way home from a forbidden tryst is chased through a thick, fog-laden forest by a sinister entity. In these opening moments, there’s a healthy bit of exploitation shrouded with enough atmosphere to help offset the noticeably cheap look. It doesn’t last long and, if you’re even remotely familiar with the director’s work, all you can do is wonder what a younger Argento might’ve done with this.

The collected goodwill is smothered right off as it becomes abundantly clear that Dracula 3D is nothing more than a stillborn retelling of Bram Stoker’s novel. It’s a story we’ve seen countless times. Done better. And everyone has their favorite iteration, whether it’s Tod Browning, George Melford, Terence Fisher, John Badham or Francis Ford Coppola. Each Stoker adaptation has impassioned fans, and while I don’t love every one, I understand the followings. But this? Argento never manages to beat the aforementioned films at their own game, and so not only do you spend this film wondering what younger Argento might’ve done, but also how much better it’s been done before.

I’m not suggesting that we should expect directors to repeat their past successes ad nausea. Last week I praised Nicolas Winding Refn for aggressively steering away from doing a Drive retread with Only God Forgives. So I think it’s great that Argento wanted to step outside his usual repertoire of gloved killers and sexual trauma (although it’s becoming clear that perhaps he shouldn’t), but imagine what his ‘modern’ Dracula film might’ve looked like had it been nestled somewhere in between Tenebre and Phenomena. Ferocious energy, a pulsing Goblin synth score (to be fair, Claudio Simonetti gives this film a lighthearted, fun score) and beautiful, practical FX work.

I suppose that suggests I projected a lot of my own expectations onto Dracula 3D. Not really. I saw that laughable demo trailer a few years back so I’d argue that my expectations were perfectly tempered. But Dracula 3D even underdelivered on the promise of bottom-of-the-barrel fun. I’m not criticizing this movie for what it isn’t, even if I did spend the entirety of it wondering what it could’ve been.

It’s just sad. And I was more depressed at the end of Dracula 3D than anything else. It’s stagnant hackery and I simply can’t believe I’m saying that about Dario Argento. All traces of his former visual flare have been extinguished, leaving a movie that looks like the worst kind of languid television. Indifferently shot and incompetently staged, you’d be hard-pressed to find another film so blithely produced.

There comes a moment late in the film where an enraged Dracula massacres a roomful of villagers without breaking a sweat. It’s not an especially great scene – the choreography is clunky and the lighting nonexistent – but it throws enough gore around while mustering a modicum of energy. And for a second it looks as though Dracula 3D might spring to life in the 11th hour. But it doesn’t. Similarly, much has been made of Dracula’s ability to transform into any animal or insect, but the CGI praying mantis (which has become an ironic fan favorite) disappoints. It’s on screen for just a few seconds, wreaking the kind of inconsistent carnage where it appears to bite off a man’s head, only to show the intact body afterwards. And this comes from the genius who once made Suspiria.

The supporting cast is uniformly terrible and completely laughable. Unax Ugalde is so detached from this movie’s reality you have to wonder if he was even directed. Miriam Giovanelli is often topless and watching her assets burst from the screen in 3D brings an admittedly lowbrow moment of fun to the proceedings, but her performance is dire. Asia Argento is beyond awful, realizing her character with a mix of indifference and disdain (for the material, most likely). Then there’s the biggest names: Thomas Kretschmann is a presence I almost always enjoy. But he doesn’t care about this. Rutger Hauer pops in just when you’ve forgotten he’s a part of the cast, and seems determined to one-up Kretschmann’s indifference. The two of them have a climactic “battle” that is essentially Hauer pulling no less than two weapons out of his coat only to have them smacked aside while he’s trying to deliver an expository incantation. A fitting end to this mess.

Then there are flashbacks – an attempt to elucidate the rivalry between our hero and villain that ranks among the film’s sloppiest moments. Dracula and Van Helsing encountered each other once before, when the good doctor stumbled across a vampiric outbreak inside a sanitarium. But the scene abruptly ends as soon as Van Helsing finds Dracula among the patients. We never see the outcome of this confrontation, nor is it explained why Dracula didn’t simply kill him back then. The whole movie is illogical and it’s more evidence that no one involved in making this gave much of a damn.

If you’ve never seen an Argento film, if this is your first foray, then for the love of God don’t start here. You’ll never want to see another one. And that’s the biggest problem with Dracula 3D, it’s an embarrassing experience. Even Argento’s greatest apologists have to fess up and admit they wouldn’t show this nonsense to anyone. It’s a latchkey project in this director’s career, a movie that should be locked up and never spoken of again.

I’m sorry Dario. I still love you.


1/2 out of 5

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Review – A Haunting Mixture of Psychological Turmoil and Brutal Supernatural Horror

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Starring Brittany Anne Woodford, Jenny Curtis, Kanin Guntzelman, Brendan McGowan, Jake White

Directed by James S. Brown

We all like to think of ourselves as being surrounded by friends, but let’s face it, if we were to ever truly hit hard times, there are probably very few, if any, people we could truly rely on. So on some level, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film we can all relate too, as it deals with this very issue.

Stephanie is an emotionally unstable young woman who strangles her boyfriend to death after he insults and breaks up with her. She calls her friends to help her dispose the body out in the Joshua Tree National Part area, and instead of reporting her to the police, they reluctantly comply. As their car breaks down, the four friends find themselves alone at night in the Californian wilderness with the rotting corpse in need of disposal. Given their dire circumstances, they begin to become more and more aggressive towards each other, and this was where the film was really at its best. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how far the limits of their friendship could be stretched, and who would be the first to crack and turn on the others.

Anyway, their body disposal endeavor soon proves to be a mistake, as Stephanie’s ex rises from the grave as vengeful zombie demon thing with claws as long as knives. I’ll admit, I first I thought Friends Don’t Let Friends was going to be a movie purely about the limits of trust, so I was pretty surprised when the supernatural elements came into play. And when they did, the trust and friendship elements of the plot were somewhat downplayed in favor of a more traditional horror approach, and while it was still entertaining, I still would have preferred for the film not to have strayed from its initial path. At least the ending came as a shocker. I won’t go into spoilers, but let’s just say the even the most attentive viewers probably won’t see it coming.

As you can probably guess from a psychologically-driven film of this kind, the performances were top notch, with Brittany Anne Woodford being on particularly top form as the manipulative and unstable Stephanie, a character who revels in the revels in the power she felt when ending another human life.

With its mixture of psychological turmoil and brutal supernatural horror, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film I would certainly recommend, but keep in mind that it may make you think twice when confiding in people who you think of as being your friends.

8 out of 10.

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Coulrophobia Review – One of the Most Entertaining Killer Clown Films in Quite Some Time

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Starring Pete Bennett, Warren Speed, Daniella D’Ville, Roxy Bordeaux

Directed by Warren Speed


The word ‘Coulrophobia’ refers to the fear of clowns, and if you happen to suffer from it, you might want to avoid director Warren Speed’s film of the same name. However, if you can stand the sight of clowns with gaping wounds in their manly parts, then you’re in for one heck of a fun time.

An all-female hockey team get lost deep in the Scottish woods on their way to a match (don’t ask), and are captured and forced to participate in a series of horrific games by the Grock family of clowns. All of the members of said family are absolutely fucking insane, but the one that really stood out was Twitch (Pete Bennett), who wears jester cloths and it said to have a short attention span. He longs to be a violin player and wishes he could blend in with normal society like the other members of his family. And you almost feel sorry for him, even though he’s a mad killer with bells on his head.

Director Warren Speed also appeared as Milo, a grunting mute who had his tongue cut out when he was a boy. As mentioned above, we see a close-up shot of a open wound in his penis being stitched up, which is not an image that will be leaving your mind anytime soon. Speed is clearly fearless when it comes to his art.

Inter-spliced with all the torture and mayhem, we also see documentary-style telling the sad history of the family involved, and this was where the film unfortunately faltered, because these scenes seemed out of place and just didn’t flow with the rest of the plot.

Ultimately, however, Coulrophobia almost seems like a film Rob Zombie might have made before he lost his way and started churning out trash like 31. Comparisons to House of 1000 Corpses are inevitable, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. This is one of the most entertaining killer clown films in quite some time.

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User Rating 2.94 (17 votes)
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The Gatehouse Review – What Is Found in the Woods Should Be Left in the Woods

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Starring Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft

Directed by Martin Gooch


Now while no one will sneeze at the prospect of bringing up a bit of a rebellious child alone, it’s those damned kids that like to tempt fate by pissing off creatures in the woods…oh kids, they do the funniest things, don’t they?

In Martin Gooch’s moderately spooky presentation, The Gatehouse, a struggling writer named Jack (Willis) finds himself behind the 8-ball following the tragic drowning death of his beloved wife, and if that isn’t enough to torque your drawers, his young daughter, Eternity (Rayner) is becoming quite the salty soul herself. Unfortunately the little one has been finding herself bullied at school, and her recourse of sorts is to simply toss attitude around as if it was pleasantly acceptable. Her pastime has become lonely wanderings in the deep woods, digging for hopeful treasures…and we all know what problems reside in the woods, don’t we, horror fans? Well, Eternity’s father is attempting to re-start his writing career with a frightening backstory – taking the reigns on a novel that was abruptly ended when the author committed suicide, and supposedly the tome is quite the dark piece of literature.

Eternity’s never-ending quest for fortune and glory in the forest leads her to a most interesting (and ultimately) dangerous discovery (don’t sweat it – I won’t spill it for you). Bottom line here is this: the little girl has taken possession of something that should have been left in the friggin’ woods, and now someone (or something) wants it back PRONTO. What follows is a lackluster series of “spooky” events, and far be it from me to say, I’ve seen creepier stuff watching the evening news. Gooch then tries to bombard the audience with a plethora of instances and swerving plot direction – it’s fun at the beginning but can grow a bit tiresome over a duration.

Performance-wise, both Rayner and Willis play the perfect combination of mentally-shot dad and determined-to-be-independent daughter – their scenes are ripe with subtle contempt, and the right amount of indecision. Overall, the film is best suited for those fans of fantasy/fable-like horror, and while it might not scare the pants off of you, it definitely will give us all another reason to stay the hell out of the woods once and for all.

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Summary

Children in a forest-setting don’t always add up to cutesy-pie encounters with furry creatures – this one’s got a few scares to keep fans of coppice-horror appeased.

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User Rating 3.56 (18 votes)
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