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

Discuss Dracula 3D in the comments section below!

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Matt Serafini

Author (Under the Blade, Feral), slasher movie enthusiast, N7 Operative. Plays games, watches movies, reads books. Occasionally writes about them.

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  • Caterpillar

    Dario Argento has been replaced by a pod person many years ago. The same thing happened to John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper. It’s really too bad that these alien morons get to ruin the reputation of genuinely great human directors.

    • frank_dracman

      I’m going to take this post as fact. There is no other logical explanation. Pod people exist, and they’re fucking everything up.

  • LifeMi

    Nice review, Matt; good thing I’ve avoided this one. I’ll stick with Horror of Dracula and the BBC’s Count Dracula from the ’70s.

  • theGoldenSimatar

    Any hope I had for this film died when that original trailer was released and subsequent material. It honestly reminded me of a bottom barrel SyFy picture with production value. I couldn’t believe it.

    However; I still find myself morbidly interested in seeing this….especially in 3D.

    • Matt Serafini

      That’s why I held off on publishing this review.

      I watched my imported Blu-ray back in April. But I actually REWATCHED the fucking thing at a relative’s house last week so I could watch it in 3D on a gigantic screen.

      After the positively headache-inducing opening credits, the 3D in this is actually quite fun. It’s a BAD movie, but when you watch it in 3D I suppose there’s a goofy charm to be had.

      • theGoldenSimatar

        Even in a bad movie if the 3D is done well I do agree the goofy charm of it helps along. If nothing else I’d like to experience it in it’s native format. Personally the worst 3D of any blu-ray I’ve seen was the post-conversion of Day of the Dead; text sometimes translates well to blu-ray 3D but the whole damn movie was a mess; no goofy fun there.

        I’ve been waiting to see if it’ll ever come out in the states; but if it’s this bad somehow doubt anyone will spend the money on a 3D Bluray production. But seeing the Facebook page (after scrolling numerous italian) it is ABC so I might be picking it up. Where’d you get your 3D if I may ask?

        • Matt Serafini

          I love Argento so much that I paid $35 to import this from Amazon.it when it first came out.

          I think you can actually get this disc from sellers on US Amazon for around $21-24.

          I can’t say it’s worth it, per se, but if you do have a 3D setup, you’d probably get a kick out of this. As long as you know what to expect. Although, to be honest, I was kinda bored both times I watched it.

          The opening credits must’ve been mastered wrong or something – I don’t know much about the 3D tech – because they’re headache-inducing. Once you get past those, though, the 3D presentation is actually quite good.

          One of the few things this film did right.

          • theGoldenSimatar

            Thanks for the tip, found a few sellers. Though I’m completely baffled as they have the rating as ‘G’ lol

            I paid $20 for the Day of the Dead 3D Bluray….so yeah 0.0

            The more you talk about how much of a train-wreck it is the more interested and eager I am to obtain a copy and watch it. Especially after I had some good hopes for the film, after Argento’s two Masters of Horror entries (mother of tears was alright) I was relatively excited. Still, a bad vampire film in 3D…amazing 🙂 got to get my kicks after the surprise that Twilight wasn’t post-converted.