Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On Dario Argento's Dracula 3D (2012)

I'm pretty sure Argento's version of Dracula will automatically get the critical drubbing all his late period films get, be they great like Mother of Tears, abominations like Giallo and The Card Player, or fine workman-like efforts like his Masters of Horror episodes. Argento shares the fate of his co-sufferers in directing horror films like George Romero and John Carpenter of having turned their once rabid fanbases against themselves by continuing to change their styles. And we all know by now that "fans" only stay "fans" as long as you give them exactly what they expect, lest they turn into a highly enthusiastic lynch mob that wouldn't even realize if you made the best movie of your career. Thusly, the Internet has turned my private definition of "fan" into "person who hates something so much (s)he won't stop shouting about how horrible it is", but I digress.

Not that Dracula (3D) is the best movie of Argento's career. It is, in fact, a rather curious artefact that attempts - and perhaps half of the time succeeds - to build a luridly dream-like mood out of a mixture of operatic theatricality, cheapness, misguided uses of modern technology, an improbably bad soundtrack, and plain weirdness. When this works, Dracula becomes rather magical, like a pulpy version of that weird vampire sex dream (vampirism is all about sex and domination for Argento here) you once had after reading Bram Stoker and drinking too much red wine. When it fails, Dracula turns into a horrible mess half bad soap opera, half gore flick made by a teenager.

The most curious thing about it is how easily the film slips from one extreme to the next, with nearly awe-inspiring moments of Gothic horror turning into poor cheese and back again at the drop of a hat. Really everything in Dracula is changing from one moment to the next in this way - the acting (with generally lovely actors like Asia Argento, Thomas "Dracula" Kretschmann and Rutger Hauer as the least interesting Van Helsing imaginable) is convincing in one sentence, stiff in the next, and melodramatically overdone in the next, the special effects permanently meander between decent practical effects, utterly horrid CG most SyFy channel movies were ashamed of, and beautiful and imaginative CG, while the script wanders between homages to every other Dracula adaptation in existence, clever changes to the original (for example, not taking the plot to England doesn't just put away the xenophobic subtext, and is good for the budget but also makes the film dramatically tighter, or rather would make it tighter if this were a film interested in it; and I love what the film in the end does with the old, terrible "Mina is the reincarnation of Dracula's wife" bit), random weird shit I can't help but approve of (I'll just say "mantis"), and stuff that is of little use however you look at it.

Locations and sets are at times beautiful and atmospheric, and at other times so ill lit they have the fake, plastic-y look of a doll house. In this Dracula, the sublime and the ridiculous don't just go hand in hand, they change from one into the other like a hyperactive werewolf. I'm actually pretty sure Argento does this all on purpose (for he can hardly not see it), but what his purpose is - apart from making it much easier for people to hate on the film without having to think about it - I surely don't know.

What I do know is that, even though Argento's Dracula surely isn't his best film, or even a good one, it is a film containing as much personality, strangeness and idiosyncrasy as I could have wished for. It's certainly not the film I would have wanted Argento to make, but then I'm convinced that if you're expecting any artist, in whatever part of his or her career, to do the exact sort of thing you want from her or him, you're doing art appreciation wrong.


Anonymous said...

I'll admit I didn't like it, but on the other side, I love The Card Player and is quite entertained by Phantom of the Opera :)

But I will give it another try in a few weeks or months, and see if I like it better after processing the experience.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Liking it really would be bit much, I think, but hey, perhaps this is going to be my Card Player.