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Dracula 3D (2013)

A Fang Shame

Instead of reviewing a horror movie this Halloween, I'm going to tackle a comedy: Dario Argento's Dracula 3D. Argento and co-writers Enrique Cerezo, Stefano Piani, and Antonio Tentori may have intended to craft this generation's definitive film adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic novel--but there's no greater illustration of the chasm between intention and execution than this oddly hilarious but deeply sad clunker.

Full disclosure: I don't understand Argento's reputation as a genre master. Maybe it's because I've only seen one of his films, Suspiria, which I found to be a pretentious laugh-riot disguised as a venerable horror gem. That's blasphemy in most circles, and I'm not proud of my lack of appreciation, but it's inconceivable to me that anyone can take that movie seriously. Beyond the director's flair for color and slavish love of Gothic atmosphere, the movie's just too goofy and convoluted to be scary.

Then again, maybe I need to revisit Suspiria and do a proper review. Staty tuned.

Back to Dracula 3D. Here's the deal, folks: if you're going to re-do the famous tale as an expensive, bloody period piece, it has to be grander, bloodier, and just plain better than Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version. That film became a pop culture phenomenon and a blockbuster hit. In the same way that all would-be space operas freeze to death in Star Wars' long shadow, Coppola's Dracula is as much a warning as it is entertainment: "Top this," it says, "or don't even bother."

Argento and company bothered, but appear to have been swept away by a perfect storm of lousy writing, questionable acting, soap-opera lighting, and amateur special effects. The only reason to watch this movie is to experience just how awful it is--and, I suppose, to behold the beautiful, naked bodies of Asia Argento as Lucy and Miriam Giovanelli as Tanja, a peasant girl who becomes Dracula's (Thomas Kretschmann) ghastly, undead enforcer. The Count's library is also pretty nifty, but there's zero reason for me to have been ogling ornately carved bookshelves during a movie such as this.

It's fitting that the only two actors who register here are Kretschmann and Rutger Hauer, who plays Van Helsing as a a supernatural crusader who also appears to have invented jet lag. The problem is, they register for all the wrong reasons. Hauer is clearly paying off a gambling debt of some kind (perhaps to whichever Bulgarian gangsters worked craft services on the set), and Kretschmann floats aloofly through the film as if he's as puzzled about his casting as the audience is. The one scene in which he's given anything remotely cool or interesting to do finds him decapitating a quartet of townies who've conspired to betray their bloodthirsty benefactor--but the effects do all the heavy lifting.

All the squibs and fangs in the world can't make up for the gross amount of lame nonsense in Dracula 3D. It's not enough to re-tell a story everyone knows--precisely because everyone knows it. Short of a twist that would compel people to talk about the picture (much less stay awake through it), there's really no reason for anyone involved to have bothered. In fairness, the climax is pretty interesting. I mean, have you ever seen Dracula get shot to death with garlic bullets? I have, and I can't un-see it.

I realize this isn't much of a review, but Dracula 3D isn't much of a movie. I saw it for free, as part of the Chicago International Film Festival a few weeks ago, and I'm really glad I hadn't requested an interview with Argento (who was in town) beforehand. Coming out of the theatre, I asked another critic friend of mine how he planned to handle his sit-down with the alleged living legend later in the week. He laughed nervously and said, "I'll focus on the old stuff, and try to avoid the new project entirely."

I suggest you do the same.

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