Monday, February 3, 2014

Italian Rehash: Dario Argento's Dracula (in 3-D)

I still love you, Dario.  I may be in a much smaller minority than in, say, 1980, but we're still out there.  There are some people that say that Dario Argento peaked with Suspiria, while others say the drop-off in quality began in the 1990s.  Oddly, there are bigger groups of people who can't agree *when* he stopped making movies as good as he used to than those of us who think that he still does.  Quality is certainly something that can be interpreted in many ways, but...lay off the guy.  Is Suspiria great?  Hell yeah.  So are many other films that he did after it including Tenebrae, Phenomena and The Mother of Tears.  Part of his problem I think is that his early films are just so damn unique and defining of him.  As such, movies that are good, but not amazing (see OperaThe Card Player, Do You Like Hitchcock? and The Phantom of the Opera) are viewed more negatively than perhaps they should be.  Coming off of a film with many behind-the-scenes issues (including an allegation that he never paid star Adrian Brody) like Giallo (how have I not reviewed this yet?), Dario has alot to prove to some people.  His response: a 3-D version of the classic tale of Dracula.  That's maybe not the route I would have gone, but I'll give it a chance.  His version takes some liberties- like never moving to England- but keeps the same general story.  Given that this is Argento, he makes great use of color and shocking visuals (possibly enhanced by 3-D, although I saw it in 2-D).  I will avoid many SPOILERS (since those of us in America only just got it), but I will give you my take on it now...
We get a fairly-lengthy intro with a young couple going off for 'a shag' (as the Brits would say), giving us the first bit of nudity in the film.  It will not be the last...but you probably knew that.
Dracula strikes, taking the form of an Owl to swoop in.  You may complain, but that Bat is a bit cliche by now.
Not surprisingly, Asia Argento is in this film.  He's been putting her in films he's worked on since The Church.

What is surprising is that she plays Lucy and not Mina.  It is a juicier part, obviously, which was probably the appeal.
The story plays out pretty straight-forward for the most part.  Mr. Harker goes to see Dracula, only to end up in his clutches and that of his Bride (as opposed to Brides plural).
Unlike many versions of the tale, he is not actually our hero.  He meets, well, a less than pleasant fate eventually.  How dare you be different from Francis Ford Coppola's barely-canonical version!
One nice touch that Argento adds are a few freaky dream sequences that Lucy has thanks to Dracula's lingering and invasive influence on her.  He hasn't gotten to her physically...yet.
Argento's Dracula is a cool, but evil customer.  It is a hard thing to pull off without looking either a) bi-polar or b) just plain bored.  Thomas Kretschmann really pulls this off.  Kudos.
Rutger Hauer is here as Van Helsing.  He's great, but there is a bit of irony here.

1) Hauer is on True Blood playing the Head of a Vampire Clan.
2) Hauer played Dracula himself in Dracula III: The Legacy (a much duller Dracula film).
I won't SPOIL how this plays out- as there are some nice little twists -, but I will show you that this happens.  I have no other words.  The End.
It sure is a tricky recommendation, but one that I still make.  I still like Argento films- dammit.  This one is an interesting mix of an old standard- telling a tale as old as Dracula- and new craziness- like Dracula turning into a Praying Mantis.  There is certainly no mistaking that this is a Dario Argento film!  The key to whether you like the film or not is whether you accept/like the balance that Argento achieves.  Personally, I liked it.  I am certainly willing to accept that you may not.  Dario Argento's Dracula is a film that is weird, bloody and certainly worth the wait.  If nothing else, it sure does get a little creepy...
Next up, I finally get around to doing a Stuart Gordon film that has somehow escaped a review.  When real life meets dark comedy, strange stuff will ensue.  Stay tuned...

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