Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dario Argento's Dracula

Loyal readers of the PCS are surely no strangers to Dario Argento, the Italian impresario responsible for the occult horror masterpiece Suspiria, as well as several important giallo films in ‘70s. They are also very likely to be aware that those pellucid glory days are pretty far behind the director. When Dario Argento’s Dracula (originally in 3D) premiered at Cannes in 2012, it met with the kind of universal ridicule that’s usually reserved for movies where Chloe Sevigny chows down on Vincent Gallo’s manparts. But what the hell do those snooty Frenchies know, anyway? Like all things in this world, such judgments are best left to science.
  • Before we get started, who wants to bet that Argento will make his daughter Asia get naked at least once before this is over? = +/-35pts 
  • Tania carries on the time-honored coming-of-age ritual of sneaking out on Walpurgisnacht for a romantic tryst with her married lover. = +2pts 
  • Holy cow, Tania’s boobs constitute approximately 112% of her total body mass. = +5pts 
  • In the first in a series of nigh-ubiquitous lighting gaffes, Tania and Milos walk out of the barn into a night much, much brighter than it was when they went in. = -8pts 
  • Outraged that Milos won’t walk her home, Tania rips the cross he gave her from her neck and flings it back at him. Within a minute, she is murdered by Dracula, in the form of a terrible CGI owl. = -4pts 

  • Jonathan Harker arrives in the remote town of Passo Borgo, disembarking from a train that could very well be a Windows 98 screensaver. = -20pts 
  • We should point out here that, even though all of the actors appear to be speaking English, their voices are all very badly dubbed. = -35pts 
  • Regardless, Unax Ugalde’s take on Jonathan Harker makes Keanu Reeves look like Marlon Brando. = -24pts 
  • Milos and some other townsfolk exhume Tonia’s grave to stake her through the heart, but are interrupted by the town taxidermist, who pulls a Mike Tyson on one of them and splits Milos’ head in half with a shovel before being subdued by the constable. = +20pts 
  • Before setting out to Dracula’s castle, Harker meets up with his wife Mina’s friend Lucy, a fully-clothed Asia Argento. = +4pts 
  • Tonight’s evening sky brought to you by Lisa Frank. = -2pts 
  • Dracula looks like a cross between Liam Neeson and a young Hugh Hefner. = +9pts 
  • The pretext under which Harker is lured out to Dracula’s castle is that the Count is in need of someone to run his library. The economy in Passo Borgo must be pretty great if it makes economic sense for one dude living alone in a castle to hire a full-time, live-in librarian. = +4pts 
  • Vampire Tania seems strangely intent on seducing Harker considering that, with her vampire strength, she should be able to slap him around like a little girl and feed on whatever’s left. = -3pts 
  • Tania’s naked lunch is interrupted by Dracula, who declares that Harker is his before sinking his fangs into the man’s neck. We’d like to point out that Harker has been in the castle for at least a couple days at this point, if not longer, which begs the question, why Dracula is only just getting around to killing him now? We think it’s because the cheap bastard was hoping Harker would finish organizing his library first. = +11pts 
  • Dracula frees the mad taxidermist (who’s apparently this movie’s version of Renfield) from prison, and in gratitude the taxidermist agrees to serve the Count. This, despite the fact that he clove Milos’ skull in half with a shovel for causing Tania’s death. Renfield’s a complicated guy. = -6pts 
  • Now that Harker’s wife Mina has finally arrived in town, it’s as good a time as any to bring up the fact that no one’s accent in this movie matches up. Is this small Transylvanian hamlet just a massive hub for immigration? Shouldn’t Jonathan and his wife at least sound like they’re from the same hemisphere? Shouldn’t Lucy and her father? = -15pts 
  • While attempting to escape to a nearby city, Tania’s mother is murdered by one of Dracula’s henchmen living in the town. It’s a testament to Argento’s visionary direction that the violence of her mutilation is paralleled by the choppiness of the sequence’s editing. = -8pts 
  • In the process of seducing Lucy—whom we’ll remind you again is being portrayed by THE DIRECTOR’S DAUGHTER—Dracula manages to work one of her boobs out of her night shirt. Dario Argento, you are one creepy, creepy dude. = -35pts 
  • Lucy, frustrated over her father’s insistence on inspecting her neck for bites, complains to Mina “You know what parents are like. A simple case of influenza simply flusters them.” = -3pts (For perpetuating hurtful stereotypes about parents.) 
  • Because we couldn’t possibly go the whole movie without being exposed to every square inch of his daughter’s body, Argento works in a scene where Mina gives Lucy a sponge bath. = -35pts 
  • The shrine with the headless statue of the Blessed Virgin that Mina comes across in the woods is easily the creepiest thing in this whole movie. = +10pts 
  • Mina staves off Dracula’s advances and flees out into blue-tinted daylight that we’re pretty sure is supposed to represent night. = -4pts 
  • Dracula interrupts a secret meeting among the town’s leading citizens by slipping into the room in the form of a swarm of flies. This would be a cool effect if the CGI flies weren’t a step below Syfy Channel made-for-TV quality. = -28pts 
  • Buuuuut, they kind of make up for it by having Dracula lay waste to five dudes, including one guy whose head Drac straight-up punches off. = +50pts 
  • The town priest can’t help Mina with her vampire problem, but he knows a guy. = +3pts 
  • Van Helsing makes his first appearance (roughly one hour and thirty minutes into the movie) by sneaking into the late Lucy’s cottage and startling the hell out of Mina. Maybe the cottage is just infested with elderly Dutch men? = -6pts 
  • Rutger Hauer’s performance is so phoned in that he might as well be checking Facebook while he delivers his lines. = -15pts 
  • Despite the fact that we watched him unpack a real cross from his bag just a few minutes ago, Van Helsing attempts to confront Vampire Lucy with two sticks held together in a t-shape. = -5pts 
  • Van Helsing thwarts an attempt on his life by stabbing Tania in the heart with an iron cross. Although, perhaps due to the sheer mass of her enormous breasts, Tania’s heart seems to be located somewhere below her sternum. = +4pts 
  • Dracula Mantis. = -150pts

  • Upon refusing to help Van Helsing in his quest, the priest reminds the vampire hunter that Dracula is “eeeeeeviiiilllll!” = +13pts 
  • Kind of amazed Van Helsing has the time tonight to break into a blacksmith’s shop and start forging his own silver bullets. = +4pts 
  • As one astute IMDB message board user points out, there is no evidence that Van Helsing knows the guy who barges in on him in the smith’s shop was one of Dracula’s henchmen prior to impaling the dude’s head on a nail. = +16pts 
  • Thank God the priest found the courage to accompany Van Helsing on his mission. Otherwise who would sprinkle holy water over the ashes of the vampires Van Helsing has already killed? = -3pts 
  • Does Van Helsing dispatch of all Dracula’s henchmen so quickly because he’s such a badass, or because Rutger Hauer wasn’t about to learn a bunch of fight scene choreography for this movie? = +/-24pts (Depending on how you answer) 
  • Shoehorning in the Mina/Mrs. Dracula love subplot from the Coppola film in the last 15 minutes of the movie. = -11pts 
  • In previous scenes, we’ve watched Dracula tear open people’s throats with his teeth and nails, impale men with monstrous animal limbs, and—let’s not forget—bat a dude’s head off with a single swipe. For some reason, he’s really taking his time on Van Helsing, though. = -6pts 
  • Mina breaks free of the spell long enough to shoot Dracula with the bullets Van Helsing smithed…which apparently are mixed with garlic? Because that’s totally a thing you can do? = -9pts 
  • Dracula reforms into a wolfen cloud of ash just moments after Mina and Van Helsing walk away from his resting place, presumably to go murder them both off-screen. = +13pts
Total Score = -246/-294
Available on: Netflix streaming, competing for the top spot of everyone’s list of the worst things that Dario Argento has done so far

Dario Argento’s Dracula is obviously a loving tribute to the old Hammer Dracula films of the ‘70s, but even taking the camp factor of its source material into account, it’s fairly shocking how fundamentally awful this movie is. There is literally not a single aspect of Dracula that can redeem the film: the acting is amateurish, the plot aimless, the special effects so cheap Argento might have won them in a cereal box. It’s possible that the movie looked better in 3D, but the nanobots have their doubts. A lot of the issues with the film are things that have plagued Argento throughout his career, but his best work was so imaginative and flawlessly stylized that their shortcomings barely registered. There isn’t even a ghost of that to be found in Dracula. The movie’s one saving grace is that his judgment is so impaired at this point that some truly batshit moments can work their way in. Dracula mantis, you guys. Dracula mantis.

Score Technician: Joe Hemmerling

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