DVD: Dracula 3D (2012)

February 3, 2014 | By

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Film: Weak / DVD Transfer: Excellent/ DVD Extras: Very Good

Label:  MPI Home Video / Region: 1 (NTSC) / Released: January 28, 2014

Genre: Horror

Synopsis: Bram Stoker’s tale of fanged nobleman Dracula is given a new spin in 3D.

Special Features: Behind-the-scenes documentary (63:50) / Music Video: “Kiss me Dracula” (4:51) / Trailer + “Red Band” Trailer

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Review:

Although Dario Argento continues to make a feature film once every 2-3 years, with rare exceptions, few have managed to actually satisfy both horror fans and those well familiar with his canon. Unfortunately, the worst films of his career are his last two, and it’s tough to peg which one – Giallo (2009) or Mother of Tears (2007) – as his low points; the former shows a director wholly uncomfortable with the mindless torture porn elements mandated in his bathos-drenched serial killer tale; and the latter is an underfunded, badly made attempt to ‘complete’ this three mothers triptych using a script that’s been rewritten far too many times over several years with bounce-back translations in English and Italian.

In the past, the popular culprit of his weak films, as circumscribed by sympathetic critics, tended to be poor funding and producer interference, but Dracula seems to be a project in which Argento had creative control in taking Bram Stoker’s classic vampire tale and compressing its characters in Transylvania and England into one European town, and shoot the concocted mayhem in 3D.

The ploy to keep Jonathan Harker around for the duration and have Mina and Lucy present should work, but the problem is neither of the film’s four screenwriters – Argento + a writer based in episodic crime TV + another with a singular film credit + and a veteran producer perhaps fancying himself a scribe – were able to figure out how to deal with the multitude of characters that populate the film’s midsection. Not everyone dies in one mass killing, and for a while there’s no one interesting to which Argento can cross-cut.

Worse, awful dialogue being a given, Thomas Kretchmann’s take on Dracula is dull, Unax Ugalde is over-reactive as Jonathan (and stays alive way too long), Asia Argento is simply terrible, and new character Tanja – a compacting of Dracula’s three fanged vixens who stalk and eventually bite Jonathan in the novel – is annoying. Yes, she bares her breast for the male viewers, but big boobs don’t compensate for bad acting and inane dialogue.

The only decent performance comes from Marta Gastini as precious Mina, and while it’s nice to see Rutger Hauer in the credits, he doesn’t appear until the final third, and Argento often cuts away from Hauer to favour lesser actors, which immediately numbs a scene’s gravitas.

With the exception of one blatantly awful scene – Jonathan being picked up from a train station that looks like stitched together jpegs – Dracula is blessed with a town location and castle that are very evocative of Murnau’s original Nosferatu; the castle courtyards are uncannily similar, and the set décor is equally strong. The costumes are detailed and evocative of the era, and Claudio Simonetti’s largely orchestral work is one of his best scores in years.

The 3D effects are often minimized to a handful of sequences, of which only one really feels like the kind of film Argento intended to film: Dracula’s blood-splattering massacre of the town elders which features superb decapitations, throat slashing, and dismemberment. It’s a great set piece which is never equaled again nor echoed, and it’s perhaps the closest Argento comes to evoking the look of a Hammer film.

The painted poster infers Hammer-like mayhem and heaving bosoms, but the chief reason why the film’s visual scheme fails so badly is perhaps Luciano Tovoli’s unfamiliarity in lighting for digital video. The compositions are fine, but everything indoors and especially outdoors are overlit, and the colours have been boosted to resemble the archaic chroma greens and reds redolent of 80s and early 90s TV shows shot on film and finished on video.

Tovoli shot Suspiria (1977), Tenebre (1982), The Dinner Game (1998), and Titus (1999), but the magic which made these 35mm film productions so gorgeous is nowhere to be found in this severe disappointment from a great cinematographer.

At 110 mins., Dracula runs very long and offers very little beyond the cited stellar sequence, and while Argento & his team may have had great fun making their own bawdy, bloody version of Stoker’s oft-filmed novel, this is another misfire in the director’s current career stage.

MPI’s DVD carries over the same extras from the Blu-ray 3D release. A tongue-in-cheek music video for the mediocre song that plays over the End Credits is somewhat fun to watch as it features Simonetti playing a Theremin; and two trailers do little to hype or transcend the film’s disappointing elements, packing in money shots including footage of the film’s most idiotic moment: Dracula, a shape-shifting demon, transforming into a giant chroma-green preying mantis. A nearly hour-long making-of documentary covers the film’s production phase with plenty of interviews, but it’s clearly of interest to those less critical of the films’ glaring flaws.

Kretschmann, who appeared as a serial killer & rapist in Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) with Asia Argento, recently played Van Helsing in the 2013 NBC TV series Dracula.

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© 2014 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

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