Saturday, June 25, 2011

Argento gets gothic with Dracula 3D

I have spoken about my favorite incarnations of Dracula and philosophized about my distaste for 3D. We haven't yet spoken about formerly great directors whose recent output has been less than satisfactory.

I could write that post Wes Craven or even John Carpenter. Craven came back this year with "Scream 4" (which I haven't seen, so will refrain from passing judgement) and Carpenter will release "The Ward" in July, his first feature film since "Ghosts of Mars" in 2001.

Expect more on Carpenter when Warning Signs sees "The Ward." This post is about Italian giallo king Dario Argento.

Let's just say I haven't been impressed lately.

I hate to say it, but Argento's best work this century has been in the Masters of Horror series. The same can be said of Carpenter. The difference is that Carpenter hasn't directed any features since 2001. Argento has released five feature films in the same time span. None of them have lived up to the expectations placed on Argento.

Even the culmination of his Three Mothers trilogy, "The Mother of Tears," was a let down. It held none of the twisted delight of "Suspira" or "Inferno." Thankfully, Argento's daughter Asia (Ah-see-a) is super hot. She kicked ass for godfather George Romero in "Land of the Dead."

The two movies that buried Argento were "The Card Player" and "Do You Like Hitchcock?" which was a basic cable blunder.

This is as good a time as any to say this: no one but Alfred Hitchcock is Alfred Hitchcock. Sure, he had his missteps, but there is no denying his genius. Argento should have learned from Gus Van Sant. You can't impersonate Hitchcock.

Now Argento, with Asia in tow, is filming "Dracula 3D," a supposed faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel. There are a few things wrong with this.

1. Stoker's novel is boring. Yes, it is a classic and produced one of the greatest characters of English-language literature. There are frightening passages in the novel that are better than anything else Stoker ever wrote. The epistolary format, however, is a slow and chunky read. (For my younger readers, and I hope you are out there, epistolary means the narrative of the novel is told through letters and diary entries. I'm not trying to discourage you from reading the book. I recommend it, in fact. I just want you to be prepared.) Most of the characters are dry and flat. One reads "Dracula" for the subtext of Victorian sexual repression and xenophobia, not to burn the midnight oil with a book they can't put down.

2. Making a Victorian-era period piece in 3D MAKES NO SENSE!!! As I have said, 3D should serve the story or enhance the experience. The only thing that might get enhanced are Dracula's fangs.

3. Not even Francis Ford Coppola could do "Dracula" without adding a love story that was barely implied in the novel. As great as Argento is, he's not the pure fimmaker Coppola is at his best.

Not to be a total naysayer, there are some good aspects to Argento's take on Dracula.

1. He's shooting in Bucharest, Romania. (The video clip below features Argento strolling the streets of Bucharest. It's Italian, but there's no talking. In fact, watch it on mute. The background music is kind of lame.)

2. Rutger Hauer signed on to play Abraham Van Helsing. He's played vampires before and stone cold killers. There was talk that if Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles had been made in the 1980s, Hauer would have been Lestat. That would have been awesome. So know, the grizzled old veteran gets to be the greatest vampire hunter ever. (Sorry, Buffy.)

Let's hope Argento can find some of that old magic that seemed to dissipate after his 1998 version of "The Phantom of the Opera." Maybe he'll capture the mystic deviance of "Tenebrae" or "Deep Red." Hell, if his Dracula is as good as 1987's "Opera," I'll be happy.

If it ends up like "Do You Like Hitchcock?" and is a one-dimensional imitation of what could have been, then Argento should just hang it up.

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