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John’s Horror Corner: Dracula 3-D (2012), if this is Dario Argento’s grand vision of Bram Stoker’s work… we need to check Argento for glaucoma.

February 10, 2023

MY CALL: This is a grand champion among awesome bad movies. Dracula fans will observe so many ill-funded great ideas, and so many misfires. I mean… I enjoyed this film a lot. But probably for reasons outside of Dario Argento’s intentions. MORE MOVIES LIKE Dracula 3-D: I feel like the Subspecies (1991) franchise captured a different flavor of Dracula’s mystique on a budget far more successfully. And to any who haven’t seen them, the OG Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and Interview with a Vampire (1994) were splendid period vampire films, along with the latest BBC mini-series Dracula (2020), which was a wonderfully different perspective.

This is a grand champion among bad movies that take themselves seriously. Of course, I only call this “bad” because we have this movie’s well-funded 1992 predecessor for comparison, with a glorious studio budget and top-tier cast. Directed and co-written by Dario Argento (Suspiria, Inferno, Mother of Tears, Two Evil Eyes), this approach to Bram Stoker’s Dracula had but a fraction of the budget of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 rendition. Nope, Argento enjoyed none of the budget. So instead he turned to enjoying all of the boobs, and he did so with long lingering shots… often on his daughter (Asia Argento; The Church, Demons 2, Mother of Tears).

But boobs are not the only cause for eye-rolling laughs. We see friendly curious wolves on screen frolicking about the forest while hearing the obviously mismatched sounds of snarling and growling; a skull-splitting shovel to the head represents the best gore; and a feral peasant biting a man’s ear is more convincing than when Dracula first bites a neck.

The iconic scenes representing Dracula’s folklore are weakly phoned-in—obviously partly due to budget, but also there were some obvious visionary short sights. The blood baptism of his new bride (Miriam Giovanelli) is reduced to a cut of the wrist and an emotionally hollow sip from a goblet; some scenes of Dracula in animal form would go completely unnoticed were it not for sudden and dramatic scoring indicating that “dun dun dunnnn, that rat is Dracula!”; and our discovery that he casts no reflection was completely without impact.

Harker’s seduction and vampire attack was perhaps the best executed, yet still laughable when compared to 1992. And both 1992 and Subspecies (1991) made finer work of Dracula’s wall-crawling ability. We also suffer (or laugh out loud at) the hands-down worst CGI wolf-to-man transformation ever.

It’s apparent that Argento was really trying, but just lacked the ability to capture the mystique of Dracula’s story and character. Argento’s greatest successes were the scenes of violence. Dracula slaughters a room of men by head-severing claw, blood-spewing throat gashes, flesh-ripping bite, and compelling a man to shoot himself (presented in awesome slow-motion) through the head—it’s a bloody pleasure. I also enjoyed Argento’s embrace of Dracula’s shapeshifting. Even though the execution is sadly most often stale, Dracula adopts a vast diversity of lesser animals to spy on villagers. At one point he enters a room as a swarm of flies; a very cool idea and a neat visual even on such a budget and CGI limitations. Where it jumps the shark is when Dracula assumes the form of a giant CGI praying mantis and slaughters Lucy’s father with its sharp forelimb through the chest. Oh, it’s hilarious—but it does great disservice to Bram Stoker’s vision.

And what of our hero? Van Helsing’s (Rutger Hauer; The Sonata, Bleeders, The Hitcher) vampire slaying is haphazard at best. He seems to fumble his way to victory upon his first two encounters. The character played out fine. But sadly the finale with Dracula and Helsing fell completely flat… kind of in a funny way… but in a way that was definitely not meant to be funny. At one point, Van Helsing grabs two twigs from the forest floor and aggressively cross them into a “+ sign” crucifix with a snarl. That sums up the budgetary efforts and impact on what should be the wowing cinematic moments in this movie.

As Dracula, Thomas Kretschmann (Blade II, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Hostel III) is the most convincing of the cast, followed by a spirited Unax Ugalde (as Harker). The wooden acting of most everyone else is a struggle to endure. But that is the least of this film’s flaws.

I mean… all told, I enjoyed this film a lot. But probably for reasons outside of Argento’s intentions.

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