FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 30, 2013

like a big CGI ham and cheese sandwich

"Stay away from it," they said. "It's awful," they said. "You'll regret it!" they said. I ignored every one of 'em. These crazy townspeople held eyeballs all up in my face and warned of impending doom. Just like a horny teenager, I said "Ew, gross, shut up" and went about my beeswax.

Mind you, my beeswax was not a weekend getaway at an abandoned summer camp, no! My beeswax was a viewing of Dario Argento's Dracula, which may not have damaged my person, but it certainly damaged my psyche. Because it's terrible. I should have heeded the warnings! But alas, as the boss of this blog, there are times I have to do some unpleasant things all in the name of science. Just like a horny teenager.

Aw heck, I'm being too hard on it. Sure, it was terrible, but not as terrible as I was expecting. Like, you know, when you go to the doctor and you think the prognosis will be "double amputation" but you walk hop out of there with one leg still intact. Better than you thought it'd be. But still awful.

WAIT. Oh no...already, I feel it happening. Yes...Dracula is becoming Rumplestilskinized! What does that mean? If you don't know, here's something I wrote about that shitshow Rumplestiltskin:
Rumplestiltskin is pretty much the worst movie ever. Somehow, though, if you talk about it enough with your friends, in your mind it becomes the best movie ever and you're struck with a fiery urge to watch it again right this very second. So you watch it and remember how much it sucks...but then, as soon as it's over, you're talking about how great it was and you want to watch it...and so on, ad infinitum.
I'm sitting here thinking about all the ridiculous things that happen in Dracula- and lawd, there are so many- and while it was painful to sit through at the time, now it all seems to add up to the most delightful romper that ever romped a room. Brain, this is a dangerous path you walk. "How could anyone not love Argento's Dracula?" should not become your new battle cry. And yet...

please don't laugh at me, ladies, my brain does whatever it wants

Somewhere in a tiny village in the Carpathians, a busty young lass gets her young bust out for a married fellow. After they do the sex, the busty young lass insists on being walked home- the woods at night are scary, after all- but married fellow refuses. The busty young lass walks home alone and, sadly, she is totally right about the dangers lurking in those scary woods. Before long she's attacked by...a CGI owl! But this is not a SyFy movie about killer CGI owls- this is just one of the many clever disguises of Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann). This should not be a surprise, for his name is right there in the movie's title. Anyway, Dracula bites the busty young lass to undeath.

Enter one young Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde, which sounds like the name of a villain the Uncanny X-Men would have fought in an issue from 1964), come to Castle Dracula to organize the Count's library, I guess? Which is weird, since the giant alphabet letters over each section implies that the library is already somewhat organized. Regardless, before you can say "Huh. And here I thought that Keanu Reeves would go down in history as the worst Jonathan Harker", the poor young man is set upon by the busty young lass (now a busty young Bride of Dracula) and Dracula himself.

Mina Harker (Marta Gastini) has come to town looking for her husband, and from here you know how the old story goes: Mina's pal Lucy (Asia Argento) takes ill after some bitey-bitey visits from Dracula, Van Helsing shows up to poop on the Count's party, Dracula becomes obsessed with Mina, et cetera, the end. Argento strays from the standard story enough to keep things interesting (SPOILER: poor old Jonathan doesn't make it), but most of all he takes this old recipe and douses it liberally in gallons upon gallons of pure, unadulterated fuckery.

It begins with Claudio Simonetti's score. Now, Simonetti and his Goblin bandmates have teamed with Argento in the past to create some of the most memorable sight + sound assaults in cinema (come on now). In Dracula, he brings some theremin-heavy, Creature Double Feature ooooEEEEEooooo realness, and it's so over-the-top YOU'RE IN DRACULA'S CASTLE corny that one cannot discern whether or not any of this affair should be taken seriously.

The performances only add to the mystery. Everyone either hams it up or barely registers a pulse- and I'm not just talking about the undead. Poor Rutger Hauer coasts through every scene in a mumbly daze, as if the shooting schedule falls right in the middle of naptime. Though she, too, is capable of better, Asia phones in her performance as Lucy, slurring nigh-unintelligibly and dutifully getting (unerotically) naked for her father's camera lens. Then again, she's also supposedly said "I tend to be a lazy actress, unless I'm pushed. Most of the time nothing much is required of directors, which is a pity." Who knows where the blame for her deadpan Lucy lies?

At least she shows some spark after Lucy is transformed into the Bloofer Lady. She seems to have a (great) cheesy old time in her fifteen seconds as a vampire, chewing the scenery, high-kicking crosses out of pious hands, and hissing. So much hissing in Dracula! Here's a little gallery; if you scroll quickly and hiss every time you get to a new picture, it'll be just like watching the film:

My favorite part of the movie? When Jonathan Harker looks out his window and spots a teeny-tiny CGI Dracula scaling the far wall of his castle...teeny-tiny CGI Dracula stops, looks back at Harker, hisses (softly! for he is so far away) and keeps on a-climbin'. Honestly, that was worth the rental price alone.

Yes, CGI owls, CGI teeny-tiny Draculas...this movie is nearly all CGI. That'd be bad enough on principle alone, but folks, we're talking about commercial for DeVry Institute's computer program-level graphics here. The generated effects are so blatant and awful, you'll either get angry or laugh hysterically- but either way you'll wonder how in the hell this happened and how in the hell Dracula is a Dario Argento film.

Let's face it- plot and acting have always been on the backburner in Argento films. Maybe sometimes his movies make sense, but generally it's the look and feel that set his work apart and have made the director Horror Movie Royalty. Is it a case of "Oh no, how far has Argento fallen?", or more "Would Suspiria have looked like this if CGI were rampant in 1977?" Likely, it's a combination of the two. There's no denying that the man can craft an exquisite scene, so maybe his heart simply isn't in it anymore. But there's also no denying that the advent of CGI has made things "easier" for filmmakers, allowing them to save both money and time by making all the magic happen with a keyboard instead of spirit gum, karo syrup, and latex. The problem is, that "magic" is very very rarely up to snuff, particularly in Dracula. It's disheartening as an Argento fan- hell, as a movie fan- to see something as simple as a bleeding cut on a character's arm done with poorly rendered computer graphics. It feels lazy, and dammit, you know he can do better.

If there's one saving grace in Dracula, it's a scene where the Count quickly dispatches a room full of townsfolk who no longer want to do his bidding. It's a crazy whirlwind of blood and violence, and the effects feel...practical. After being bludgeoned with CGI that feels straight outta 1995, it's a welcome relief to see something real. Well, relatively speaking and all.

I truly think there's some fun to be had with this cinematic abomination. I mean, I haven't even mentioned the scene where Dracula turns into a man-sized praying mantis (no one knows why that happens except Dario Argento and whatever god he worships) or the fact that if you took a shot every time you see dangling strings of garlic you'd be drunk five minutes in. Wait, why was I complaining about dodgy, over-used effects, atrocious dialogue, and terrible acting? What am I saying? A man-sized praying mantis...Dracula is the best movie ever!

Dammit...there goes my brain again.


CWL said...

To be honest, I've never really been that impressed by anything Asia's done. I really want to like her, because she's Asia Argento, but then I watch her sleepwalk through Mother of Tears or whatever and get disappointed anew. Maybe I need to check out more of her non-Dario stuff.

Sad to read that this is so agonizing! With Argento being so into bad CGI these days, maybe he'll do an Asylum movie next.

Bleed For Me. said...

Throughout your review, I kept thinking, "Oh no! This movie's going to suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck...!"

But then Mantis Dracula.

I may have to tough this one out.

CashBailey said...

CWL: This could quite easily have been an Asylum movie.

Although I'm sure they would have insisted it all take place in a condo in LA. And Dracula would have been Richard Grieco.

Dead In Hell said...


I find it slightly funny that Thomas Kretschmann is Dracula in Dracula the movie, and Van Helsing in Dracula the TV series. Dude is into it.

Also, I wish that vampires would stop hissing all the time. Vampires are not cats. There is nothing menacing or cool about a hiss. If I encountered a vampire and they started hissing at me and making that goofy hiss face, it would just be awkward and I would feel bad. I wouldn't even want to stake them.

CGI is definitely the worst. Imagine what would have become of all the low budget horror classics of old if instead of Tom Savini they'd hired some dweeb to just put tons of fake mantises into the film. IMAGINE THAT.