Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dracula {2012} – review

Director: Dario Argento

Release date: 2012

Contains spoilers

Another year, another Dracula movie and, to me, this one owed much more to Hammer films than it did to Stoker’s novel. Now fans of the vampire genre, and fans of Dracula in particular, are very aware that a straight telling of the novel is a big ask from any film producer, but given the Hammer-esque nature of this film one could only wish they had also borrowed the quality of those films.

I had wanted to see this on the big screen, given it was designed for 3D that surely would have been the way forward. However, its recent sporadic appearance on DVD/Blu-ray and the general derision with which it was met by film critics suggest that this won’t happen. The derision, unfortunately, won’t stop here but it does have some positives that I’ll highlight as we go along.

bad CGI
The opening swooping camera above a nineteenth century (eastern?) European village shows a big chunk of what is wrong with this flick. The village is CGI and the CGI is not good. For clarity’s sake let me underline my thoughts on CGI. I don’t mind it, when it is done well. Badly done CGI, like all effects, is a different matter however. In this case the stone colouring is too uniform, the streets too clean and, worse, too straight and uniform – it is blatantly not real. It prevents engagement with the film in the very first moments.

transform from owl
Next we are in one of the houses and we meet Tania (Miriam Giovanelli). Her mother (Maria Cristina Heller) is retiring for the night and asks Tania to bolt the shutters, after all it is Walpurgis Night. This she does, but also puts on a crucifix and cloak, sneaking from the house. She passes the hut of a local taxidermist, Renfield (Giovanni Franzoni), and gets to a barn… where she meets her married lover Milos (Christian Burruano). After doing the deed she wants him to walk her home, he refuses and she puts the cross (a gift from him) in his hand and storms off. Something follows her through the forest and she runs towards a hut as an owl flies at her and transforms into Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann, Blade 2). As he bites her she swoons ecstatically. The hut owner, Zoran (Giuseppe Lo Console), seems amused.

a feeling of unreality
A train arrives at a cgi station and again we are thrown out of the movie. The passenger Jonathon Harker (Unax Ugalde) swots at badly constructed cgi flies that are too loud in the soundtrack. They were clearly meant to be a 3D thing and we also notice that the film concentrates its attention on mean things (flies, spiders, cockroaches and rats) implying that they are the eyes of Dracula during the day. There is no coach and so he rides a horse to the village and is chased by wolves that mysteriously vanish almost as soon as they appear. Arriving at the village after nightfall, he goes to the inn and gets a room.

in the grave
The customers look suspicious and we then see Milos, the lieutenant and another sneak off to the graveyard, where they proceed with digging up Tania’s corpse so that they might stake it. When the coffin is opened they check her neck and see the bites. However Renfield appears and stops the desecration. He bites the ear off a man, knocks the lieutenant down and then buries a spade blade in Milos’ head. He is then overpowered but Tania’s corpse has vanished and so he is pulled away to jail. We see Tania drinking Dracula’s blood from a goblet.

Tania reborn
In the morning Jonathan goes to the house of Mayor Kisslinger to see the mayor's daughter, Lucy (Asia Argento, Love Bites). She is teaching a young girl piano and is a friend of Jonathon and his wife Mina (Marta Gastini). Mina has been delayed and will reach the village in a few days. It was Lucy who had told them that Count Dracula was looking for a librarian – the position that Jonathon has come to fill. After leaving the house, and nearly being throttled through the jail bars by Renfield, Jonathon heads to the castle.

he is mine
In the castle, no one is around but a letter has been left for Jonathon. He finds his room and, when he comes back down, he finds a table laid out. He meets Tania first, who seems overly familiar, and then the Count comes along and explains that she is his niece. After a “children of the night” moment Harker is taken to the library (he notices the Count casts no reflection in a glass fronted book case). We have Tania steal a picture of Mina (and suck some blood from a wound in Jonathon's hand) and then there is a moment tying in Dracula with Vlad Ţepeş. Following all this we get Tania disrobing, coming on to Jonathon and a very forceful “he is mine” moment, with a naked Tania tossed aside and the count biting Jonathon.

Lucy and Mina
Now I mentioned Hammer and Jonathon arriving to be a librarian is pure Horror of Dracula, though his appointment is innocent on his part in this, unlike the Hammer film where Harker is a vampire hunter undercover. The Tania character seems named and modelled after a vampiric totty found in Scars of Dracula. Suffice it to say that the town elders are in cahoots with the vampire but regretting their decision. Mina comes looking for her husband, as Lucy falls to the Count’s predation, and Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dracula 3: the Legacy, Salem’s Lot & The Reverend) is drafted in.

The mantis
I have already mentioned the CGI but it is worth concentrating on. When we see the owl, it is clearly CGI but works and has a less is more approach to the transformation. However other creature transformations do not work so well. A wolf to vampire transformation looks totally awful, whilst a swarm of flies into the vampire fails as the swarm but works as we see the vampire absorb errant parts of himself. However much was said, in pre-production, about Dracula becoming a giant praying mantis and this was truly as awful as it sounded; not just the cgi, but the rubber bits for close ups.

Carry On Dracula?
The story is sketchy at first. Borrowing from Dracula (1973), Dracula thinks Mina the reincarnation of his wife and has lured the couple there with the express desire of taking her for himself. Now his expired wife is named as the Countess Dolingen of Gratz, who was a feature of the short Dracula’s Guest but I guess we’ll forget that Dolingen was a vampire herself. What is interesting in this is that Mina does not believe she was his wife, but the Count mojo’s her into acting as such. This means the love story (such as it is) really does kind of sneak up on you.

Van Helsing Cushings a cross
One has to question Van Helsing’s preparedness as well. As the ex-director of Carfax Asylum, he became a vampire hunter having caught Dracula feeding on a patient. However when he confronts the vampire Lucy he apparently hasn’t brought a cross with him (despite having a bag of equipment to hand, which later contains a cross-sword that he stakes Tania with) as he cushing’s two twigs together to hold her off. I think they just wanted to use the trope.

The story is poor in its simplicity. It could have done with tightening up to be honest and to actually develop rather than plonk set pieces in its own path like some sort of cinematic bumps in the road. These set pieces derail more than enhance the film. The acting is average at best but the worst thing is the CGI as there are some really bad choices and this is a shame because at times the film does look luscious, reaching back to the Euro-horror of yore and then a bad computer graphic just makes you scoff. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


remy said...

Sorry to use comments to say 'hello', but just been enjoying your blog, glad to see you're still getting involved - I was just thinking of you the other day as I came across the copy of 'The Heart of the Master' that you kindly gave to me many years ago at a convention in Blackpool... (I went by an alias back then, Des) anyway, as you have comments moderation turned on, I hope you won't mind me using this as a form of texting - what do you think of the new Scott Walker. 'Bish Bosh'? And please check out my blog at

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hey, no worries, indeed thanks for the contact and great to hear from you... I was actually only recently reminiscing about the conventions up here and the comic of Christ the Vampire - you might recall you sent issue 1 through to me many moons ago. It still lives in a bookshelf here :)

I really enjoyed Bish Bosch, though it is certainly a challenging listen and I have to be in the right place mentally to put it on. I can see the evolution from tilt, through the drift to it.

I'll certainly check your blog :)