30 September 2013

September 30th

Tales from the Darkside 1.16: "The Tear Collector" (1985) directed by John Drimmer
Weird episode.  Suspiria's Jessica Harper stars as a woman who is so emotionally sensitive, she cries all of the time for no particular reason.  She runs into a man on the streets of New York City who offers to help.  Though this stranger invites her to his apartment, he is a gentlemen in all respects.  There, he merely collects her tears into a beautiful swan-shaped vial, explaining that such free-flowing tears contain special properties.  We never really learn what they do, nor do we learn more about the man's mission.  He has a large room full of tear vials both new and old and seems to want to truly help his clients.  More, we can't really say.  I like the mystery, even if this was not remotely a dark episode.

Dracula (2012) directed by Dario Argento
Seeing Jessica Harper reminded me that I had a new Argento movie I hadn't watched yet.  Unlike most folks, I'm an apologist for late era Argento.  I actually like Giallo, think Mother of Tears has some good moments (especially if you forget it's related to Suspiria and Inferno), and found The Card Player to be pretty intense.  I won't deny the guy's output quality has diminished over the years, but I still think he can create some interesting films.

I may have misjudged the man.  Argento's Dracula is a truly horrible film.  It's embarrassingly bad.  It's every bit as bad as The Phantom of the Opera, Argento's other abysmal film.  My mouth was literally, in real life, hanging open during some scenes, completely bewildered at how stupid the movie could get.  Here, here is a shot from one of the scenes I could not believe was put into an otherwise serious Dracula movie:
Yes, of course Dracula turns into a giant praying mantis and bites a guy's head off.
The story is a mess.  It lifts some characters and situations from the Stoker novel, but it is only interested in the superficial aspects of the original story.  Harker disappears halfway through the story, only to reappear for a few seconds at the end to be staked.  He could be cut from the story without affecting anything at all.  The same could be said for Renfield, who does nothing important and appears to only be in the film because Dwight Frye made such an impression with the character in the 1930s.  Dracula's motivations make no sense.  The climax is weak.  Nothing works in the story.

Unforgivably, during the last 20 minutes of the film, this film suddenly decides to rip-off Coppola's version as well.  Without any build up at all, Mina is revealed to be the reincarnation of Dracula's dead wife.  Upon learning this, she instantly falls in love with the vampire.  What?  She has traveled to town to meet her husband, who has gone missing.  The last person to see him is the vampire she's allowing to gnaw on her neck.  Why?  It's the laziest storytelling I've seen in quite a while.

Even things that used to be consistently great in Argento movies are failures in this film.  Claudio Simonetti did the score and, for reasons I cannot fathom, decided the theramin was the perfect instrument to complement a supposedly serious horror film set in the 19th century.  Every time he broke out those warbly theramin sounds, I expected to see a rubber-suited monster step out of a flying saucer.  It was completely the wrong way to go, unless Argento had originally planned to make a much, much sillier picture (and considering the giant mantis, maybe he did).

The lighting was similarly a mess.  Classic Argento was a master of lighting and composition in his films.  You can watch Suspiria with the sound off and still be amazed.  In Dracula, there are rare and fleeting moments of beauty, like this shot:
The only moment of beauty in the film.
But, mostly, everything is framed without any thought and flatly lit with, what I imagine to be, giant spotlights just off screen, like this:
This scene is supposed to take place at night before the invention of electric lights.
Or this:
A too-bright, colorless, dully composed meeting of the town's bad guys.

The acting is terrible throughout.  I was looking forward to seeing Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing.  I thought he was a perfect casting choice: he's actually Dutch!  Hauer sleepwalks through the roll, seemingly completely drained of all energy.  The man doesn't even chew the scenery to give us some camp to latch onto.  Not that I blame him, considering the film's script.

Argento's daughter Asia plays Lucy.  Forget about the unnecessary nude bathing scene.  We all know the two have a weird relationship.  I was shocked at how horrible Asia's acting was.  She has the ability to do good work, but here... yeesh.  Check this out.  Awful vampire, or the worst vampire ever committed to the screen?

This film might've been the straw that broke the camel's back for me.  I was happy to give Argento the benefit of the doubt for years.  Now, I'm seriously worried he has a brain tumor or is suffering from dementia.  Dario: please, find a good giallo script, vow to not use any CGI, and give the actors some energy drinks before each scene.  You can't let this be your final film.

Watched: blu-ray from Sony.


  1. I actually liked Dario's Dracula way more then I expected. Not because it's good. Oh heavens no. It's an atrocious film. However, it at least provided some campy enjoyment. If looked at as a comedy, it's much more successful. The movie falls on just about every level: nonsensical writing, terrible special effects, laughable acting, flat direction, music that has no business being in this type of film, etc. It's a fiasco on the level of his version of "Phantom." However, at that point in his career, Argento still made illusions of being a talented, impressive filmmaker. Now, his last few films have been so colorless and boring that a project this loopy is actually sort of endearing. Sort of.

  2. And I really tried to watch it that way... but I don't even think the movie can even go for the "so bad it's good" angle. Maybe I'm just too sad at what happened to Argento to laugh?