Welcome to The Last Horror Blog, a biweekly column on all things horror.
Resident Evil 6 update – With Paul W.S. Anderson ready to unleash his disaster epic Pompeii on audiences later this year, the director has finally taken a minute to update everyone on the state of Resident Evil 6. Remember that September 2014 release date? Not likely to happen…
Anderson has revealed that there’s currently nothing in motion regarding a sixth film in the popular franchise, but insists that both he and Screen Gems are on board for at least one more entry in the series inspired by Capcom’s video game series. Apparently, Anderson has an idea for how to wrap the whole thing up – but that might not happen until further down the road.
At any rate, it sounds like there’s definitely more of the Umbrella Corporation in our future, but it seems like we might be waiting a bit before the next entry is officially revealed.
Who Played Jason in Radio Shack’s Super Bowl ad? – One of the better ads to appear on Super Bowl Sunday came from Radio Shack, of all places. The company wanted to ditch its dated ‘80s roots – and featured a ton of icons from the Reagan era raiding one of their stores. Horror fans were very happy to see Jason Voorhees stalking the aisles.
Friday fanatics are a curious bunch – where Halloween fans often debate over the merits of various masks, Friday freaks love to argue about the various actors to play Jason. Many were interested in learning who donned the hockey mask for the ad and the answer is actually very cool if you’re a Friday historian.
Turns out it was Benjamin Bayouth under the mask this time out – the grandson of one Ted White. White, as astute Friday fans will recall, played Jason in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. How cool is that?
Tom Hiddleston joins the cast of High Rise – Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel of class warfare just got even more interesting when the director revealed that he’d cast Loki himself, Tom Hiddleston, in his upcoming feature.
Hiddleston has landed the lead role in the film, which tells the tale of a group of people living in a high-rise who eventually segregate themselves according to class structure and fight each other for space. Sounds like Battle Royale in an office building in some ways, although Ballard’s 1975 novel predates that beloved Japanese creation by more than two decades.
Most of the other details surrounding the film are still being worked out, but landing Hiddleston is a pretty big move. Expect more on High Rise in the weeks ahead.
New Wolf Creek 2 ad is packed with carnage – Those lucky Aussies will be seeing Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek 2 later this month, while we Americans are still waiting for an official release date. This new ad for the return of Mick Taylor is sure to make that wait a little more torturous – but knowing Mick, he’d probably be all for that.
Wolf Creek 2 - Australian TV Spot by dreadcentral
Dario Argento has long been one of the most revered filmmakers in the annals of horror cinema. The Italian maestro (often referred to as “The Italian Hitchcock”) has crafted some of the most impressive horror films of the 20th century. From Suspiria to Tenebre to Deep Red, Argento has proven himself one of the medium’s consummate visual artists.
There’s really nothing sadder than watching a visionary artist flounder along in the latter stages of his career – and that’s essentially what Argento has been doing since the late ‘80s. If the old adage is correct, you should always leave them wanting more – and Argento, based on the output of the past two decades, should have exited the stage sometime not long after 1987’s Opera (or maybe even 1992’s The Stendahl Syndrome). This is not to say that Argento hasn’t concocted some entertaining work in the intervening years (I enjoyed both of his Masters of Horror entries, and Sleepless is a serviceable giallo), but for every title that was moderately entertaining, there’s a Do You Like Hitchcock? or Mother of Tears to counter it.
Still, for all of Argento’s later career misfires, nothing quite compares to Argento’s Dracula 3D for sheer awfulness. I suppose Do You Like Hitchcock? and Giallo are worse films in an overall sense, and Mother of Tears is still the most disappointing (if only because we all waited 30 years only to be letdown by watching Daria Nicolodi do her best Yoda/Obi-wan as a ghost impression), but as an indicator that the master has completely lost his magic? It’s hard to top this mess.
Many of us knew Dracula 3D was going to be a disaster nearly a year in advance. A “sizzle reel” promoting the film turned up online – one featuring placeholder FX and temporary music, but even then it was easy to see that this was going to be a low-budget affair that lacked all of the visual and stylistic flourishes that made Argento’s classic output so completely unforgettable. The saddest part of all? It was merely a precursor for how bad the final film would be.
Argento had already demonstrated that he wasn’t particularly adept at adapting classic literature with his work on Phantom of the Opera. That feature is essentially a baroque mess of half-formed ideas anchored by Julian Sands and Asia Argento camping it up. In retrospect, Phantom of the Opera should have clued us all in that Dracula 3D was a bad idea – but it was hard not to get at least a little bit excited at the idea of Argento tackling Stoker’s classic novel (providing one of the filmmaker’s rare forays into the realm of purely supernatural horror) and working with Rutger Hauer, who landed the role of Van Helsing.
It’s easy to argue that with a bigger budget Argento might have been able to do Stoker’s novel justice, but I’m not buying it. Argento never intended to make a faithful adaptation of Dracula, opting instead to tweak the tale to his own suiting. This was an epically bad idea, which becomes increasingly more obvious as the film progresses and departs on a series of strange tangents.
Jonathan Harker is essentially an afterthought in Argento’s tale – which is almost fitting, since it means actor Unax Ugalde is kept offscreen a lot. As my colleague Bill Chambers likes to point out, in Argento’s Dracula, Harker basically travels to Transylvania to rearrange the Count’s bookshelves.
The rest of the cast is mostly window dressing – and it takes forever for Hauer’s Van Helsing to show up, meaning we spend a lot of time with Asia Argento’s Lucy and Marta Gastini’s Mina. This is not time particularly well spent. Thomas Kretschmann plays Dracula – and he mostly sleepwalks through his scenes.
The special effects are howlingly bad – there’s an amazingly odd scene early in the film where Harker arrives by train and the matte painting backdrop is so noticeable that it becomes almost surreal. There’s plenty of gore, but unfortunately Sergio Stivaletti’s work appears to be hampered by the budget and a reliance on really bad CGI. This is particularly true of the metamorphosis scenes – particularly one where Dracula turns into a giant praying mantis. Yes, you read that correctly. Forget about bats and wolves – Dracula actually turns into a praying mantis at one point.
What’s so unequivocally sad about Dracula 3D is that Argento assembled a top-notch team to help him out. He’s got Suspiria cinematographer Luciano Tovoli setting up his scene compositions. He’s got Goblin frontman Claudio Simonetti providing the score. He’s got Stivaletti on FX duties… so why is this film such an unmitigated disaster?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but at a guess I’d say there are a number of contributing factors. Argento’s screenplay by committee approach probably hurt the film’s script in a lot of ways. Argento’s never been a particularly strong plotter (which is amazing when you consider he’s known for his thrillers – one of the genres where weak plotting is the most glaring – but again, his style often trumped his narrative shortcomings in those older titles), but you don’t need to be in order to stage an adaptation of Dracula. Follow the book – it works!
The budget didn’t help either. While great strides have been made in the field of computer-generated FX, it’s clear that the Italian film scene hasn’t quite caught up with Hollywood. The CGI in the film already looks dated – making the title’s “wow!” moments appear horribly absurd and archaic. The sets are more forgivable (for the most part) if only because they evoke memories of classic Hammer Dracula films and the work of Italian legends like Mario Bava and Antonio Margheriti.
Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the biggest reason behind Dracula 3D’s failure is Argento himself. Dario has reached that age where it appears as though he’s said everything he has to say as an artist and is just going through the motions and recycling the ideas of his youth. A younger Argento probably wouldn’t have made Dracula 3D – he was too busy reveling in the darkness of his own twisted cinematic universe. To make it now, and to make it in such a disappointing way, feels almost like Argento’s trying to find something new to say even though he knows the well has run dry. This doesn’t mean he can’t still make interesting and exciting films, but I wouldn’t bet my money on any of his future projects panning out as classics at this point.
They say the hardest part of being in the public eye is knowing when to exit the stage. Twenty-five years ago, I’d have been incredibly sad at the idea of a world where there were no more Dario Argento films – yet for as sad as that is, it’s infinitely preferable to the thought of watching him spend the winter of his life flailing around making films like Dracula 3D. I take zero pleasure in seeing Argento struggle – I’ve been one of the man’s most vocal supporters for almost three decades, but if this is the barometer of his work now (and looking back over his recent output, it is), I’d rather him bow out gracefully instead of ruin his cinematic legacy.
Horror on the Horizon
February is not a strong month for theatrical horror releases, but we do get a few things to maybe check out this weekend.
The first Friday of the month sees a limited release for Nurse 3D, which will probably make you reconsider your sexy nurse fetish if you have one. Paz de la Huerta plays a murderous Florence Nightingale type in this thriller from Doug Aaroniokoski. Check out the trailer.
Meanwhile, if you like vampires and YA fantasy, you may want to check out Vampire Academy. It’s probably not even remotely horrific, but sometimes you take what you can get.
Unfortunately, things aren’t looking a whole lot brighter on DVD for the next two weeks.
The highlight of February 11 is a four-disc set featuring Jean Rollin’s vampire films – which is sure to appeal to fans who like their horror both sexy and artsy.
The next Tuesday doesn’t bring much more to the table – just a batch of low-budget stuff like you’d expect to find on Netflix Streaming. The titles worth noting are ensemble horror comedy piece Hellbenders, the Blu-ray version of Darkman and the Bad Dreams/Visiting Hours double feature, and the Italian horror piece Mad in Italy.
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