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Plot: Wallachian warlord Vlad Tepes vows to find his love Elisabeta again.

Informed by three decades worth of Spanish, and Latin American gothic horror tradition and bursting at the seams with all the expectant excesses Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Dracula hereafter) is Italian gothic horror kitsch on a Hollywood mega-budget with all the attendant bells and whistles. Announced by Francis Ford Coppola as the most faithful adaptation of the old folktale Dracula was going to be a monumental genre piece no matter how it turned out. Not only was Dracula custodian to some of the hottest young stars of the day, some old veterans and awe-inspiring special effects; it grossed an impressive $215 million ($82 million domestically plus $133 million internationally) on a $40 million budget. Dracula introduced the world to, among other things, Coppola’s love for Italian gothic pulp, Keanu Reeves’ shaky English accent and Monica Belucci’s milky-white breasts.

While the nineties were a barren wasteland to many subgenres in horror the vampire movie thrived, above and below the mainstream. The decade saw the release of the high-profile Ann Rice adaptation Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) as well as Robert Rodriguez’ genre-hybrid From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) took a more comedic approach while smaller productions as Cronos (1993) from Guillermo Del Toro and The Addiction (1995) from Abel Ferrara put interesting new twists on the age-old lore. The old vampire conventions were lampshaded in parodies as Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) and Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995). Vampirella (1996) just as much as Blade (1998) missed the impending DC Comics and Marvel superhero craze (one that hasn’t subsided since) by just a few years and have been largely forgotten. Roger Corman stood at the cradle of said decade’s gothic horror revival with Frankenstein Unbound (1990). However it was Dracula - Francis Ford Coppola’s big-budget, mostly faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 novel – that ushered in the vampire horror revival in 1992. While horror is it’s genre of choice Dracula really wants to be a sprawling, timeless romance instead….

Francis Ford Coppola needs no introduction. He got his start with Roger Corman and in the seventies left his indelible mark on worldwide cinema with the likes of Patton (1970), The Godfather (1972) and The Great Gatsby (1974). Coppola commandeered budgets and possessed industry clout like no other. His Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now (1979) – plagued by disaster and well-documented production woes - and the box office bomb One from the Heart (1981) changed all that. Coppola was bankrupt and forced to sell his American Zoetrope Studio in 1983. He would spent the next decade working on smaller projects to pay off the debts. The ill-fated The Godfather Part III (1990) had been lucrative enough but he was in dire need of a bankable property to re-establish himself as a reliable director in the face of the Hollywood bigwigs. What better way to do that than to re-imagine the classic tale of Romanian folk hero Dracula as a gothic romance the way only an Italian could? Dracula was the scion of the vampire horror films from Renato Polselli and Luigi Batzella as well as the atmospheric potboilers from Spanish directors as Amando de Ossorio, León Klimovsky, and Paul Naschy. Coppola delivers a sumptuous designed, blood-drenched gothic horror tour de force redolent of the best vampire films of the sixties and seventies. Dracula overflows with all the pomp, decolettage and religious hysteria you’d expect from an Italian-American director. Apparently quite a few people were surprised that a respectable filmmaker as Francis Ford Coppola would lower himself to a big budget iteration of a classic bloodsoaked Meditterranean / Filipino vampire movie. Lest we forget, Coppola debuted with the Corman produced proto-slasher Dementia 13 (1963) almost thirty years earlier.

The Universal Horrors of the thirties had inspired Hammer Film Productions from Great Britain to update them for the fifties and sixties. Hammer Film in turn led to a veritable gothic horror cotton industry in Mediterranean Europe and Latin/South America with the Italian, Spanish, Méxican, Filipino, and Argentine producing a spate of imitations for the local – and international market and even spawning a few sub-classics in the process. With the dawning of the eighties the gothic horror went all but extinct as the American slasher horror craze (which truly was pioneered in Germany and Italy some two decades prior with the parallell genres of the krimi and the giallo, respectively) and gritty action came to dominate the multiplexes. The following decade saw the genre turned into a pariah of sorts as horror turned into thrillers and scares were replaced by self-reflective witticisms and slapstick – or situational humor. In that hostile environment Dracula – the convergence of several decades worth of international vampire lore – was released. The last hurrah of the big-budget American gothic came with enough blood, breasts, and religious iconography to satiate even the most ravenous fans of Latin/South American - and European horror. At times Dracula almost deigns to collapse under the weight of its own pompousness. Never before, or since, has Hollywood embraced the exploitation film ethos so unabashedly.

1462. Constantinople has fallen. Voivode of Wallachia Vlad Drăculea (Gary Oldman), member of the Order Of the Dragon, returns home victorious from the Night Attack at Târgovişte. He discovers that his love Elisabeta (Winona Ryder) has flung herself into the chasm after receiving a false writ from the forces of Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire that he died in battle. The head priest (Anthony Hopkins) informs Drăculea that Elisabeta has eternally condemned her immortal soul by committing suicide. Enraged, the Kaziklu Bey desecrates the chapel, renounces his faith in God and declares that he will avenge the death of his beloved. Drăculea drinks the blood from the desecrated chapel’s stone cross and becomes a vampire. Four centuries later, in 1897, in late Victorian Age London, newly-qualified solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is given an important assignment by his chief employer Mr. Hawkins (Jay Robinson). Harker is to travel to the land beyond the great vast forest, Transylvania, to attend to matters relating a number of real-estate acquisitions that his colleague R. M. Renfield (Tom Waits) – now rendered a babbling, bug-eating madman sequestered away within the walls of Carfax Asylum for the Insane - was unable to finalize before succumbing to insanity.

After an arduous journey by train through the grim mountains and haunted forests on the borders of Hungary, Moldavia and Bukovina Jonathan is picked up by an armor-bound spectral coachman who brings him to the imposing castle of eccentric and decrepit nobleman Count Drăculea (Gary Oldman) in Carpathia. Having per chance glanced at a photograph of Harker’s fiancée Wilhelmina Murray (Winona Ryder), who he believes to be a reincarnation of his Elisabeta, the Count insists Harker stay with him for a month to finalize the necessary administration for his estate acquisitions in England. Soon enough Jonathan realizes that he is in fact the Count’s prisoner and sees no other option but to indulge the Count’s requests to preserve his own hide. One night he is seduced and nearly ravaged by the Three Sisters (Monica Bellucci, Michaela Bercu, and Florina Kendrick), the Brides Of Dracula, but manages to escape within an inch of his life. Partially exsanguinated by the Brides, Jonathan is able drag himself to a convent in Budapest where the nuns in Christian charity nurse him back to health.

Meanwhile in London Mina has been staying with her debutante friend and lady-in-waiting Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost) over at the Hillingham estate in Whitby. While Harker is on assignment in Transylvania Mina makes her acquaintance with a suave young East-European prince (Gary Oldman) who insists that they have met before. Mina eventually falls for the prince’s considerable charms and two engage in a passionate illicit affair. While Mina does not recall her past life as Elisabeta, her blood does. At a high society ball Lucy is courted by three different men: the Texan Quincey P. Morris (Billy Campbell, as Bill Campbell), the clumsy but highly intelligent proprietor of Carfax Asylum Dr. Jack Seward (Richard E. Grant), and Sir Arthur Holmwood, Esq. (Cary Elwes). That night Lucy is bitten by a wolfen creature and falls into an inexplicable maladie that Seward finds impossible to diagnose. In his desperation he summons his aging mentor Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins). Mina, having finally heard from her ailing Jonathan, travels to the distant Romania to marry her betrothed. Enflamed Drăculea transforms Lucy into one of his undead minions necessitating Van Helsing and her three former suitors to stake, behead, and incinerate her remains.

Harker, now rapidly aged and despondent from his Transylvanian ordeal, along with Van Helsing and the three men agree to hunt Drăculea down. As Mina becomes increasingly corrupted by the Count’s evil the men learn that the fiend is traveling back to ancient Romania. The hunting party travels in haste to Varna, Bulgaria where the Count reads Mina’s mind and manages to evade them. The party splits up in Galatz, Romania with Mina and Van Helsing traveling to the Count’s castle near the Borgo Pass. Once more does the party face the Three Sisters but it is Jonathan who mortally wounds Drăculea in the fracas by slitting his throat. In the same chapel where he renounced his faith centuries ago Mina confesses her eternal love for the Count. As the Count regains his faith Mina lifts his curse of immortality and bloodlust by driving a stake through his heart and beheading him. At long last the Count is reunited with his beloved Elisabeta as a fresco depicts their two souls ascending to the Heavens.

What a cast was Francis Ford Coppola able to assemble for his first (and, so far, only) foray into horror since the early sixties. Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Monica Belucci, Tom Waits, and… Tina Cote? Okay, so maybe Tina Cote wasn’t exactly a star at any point and her role was merely that of an uncredited extra but there are far worse places to start. Cote regrettably would end up making a living in Albert Pyun productions which was a hell not unlike the crazy, mixed up worlds of Andy Sidaris, Rene Perez, or… god forbid, the Neils, Johnson and Breen. Reeves’ star was on the rise after Dangerous Liaisons (1988), Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989), Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991), Point Break (1991) and My Own Private Idaho (1991). Ryder had a few classics to her name in the form of Beetlejuice (1988), the teen comedy Heathers (1988), the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire! (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Mermaids (1990).

In 1991 Gary Oldman even made the pulse of redblooded hetero men race whereas Anthony Hopkins evinced that even a respectable serious actor can appreciate some old-fashioned pulp. Ginger seductress Sadie Frost had appeared in music videos from Spandau Ballet and Simply Red in the early-to-mid eighties and Dracula was her first big Hollywood role. And then there’s marvelous Monica Belucci. Coppola clearly considered himself an American first and an Italian second as in a post-Miranda (1985), Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (1987), Top Model (1988) and Paprika (1991) world perhaps Serena Grandi, Luciana Ottaviani, Pamela Prati and Debora Caprioglio would have been more logical choices in the wordless, mostly clothing-free, parts as the sensuous Brides. Arguably la Monica was chosen for her acting chops rather than her delectable figure. Belucci was an up-and-coming star, no doubt, and - like Stefania Sandrelli, Donatella Damiani and Claudia Koll before and Maria Grazia Cucinotta after - she too oozes sex from her every pore.

If anything, Dracula is a love letter to primitivism as Coppola staunchly insisted on the usage of in-camera practical effects. Dracula leaned heavily on foamlatex appliances that were revolutionizing monster make-up at that time, and some old-fashioned visual trickery and movie magic (miniature models, forced perspective, stationary matting, conventional animation, et al) to realize his grand vision. Costume designer Eiko Ishioka was ordered to make the wardrobe Oriental which she, understandably, interpreted as meaning East Asian and not Byzantine. Where else are you going to see an ancient, pallid, parchment-skinned Dracula in a red silk kimono with a train as long as any bridal dress and a hairstyle resembling that of an Edo courtesan complete with two-feet Manchu pigtail? Where else are you going to see castle Dracula in the shape of a man sitting on a throne and the man himself desecrating a lascivious, partially disrobed, maiden in wolven form with all the lust and vigor out of a Paul Naschy El Hombre Lobo episode?

Mina and Lucy are giggly ditzes that secretly read erotic literature and their experiments with lesbianism recall the best of Jean Rollin. The Brides are dressed in veils closer to the Arabian Nights or a peplum than anything else. Where rapid aging is nothing but a scant few hairs strategically painted grey (if it worked for Jess Franco, it’s good enough for Coppola). Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula is – in tradition of Naschy’s Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973) and The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) - both the villain and the romanic hero. For someone as avowedly Catholic as Coppola Dracula is rife with blasphemy and heresy – or at least as much as Hollywood would allow. It might not be Don't Deliver Us From Evil (1971) or Alucarda (1977) but it damn well pushes the envelope as far as it can. The ominous and lovingly creaky score from Wojciech Kilar – he of the Polish fantasy horror Lokis, the Manuscript of Professor Wittembach (1970) - is just as pompous as it is portentous. Blood flows freely, beheadings are many and often the baring of boobs is left to supporting players. This is Hollywood, after all. Frost and Belucci take off their tops and Ryder staunchly remains in hers.

The central love triangle and gothic romance is, while true to the source novel, something straight out of The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) and The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962). Dracula is Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969) or The Dracula Saga (1973) on a mega-million budget. It’s everything that The Living Corpse (1962) wished and wanted to be. As a genre piece Dracula is far closer to lovable Mexican kitsch as Blood Of the Vampires (1966) than it is to Argentinian sleaze as Blood Of the Virgins (1967) – and that tells you everything you really need to know. Considering that this was written by James V. Hart, or he of Hook (1991) and the cheerleader comedy Gimme an 'F' (1984), this could have been worse. At any rate, this would have been a perfect storm and creative opportunity to drag once-and-future queen of Italian exploitation cinema Edwige Fenech out of retirement for a prominent guestrole or extended cameo. Instead it would take another decade and a non-Italian director (the Mexican Robert Rodriguez) to do such with Hostel II (2002). Dracula is tribute to Francis Ford Coppola’s early days in exploitation. In retrospect it’s unfortunate that Coppola never got the chance to reimagine his Dementia 13 (1963) on a massive budget as a tribute to the Italian giallo. Dracula did not usher in a new era of gothic horror but proved that it was well and truly dead. If anything it offered ample evidence that unlike the ravening undead the expiration date of the subgenre was reached – and that the coffin was firmly nailed shut.

Plot: workaholic ad executive dies for the job… and comes to regret it.

Argentine vampire horror has come a long way. In the Golden Age of exploitation Latin – and South American gothics took primarily after Universal Horror and Hammer Films, respectively. Reflective of our more enlightened times Dead Man Tells His Own Tale (released domestically as El Muerto Cuenta su Historia) is a horror comedy that at points is a zombie, ghost, vampire, Satanic cult, and post-apocalyptic flick. It bounces into several different directions at once yet manages to stay surprisingly coherent – even if it comes at the price of never truly developing anything that it presents to any substantial degree. More importantly, Dead Man Tells His Own Tale pushes an outspoken feminist agenda that couldn’t feel more relevant considering women’s rights still regularly get trampled on in Argentina. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale may not have the subtlety of The Love Witch (2016) or be as on-point as Shaun Of the Dead (2004), Fabián Forte is onto something – even if he’s not the Argentine Álex de la Iglesia.

This is what you get when you combine The Day Of the Beast (1995), a hetero-normative take on Vampyros Lesbos (1971), a zombie subplot out of Idle Hands (1999), spice it up with a dash of Liar Liar (1997), a bit of What Women Want (2000) and sprinkle it with the feminist theory and women’s lib angle from The Love Witch (2016). Suffice to say Dead Man Tells His Own Tale fuses together influences and inspirations that have no sensible reason to go together but somehow do anyway. It’s leagues better in terms of writing and direction than Bolivian sex comedy My Cousin the Sexologist (2016) while having that same made-for-TV look. For no apparent reason other than to look cool Dead Man Tells His Own Tale starts in medias res, is told out of chronological order, and switches viewpoint characters around during the third act. It has no reason to work but somehow it does anyway. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale is chuckle-inducing at points and some of the gore scenes are surprisingly well-realized. As the complete antithesis to Emilio Vieyra's legendary Blood Of the Virgins (1967) (with Susana Beltrán and Gloria Prat) these vampires are of the mind rather than of the sanguine persuasion.

Ángel Barrios (Diego Gentile) is a workaholic ad executive in Buenos Aires. He’s shallow, self-centered, and chauvenist and sexist to a fault. He has a loving wife in Lucila (Mariana Anghileri, as Moro Anghileri) but he ignores her whenever convenient and at this point his relationship with her is purely transactional. On top of that, he’s estranged from his precocious daughter Antonella (Fiorela Duranda). Lucila and him have been going to relation therapy with doctor Ana (Viviana Saccone) but Ángel’s not interested in improving himself and blames Lucila for their problems instead. Ángel’s best friend is his work associate Eduardo (Damián Dreizik) who still lives with his elderly mother Cristina (Pipi Onetto). One day Ángel and Eduardo are ordered to helm a commercial for a perfume brand. During the shoot Ángel scolds the hired model (Victoria Saravia) for no apparent reason. From that point forward Ángel finds it difficult to tell what is real and what’s not. He loses all track of time until one night he finds himself in a bar getting seduced by Bea (Emilia Attías), Eri (Julieta Vallina), and a woman looking just like doctor Ana. The seductresses slash his throat, and exsanguinated he ends up on the medical slab of Dr. Piedras (Chucho Fernández).

He awakens, hobbles home, and is greeted by little Antonella who immediately notices that there’s something different about him. Lucila is understandably annoyed but shrugs it off as another of Ángel’s all-night binges. When he meets Eduardo the following day Ángel is startled by his new condition. Eduardo explains that they were killed by three Celtic goddesses for their sexist - and toxic behaviour and that they now exist in a state of unlife (or undeath). To deal with their predicament he has started a therapy group with fellow victims Norberto (Lautaro Delgado), Sergio (Berta Muñiz), Coco (Pablo Pinto), and Gustavo (Germán Romero) – all of whom, just like himself, merely exist as golems. Ángel feverishly continues to work while being something of a ghost in his own household. He learns that the three goddesses are preparing for the resurrection of the Morrígan Macha (Marina Cohen) by killing all sexist males. To make matters worse Cristina indoctrinates and inducts Lucila into the cult of the Morrígan. As the cult conducts a nocturnal ceremony the dead rise, the earth splits open, and Macha is indeed resurrected. Unable to stop the looming apocalypse Lucila and Ángel are witness to how society and power structures change overnight. In the aftermath they reunite with Antonella and with more understanding of their own sensitivities they roam the wastelands in their jeep fighting to restore the world they once knew.

Well, that’s quite something, isn’t it? Let’s break down what we have here. First, the general plot concerns a chauvenist pig getting a royal come-uppance much in the way of the French comedy As the Moon (1977) or What Women Want (2000). Ángel falling under the spell of Bea is lifted wholesale from Vampyros Lesbos (1971). The Morrígan cult scene will look familiar to anybody who has seen Blood On Satan’s Claw (1971), The Wicker Man (1973), or Satan's Slave (1976). The dead rising to do their witch mistress’ bidding sounds an awful lot like Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973). Ángel not being able to tell what is real and what is not reeks of The Game (1997) and him becoming a ghost in his own house reeks of The Sixth Sense (1999). Three misfits trying to stop the impending the impending apocalypse was, of course, the whole of The Day Of the Beast (1995). Finally, it concludes with the ending of The Terminator (1984) copied almost verbatim. There’s absolutely no reason why any of these should go together, but somehow they do. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale starts out as a conventional drama but soon transforms into a ghost horror, a zombie romp, a gothic horror, a Satanic cult flick and towards the end it briefly becomes a post-nuke yarn. Under no circumstance do any of these subgenres usually go together but here the transitions are seamless. That Dead Man Tells His Own Tale never devolves into incoherence attests to Forte’s vision.

Argentinian horror has come a long way since the halcyon days of Armando Bó ushering his bra-busting paramour Isabel Sarli through near-constant controversy and into superstardom, where “la diosa blanca de la sensualidad” Libertad Leblanc hopped across genres and neighbouring countries turning heads and dropping jaws along the way, where Emilio Vieyra’s kink-horror exploits with his trusty mujer sin ropas Gloria Prat and Susana Beltrán upset censors continue to speak to the fertile imagination of cult movie fanatics everywhere more than five decades later. It was here that Roger Corman and his Concorde Pictures struck a partnership with Aries Cinematográfica Argentina to produce some of the most gratuitous barbarian/sword-and-sorcery features with locals Alejandro Sessa and Héctor Olivera and a host of buxom American starlets willing to take their tops off for the right paycheck. Expect no such excesses here. While chaste by exploitation standards Dead Man Tells His Own Tale boasts former model and television personality Emilia Attías and Mariana Anghileri among its principal cast. Attías and Anghileri combine the best of Cristine Reyes, Anne Curtis, and Fernanda Urrejola. Thankfully they act better than Bolivian sexbomb Stephanie Herala. As important as a few pretty faces and hardbodies may be to the marketability of a production, the script of Nicolás Britos and director Forte matters even more. As a bonus, the special effects are a pretty even mix between practical and digital.

It’s a question for the ages why a pretty little fright flick like this ended up with the somewhat misleading Pirates of the Caribbean (2003-2017) derived title that it did. As these things go, its closest cousin is Álex de la Iglesia’s Witching and Bitching (2013). Director Fabián Forte was nominated for a Golden Raven at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film (BIFFF) in 2017 and while he did not win, he might be one of Argentina’s directors to look out for. In the years since Forte has mainly been assistant directing and doing television work with no features for the immediate future. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale proves that there’s still some life to the old corpse and that Argentinian horror can still be relevant and exciting in this day and age. If titles such as Terrified (2017) are anything to go by Argentina is, just like any other country, swamped by the current trend of The Conjuring (2013) and Paranormal Activity (2007) imitations. As lamentable as that evolution is, it makes you long for simpler times when Latin America could be counted upon to deliver something different from its European and American peers. Is that still the case? That’s difficult to say. At least Dead Man Tells His Own Tale can content itself with its old school sensibilities and retro aesthetic.