It’s hard to think of a more enticing prospect than Dario Argento making a film about Dracula—assuming the project also involved a time machine. Thirty or so years ago, before culture-wide vampire fatigue set in, when Argento was in the middle of a hot streak that included films like Deep Red, Suspiria, and Opera, and when the Italian film industry turned out compelling genre films on a regular basis, Argento’s Dracula 3-D might really have been something. But instead of elaborate tracking shots, striking cinematography, a bizarre score, and a peculiar international cast that might theoretically have included Alida Valli, James Franciscus, and John Saxon, we get a set-bound, dull-looking reheating of Bram Stoker’s novel filled with CGI effects of the sort usually reserved for films about shark-filled tornadoes and mega-pythons.
The problems start, but hardly end, with the first scene, in which a mother warns her nubile daughter Tania (Miriam Giovanelli) to close the shutters: “Tonight is…” Tania interrupts with the exhausted reply, “Walpurgis Night, I know.” It’s as if the characters are already bored of their own scary movie, and the roles they have to play in it. The first ostensibly scary scene only deepens the problems. After a nudity-rich barnyard tryst with her married lover, Tania heads outside, only to be attacked by Dracula, who appears in the form of an owl, the most hideous and feared of all woodland creatures. More accurately, he appears in the form of a cartoon-y owl effect; it’s the film’s one innovative touch that its famed vampire takes the form of unexpected creatures, like swarms of bugs, or in one particularly low moment, a giant praying mantis.
That isn’t the only departure from the text. Argento’s Dracula 3-D keeps the main characters and the bare bones of the original story, but confines the action to a single village that’s kept safe by a non-interference pact with Dracula. The film doesn’t really do much with the setup, however, or really do much of anything beyond moving from one opportunity to show boobs and bloodshed to the next. At times, it plays more like a horny teen’s half-invented book report of Dracula than a film trying to join the tradition of memorable Dracula adaptations by Tod Browning, Terrence Fisher, Francis Ford Coppola, and others.
The Dracula of Argento’s Dracula 3-D doesn’t help, either. German actor Thomas Kretschmann plays the immortal count with a sleepy resignation that makes him seem more like a creepy church deacon than a near-invincible demon. And though he’s certainly handsome, it’s particularly puzzling whenever he’s called upon to seduce a female character. His Dracula appears incapable of turning on anyone not aroused by distracted detachment and a fondness for lines like, “I am nothing but an out-of-tune chord in the divine symphony.”
As if to compensate for Kretschmann’s underplaying, Rutger Hauer shows up in the film’s second half as Van Helsing, and appears to have had fun hamming it up. (Kretschmann will soon be seen on NBC playing Van Helsing in a new Dracula series. Such is the circle of life.) Also on hand: Argento’s daughter Asia Argento, who goes so far over the top that Argento’s Dracula 3-D almost feels like a send-up. Maybe, given its awful effects and cliché-and-theremin-ridden score, that’s the best way to look at it. It isn’t just sub-par for Argento, it’s sub-par for virtually any director. It’s a stain on Dracula’s good name, and a waste of time for even those looking for the cheapest of vampiric thrills.
Note: As its title suggests, Argento’s Dracula 3-D is being presented in 3-D. The Dissolve wasn’t able to screen it in this format, though the 2-D version suggests those who see the 3-D version will have several items thrown, thrust, or otherwise propelled at them over the course of the film.