I distinctly remember my first viewing of Argento’s 1977 masterpiece Suspiria. The vibrant colors, the inescapable music, the tension, the moments of hideous violence—all these things I remember to this very day. There were other films before and since, and I watched them all, enjoying a great many of them.
Then came 2007’s The Mother of Tears, and for the first time I was disappointed. Certainly there were hints of Argento’s prime here, but for the most part the film was not a worthy successor to the mighty Suspiria. Now comes 2012’s Dario Argento’s Dracula, and once again this Italian giant has disappointed me.
An Italian, French, and Spanish production, Dario Argento’s Dracula is a reimagination of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, with facets of Coppola’s movie Dracula and Hammer films about Dracula alluded to as well.
The movie’s superstructure follows the Stoker novel, with scriptwriters Dario Argento, Enrique Cerezo, Stefano Piani, and Antonio Tentori making changes along the way. There are the usual character eliminations, leaving only the Dracula-Van Helsing feud relatively intact.
Spanish actor Unax Ugalde plays a strong Jonathan Harker, who in this telling is a librarian tasked with cataloging Dracula’s (Thomas Kretschmann, who works hard but is miscast as the count) library of books accumulated over the centuries. Harker finds himself pursued by the Tania (the luscious Miriam Giovanelli), as well as the vampiric count. The story then shifts to the arrival of Mina Harker (Marta Gastinity, in a standout performance), who stays close to Dracula’s castle with her friend Lucy Kisslinger (Asia Argento). Lucy is soon seduced by Dracula, who plans to use her to bring Mina to his castle. Taking a cue from Coppola’s movie, Mina turns out to be the reincarnation of Dracula’s long-lost love. Suspecting that Dracula is a vampire, Mina enlists the help of Abraham Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer, who seems a little confused about his part in this play).
Dario Argento’s Dracula has its moments of inspiration in which Argento manages to create a startling color palette on film. For example, there is a sequence at the beginning of the movie in which a woman is walking in a forest. The dulled colors of the woman’s clothing, coupled with the intentionally bright greens of the tree branches and the almost obsidian darkness, scream out as an Argento staple. Sadly, these sequences often lead to poorly executed CGI.
The usual problems experienced even in the best Argento films are present, but because the style is mostly gone, these problems are magnified. The acting overall is either poor or indifferent, which is shocking, given the talent on display. Rutger Hauer comes off as tired, Asia Argento has difficulty with her lines, and Thomas Kretschmann does not convey any type of menace as Dracula.
The movie also has some rather strange additions. For example, Dracula can transform into various types of animals, such as an owl and even a praying mantis (!). The role of Renfield (Giovanni Franzoni) is a throwaway, the action sequences are too short and are not very inspiring, and there are really no moments of overt horror, not even a jump scare or two. For some reason, Argento chose to use minimal sets and props (perhaps to augment the 3D experience?). The end result of such selection makes for a cheapened, more stage-bound experience.
Perhaps as homage to the Hammer’s Dracula and vampire films, Argento throws in plenty of curvy performers, many of whom strip off their clothing at a moment’s notice to show off their ample assets. Among these performers is Argento’s own daughter, who has shown of her body in several of Argento’s movies. What Argento fails to understand, however, is that the Hammer vampire flicks used sexuality as a way to augment (dare I say, stimulate?) the horror experience. In this movie, the nude scenes come off as forced, lacking any real sexual charge.
Originally released as a 3D film, Dario Argento’s Dracula doesn’t live up to the cover art used to push the DVD and Blu-Ray discs. Argento fans may forgive some of the writer-director’s trespasses, but horror fans looking for the Argento magic will not forgive said sins.
The DVD for Dario Argento’s Dracula comes with a behind-the-scenes documentary that focuses on the elements of filming in 3D, a music video, and a couple of trailers.