The words “Dario Argento’s Dracula” would seem to imply a horror slam-dunk. The director of Suspiria taking on the most iconic story in all of horror? Well…it’s far from that, but it manages (sometimes despite itself) to be an entertaining take on one of the most oft-told tales in all of horror. The addition of “3D” makes things a little tougher to swallow, but we’ll get to that…
Aregento’s Dracula 3D is a familiar (if slightly skewed version) of the original Bram Stoker novel. If you’re keeping score, it probably takes no more liberties with that original story than many other film adaptations, it’s simply the way that it takes those liberties that can be a little disorienting. There are so many inversions of the traditional Dracula story in here that they very nearly invalidate themselves. Keeping Dracula in his home country while Jonathan, Mina, and Van Helsing come to him may be trying to say something about Western imperialism, but if it is, I can’t make heads or tails of it. At one point I even thought they were going for a subtly feminist interpretation of the story, one that would put Mina at the forefront (with Jonathan as the dude-in-distress), but that simply wasn’t to be. Instead we get a Dracula story that is just familiar enough to make the deviations stand out more than they should, but not enough to make it feel like a daring (or particularly original) addition to the legend.
Thomas Kretschmann as Dracula almost makes the grade, but never crosses the line into memorable. What is it with Dracula’s identity crisis in this movie? Is he the elegant foreign nobleman of the Bela Lugosi era? The brutal, animalistic force of nature of Christopher Lee? The haunted romantic made famous by Gary Oldman? Kretschmann skitters between these interpretations but never makes any of them is own, and seems ill-suited to the feral sense of menace that some of the more violent scenes require. This isn’t entirely his fault, though. The screenplay seems to WANT this to be a blend of the iconic cinematic Draculas, showcasing both extremes of the character.
The film tries to blend these interpretations and comes up short. Instead, Dracula engages in one scene of bloody savagery (which, I’ll confess, is quite cool) that would make the producers of the Hammer Films Dracula movies look away in terror that just doesn’t line up with Kretschmann’s mopier, forlorn moments in the film’s later acts. If nothing else, this Dracula isn’t short on POWER, and he’s certainly egalitarian in his shapeshifting choices, changing into a tremendous owl, a pack of wolves, a cloud of flies (in one of the film’s creepier moments), and at one point (for some reason) a giant praying mantis. Alright, Drac!
As for the rest of the cast, well…Rutger Hauer sleepwalks his way through his brief screen time as Abraham Van Helsing with a studied disinterest that is truly something to behold. We were counting on you, Mr. Hauer, to elevate the proceedings a bit with a cast that includes Asia Argento as the doomed Lucy Westenra, Marta Gastini as Mina, and Unax Ugalde as the most ineffectual Jonathan Harker to ever grace the silver screen (and Dracula enthusiasts know that’s really saying something). As wooden as Marta and Unax are, they’re still infinitely superior to Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves’ interpretations in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. There is also Miriam Giovanelli as the impossibly beautiful (and quite naked…and in 3D) Tania, the Count’s first on screen victim. Strangely enough, Giovanni Franzoni’s Renfield, played as a super strong maniac is one of the brighter spots, and we get some gleefully unhinged slasher-film action from him early on.
Dracula’s 3D is more unnecessary than it is unwelcome. It’s certainly no worse than many of the other larger budget event films that pass themselves off as 3D these days. If anything, the biggest way that the 3D hurts this film is that it forces Argento to make an extraordinarily well-lit, far too crisp looking vampire flick, automatically robbing it of any of its potential atmosphere. It’s a shame, as the film was (supposedly) shot in Budapest, a location which should have allowed for some appropriately vampiric atmosphere to shine through. Shooting at night in Eastern Europe was often enough to carry the Subspecies franchise to watchability, so there’s no reason it shouldn’t have worked here.
Is Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D worth your time? In an October suspiciously devoid of proper horror movie releases, the answer is yes. If you can find a late night screening of this with a suitably lubricated crowd, there are some good laughs to be had, some gory fun, and Dracula enthusiasts may enjoy picking apart the deviations from Stoker’s novel. Otherwise, though, this one is only for completists.