With the vampire mythos languishing somewhere between a bad romance novel and a silly after-school special, fright fans had been hoping that one of the genre’s masters could bring the unfairly compromised neckbiter back from the verge of horror film pointlessness. So the announcement that Dario Argento, the genius behind such landmark movie macabre as Suspiria and Inferno, as well as the Master of the Italian crime thriller known as the giallo (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Profondo Rosso) was tackling Bram Stoker’s bread and butter, there was some considered rejoicing. If Dario couldn’t do it, no one could. However, those who’ve seen his recent work, or better yet, sat through his previous take on a treasured property (The Phantom of the Opera) were wary. They had reason to be.
Even when gussied up like a ’70s Aramis ad ala Frank Langella, Dracula has never been this dull. Even when Jonathan Frid fanged his way through the camp classic soap opera Dark Shadows, the vampire was never this tedious, or toothless. Argento, who collaborated on the script and cast his daughter Asia in one of the main roles, clearly believed he was making a revisionist look at the lovelorn monster and his never-ending (or dying) quest for his former fling. Instead, he created a travesty, a work so woefully misguided and devoid of legitimate scares that you wonder is the old man has lost his knack. Sure, towards the end, he amps up the gore factor and there are moments when we see the Hitchcock of Foreign Horror for what he used to be. But this version of Dracula is just dreary.
We are introduced to the tiny village of Passburg via a naked love scene between two unknown characters. Eventually, the woman is killed by Dracula, descending from the heavens as an…owl? Next, a young man named Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) is introduced. He has come to the town to work for the Count (Thomas Kretschmann), cataloging his centuries old collection of books. Seduced by one of the ghoul’s main maiden, Tania (Miriam Giovanelli), he falls under these vampire’s spell and goes missing.
In the meantime, Jonathan’s wife Mina (Marta Gastini) arrives, looking for her man. Staying in the house of family friend Lucy Kisslinger (Asia Argento) she soon learns of the area’s troubled legacy. Eventually, everyone is a vampire except Mina. Apparently, she reminds the Count of his dearly departed lover, and he wants her to join him in immortal bliss. Notorious monster hunter Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Ruter Hauer) has other ideas about this, however.
From the pointless early sequence of gratuitous nudity to the jaw-dropping sequence involving an oversized praying mantis (no, seriously), Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D is either the most elaborate joke the horror maestro has played on his vast generation of fans, or proof positive that the 73 year old filmmaker has fallen into a case of concerning artistic Alzheimers. It’s just hard to fathom that the man who made a young girl’s trip to a German ballet academy into a fascinating fever dream of witches, maggots, and arterial spray could craft something this crappy. This is the mastermind behind such brilliant pieces of brutality as Tenebrae, Opera, and The Stendhal Syndrome (which also starred Kretschmann and his daughter Asia). John Carpenter once called him his greatest influence. After this, he is surely his biggest disappointment.
Again, this is nothing new for those who sat through the weird rat catching craziness and overdone sex scenes of Phantom, or who’ve hoped that subsequent slop such as Sleepless, The Card Player, and Do You Like Hitchcock? were just subpar stop-overs on the way to greater macabre delights. But even his final installment in the fabled Mothers trilogy, Mother of Tears, was more outlandish blood and bravado than a Suspiria level surrealist spectacle. When you consider that, for three decades plus, Argento was delivering one classic after another, a slip like this one is forgivable. But one thing becomes abundantly clear with Dracula 3D. Either the man has lost his touch, or he no longer cares about putting any real effort into his art.
Kretschmann is quite serviceable as the Count, delivering his lines with just the right amount of stored-up menace. He even gets a moment of supernatural butt kicking when he takes on a room full of the town’s elders. Everyone else, however, is wasted. Mr. Ugalde looks like Anthony Kiedis sans the California surfer dude-ism and he’s just horrible as Harker. Ms. Argento and Ms. Giovanelli were clearly hired for their ability to take off their tops and be comfortable showing off said skin, while Ms. Gastini remains clothed, and awkwardly emotionless. That just leave Hauer, and if ever a possible highlight was wasted in a horror film, it’s his turn as Dr. Van Helsing. We expect scenery chewing and high strung histrionics from the B-movie genre legend. Instead, he phones in his work, doing little except mumbling his lines and looking around, helpless.
Even the narrative is a big nothing, a goose egg given over to Argento and company’s completely clueless flights of fancy. It doesn’t follow Stoker’s novel so much as tear out a few pages and realign them with someone else’s idea of a scary story, and it’s not a very good one at that. In fact, it’s safe to say that nothing much happens in Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D except bad CGI, equally lame practical F/X, and a lot of conversations. Again, if this is an elaborate ruse, the movie fails to deliver its punchlines. If it’s not, Argento should, perhaps, retire. As someone who has seen every single film this man has made, whose swooned under the influence of the many masterworks in his creative canon, this critic was floored by how bad Dracula 3D was/is. Argento has made a few stinkers before, but nothing as offensively odiferous as this. Someone once said that it’s the wise man who stops before he overstays his welcome. With his take on the famed Nosferatu, Argento is officially past his sell-by date. Way past.