argento's dracula poster

In 1977, Dario Argento directed Suspiria, what I consider to be one of the best giallo ever made; that it also ranks in one my top horror films of all time is a huge accomplishment as well. In 2012, 35 years after his ground-breaking film, he directed one of the worst adaptations of Dracula. As a fan of the director, as a person who had high hopes for what Argento could do with the moody atmosphere of Count Dracula’s castle, and as a lover of the original story by Bram Stoker, it’s safe to say that I was more than a little disappointed by Argento’s work – and even sort of mystified that something that should have been an easy adaptation could go so awry.

Part of the problem is the change in technology. Argento sets out to craft Dracula into a 3D adventure, and instead of the strange, colorful shots he’s used in his gialli before, we’re left with fairly basic scenes that feel shot for a soap opera, all of them leading up to an event that allows Argento to show something soaring into the camera. Whether it be an owl, or a CGI face of Dracula, the film is designed around the 3D aspect.

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That would be alright if Dracula had many 3D moments. I didn’t have a chance to view the 3D cut of the film – I had a digital screener of the 2D version – but by inference I can guess that the 3D version is pretty lacking in pop-out effects. There just aren’t very many of them throughout the film; really, the only thing popping on the screen at any given time are boobs, thanks to Argento’s daughter Asia Argento and Miriam Giovanelli as the lustful Tania.

What really baffles, though, is the brightness of every single shot in Dracula. Argento’s generally dark settings are left out of this film for heavy backlighting even in the darkest of graveyards. It doesn’t create much tension, but it also doesn’t do any favors to the special effects, because some of the CGI in this film is just plain bad.

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It almost seems like Argento is attempting to have fun with this rendition of Dracula. It follows the course of the story fairly well while still adding some of the director’s ideas, but everything falls flat regardless. If this is meant to be fun, then I think I’d rather have Dracula drain all of my blood. Thomas Kretschmann is, frankly, a terrible Count Drac – his delivery is so flat, monotone, and void of any emotion that I nearly fell asleep more than once throughout Argento’s adaptation. Marta Gastini’s portrayal of Mina Harker is less wooden, but that might be just due to the fact that she’s rather cute in the role.

Rutger Hauer is the best part of the film thanks to his gruff Van Helsing. The man is blunt and down-to-earth, and he gets stuff done, even if it means putting Mina in danger to vanquish the Count. This is a Van Helsing I can get behind – Hugh Jackman’s, not so much.

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Other than that, there’s really nothing more to say on the matter. Argento follows the path plotted by scores of other Dracula adaptations, and while he stays the course far more than he ventures from it, the film is so conventional that it becomes a long-winded traipse that reminds of far better films; it also reminds of Hammer, and though they might not be better, those older films are more fun than Argento’s version. Watching Argento’s Dracula is kind of like going to work – you know what to expect that day, and maybe you hope for something exciting that will elevate it from other days, but once it ends you find that it was a little worse than the one before it.

It’s very disappointing, though, to see Argento fall so far from where he began. The use of 3D in this film certainly feels as though he has traded in his artistic flair for the “stuff that audiences want,” and while I don’t want to start chants of “Sell out!” with pitchforks in hand, the disaster that is Argento’s Dracula makes it difficult to defend a director who had so much impact on horror in the ’70s and ’80s. Hopefully for his next film, Argento has learned that his daughter’s breasts can’t save a bad idea – and 3D can’t be substituted for good scares.

Thanks to IFC Films for providing review screener.

Argento’s Dracula on Rotten Tomatoes

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