Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Dario Argento
Writer: Dario Argento, Enrique Cerezo, Stefano Piani, Antonio Tentori
Producer: Enrique Cerezo, Roberto Di Girolamo, Sergio Gobbi, Franco Paolucci, Giovanni Paolucci
Stars: Thomas Kretschmann, Marta Gastini, Asia Argento, Unax Ugalde, Miriam Giovanelli, Rutger Hauer, Maria Cristina Heller, Augusto Zucchi
Count Dracula terrorizes the Romanian countryside in Dario Argento’s take on Bram Stoker's classic tale of gothic horror.
I number myself among those Dario Argento fans who refuse to believe the famed giallo director’s 21st century career decline is unsalvageable. Sadly, “Argento’s Dracula 3D” adds credence to the negative perceptions naysayers have espoused since “The Stendahl Syndrome.” While Dracula does literal heartbreaking with fangs through flesh, Argento figuratively accomplishes the same feat by further dimming any hope that the maestro may yet hide another cinematic ace up his sleeve.
Insulted, appalled, disillusioned, and angered. Feeling all four simultaneously is the likely result of viewing the start to finish mess that is “Argento’s Dracula 3D.” In a way, it is poetically fitting to have an emotional reaction that is completely confused, since everything about the film is, too.
Were it not for the names in the credits and the recognizable faces on the screen, anyone could be forgiven for assuming a group of like-minded filmmaking amateurs either did not care or did not know better. The movie is riddled with so many misfired moments that it is impossible to tell if Argento mistook the atmosphere for fun or if he simply directed the movie with his eyes closed. Regardless, a devil may care approach is the best explanation for why everyone else joins him in collective sleepwalking while applying their individual disciplines.
As co-founder of the Italian prog rock band Goblin, composer Claudio Simonetti is responsible for several hugely influential scores, including “Dawn of the Dead” and “Suspiria.” Such iconic musical accomplishments are a distant memory with a “Dracula 3D” soundtrack so off kilter it leans sideways. The opening titles are accompanied by the type of “oooo-wooOO-OOooo” music heard at the introduction of late night chiller theater on public access television.
Expecting Leslie Nielsen to pop out of a coffin at any moment, no one bothers tapping the brakes as the music continues growing more miscued. “Dun-dun-dun” stings needlessly inflate close-ups of garlic cloves multiple times in the same scene, just in case the repeated visual cues were not already blatantly obvious.
Timecode along the screen bottom is the only missing link to excuse the film as an accidentally leaked unfinished workprint. Abrupt fades to black interrupt scenes mid-action and mid-music as if going into a commercial break. Jarring jump cuts give the impression that connecting shots are missing completely.
There is not even any pleasure to be found in the sight of Asia Argento’s curves as she playfully tee-hees during a sponge bath with a friend. Knowing that her father is watching from the other side of the camera saps every ounce of sexy from the scene.
Crying laughter is punched right from the gut by fistfuls of awful dialogue. When one nervous villager asks, “did you hear that,” her companion responds, “it’s just the wind.” Another warns Van Helsing about Dracula with the exclamation, “he is evil … Eee-villl!”
Shockingly, the script is a collaborative effort between four different writers. Set aside that they are working from preexisting material that has already been adapted several hundred times in the last century. That is a lot of cooks in the kitchen to come up with words that typically end up spoofed in parody films. “Argento’s Dracula 3D” not only plays such absurdities perfectly straight, but with an ignorant arrogance that an audience will willingly accept it as is.
Rivaling the scripting for ways to make viewers howl louder than forest wolves are the painful sights of horrendous digital FX. From a ridiculously oversized spider crawling across a web to Dracula forming out of a swarm of flies, the work presented onscreen is to professional CGI what a grade-schooler’s art class flipbook is to two-dimensional animation.
When an eight-foot high praying mantis lunged at the camera before striking a killing blow, I flipped the pen from my hand and rolled my eyes to the ceiling as I thought, “this is actually a movie and I am actually watching it.” More absurd is the idea that Argento and his producers seriously believed this low level of effort was passable. And that notion is the film’s ultimate offense as well as its greatest disappointment.
“Argento’s Dracula 3D” would be unintentionally funny if it were not so disappointingly sad. It is difficult to walk away from the film without feeling like every bill in the wallet was just dropped for a game of three-card monte. It looks like a completely legitimate prospect from the outside, but the entire setup is just a horrible street sham of the lowest possible variety.
Review Score: 45