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Dario Argento's Dracula aka Dracula 3D (2012)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

DARIO ARGENTO'S DRACULA (2012)

Starring: Thomas Kretschmann, Maria Gasini, Asia Argento, Rutger Hauer, Miriam Giovanelli

Written By: Dario Argento, Enrique Cerezo, Stefano Piani, Antonio Tentori

Directed By: Dario Argento

The Short Version

The master of Giallo takes a Hammer-style stab at the master vampire.

The results are delightfully awful, and awfully delightful.

Unless you plan on taking this flick seriously; then it’s a train wreck.

The show is completely stolen by a tertiary character, but I won’t object.

Go in with the right attitude, and there’s lots of dreadful fun to be had with Dario Argento’s Dracula.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

SHREDDED MOZZARELLA.

Not exactly elegant, but go ahead and snack on it straight from the bag anyway.


Pairs Well With...

CHEAP VALPOLICELLA.

Is it Italian red wine, or slightly acidic blood?

“You don’t want to get an infection!”


Ah, Dracula.  One of my oldest and dearest literary and cinematic friends.  What the hell have they done with you this time?

Fighting an eternal cage match with Sherlock Holmes to be the most frequently adapted literary character on film, Dracula has found his story bent, warped, and retold innumerable times.  Giallo film auteur Dario Argento had been considering trying his own hand at the classic tale of the world’s ultimate vampire for years, but it took the temptation of modern stereoscope (and perhaps a then-pending Apocalypse) to finally convince him that the time was right to give it a go.  Though token acknowledgement to Bram Stoker is given during the end credits, Dario Argento’s Dracula takes most of its story cues from the line of Hammer screenplays that began with Jimmy Sangster’s Horror of Dracula, with a slight hat tip the revisionism of Francis Ford Coppola and company.  Its attitude, though, is vintage Argento Giallo.  Whether it ends up tasting like wine or vinegar depends entirely on the attitude you walk in with before pressing “play.”

If you plan on taking Dario Argento’s Dracula – originally marketed as Dracula 3D – seriously, you probably shouldn’t bother at all.  But just about any critical standard that can be imagined, this flick is a train wreck: a jaw-droppingly ridiculous train wreck that even many longtime Argento fans have made it a point to disown.

But, for those viewers who appreciate the cheesy side of horror and get a good laugh from silly effects, cheaply exaggerated gore, gratuitous nudity, and mind-bogglingly dreadful performances, welcome aboard!  Dario Argento’s Dracula can awfully delightful in its delightful awfulness.

As for how it all comes about…

Stereoscope may have been Dario Argento’s motivation for finally making his take on Dracula, but the fact is that the vast majority of this film’s audience is never going to see it that way, and that’s probably for the best.  Even though Argento expressed enthusiasm for working with modern stereoscope, his filming techniques hearken back to the simple gimmickry of the red-and-blue cellophane glasses era that plays as a series of cheap tricks that add nothing to the story.  The fact that most of what are obviously the film’s major “3D” cue shots involve incredibly obvious – and incredibly bad – CGI effects only exacerbates the issue… unless you’re willing to embrace the bad, in which case, Dracula turning into a bright green seven foot tall praying mantis who bull rushes his victim is so stupid that it comes out the other side and into the realm of utter hilarity.

I strongly recommend embracing the bad.  (Alcohol helps.)

Along with the gimmick shots, Argento relies on a Hammer-inspired visual style that utilizes an exaggerated color palette for everything, not just the CG stuff.  This proves to be an effective choice, emphasizing the old school atmosphere for genre fans and magnifying the often ridiculous blood and gore shots.  The lively colors give Dario Argento’s Dracula a comic book atmosphere that it desperately needs in order to work well, because there’s no way that this much ridiculous could fly in a photo real world of high definition BBC broadcast style clarity (which is exactly what Argento’s cameras are filming in).

And hey, let’s not forget that other staple of distraction: gratuitous nudity!  (The film’s opening sex scene – a clear indicator that Argento is trying to grab his target audience early – qualifies as half a step from porn by uptight American standards, or just a fine hello to more relaxed Europeans.)  Whether or not the fact that the most clearly contrived nude scenes come courtesy of Argento’s own daughter, Asia (who’s no stranger to being a carnal focus in her father’s films), is kinda creepy, I leave for the viewer to decide.

Speaking of the cast…

I believe I already mentioned that this flick is a train wreck.

Thomas Kretschmann is not the worst Dracula I’ve ever seen… but that’s only because I’ve seen a lot of takes on my favorite vampire.  He sleepwalks and stage whispers through his entire performance, as though his Method motivation for playing the character was “Dracula on barbiturates.”  If the cheesy visual effects weren’t making his every attack scene into a comedy piece (how can one not laugh at flesh being stuck to one’s fangs like hot mozzarella stringing off from a fresh baked pizza?), this guy would be hopelessly boring.  Unax Ugalde at least looks happy to be there, but he’s playing Jonathan Harker, and any savvy Dracula fan knows that this is the kiss of thespian death.  Our two leading ladies, Marta Gastini as Mina and Asia Argento as Lucy, spend the entire movie looking more than a bit lost; indeed, Asia Argento seems positively self conscious, which is very rare for her.  And as for the movie’s big gun, Rutger Hauer…

I consider myself to be an unapologetic Rutger Hauer fan, and after seeing him play the vampire on more than one occasion (including a turn as Dracula himself), I was quite excited by the prospect of seeing him take on the role of Van Helsing.  Unfortunately, while Hauer does indeed do the best job of any member of the primary cast, the bar has been set incredibly low, and truthfully, he spends his brief time on camera looking as though he wants nothing more than to be done with it all and just go home.  (Hauer doesn’t even appear until the Third Act, and his scenes reek of “we can only afford to pay this guy for a couple of days so let’s get moving, people!”)  A high point of the man’s career, this isn’t.

There is, however, some relief from the cast list’s third string.  It’s obvious that Miriam Giovanelli was hired for her figure and her willingness to show it off, but she seizes the opportunity to steal the show whenever she’s given the chance to.  Her enthusiasm for the part of Tanja (this script’s analog for the traditional Three Brides) is obvious, and she bites into the role with gusto.  (Ahem.)  Her performance goes a long way toward keeping things interesting on the character side when everyone else seems perfectly willing to phone it in.

All right, you say.  There’s a whole lot of awful up there, but what about the delightful?

Like I said before, it’s all a matter of the attitude you walk in with.  Critically speaking, there is no denying that Dario Argento’s Dracula is a truly dreadful movie.  But if you’re willing to embrace the cheese and step through the opening that this film’s comic book atmosphere provides, it ends up being so ridiculous that there’s nothing left to do but laugh.  I’m a serious Dracula fan, but the stupid green mantis had me laughing out loud even as my brain screamed that it had no business being there.  I know the acting’s bad, but after a few moments’ consideration, the switch from the traditionally urbane, self-assured master vampire to this bizarre interpretation of Count Benzo became utterly hilarious.  And that music… that cheesy Schlock Theatre music…  How can one not grin at that stuff?

Bottom line, Dario Argento’s Dracula is a critical train wreck.  Knowing this, one can choose to be annoyed by the results, or to laugh at them.  In this case, I can’t help but laugh, and I’d happily watch this movie again with the proper company.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2013


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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