Before a potential audience member even has a chance to think about it, the title Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D conjures a host of concepts and impressions. Dario Argento is a legendary horror filmmaker, but his recent output has been weak. In particular the long-awaited conclusion to his “Three Mothers” trilogy, Mother of Tears, was a spectacular disappointment after 30 years of keeping his audience waiting. However, horror fans are often dedicated to their favorite filmmakers, and many are holding out hope for Argento to turn things around. The concept of Argento doing a new take on the most popular vampire character around certainly has some potential, even if the “3D” tacked onto the end smacks of desperate opportunism. So if the hopeful horror fan combines the title with the fact that the film features Rutger Hauer in a principal role, it’s fair to be optimistic. Unfortunately, the finished product does not justify that optimism.
Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) is called to the small village of Passbourg to act as librarian for Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann). Jonathan was referred to the count by his wife’s best friend Lucy Kisslinger (Asia Argento), daughter of Passbourg’s mayor Andrej (Augusto Zucchi). It seems he has arrived at an unfortunate time, though, with the recent death of a young woman named Tanja (Miriam Giovelli) followed quickly by a brutal murder committed by town lunatic Renfield (Giovanni Franzoni). Harker begins work on Dracula’s sizable library while Lucy eagerly awaits the arrival of her best friend Mina (Marta Gastini), but things soon take a turn for the strange when Tanja, now living in the Count’s castle with Renfield as her slave, attempts to seduce Harker and Dracula is forced to reveal himself as a vampire.
None of which should be any surprise to anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the classic Dracula story. Argento and his three (!?) co-screenwriters have basically just swapped some things around and made what is more or less a straightforward version of the basics of the Dracula story. Perhaps the most surprising and inexplicable addition to the tale is that of Tanja, who appears completely nude not five minutes into the film, is turned into a vampire by Dracula for some reason, and then gets a pretty sizable chunk of screen time devoted to her and her relationship with Renfield. Clocking in at 110 minutes, Dracula 3D is certainly never in a hurry to get anywhere, so perhaps it should not be surprising that Tanja gets more screen time than Harker or Mina, and considerably more than Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer), who doesn’t even show up until after the halfway point of the film’s running time.
The film’s pacing would not necessarily have been a problem if Argento had genuinely brought something new to the story, but he and his collaborators seem uncertain of what kind of Dracula they want to present. Most of the time he’s a snarling monster, blood smeared all over his face, but when Mina arrives he turns into a near-parody of the maudlin, “tortured soul” Dracula. This is a major issue, but the biggest problem in Dracula 3D is its truly atrocious computer generated special effects. A swooping camera runs through the village in the opening credits and looks like the opening sequence from a Myst or 7th Guest knock-off; later, when Dracula transforms from a wolf back to his human form, it looks like the scene was engineered as a cut scene from a Playstation 1-era fighting game. There are some good practical effects here and there (thanks to effects maestro Sergio Stivaletti), but the overload of incredibly cheap CG is a huge distraction and drags the film’s already cheap look down a few more notches– Jersey Shore Shark Attack had more convincing CG, and that’s saying something. Fans may keep holding out hope that Argento may return to form, but sadly this isn’t the film where he does it.
IFC Midnight released Dario Argento’s Dracula on Blu-ray and DVD on 28 January 2014. Special features include the 3D version of the film on Blu-ray (glasses and 3D-capable display required), an hour-long “Making Of” documentary, and trailers.