It would be unfair to say that Argento’s Dracula 3-D was the worst adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel. I haven’t seen them all. It does deserve two superlatives, however; least scary Dracula and most nudity.
Dario Argento is considered a modern master of the horror genre. I was attracted to this film by Argento’s reputation – “the Italian Hitchcock” — and his concept for the film, which, according to the press materials, included a desire to create “a Gothic vision through the use of stereoscopic 3-D.” Something went terribly wrong.
There are two ways to evaluate this film: As a new interpretation of the classic tale of the lovelorn vampire, and simply as a scary movie.
When one remakes a film, or re-adapts a novel, there should be a vision which drives the changes to somehow improve the effect or message of earlier versions. There are definitely changes in this version.
Rather than the action beginning in Transylvania and moving to England, everything happens in a village in Transylvania. Strangely, the village has an Italian name and all the signs on the buildings are in German.
There are references to both the novel and to previous films. Upon hearing the howling of wolves, Thomas Kretschmann, as Dracula, delivers the classic line made famous by Bela Lugosi: “The children of the night. What music they make.” Then one would have expected the next classic line to be: “I never drink…wine.” But, instead, we get “I never dine in the evening.” Huh?
What about the 3-D that Argento cites as inspiration for re-imagining the tale? There are a couple of scenes near the beginning where insects fly off the screen at you. These are annoying rather than scary. After that, with one exception that I’ll mention later, the 3-D becomes superfluous.
Structurally, Argento’s telling of the story fails because there is no strong protagonist-antagonist conflict throughout the film. Differing from both the novel and the previous film incarnations, Dracula offs the main characters sequentially until only Mina Harker (played by Marta Gastini of the Borgia TV series) and Abraham Van Helsing (played by Rutger Hauer) are left. Mina shoots Dracula through the heart with a silver bullet. At that point Van Helsing says “I’m glad I had enough garlic to soak that one bullet.” People laughed at that line.
I felt sorry for Rutger Hauer, of whom I’ve been a fan since Blade Runner. I didn’t notice before the film that he was going to play Van Helsing. When he appeared in the last third of the film, I thought, “Maybe he’ll save this.” Unfortunately, no. I was reminded of Orson Wells’ and Sean Connery’s last films – I think they needed the money. Luckily, Hauer is still working.
What if this film was not called “Dracula 3D”, but “Vampires 3D”? Leaving the remake aspects out, was it a scary movie? No. The only time the audience jumped (me included) was during one of the fights when a sword is thrown directly at the audience. One would like to say this was a good use of 3D, but I recall the same scare technique being used in Bwana Devil, the 1952 film which popularized Polaroid’s dual projector 3D system.
What about the vampires? Were they scary? Kretschmann’s Dracula had neither the elegant, threatening demeanor of Lugosi, nor the blood-crazed demonic visage of Christopher Lee in the Hammer Dracula films. Rather, he projected the personality of a corporate level accountant with a touch of former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner thrown in. But, Filner is way scarier.
There was plenty of gore, but the CGI was amateurish.
The female vampires, Lucy (played by Asia Argento) and Tania (played by Miriam Giovanelli) were not there to be scary. Within the first five minutes Tania is having naked sex in a barn. Later she drops her dress a couple of more times.
When Lucy meets her old friend Mina and Mina says, “I’ve missed you so much”, the sarcasm gene in my brain fired and I thought, “I bet there’ll be a lesbian scene.” A short time later, we see Lucy standing naked in a small tub while Mina helps her bathe by pouring a pitcher of cold water over her. You could defend this scene because it reveals the plot point that naughty Dracula bit her somewhere other than her throat, but I won’t.
Just in case you think this movie may not have totally jumped the shark, not only does Dracula change into the customary bat, wolf and insect swarms, he also changes into an owl (thank you, Harry Potter) and a six foot tall praying mantis. The audience laughed at that, too, but the filmmaker was not trying to be funny.
As I exited the theater into the lobby with other writers who had just previewed the film, I yelled, “The Italians are coming, the Italians are coming,” That got me some laughs, but don’t get me wrong – the car commercial I was referencing is superior in every way to this failure of a film.
The film opens in theaters on October 4, 2013.