Following a long illness, Dario Argento’s once proud, ground-breaking career finally passed away on May 19, 2012 with the premiere of DARIO ARGENTO’S DRACULA 3D at the Cannes Film Festival. Seriously injured since the release of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in 1998, Argento’s career fought valiantly in the face of such crippling symptoms as decreased budgets, artistic stagnation, poor scripts, an increased reliance on cheap CGI, and untrustworthy producers. But still reeling from the utter artistic and commercial failure of 2010’s GIALLO, the career’s death finally came in the form of a mercy killing. Argento himself smothered his career with a film so lifeless, the most entertaining thing about it is a garish title that tries to hit every marketing base possible before failing to live up to the promise of a blood-soaked vampire film in three dimensions.
Enough with the fake obituary. Let’s get on with a proper review of this turkey.
As recently as twenty years ago, I would have been excited about the prospect of an Argento-directed adaptation of Dracula. Unfortunately, a series of genuinely atrocious films from this one-time master left me less than enthused that he would be up to the challenge of bringing something unique to the oft-told tale. Sadly, I was right. Not only does he fail to bring anything new to his version of Bram Stoker’s novel, he even manages to foul up the familiar beats and characters.
This time around, Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) travels to the Transylvanian village of Passbourg to work as the personal librarian for Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann). There Harker finds Lucy (Asia Argento) and her father (Augusto Zucchi). Lucy is an old friend of Mina (Marta Gastini), Harker’s wife. But Mina has been delayed in her travels. When Harker travels to Dracula’s castle alone, he is given the briefest of welcomes before being attacked by Tanja (Miriam Giovanelli), a beautiful vampire with the habit of disrobing every other scene. Eventually, Mina finally enters the picture and the film plays out pretty much exactly as you would expect.
From the wooden performances where every actor seems to take a full one second pause between each word of boring dialogue to the cheaply thrown together sets and effects (there are at least three CGI sequences in this film so poorly done, I wanted to look away from the screen in embarrassment), this looks and feels like a film made by an incompetent first-time director. Despite having his name above the title, there is next to nothing to mark this as a Dario Argento film (aside from the obligatory uncomfortable Asia Argento nude scene—much of the budget must have went into covering up her tattoos). As the film crawls to its expected conclusion, I started to wonder if Argento had any interest in telling the story. It certainly feels like he is going through the motions and that sense of lethargy in his direction translates to the performances.
If the film had been an over-the-top exercise in camp or Argento had taken liberties with the Dracula mythology that failed to work, it would have at least had the chance to be an enjoyable train wreck. Instead, Argento and his cast settle for cashing their checks and churning out one of the most boring movies I’ve seen in the last few years.
Ultimately, being boring is this film’s greatest sin. Any film that features the normally livewire Asia Argento as the traditionally lusty Lucy and Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing should at least have some good chewing of the scenery. But even these normally reliable hams follow Argento’s directorial lead and phone in their performances.
Despite the trajectory of his career in the last twenty years, I have always held out hope that Argento had one more great film in him. DRACULA 3D snuffed out that hope and left me praying the once great director would stop making films before he sullied his legacy even further.
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