Writer/director Dario Argento has been a horror icon for about 40 years, having given us such films as “Suspiria” and “Deep Red,” both regarded as classics of the genre. His ability to create fascinating moods and atmospheres gave his films a certain special quality that, while they may have been kind of blah story-wise, at least kept you on your toes as he took you on a rather gruesome journey. While Argento has remained somewhat prolific in his work, he hasn’t really made anything of note in recent years, which begins to explain his desperation in turning to an oft-adapted piece of literature like “Dracula” for his next project.
Just in case you’re not familiar with Bram Stoker’s book or the multiple films that it’s spawned, it begins as Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) reunites with an old friend, Lucy (Asia Argento), on his way to start his employment under the mysterious Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann). Not long after his arrival at the Count’s castle, Jonathan begins to notice that something isn’t quite right about his host. As it turns out, he has good reason to be suspicious given that the Count is actually a vampire, one who wastes little time in feasting on Jonathan’s blood.
Jonathan’s wife, Mina (Marta Gastini), arrives in town to reunite with her husband and Lucy, but becomes worried when Jonathan doesn’t show up for several days. Matters only get worse when Lucy becomes mysteriously ill, prompting her father to call upon Abraham Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer), an expert on vampires. The town has been well-aware for some time that the Count is an evil force to be reckoned with, but they’ve been too scared to do anything about it. With Van Helsing’s arrival, it’s time that the evil finally be put to rest.
The first question you’d probably ask is: Why adapt something that’s been done to death? The answer to that is usually because the filmmakers have a new or unique take on the material that will make it stand out from the other adaptations. Versions of “Dracula” have included John Badham’s 1979 adaptation starring Frank Langella and Sir Laurence Olivier, which was a suitably dark take, and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation starring Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins, a beautiful-looking, but mostly stale telling of the tale. Even Mel Brooks has taken on the material with his shameless 1995 comedy “Dracula: Dead and Loving It.”
As Argento’s version plays out, you quickly begin to notice that there’s nothing new to be seen here and that he’s chosen to do a very flat and straightforward adaptation. Even among the versions that don’t turn out as well as the director would hope there were interesting aspects to them that made them worth taking a look at at least once. You won’t find any such aspects in Argento’s approach to the material.
Argento’s film feels conflicted between wanting to be a serious take on the material and a satire. From the opening credit sequence using a ridiculous score that sounds more at home in a B-sci-fi film from the 50s to the special effects that were done by the lowest bidder, you know you’re going to be in store for something that’s sub-par. Just try keeping a straight face when a giant CG praying mantis attacks Lucy’s father or when flames that could have only looked more fake if they were done with construction paper envelop a character.
One of the film’s biggest issues is its performances. Much of the film appears to have been redubbed in post-production, with their one instruction being to make it sound as unnatural as possible. This only adds to the humorous side of it as you try to put up with scenes that come off as being not the least bit sincere. At the very least, it seems as though Rutger Hauer didn’t have to redub his part. It’s good to see him still hard at work, especially when he participates in films like “The Mill and the Cross,” but it is a bit depressing to see him slumming it in something like this.
The ending also posed a number of issues, with the biggest being the final confrontation between Dracula and Van Helsing. We’ve seen throughout the film that Dracula can kill people in just a few seconds using various means at his disposal, so how does he fight Van Helsing? He tries to pummel him to death with his fists, of course. At this point, you can only hope that Argento meant for this to be a comedy, though the tone of the film doesn’t really lend itself to such an assumption.
Fans of Argento’s older work are bound to be disappointed and a little shocked to see that he would make something like this. Even as a straightforward telling of the “Dracula” story, it fails on several levels. The only reason I can figure that Argento decided on this remake is because he thought the story needed more gore and more nudity, which, of course, it doesn’t. The result he ends up with is an adaptation that pales in comparison to just about every other version out there already. Whatever his motivation was, his efforts were as wasted as the audience’s time. 1.5/4 stars.
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