Cast: Thomas Kretschmann, Rutger Hauer, Marta Gastini, Asia Argento, Miriam Giovanelli
Running time: 106 mins
The lowdown: The one-time maestro of the macabre continues the gutting of his career with this bonkers, ham-fisted and laugh-out-loud adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire tale. Rutger Hauer and Thomas Kretschmann head up the typical better-than-Argento-now-deserves cast as Van Helsing and his plasma-guzzling nemesis, and while great fun if taken in the right vein the director of Suspiria and Profondo Rosso has been truly staked.
The full verdict: Dario Argento’s Dracula. Thirty years ago an announcement that Italy’s premiere horror merchant would tackle fiction’s most infamous bad guy would have been a cause celebre. But, in this post-Mother of Tears and Giallo age the curiosity now comes in seeing how badly the director (and his three co-writers) can maul Stoker’s text.
But, while it’s no shock this is Carry On Dracula, what does surprise is that there are a smattering of pleasures to be had.
Camper than a row of pink tents, Argento is aiming for sub-Hammer giggles with a generous glob of Rocky Horror silliness. The director enjoys turning Kretschmann’s Count into a horde of flies, a murderous owl and (in the most deranged bit of CGI nonsense) a giant praying mantis. But never a bat, this presumably being a revisionist in-joke.
There is axe-wielding mayhem reminiscent of Inferno’s shock riverside murder and a whiff of the old magic can be sensed when Dracula massacres villagers plotting against him.
Delivering the first Van Helsing to be played by an actual Dutchman, Rutger Hauer, is something of a coup, while Kretschmann attempts to channel Christopher Lee (unsuccessfully). The Borgias’ Gastini makes a captivating Mina, the living image of the Count’s love from centuries earlier, Argento and co. disappointingly taking the Coppola approach to the story.
Despite these big names, Dario Argento’s Dracula belongs to Miriam Giovanelli as a peasant girl turned bride of Dracula. With the budget not extending to three concubines she delivers energy and cleavage enough to compensate, her deliriously gusto performance igniting a fire under the movie.
But, inevitably this would always disappoint and the weaknesses match the strengths. Despite Suspiria cinematographer Luciano Tovoli being on board, the visuals are boxed in by the 3D format. Shooting almost exclusively in medium wide shot, Argento’s direction has a TV movie flatness compounded by repeated ad break-like fade outs. Therefore, Dracula and Van Helsing are denied grand entrances, both strolling into frame like the filmmakers have accidentally used rehearsal footage.
Most surprising is Asia Argento’s Valium induced performance as Lucy. Looking bored and uncomfortable, the usually wild actress makes history by being worse in the role than Sadie Frost in Coppola’s movie. Even her fiery exit fizzles rather than rages. Presumably she stored her energy to ridicule her dad’s depiction of her on the film’s poster.
Add to this shocking direlogue (“Thank God I had enough garlic for one bullet!”), a climactic confrontation between Dracula and Van Helsing that resembles a pub car park brawl, and Claudio Simonetti’s Theremin score and you have a fair old mess.
Funnier then than Dracula: Dead and Loving It, but Argento should realise the sun’s set on his career.