DARIO ARGENTO’S DRACULA
*** (out of 5)
October 4, 2013
Thomas Kretschmann as DRACULA
Marta Gastini as MINA HARKER
Asia Argento as LUCY KISSLINGER
Unax Ugalde as JONATHAN HARKER
Miriam Giovanelli as TANIA
Rutger Hauer as ABRAHAM VAN HELSING
Studio: IFC Midnight
Directed by: Dario Argento
BY KEVIN CARR
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Pardon the pun, but the Dracula story has been done to death. So, if you’re going to give us yet again another interpretation of Bram Stoker’s original book from 1897, then you’d better do something that I haven’t seen before.
With that said, and with all my other criticisms aside, Dario Argento met that requirement with his new films “Dario Argento’s Dracula.”
Actually, Argento sticks relatively closely to the original novel – at least closer than most people do. He sets it as a period piece, and it follows the basic beats of the story with Jonathan Harker’s visit to the Count, the possession of Lucy and the general old-time violent nature of vampires.
There are some deviations from the story, particularly in the amount of involvement Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann) actually has with the other characters. In fact, his character is expanded about as much as Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer) is downplayed. “Dario Argento’s Dracula” covers some familiar ground, but it’s still an interesting watch for the fan of the director.
Argento, who is best known for his giallo horror films of the 70s and 80s – like “Deep Red,” “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” and “Suspira” – proves that he still has some creative juices in his veins. His recent work may not be as beloved by folks as much as his classics, but the man sticks to his guns in many ways.
The acting in “Dario Argento’s Dracula” is spotty at best. Kretschmann is great as the Count, and he brings a level of quality to the role that is squandered on Hauer, who really just phones in his performance. Argento’s own daughter Asia also throws down for the role (with yet another nude scene under the hands of her father, which seems really creepy to me, even for Italian cinema). The rest of the cast has its ups and downs, but in true Argento fashion, some of this is hidden by voluptuous nude scenes (which I was okay with).
The cinematography is nothing great, and in fact often looks amateurish. Much of the film is too brightly lit, making it look like it was shot for cheap television. Perhaps this was to maximize the 3D look of the film by not making things too dark. However, there’s a lot of the gothic horror feel of the movie that is lost in the overly bright sets.
Similarly, the visual effects are somewhat cheap, sometimes looking too low-res and unfinished. However, where “Dario Argento’s Dracula” shines is in the throwback use of brutal violence. The violent scenes explode almost out of nowhere, featuring plenty of dismemberment and bright-red, paint-like blood. I’m not sure if this was a deliberate choice of Argento trying to pay homage to the cherry-red look of the blood in his earlier films, or if he’s just been slightly color-blind for decades. Either way, it adds to the fun, over-the-top nature of the scenes.
And finally, there’s a moment in the film that goes completely bonkers by taking the powers of Dracula to a ridiculous level. I don’t want to give anything away, so suffice to say that Argento shoots this scene as a serious horror moment, but it (possibly deliberately) ends up being one of the most hysterical and irreverent parts of any film I’ve seen this year.
The casual viewer might be confused and turned off by this version of Dracula, but as someone who has seen plenty of Argento films with a boisterous crowd in late-night screenings, I found a certain degree of decadent entertainment in his version of the story.