Cannes Review: Tits, Teeth, and Rutger Hauer in Dario Argento’s ‘Dracula 3D’

Sitting in a theater watching a fair few people walk out in protest at the poor quality of Dracula 3D, you have to wonder whether they knew anything about horror legend Dario Argento, and if so what exactly they expected from the director whose name alone guarantees an audience. Because Argento has a certain set of skills, which aren’t necessarily reconcilable with what is great about film these days, but to give due credit, he hasn’t really deviated from the same tracks for decades, and the result is generally an entertaining affair all the same.

This time out he’s taken the iconic Dracula story on, giving horror’s most famous character (played here by Thomas Kretschmann) his first 3D treatment, and adding a few other brand new touches to the iconic story of how the Count tricked Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) into working for him in order to take his wife Mina (Marta Gastini) for his own. Along the familiar path we meet jealous and mostly naked vampire Tanja (Miriam Giovanelli), the infamous Dracula servant Renfield (Giovanni Franzoni), and the various pawns in the game, both victims and servants of the Dark Lord, with the prominent role of Lucy going to the director’s daughter Asia Argento. And of course, in the final third we are invited to enjoy the many pleasures of Rutger Hauer as Abraham Van Helsing.

Despite the fact that the story is about as famous as they come, Argento’s script, which he adapted from Bram Stoker‘s original text with the help of three other writers is painfully bad. Dialogue is clunky and in some cases downright garbage (enough to leave the audience laughing on more than one occasion), and there are some “interesting” story inclusions, including inexplicably a giant bug that just plain make no sense. And that’s not to mention the plot holes, and the ridiculous way everything unravels into a final thirty minutes of multiple faux-gruesome deaths and jaw-dropping silliness. But then, of course, that is the point.

Somewhat expectedly, the acting is universally poor, and it says something about your production when Rutger Hauer is far and away the most accomplished of the entire thing (and he’s only on screen for about fifteen minutes in total). Everyone else acts like they’re aspiring for the poorest day-time soap operas, obviously under the impression that terrible dialogue can be given more impact by whispering furtively and adding pregnant pauses where no sane person would ever dare.

As a result Thomas Kretschmann’s Dracula lacks majesty, coming off like he’s watched Taken and Unknown on loop for years, and sees Liam Neeson in action hero mode as the ideal role-model for speech delivery. An iconic performance this is decidedly not.

The production values are surprisingly high, considering this would be no more than straight to DVD fare if it weren’t for the director, with the 3D looking good for the most part. Some scenes, in which Argento has obviously attempted to show off his eye for composition and creating a visual spectacle fail miserable however, and the quality of the atmospheric CGI lets down his intentions badly. It’s plainly too difficult to ignore when you can see the seams this obviously, and when the provocatively poor moments are probably supposed to be warmly laughed at, those sort of fundamental distractions (or the unintentionally bad scenes) drag the whole perversely entertaining experience down.

There are some other technical problems that hamper the cult style enjoyment – the dubbing of certain actor’s speech is ludicrously bad (to the point that it must surely have been intended as such), and both the visual effects and prosthetics are not even up to B-Movie level. It’s hard to tell whether it’s not all done with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but you get the feeling that Argento didn’t quite intend so much to be so bad.

But then Argento doesn’t usually play by conventional or commercial filmmaking rules, even including nude scenes for his daughter (and almost every other female character to excess) in amongst the provocatively kitsch horror moments and downright ludicrous story elements.

In short, it’s shit, but that doesn’t mean people won’t still love it. Because some people do know what to expect from Dario Argento.

The Upside: It’s catnip for Argento fans, who will no doubt flock to it. And the 3D is actually not terrible.

The Downside: No matter how you dress it up, the film is terrible. But then again, that’s sort of the point.

Born to the mean streets of Newcastle, England the same year that BMX Bandits was cruelly over-looked for the Best Film Oscar, Simon Gallagher's obsessive love of all things cinema blossomed during that one summer in which he watched Clueless every day for six weeks. This is not a joke. Eventually able to wean himself off that particular dirty habit, and encouraged by the revelation that was One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, he then spent many years reviewing films on the underground scene, throwing away thousands of pounds on a Masters Degree in English in the process, before landing feet-first at the doors of British movie site, where you can catch his blend of rapier wit and morbid sardony on a daily basis. Simon is also a hopeless collector of film paraphenalia, and counts his complete Star Wars Mr. Potato Heads collection among his friends.

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