What can universally be said about Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D? Can we all agree that it has copious amounts of late-career Argento tropes, such as needless nudity and heavily melodramatic acting? Can we agree that it, at heart, is an incredibly silly film, inexplicably changing the mythology of Dracula and filling it to the brim with bizarre irreverence? Can we agree that the film is so egregiously devoid of visual excitement that to have it shot in 3D is akin to shooting an unlit room in Black & White?
If we can all agree on the universal facts about Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D, now in Theaters and VOD from IFC Midnight, then we can move on to what no one can seem to agree upon or grasp: What exactly is Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D? Has the Italian Master of Horror slipped into the zone of conscious self-parody following the publicly shamed Giallo and the legacy tarnishing Mother of Tears? Has Argento decided to rely too much on technology and his reputation to actually care about doing something different? Did Argento just want to make a trashy vampire film and label it as a “Dracula” film?
There are many answers here, and the truth is, none of them are exactly right or wrong. In the most traditional sense possible, Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D is cinematic garbage, conceived and executed beyond the limits of logic and rational filmmaking. However, in the film’s mere existence, one can’t help but be fascinated as by the intention of the film, whether it’s a case of Wiseau-esque misunderstanding and creative reconfiguration, intentional self-parody to rid the world of a formerly associated image (i.e. Scream) or genuine need for something new in his repertoire, even at the cost of his namesake. The enjoyment of the film entirely depends on how you approach this film, and whether or not Argento is synonymous to brilliance in your book.
The film is not giallo in it’s style, and rarely uses lush colors or striking cinematography to establish a dread-inspiring pace. Rather, the digital filmmaking is wildly evident in every frame, with every still looking too bright, too soft and too masturbatory to inspire nostalgia or fear. This wouldn’t be nearly as depressing if the film wasn’t shot by Suspiria alum Luciano Tovoli, a genius of his time as well who appears to be struggling to adapt to the medium of digital lighting and gloss. The screenplay feels almost like a Hammer film, stripped of any and all charm and then reformatted as awkwardly as possible. Combine that with Claudio Simonetti’s bizarre “True Crime TV” show keyboard score and a generally aimless direction of the story and Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D is just puzzling and misguided in its composition.
The acting is, of course, not much more hopeful to fans of the notorious director. Thomas Kretschmann, as the titular character, feels like he’s sleepwalking through his scenes, mumbling his dialogue and brandishing fake teeth on cue; Kretschmann only ever seems formidable or alive in the film’s most gory scene, as Dracula decimates a room full of conspirators. Rutger Hauer’s performance as Abraham Van Helsing seems earnest in conception but robotic in execution, as his eyes and physicality paint a different picture than his wheezing, graveled line delivery. And every performer in between is either trying too hard, not trying at all or seems confused, as if they were pulled off the street and demanded to be in a Dracula film. In fact, the only one who seems to be in on the joke is Asia Argento, who embraces her crazier side in the role of Lucy and plays her role with a hint of mischievous glee (and a hearty amount of nudity, once again undressing for her dad.)
Now, that last hint is a subject that must be touched upon, as there are many horror fans who believe this film to be Argento’s tongue-in-cheek reaction his career, especially following the troubled production of Giallo. In some respects, this may very well be a true statement, as Argento’s sensibilities are essentially completely unrecognizable in the film, instead replaced by complete absurdity, soap opera acting and a clear disrespect to the title of Dracula. Now, and this will drive us into SPOILER territory, so if you don’t want to be ruined, please skip this sentence and move onto the next paragraph, but there’s also many moments in the film that would suggest the Midnight Movie aspect of Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D is alive and in full effect, punctuated most hilariously when Dracula himself turns into a giant Praying Mantis, without explanation previously or establishment that this is a valid power, and bites a mans head off in his own home. It’s a moment of pure chaos, surrealism and comedy, and there’s very few ways that that moment can be misinterpreted as “horror”.
So, once again, Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D is exactly what it is in the eye of the beholder. As a work of artistic cinema, it succeeds only at being the opposite: cheap, advantageous and completely clueless horror. As a work of self-parody or cult cinema, it’s too boring to justify the long lulls in between the utter insanity, yet when the moments of depraved silliness hit, they hit hard and memorably. As for something new in the oeuvre of Argento, sure, by definition, Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D is a movie he has not done in the past. However, if Argento is serious about his legacy and the direction of his horror films, both he and his fans should hope that it’s not the kind of movie he will want to make again.