How revelatory must a film truly be to include the director’s name above the picture’s title? I suppose the answer will always be, “That depends on the director.” For example, I can’t imagine that there are crowds of anxious movie-goers lined up anticipating WOODY ALLEN’S DRACULA. Granted, the kids might pour out in droves for MICHAEL BAY’S DRACULA. Maybe you could interest most of middle-class America to pony up their ten bucks a-piece on STEVEN SPIELBERG’S DRACULA. Such is life.
For those who know the name Dario Argento, I’d imagine ARGENTO’S DRACULA might have particular significance. Indeed, Argento has a fan-base of impressive proportions amongst cinema aficionados and horror buffs, but, outside of those two groups, is he a household name? That was probably a question producers were asking in late 2013 when this film was released merely as DRACULA 3D; it largely went unattended in the marketplace, which caused them to drop the whole three-D thing and just emphasize the ‘Argento’ in the new DVD release.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Jonathan Harker (played by Unax Ugalde) is summoned to the castle of the Count Dracula (an impressive Thomas Kretschmann) where he’s to begin work as the resident librarian, cataloguing all of his employer’s expansive book collection. However, once Harker seems to have vanished, his lovely wife Mina (a pleasingly attractive Marta Gastini) follows in his footsteps, seeking to uncover the truth of her love’s disappearance. Before all is said and done, she’ll require the services of Abraham Van Helsing (the ever-reliable Rutger Hauer) to bring about an end to a vile agreement between Dracula and the townspeople he’s duped into subservience.
I haven’t read Bram Stoker’s classic novel (it’s on my bucket list), so I couldn’t say how faithful ARGENTO’S DRACULA remains to STOKER’S DRACULA. I can say that the story certainly feels as if some minor effort went into capturing this tale as an effective but low-budget period production. Everything “looks” old age, but, by that same barometer, everyone “looks” like they’re acting, too. For my tastes, Argento’s work is staged and photographed far too passively to evoke the legitimately lurid sensibilities only effectively hinted at in a few key scenes, and, sadly, there’s just an awful lot of bloat to this work. At nearly two hours, this version of the immortal bloodsucker is arguably thirty minutes too long.
There’s far too much set-up required in the tale as told, scripted by Argento and Antonio Tentori, Stefano Piani, and Enrique Cerezo (also listed as ‘producer’). Lucy (Asia Argento) goes about her life in the village, secretly consorting with the leader of the vampires, and her story could’ve easily been heavily truncated to balance out the flow of the first half. Also, there are a handful of scenes involving the locals that – while their inclusion might help establish a plot point – don’t truly add much depth to the overall narrative. In fact, by the time Van Helsing shows up to finally go ‘Grandpa Bad@ss’ on everyone, I’d pretty much lost interest in everyone except Dracula.
Despite all of these blemishes, Kretschmann (as the Count) turns in a nice main performance. His Dracula is only charismatic in measured doses, fleshing out the ruler of the undead by giving him some emotional layers. This, too, unfortunately doesn’t serve the entirety of the production as strongly as it should because everyone else seems to be mimicking his delivery; far too many lines of dialogue are whispered as if they have immeasurable significance to everything, and the end result of which the melodrama gets muddled in favor of the dramatic posturing of the players.
Not good, Argento. Not good.
ARGENTO’S DRACULA (2013) (aka DRACULA 3D) is produced by Enrique Cerezo Producciones Cinematograficas S.A., Film Export Group, and Les Films de l’Astre. DVD distribution is being handled by MPI Media Group as part of the IFC Midnight series. As for the technical specifications, the production has plenty of quality sights and sounds, but it’s all balanced out with some inexorably long takes; at 1:52:00, it feels at times closely to 5 hours … and that’s never a good thing. If it’s special features you want, then there’s an impressive behind-the-scenes documentary (1 hr.), a music video, and a few theatrical trailers: a nice package, indeed, but enough about the ladies … (snicker snicker)
(MODESTLY) RECOMMENDED. Meh. Argento purists (or is that ‘cultists’?) will probably be the only audience truly excited by this release. The rest of us? We’ll probably be left wondering what all the excitement is about. I can appreciate even a good vampire story, and Argento’s obvious affection for the source material shines through; but so much of this DRACULA is down for the count. (Get it?) Argento’s signature non-blood-looking blood is everywhere – at one point looking like melted crayons while still at another like cheap wine – and the absolutely unnecessary (but appreciated!) emergence of ample bosoms can only sustain a man’s interest for so long. Worth a view, but probably only one.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group and IFC Midnight provided me with an advance DVD copy of ARGENTO’S DRACULA by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.