Mentioning Dario Argento’s output in the 21st century elicits a kind of gnarly reaction of repulsion that you’d expect if you told someone you just defecated on their lawn. Leaving the overlooked Sleepless (2001) out of the equation, Argento’s quartet of misfires that took in The Card Player (2004), Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005), Mother of Tears (2007) and Giallo (2009) are quite a saddening fall from his peak for the man that is undoubtedly the master of Italian genre cinema – just slightly ahead of Bava and a short length in front of Fulci.
It’s a weary heart that sees me rip the shrink-wrap off his latest directorial outing – Dracula. Taking two years to find a home in the UK home entertainment market, it’s taking its bow with a very muffled fanfare. Indeed, an absence of press awareness was picked up on over the various social media forums coupled with Crazy Ralph-esque warnings from those that have seen it. It couldn’t be that bad could it? Argento? The man who gave us Profondo Rosso (1975) and Suspiria (1977)! No, it was much much worse…
Argento’s Dracula announces itself in an inauspicious manner as we’re faced with a dimly lit CGI laden tracking shot that transports us into Transylvania where we’re introduced to Tania (Miriam Giovanelli), who is about to head for a salacious tryst with her lover Milos (Christian Burruano). As Tania makes her way home from her rendezvous she discovers she is the prey of a sinister shadowy figure, and despite her best efforts to get to safety she’s caught and brutally murdered.
Meanwhile, in another part of the village, Jonathan Harker arrives at the behest of Count Dracula to engage in some employment for the local nobleman. Arriving at Dracula’s castle, he’s welcomed in by none other than Tania who seems to be displaying little of the side effects usually associated with being dead. Harker’s arrival certainly ignites a raw passion in her, and we’re left under no illusion that her new found obsession will struggle to fend off her advances. On hand to interject for now is the brooding figure of Count Dracula, but as Harker records in his diary that evening – there is a sinister air to this Transylvanian locale.
With a clunker such as this, I often find myself trying desperately to eke out a few redeeming features in order to offer some hope for the more hardened genre lover amongst us. Here though, it’s a desperate situation as there are precious few positives in what must surely be the nadir of Argento’s illustrious career. The most pervading annoyance is simply the cheap artificiality of the whole feature – from the opening, to the CGI train station, to the transformations, to the 3D obsessed moments of distraction. With this in mind it’s hard for the film to create an air of quality as this aspect stains the vibe of the picture and prevents it from establishing any real Argento-esque credibility.
Dracula’s international cast do the film few favours either, with at times a very staccato – almost phonetic delivery “it felt like a nightmare. But I was not asleep” and so forth. Indeed there are moments when you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally loaded Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead & Loving It (1995) into your DVD player such are the caricatures that litter the movie. The thing is, the ingredients were there – with long time cohorts Claudio Simonetti, Luciano Tovoli and Sergio Stivaletti casting their eyes over the music, cinematography and SFX respectively, things shouldn’t really seem as desperate as they appear.
Maybe as a generic half a million dollar budgeted Bulgarian lensed production with a peppering of b-listers, the cause to be so critical may not have been so overwhelming. This though, with its budget ten times that and shot in Italy should demand a higher level of production value. Most importantly – it’s a Dario Argento movie, and even as the Italian master enters his 75th year, the task of critically assassinating another of his features gets no easier, and hopefully for all our sakes the notion of another new Argento movie never materialises.