Film Review: Argento's DraculaGreeted with a chorus of "worst movie ever" catcalls from fans of both vampires and Italian cult favorite Dario Argento, this resolutely old-fashioned (3D notwithstanding) take on Bram Stoker's genre-defining novel was kicked to the curb in Italy, wher
Transylvania, 1893: Abandoned by her ungallant, married lover to make her own way home through the deep, dark woods, pretty Tania (Miriam Giovanelli) is attacked by a sinister owl whose scaly claws morph into fingers as she squirms and screams for help that never comes…
The following day, serious, scholarly Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) arrives at the Passburg train station, anxious to begin his new job cataloguing the 400-year-old library of Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann, who plays Van Helsing opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers' Dracula in the upcoming “Dracula” TV series) he has inherited from his ancestors. Harker's fiancée, Mina (Marta Gastini)—whose flirty, popular best friend Lucy (Asia Argento) is the daughter of Passburg's mayor—will be joining him soon. Harker quickly discovers that beneath the elegant manners and erudite speech, his new employer is not what he seems, winding up bitten, brutalized and a prisoner in Castle Dracula.
When the strong-willed Mina arrives to find her husband-to-be missing, she immediately starts poking around Castle Dracula, which is unfortunate in that she's a dead ringer for the count's long-dead, but not forgotten, wife, Countess Dolingen. At the same time, seasoned vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer, who played the prince of vampires in 2005's undistinguished Dracula III: Legacy) has become aware that undead hijinks have started up in the previously quiet Passburg.
Argento's Dracula has been alternately castigated for taking liberties with the original novel and for failing to find a new angle on it, which is the very definition of damned if you do and damned if you don't. For the record, Bram Stoker's book is a shambolic mess, alternately gripping and tedious, and veteran horror director Dario Argento and company did what virtually everyone does: trimmed and shuffled, favoring the creepy, sexy stuff over domestic drama and windy discussions of science, superstition and Romanian history. (The film also interpolates a healthy chunk of Stoker's Dracula's Guest, a vignette that deals with the vampire's lost love, Countess Dolingen.) More than anything, Argento's Dracula is a gory homage to Hammer horror, all heaving bosoms, quaint European travelogue and lush color photography.
The film features some strikingly good performances, notably Kretschmann's feral and sexually voracious Dracula and Hauer's battered, weary Van Helsing , side by side with some incredibly terrible ones, notably busy Italian TV actor Franco Ravera's turn as a portly priest given to sputtering pronouncements like "He is evil." And Argento's notoriously strong-willed daughter, Asia, is just plain miscast as the boy-crazy Lucy—she would have been a much better Mina—but comes into her own when Lucy breaks bad.
In the grand scheme of Argento's films, Dracula will never be a more than a footnote (most likely one that alludes to his childhood introduction to Euro-horror's ur-texts, of which Argento preferred Frankenstein). But fans of horror all'Italia won't want to miss it.