Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula has been adapted by every conceivable form of media in so many fashions over the last century or so that it’s become understandable to greet each successive interpretation with qualified curiosity and perhaps little else. Filmmakers have taken Count Dracula to the castles, the discotheque, the pizza parlor, and every major country in the world writ large. The disease that Dracula spreads has been co-opted by various artists to serve every possible metaphor for religion, unconventional sexuality, and, most bluntly and obviously, various venereal maladies. Dracula’s purchase on pop culture is so vast that he’s been played by both Gary Oldman and Leslie Nielsen.
There was a time when the possibility of horror maestro Dario Argento tackling the great legend would’ve inspired fevered anticipation, and that time was somewhere around 1977, when the triumphs of Deep Red and Suspiria, two of the greatest of all horror films, were fresh in audience’s minds. But since then, the director has lost his way, to put it lightly, and Argento’s new films often send his believers on a Where’s Waldo search in which they parse the productions over for signs of the potential reemergence of the filmmaker as he once was and could perhaps be again. Hope often springs tragically eternal for the devoted horror fan.
Which is to say that Argento’s Dracula 3D isn’t so dispiriting because it’s a bad movie, though it is, but because there’s virtually no sign of the filmmaker in it, nor of any novel motivation to mount yet another version of an oft-told tale. Sure, there are fleeting moments of erotic kink courtesy of the occasionally heaving bare bosom, or of the subtexts that remain of the novel itself, but the film nearly plays as a low-rent adaptation you’d expect from the Syfy channel: The plotting is traditional and plodding, the blocking is flat, the editing poorly timed, the atmosphere flimsy and cobbled together, and the score too consciously flippant in an unsuccessful bid for self-aware cheekiness.
But if, like me, you’re a fool for even terrible vampire gothic rich in crosses and fake-looking cobblestones and freshly dug graves, then you’ll probably be able to push Argento’s name aside and moderately enjoy Dracula 3D as unpretentious schlock that occasionally allows for intentional humor. There’s a particularly amusing throwaway moment when Lucy (Asia Argento) fawns over a photograph of Mina (Marta Gastini) and Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde), telling Mina how happy they look, while the picture is revealed to be a typically severe early-1900s portrait of oppressive, impersonally “polite” stoicism. And Thomas Kretschmann is a Dracula of promising stature and pathos, whose despair over his lost love unintentionally parallels another kind of wasted opportunity: of such a potentially fine performance in a film that appears to have been born as an afterthought of a larger international business agreement.