Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D: Cannes Review

Dracula 3D H 2012
Utterly lacking in imagination or suspense, this inane effort is strictly for hardcore Argento cultists.

Thomas Kretschmann, Asia Argento and Rutger Hauer hit Transylvania in Italian horror veteran Dario Argento's take on the Bram Stoker classic.

CANNES – You’ve got to love Italy. The first of many unintentional laughs in Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D comes on the opening credits of this seriously intended but risible gothic trash, when a tag that indicates partial government funding identifies it as a “film of national cultural interest.” Really?

Vampire entertainments have taken countless divergent paths in recent years, from the toothsome Louisiana luridness of HBO’s True Blood to the haunting sensitivity of Let the Right One In to the swooning teen passions of the Twilight series. So perhaps it makes sense to go back to the granddaddy of them all, with a fresh take on the Bram Stoker model, shot in stereoscopic 3D and making use of new-generation digital effects developed since Francis Ford Coppola revisited the classic with his sumptuous 1992 version. But if anyone really thought the right person for that job might be Dario Argento, a director stuck in stylistic gridlock for well over a decade now, they were drunk on V. The only explanation for this dismally kitsch spectacle’s official slot in Cannes is that Argento evidently has acquired sufficient auteur status to become part of the title.

This is a tired rehash that adds little to the canon aside from such outré touches as having Drac shapeshift into a swarm of flies or a giant grasshopper in one howler of a scene. The film sits awkwardly between the 1958 Hammer Horror version with Christopher Lee and the campy 1974 Andy Warhol-Paul Morrissey Blood for Dracula. Sadly, there’s nothing even remotely as fun here as Udo Kier sinking his fangs into the scenery and the “wirgins.”

Instead, there’s Thomas Kretschmann, looking sleepy and embarrassed as the undead Count Dracula, who only seems engaged when he’s mutilating a bunch of troublesome village officials. (Neither gore nor sexual titillation is in short supply.) “I am nothing but an out-of-tune chord in the divine symphony,” he groans in one of the rare attempts to breathe some grandiose dimension into the character in the lumbering script by Argento and three other hands.

German actor Kretschmann heads an old-school Europudding cast – an orgy of different acting styles, poorly post-synched into stiff English. While she’s been used effectively in small roles such as in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, the director’s daughter Asia Argento has always been less of an actress than a fetish object. As Lucy, she’s at her most self-conscious, pouting and disrobing on cue before being reborn as a vamp and then char-grilled in a craptastic CGI fire.

As Lucy’s friends Jonathan and Mina Harker, lured to Transylvania so dead-ringer Mina can take the place of the Count’s mourned wife, Unax Ugalde and Marta Gastini are pure wood. Rutger Hauer’s Van Helsing crushes garlic cloves and sharpens wooden stakes with the concentration of someone who just wants to grab the check and get out of there. There’s fierce competition among Dracula’s minions for bad-acting honors. But Miriam Giovanelli, who appears to be channeling ‘70s soft-core porn as frisky Tania, and Giovanni Franzoni as fawning Renfield share the runner-up prize behind Franco Ravera as the town priest. (“He is evil! EEEVILLLLL!!!”)

The soundtrack is a thick soup of creatures-of-the-night ruckus and Claudio Simonetti’s hilariously cheesy vintage horror score, while visually, the film is predictably over-saturated with the standard palette of deep reds and blacks. So-so digital effects mix with low-tech makeup work from veteran Argento collaborator Sergio Stivaletti. Beyond the occasional swooping owl, leaping wolf, severed head or bloody impalement, the 3D serves mainly to make the whole sad, cadaverous enterprise more ludicrous.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Midnight)
Production companies: Multimedia Films Production, Enrique Cerezo, Les Films de l’Astre
Cast: Thomas Kretschmann, Asia Argento, Marta Gastini, Rutger Hauer, Unax Ugalde, Miriam Giovanelli, Mariacristina Heller, Giovanni Franzoni, Augusto Zucchi, Francesco Rossini, Giuseppe Lo Console, Christian Burruano, Franco Ravera, Riccardo Cicogna
Director: Dario Argento
Screenwriters: Dario Argento, Antonio Tentori, Stefano Piani, Enrique Cerezo
Producers: Roberto Di Girolamo, Gianni Paolucci, Enrique Cerezo
Director of photography: Luciano Tovoli
Production designer: Claudio Cosentino
Music: Claudio Simonetti
Costume designer: Monica Celeste
Editors: Marshall Harvey, Daniele Campelli
Sales: FilmExport Group
No rating, 109 minutes