The latest film from Dario Argento, the man behind such classics as Suspiria, Tenebra, Opera and Deep Red, is his take on Bram Stoker's classic novel, albeit with the added ‘advantage' of being presented in 3-D (so long as you have the required hardware). Now, those who have been paying attention to Argento's career over the last two decades will have no doubt noticed a, ahem, decline of sorts in the quality of his output. While not everything he's touched has turned to muck, there have been some pretty serious misfires in recent times and unfortunately despite the presence of the mighty Rutger Hauer and some pretty naked ladies, this film continues that decline.
The story, which kinda-sorta follows the book at least some of the time, follows Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) as he travels to Eastern Europe to work in the employ of one Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann), a quirky aristocratic type who needs help organizing his library room. The Count welcomes Harker into his home though soon enough Harker meets Tania (Miriam Giovanelli), a beautiful young woman who seems to have an unhealthy interest in the new guest. On top of that, the Count seems unusually intrigued by a picture of Jonathan's wife, Mina (Marta Gastini).
And wouldn't you know it, Mina actually shows up in the small town to find her husband and to reunite with her childhood friend, Lucy Kisslinger (Asia Argento), the daughter of the town's mayor. When the mayor finds out that Harker's been working for the Count, he goes unusually silent. It seems that the powers that be in the town have an arrangement with the count that allows him to take advantage of some of the pretty young women around. As all of this comes to a head, eventually a vampire hunter named Abraham Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer) is called upon to rid the town of the Count and save whoever is left that can be saved from the vampire's curse.
The obvious influence of Hammer Films' pictures like The Horror Of Dracula and even later entries like Vampire Circus seems obvious here and you get the impression that Argento was just out trying to make a fun, pulpy movie without a whole lot of serious intent but that doesn't disguise the fact that a lot of what's been put on the screen with this picture simply doesn't work. The cheap sets and gaudy costume design aren't the problem (though they don't help matters much) but the absolutely abysmal CGI stands out as an issue. Want to see a man surrounded by cartoon flies? Or turn into a wolf that looks like he wandered out of a PS2 game? Maybe giant poorly rendered praying mantis' are your bag (what? Yes, you read that right)… if that's the case, you'll get a kick out of this but really, the quality of the effects work is pretty dire and the whole thing winds up feeling like a made for SyFy movie, the kind that The Asylum churns out on a monthly basis to cash in on whatever blockbuster is making its way to theaters soon enough.
Now, with that having been said, good old fashioned cheap exploitation can often times be a lot of fun, even with crappy digital effects. We do get moments here that are enjoyable enough, and most of those revolve around two things. The first? Naked ladies. If you like naked ladies, there are quite a few of them here and they're all pretty attractive and filmed rather nicely. So the movie gets points for copious nudity, though it never goes into full on sexploitation territory the way so many of the European vampire films that came out of France and Spain in the seventies did. The other plus? Rutger Hauer. He actually makes for a pretty good Van Helsing and while he can't save the movie you've got to give him credit for at least trying. He's the right age at this point to play the character well and he's a quirky enough weird old guy to pull it off. The rest of the cast… not so much. Asia looks nice here but overdoes it and doesn't quite convince. Marta Gastini is passable enough and does alright in a key scene where she is able to resist the Count's advances but is otherwise fairly forgettable while Miriam Giovanelli chews through the scenery at every given opportunity and, as fetching as she might be to look at, is almost laughable in her role. Thomas Kretschmann has a decent enough look about him to play a vampire lord but is fairly dry here, never really delivering much that we can really latch onto. He's just a tall, dark and handsome type who hisses and snarls and tries to seduce the local ladies, all well and good, but there's nothing scary about him. Hauer, however…. yeah, he's fun to watch here.
The movie does offer up some decent gore and the score from Claudio Simonetti is occasionally interesting (as opposed to what you'd want out of one of his scores, and that's for it to be consistently engaging) but Argento never really ‘goes for it' with this picture. Had he gone completely over the top this might have been more enjoyable and had he had the good sense to try and craft something with legitimate atmosphere or tension it probably would have made for a better horror picture but we don't really get any of that. There's not a lot of personality here, it's all very half-assed and goofy.
Dracula 3-D arrives on Blu-ray with both 3-D and 2-D versions on the same dual layered disc. Without a 3-D TV we can't comment on that version but the 2-D version is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition widescreen and framed at 2.35.1. Shot on high definition digital video the image is obviously clean and free of any damage or debris. Sharpness is generally pretty good but there are some spots where contrast tends to lean a little bit towards the hot side of things. Black levels stay pretty solid and there are only very minor compression artifacts to note in a couple of the darker scenes. Flesh tones look good, color reproduction is quite nice and detail and texture are both generally pretty impressive throughout.
English language audio options are provided in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and LPCM 2.0 Stereo tracks with option closed captioning offered up in English SDH and Spanish as well. Both tracks sound crisp, clean and nicely balanced but the 5.1 mix edges out its stereo counterpart by way of some nice directionality in how it handles both the sound effects and the score. Claudio Simonetti's score has nice depth to it and there's plenty of times where both the front and rear channels come alive with sound effects, a great example being the scene in which the flies appear, where the buzzing clearly starts in the front and then moves past you into the rears. At the same time, dialogue stays coherent and clear and never gets buried in the mix.
The main extra on the disc is a sixty-four minute long Making Of Featurette that is made up of a whole bunch of cast and crew interviews and behind the scenes footage. Most of the principal cast members are interviewed here, Thomas Kretschmann, Asia Argento, Rutger Hauer included, and with some of the crewmembers who worked on the picture with them. All involved seem to have enjoyed themselves here and look back on things fondly. The behind the scenes footage is interesting enough as it gives us a chance to see Dario Argento at work but the director isn't actually really interviewed here, he just sort of pops up now and again in different clips. Regardless, it's a pretty thorough look at the making of the picture and while it's unlikely to change your mind on the movie's merits, those who dug the movie will find much to like about it.
Outside of that we get two trailers for the feature, a really amazingly corny video for a song called Kiss Me Dracula, animated menus and chapter selection options. A few trailers for other IFC properties play before the menus load and all of the extras on the disc are presented in high definition.
IFC's Blu-ray release of Dario Argento's Dracula 3-D is decent in terms of its presentation and the inclusion of the lengthy featurette is a welcome addition to the disc, but as to the movie itself? It's a bit of a mess. It does have some interesting moments and you've got to give Hauer credit for doing a good job with his performance but the story is disjointed and the production values and dire digital effects leave more than a little to be desired. There are definitely worse movies out there but those expecting Argento's take on Stoker's classic tale to be much better than your typical Asylum low budget quickie will likely walk away disappointed. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.