Somewhere in his early career, around 1973, Argento put together a very impressive sounding adaptation of Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein" that never got off the ground. This was right when Argento's career was hitting its stride and the possibilities of Argento adapting classic horror literature in that era are simply mind-blowing. So when Argento's adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" was announced, why wasn't it greeted with more fanfare? Perhaps it is because it was announced in 2010 after, if I'm generous, nearly a decade of bitter disappointment. Over two and a half decades of bitter disappointment, if I'm not.
Argento may have claimed a lot of things before going into production, but a faithful adaptation wasn't one of them, and I wouldn't expect him to do a straight up adaptation. Unfortunately it's the way in which he veers off the rails is not exactly what you'd hope for. Set solely in a rural, I guess, Romanian village (with German signs and names), a girl Tania (FHM cover-girl Miriam Giovanelli) goes out in the dead of Walpurgis Night to meet up with Milos (Christian Burruano) in what is possibly the most brightly lit stable in the pre-industrial world. After a quick roll in the hay, they split-up to go home. When Milos refuses to walk her home, she throws her crucifix pendant at him in a fit of pique. If I had a nickel for every time that's happened to me... Of course this does not bode well, as it is Walpurgus Night and you know what that means. The owls are out! Yes, I giant owl flies down out of the sky and CG morphs like it's a 1992 Stephen King adaptation into... Hugh Hefner! Oh wait, there are fangs, so that must be Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann).
Enter the second babe in the woods, Johnathan Harker (Unax Ugalde in a spectacularly inept performance). Harker has been commissioned to be the librarian at some hick lord's castle in a village where his wife Mina (Marta Gastini) grew up with the local piano teacher Lucy Kisslinger (Asia Argento vying for Ugalde's mantle as the worst actor since H.G. Lewis discovered the camera). In an effort to faithfully adapt Bram Stoker's novel, Mina is to arrive on a later train.
The villagers decide Drac has gone too far and they need to call in some dude named Van Helsing (Ruger Hauer), who used to be a doctor at an insane asylum that was infiltrated by the Count. Unfortunately for them, Drac had infiltrated their meeting in the subtle guise of a group of house flies! This guy is like Martin Landau in "Mission: Impossible"! Well, except for the drinking blood, slashing throats and using his mental powers to force the local constabulary to shoot himself through the mouth (complete with sad CG effects that echo THE STENDHAL SYNDROME). This self-plagerizing scene is actually one of the few bits to showcase some of the proudly advertised stereoscopic 3D. While many shots have some decent depth, very few of them are actually interesting. A scene early on where the camera placed at the bottom of a grave shoots a conversation two characters who are peering down in to the grave is a fantastic 3D shot, but is arguably the only interesting shot in the movie.
Much like Argento, Ruger Hauer was at one point an icon of genre movie cool whose career hit an apex and found the downward slope to be a bit sharper than anticipated after a certain point which makes his casting a little bit unexciting. On the other hand, his late entrance at the 72 minute mark adds an instant aura of professionalism that is much like having Kenneth Branagh suddenly show up at the end of ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007). It is a bit late in the game to be trying to class up the joint, but it's the thought that counts. All the more's the pity that Hauer isn't really given much to do other then get some breathy close-ups where he tries to lend some gravitas to an incredibly silly movie. Even worse, the character of Dr. Van Helsing (a merging of Dr. Seward and Van Helsing) is completely ineffectual, on several occasions turning up mere moments too late to prevent the death of a character. As for Dracula, Kretschmann is completely miscast and can't seem to breath an drop of life into the well-worn character. While he is intended (or just happened to be) the most dynamic character in the film, Kretschmann opts for more of a fashion-plate approach. There are moments where it feels like he's not so much acting as modelling his Fall Transylvanian designer wardrobe.
So basically, if you can separate yourself from the Argento of old, enjoy movies with sub-porno production values, acting that rivals cable access television and thorough butchery of classic literature, then DARIO ARGENTO'S DRACULA is not a complete waste of time... but close.