A blatant farce from its first scene of a naked tryst turned bloody to its end-credits disco ditty “Kiss Me Dracula,” “Dario Argento’s Dracula” takes a playful nibble out of Bram Stoker’s undead source material but fails to move in for the kill. Director Argento half-heartedly mixes schlocky 3D f/x with one-dimensional characters for a near-two-hour joke that ought to have been funnier. Sex and gore abound, but German thesp Thomas Kretschmann’s count seems neither seductive nor scary, while the potential to stake out camp from Rutger Hauer’s vampire-hunting Van Helsing remains untapped. Only Euro distribs appear bound to bite.
Even with its goofy, bad-is-good approach, channeling the spirits of many a poorly dubbed and laughably exploitative Euro-horror cash-grab, “Dario Argento’s Dracula” represents a more or less classical take on Stoker, with basic adherence to the tale of a small-town Transylvania bloodsucker seeking a replacement for his dear-departed soulmate. Stoker’s story is exceedingly simple, but somehow Argento manages to deliver a choppy pic, its utter lack of fluidity being among the film’s few elements that can’t remotely be read as tongue-in-cheek.
Enjoyably stilted dialogue helps those unfamiliar with preceding “Dracula” pics to grasp that handsome Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) has been summoned by the count to serve as his librarian along with Harker’s wife, Mina (Marta Gastini), who’s late to arrive in a town that Drac and his vampire minions have been sucking dry. A pain in the neck, administered by buxom, blank-eyed Tania (a wonderfully vapid Miriam Giovanelli), leaves Harker looking like he’s got one hell of a bad hangover. In comes sweet-faced Mina, whose best friend, Lucy (Asia Argento), gets jiggy with the prince of darkness and starts feeling woozy, too.
Deploying his supernatural powers of persuasion, the count bids to seduce Mina, whose only hope of staying among the living is Van Helsing, played by Hauer as tired-looking and little else. Kretschmann’s Dracula appears largely anemic, although the character is quite well-played on the CG side, as the count takes the form of a swarm of insects or, in a hilariously awful scene, a gigantic praying mantis.
Tech credits are a mixed bag, with Argento’s deep-red mise-en-scene remaining trademarked while whites look blown out in the manner of lo-fi video. Not all the CG works, although a nifty recurring effect has undead bodies turning to ash when they’re stabbed or shot in the heart. Mostly convincing, the 3D doesn’t strain for undue depth except in a few instances, as when, apropos of nada, a buzzing fly moves well beyond the screen, ostensibly to remind viewers that “Dario Argento’s Dracula” is indeed a comedy.