If you were sitting near an open window when the first trailer for Dario Argento's Dracula debuted online, you could almost hear the collective gasp emitted by the global horror community. Sure, by that point they all knew how far the mighty had fallen -- Argento's Phantom of the Opera alone had offered mortifying proof of that -- yet still, an optimistic few held out hope that perhaps the veteran filmmaker had finally embraced camp. After all, how else could you explain the appearance of a giant, murderous praying mantis in this adaptation?
Alas, now that the film is finally upon us, the truth can be known: Dario Argento's Dracula certainly isn't the director's worst picture (that dubious distinction would likely go to the aforementioned remake), but a number of distressing factors might make it his least watchable. From the atrocious dubbing and amateurish acting to the horrendous CGI and lifeless pacing, this isn't so much a bad movie as it is an example of pure apathy captured on camera.
In this version of the story, Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) is a librarian who has been hired by Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann) to organize his extensive, 400-year-old library. After a brief prologue in which a pretty girl named Tania (Miriam Giovanelli) is attacked by the count, we are introduced to Harker as he arrives in the village of Passburg and is greeted by Lucy (Asia Argento). The best friend of Jonathan's wife Mina (Marta Gastini) and the daughter of Passburg's mayor, Lucy laments not having seen Mina since her wedding as Jonathan prepares to depart for Count Dracula's castle.
Later, as Jonathan begins the arduous task of cataloging the count's extensive library, Mina arrives in Passburg to find that Lucy has fallen gravely ill. Though she longs to see Jonathan, Mina is determined to nurse Lucy back to health before joining him at the castle. Unfortunately, both Lucy and Jonathan have already fallen victim to the malevolent count. In her first meeting with Dracula, Mina also nearly succumbs to his diabolical charm, but quickly flees back to Passburg. There, she encounters seasoned vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer), who has been following Count Dracula ever since a terrifying incident at Carfax Insane Asylum. As Dracula's faithful servant Renfield (Giovanni Franzoni) and the undead Tania prepare to do their master's dark bidding, Van Helsing and a local priest sharpen their stakes and prepare for the fight of their lives.
The most interesting aspects of Argento's Dracula are the liberties that the four credited screenwriters -- Argento, Antonio Tentori, Enrique Cerezo, and Stefano Piani -- have taken with the story. Though not always particularly logical or graceful (Harker learns the truth about Dracula by reading a book found in the count's own library), new developments such as the villagers' pact with the vampire allow Argento and company the opportunity to inject the familiar tale with some unique flourishes. In the tradition of Italian horror, these innovations provide the writers the opportunity to embellish the story with a bit of old-fashioned exploitation.
If Argento's filmmaking had still possessed the same creative drive that fueled some of his best movies, this approach might have actually worked. But at 73, he just seems bored behind the camera. Only on rare occasion does he attempt to dream up a creative shot or inventive camera movement, and even in those rare instances it feels forced rather than inspired. Much the same can be said about Luciano Tovoli's dreary cinematography as well; how the man responsible for such breathtaking films as Argento's Suspiria and Julie Taymor's Titus lensed this flat, visually uninteresting picture is beyond explanation. Despite some attractive costumes and sets, Argento's Dracula is a sparse, cheap-looking movie, with visual effects that would have been rejected on Buffy the Vampire Slayer only drawing further unwanted attention to the film's many shortcomings.
The story of Dracula has been told countless times in virtually every medium imaginable. Try as Argento and company might, they simply fail to breathe new life into the folklore that's become as much a part of our film history as it has our literary legacy. Argento's Dracula is a boring film made by a bored filmmaker, and not even a classically influenced score by the legendary Claudio Simonetti can lift it above mediocrity. Sadly, that misplaced praying mantis may be the most memorable part of this utterly forgettable movie.