Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #514
Number of Views: One
Release Date: May 19, 2012 (Cannes)
Sub-Genre: Gothic Horror
Country of Origin: Italy, France, Spain
Running Time: 110 minutes
Director: Dario Argento
Producers: Enrique Cerezo, Roberto Di Girolamo, Sergio Gobbi, Franco Paolucci, Giovanni Paolucci
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Enrique Cerezo, Stefano Piani, Antonio Tentori
Based on Dracula by Bram Stoker
Special Effects: Sergio Stivaletti
Visual Effects: John Attard, Connor Meechan
Cinematography: Luciano Tovoli
Score: Claudio Simonetti
Editing: Marshall Harvey
Studios: Enrique Cerezo Producciones Cinematográficas S. A., Les Films de l’Astre
Distributors: Bolero Film, Panocéanic Films, Filmax
Stars: Thomas Kretschmann, Marta Gastini, Asia Argento, Unax Ugalde, Miriam Giovanelli, Rutger Hauer, Maria Cristina Heller, Augusto Zucchi, Franco Ravera, Francesco Rossini, Giovanni Franzoni, Giuseppe Lo Console, Riccardo Cicogna, Christian Burruano, Eugenio Allegri, Nicola Baldoni, Alma Noce
Suggested Audio Candy
 Claudio Simonetti “To Eternity”
 Claudio Simonetti “Kiss Me Dracula”
Film buffs can be a fickle bunch. Back in the eighties it appeared that Dario Argento could do absolutely no wrong but nowadays any movie that bears his name is instantly expected to suck. One prime example of this short-sighted treachery is the concluding chapter of his Three Mothers Trilogy which was dismissed by many before they so much as gave it the time of day. While there can be no denying that Mother of Tears fell short of the standard of both Suspiria and Inferno, it certainly wasn’t a travesty and actually tied things up rather well given the fact that it arrived over twenty years tardy. Ultimately, it’s all a question of perspective. Had it been released back then, I’m convinced that its crimes would have been considered far less heinous but instead it is commonly referred to as the ugly runt of the litter.
So when the Italian director took the executive decision of updating Bram Stoker’s cherished Dracula, understandably a few eyebrows were raised. I’ll admit that even I harbored doubts as to whether or not he could pull off such an audacious feat, particularly since his previous feature, 2009’s Giallo, received a pounding right across the board. When you consider that knives are already drawn the very moment a new Argento project is announced, imagine the carnage that would ensue once they discover that one of the most sacred fables in the history of horror was set to be desecrated… in 3D no less. Talk about setting yourself up to fail.
However, I will never be found culpable of willing a project on to fall flat on its face, especially when its director has supplied so many highlights during my cinematic development. Thus, I would extend Argento’s Dracula the same professional courtesy I would any other movie and set the bar of expectation realistically. Since Francis Ford Coppola’s largely successful 1992 effort, the Count has had far less than satisfactory representation on the silver screen and another misfire would surely be par for the course, which alleviated a little of the pressure on the Italian. Moreover, coherent narrative has never been his strongest suit so crafting a literary masterwork was also looking like somewhat unlikely.
One thing you can generally always count on with any Argento movie is a strong atmosphere and, with regular cinematographer Luciano Tovoli supporting his vision, the Gothic setting seemed positively ripe for the picking. So it proves as the screen is brimming with candle wax reds and lush greens, lending a rustic charm which calls to mind the Hammer films of yesteryear. The production design is also up to snuff and incorporates bustling villages, vibrant woodlands and ,of course, the remote castle in which our Count spends his downtime. If it all feels a little unnatural then it is worth remembering that this was shot for 3D and, chances are, most of us will never experience it that way. Another Argento mainstay is ex-Goblin audio hot-shot Claudio Simonetti and his rousing composition assists no end in capturing the mood of the piece.
Argento openly admits to being a visual creature and his greatest strength has never been his screenwriting. Here he enlists Enrique Cerezo, Stefano Piani and Antonio Tentori to assist in giving the age-old fable a contemporary feel and it is here that purists will likely take exception. If you are expecting a faithful interpretation of the classic tale then you’re barking up the wrong tree entirely as he takes a number of liberties with the source material, most unruly being his decision to portray Count Dracula as less of a monster than a hopeless romantic. Trust me when I say that you just have to roll with the punches and take comfort from the fact that at least he opts for Transylvania as his setting, instead of following the recent vogue for relocation.
More troublesome to justify are his casting decisions, particularly with his chosen head vampire. The usually bankable Thomas Kretschmann is strangely subdued and given surprisingly little to sink his incisors into, making for a much less enigmatic Dracula than we have come to expect. Marta Gastini fares better as Mina although the inclusion of Unax Ugalde’s Jonathan Harker feels almost entirely inconsequential. Most surprising is his daughter Asia, appearing for the fifth time in her father’s work, but seeming a little out-of-sorts in the slighter role of Lucy.
Thankfully, you can always count on Rutger Hauer to add flavor to the dish and he proves an inspired choice to play Abraham Van Helsing, peeling back the years with a particularly physical portrayal of the great vampire hunter. In some ways, he would have been a more savvy choice for Dracula although, considering he is well into his sixties now, it may have been a stretch even for one as effortlessly beguiling as he. Speaking of which, one particularly shrewd decision on Argento’s part is the inclusion of Miriam Giovanelli as Tania and she is mesmerizing from the very first frame, for a number of reasons. Thank the heavens above for cleavage-enhancing corsets and compromised chastity belts.
One accusation you could never level at Argento’s Dracula is that it is lacking in either incident or excitement. The pace is breakneck throughout and 110 minutes soars past like a bat on amphetamines, barely pausing for a single breath for its duration. His is a far more dynamic interpretation than most with a surprisingly generous quota of hand-to-hand combat and, with Sergio Stivaletti dishing up the practical splatter, we are guaranteed a number of grisly dispatches. More debatable is the over-reliance on CGI and it is hard to argue that certain more ambitious effects wouldn’t have benefited from adopting a more conventional approach but my grandmother always taught me never to look a gift horse in the mouth so I’ll let it slide.
Undoubtedly most outlandish is the moment when the Count transforms into a life-sized mantis and this bold decision has drawn widespread criticism from pretty much all quarters. In his defence, this is the guy who presented us with a switchblade wielding gibbon for Phenomena way back in 1985 and I actually found it quite an endearing inclusion. Having said that, I’m fairly convinced that Stoker never intended his iconic lead to shape shift into a giant grasshopper so it’s fair to say that he is likely turning in his casket about now. In the context of Argento’s tale however, it feels like fair game.
All things considered, Argento’s Dracula is far from the unmitigated disaster many believe it to be. Let’s not get it twisted, a bona fide classic it most certainly isn’t. Even if you choose to overlook any of the numerous historical inaccuracies, it is a deeply flawed piece and culpable of some fairly significant gaffes. Despite this, there are still many reasons to celebrate. Visually this is the closest Argento has come to recapturing his former highs and it is undoubtedly one of the more rambunctious adaptations of Stoker’s Gothic masterpiece to appear in recent times. Ultimately, this works best when you approach without the pre-prepared garlic and enjoy it for precisely what it is. Shameless entertainment. On that count alone, I will gladly offer up my jugular.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: If you are looking for a bloodbath, then you have come to the right place as deep red is the color of choice here. Heads roll, faces are impaled, stakes plunged, throats quenched from freely, limbs subtracted, ashen remains dissolved and barely a minute passes without casualty. Once again, Asia is the subject of her father’s curious fascination and I, for one, will never complain as she was clearly fashioned from the finest Italian fabrics. In addition to ogling at her hypnotic chest pendulums, we are gifted to the sight of the delectable Giovanelli in varying states of undress and that is a reason to rejoice that nobody can quibble against.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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