Review: Dario Argento’s Dracula (2012)

Review: Dario Argento’s Dracula (2012)

I’m a sucker for a good Dracula movie. There’s a reason the book has been adapted so much. It’s one of those novels that transcends time and resonates with people. It’s also in the public domain, that helps a lot. Never underestimate the allure of a free IP. When I heard that Dario Argento was directing his vision of Dracula, I was excited. Add in Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing and I couldn’t see a way this movie could possibly be bad.

Then the reviews started coming out and my enthusiasm was dampened a bit. Surely, these people were wrong and couldn’t see the majesty in it. After all, such things had happened before. And like most movies I want to see, something else came out and I forgot about it for a time while making a vow to see it when I could. 

Twelve years later, I finally completed that vow. I think that makes me a paladin, now. But the important question is–how was it?

Well, it’s not the worse thing I’ve seen, so it’s got that going for it. Argento’s DRACULA is a study in highs and lows. There are some scenes that are staged and lit so terribly you’re wondering how this could be from one of the masters of horror. Then there are others that are quite beautiful and effective and feel like a loving homage to the Hammer Horror Dracula movies. Unfortunately, we see a lot more of the former and not enough of the the latter.

The plot takes inspiration from the novel but doesn’t hew to it very closely, which is fine. There have been enough straight adaptations of it that I don’t think we care if someone is riffing on it. It takes place in a small village in the Carpathians called Passberg. Instead of opening with Renfield or Harker arriving, we get a young girl named Tania who is out at night on Walpurgisnacht for a tryst with her married boyfriend. He refuses to walk her home afterward, the cad, and she is killed by an owl after it chases her. 

Enter Johnathan Harker, who arrives at the worst looking train station I’ve ever seen that is a mishmosh of CGI and bad lighting. He visits Lucy (Asia Argento), who lives there and is a friend of his wife, Mina. Then Harker goes to the castle where he encounters the resurrected Tania who tries to seduce him in probably the least seductive scene ever. It was more of a casual, “Sup?” But Dracula intervenes and sends her away. Things get stranger from there for Harker until he is savaged one night by a strange wolf. Then Mina arrives and the real story begins.

It’s kind of a mess. Certain changes would be fine. I like the idea of Mina getting more of a focus as a character with her relation to the town and Lucy. There’s the symbiotic relationship between Dracula and the town where he gave them a lot of money and in return they look the other way when people start going missing. It really makes him feel like the lord of the domain. Lucy desiring eternal life and making a plan with Dracula to get Mina there in the first place because she might be his resurrected wife. 

Honestly, one of the more intriguing parts of the story is barely addressed. It involves Tania, who is turned by Dracula and clearly loves him or at least feels enough for him that she is jealous of the arrival of Mina. I really like the idea of someone getting turned and then perhaps finding some sort of life with the person, only to have that scuttled because he’s holding onto an idea that he can be reunited with his dead wife instead of moving on to you. I wouldn’t mind seeing a RENFIELD-esque movie about that where after millenia or thinking you are the “Bride of Dracula” that you are really just the eternal side-piece and go off on your own.

The performances are fine. Marta Gastini as Mina is great, honestly looking like someone who has entered a hell when she just wants to find her husband. Miriam Giovanelli is gorgeous and ethereal as Tania and really deserves a movie all of her own to flesh out everything we got hints about. Thomas Kretschmann is a mixed bag as Dracula. When he’s allowed to unleash his rage, he’s as effective as Christopher Lee. However, in the quieter moments which there are more of, he’s a little too subdued. There’s no quiet menace or mystique about him. He feels more like he should be addressing board members instead of townsfolk. Asia Argento is good as Lucy but that’s no surprise as she is a champ. The real star is Rutger Hauer as Abraham Van Helsing. The whole movie really starts going when he shows up to help take the load off of Marta Gastini’s shoulders. Unfortunately, we’re basically in the third act by that point and we could have used him a lot earlier. .

The effects are a mixed bag. When we get some practical, bloody kills, the movie is at its best. When it is employing CGI, it gets a little dodgy. A scene where Dracula assembles himself from a swarm of flies is pretty cool, but that’s undercut later by him turning into a goddamn giant praying mantis to murder someone in a house. He could have just punched the man!

Claudio Simonetti does a decent job with the music, though a lot of it seems to be just him fucking about on a thermin, which I am here for but kind of lends a cheaper feel to the movie. I feel like maybe he and Dario were both going for a more retro-styled production that never quite congealed into a perfect form, which would explain why it is such a wildly uneven film. However, the end title song, “Kiss Me Dracula”, is a fucking banger.

If you’re a Dario Argento completist, you might want to see it just to check it off your list. For everyone else, I really can’t recommend it as it never quite hits that level of “interesting mess” that would make it an enjoyable way to spend two hours.