No amount of intentional stabs at humor can offset the hilarious awfulness of Dario Argento’s Dracula, the famed Italian director’s stereoscopic retelling of the classic vampire tale. Argento more or less sticks to Bram Stoker’s basic narrative template, following Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) as he goes to work as the librarian for Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann), only to find himself the neck-bitten prisoner of the evil Count, who has his eyes on the young man’s bride, Mina Harker (Marta Gastini). Still, despite this general plot fidelity, Argento’s film boasts its own madly bonkers identity, which in every respect adheres to the belief that more is more. Such a modus operandi is clear from the opening, in which Miriam Giovanelli’s redheaded beauty disrobes for some gratuitous T&A during a barn-set love scene, and it continues once Kretschmann’s villain begins lunching on the townspeople, all while transforming into an owl, a wolf, and—in what may be the silliest scene Argento’s ever staged—a giant praying mantis.
In keeping with its laughably chintzy CG effects, shot with 3-D in mind, Dracula features atrocious performances, running the gamut from Kretschmann’s dull screaminess, to Ugalde and Gastini’s inert blankness, to Rutger Hauer’s bored-to-death lethargy as the vampire-killing Van Helsing. Amid groan-worthy cutaways to phony-looking bugs and spiders—which are accompanied by hysterical musical cues from Claudio Simonetti’s wannabe-old-school score—Argento strands his actors in a variety of crummy master shots and close-ups that accentuate their every exaggerated gesture and line-reading. That’s especially true in the case of the director’s daughter, Asia, who delivers a series of overcooked reaction shots before dropping her own clothes for the Count and adopting a parodic strut as an undead vixen of the night.
While some of its more excessive affectations are deliberately comedic in nature (see: the aforementioned praying mantis), Dracula’s inept pacing, clunky cinematographic staging, shoddy sets, Cinemax-grade nudity, and lurid gore (Argento’s blood is so deeply red, it looks like ketchup) are merely the byproducts of incompetence. Given the lousiness of Argento’s recent body of work, that’s no great shock. Yet there’s still something downright depressing about his latest, which seems to want to be in on its own joke, even as it fails to recognize its more straight-faced elements are also bottom-of-the-barrel bad. Just knowingly tongue-in-cheek enough to surpass the quality of a Uwe Boll film, it’s nonetheless a fiasco ably summed up by Ugalde’s early description of a forest hallucination: “It felt like a nightmare, and yet I was not asleep.”