CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
Well, it's not as all-round botched as Mother Of Tears: The Third Mother, but Dario Argento's latest is still a mess: a visually flat, narratively uninteresting and strangely subdued horror with occasional moments of spirited gore but far too much in the way of abject silliness and terrible CGI. That the English script is pretty terrible is hardly an issue - English isn't the makers' native language, and how many of us could write dialogue in Italian that would feel plausible and natural to an Italian audience? - unless you're actively looking for awkward lines of dialogue to chortle over, but dud effects and boring film-making are a universal language and sadly even the genuinely legendary Dario Argento can't make anything of such a reliable old horror warhorse.
Shuffling names and characters from Bram Stoker's original, Dracula now has The Count (Thomas Kretschmann) luring Mina Harker (Marta Gastini) over to his Transylvanian castle after seeing her in her wedding photograph. As his evil spreads through the terrified village, turning Jonathan Harker and Lucy (Asia Argento), and butchering the townsfolk who seek to break the pact, only Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer, who doesn't turn up until well over an hour in) can possibly defeat him....
So what works? Sadly, almost nothing. The laughable computer effects would have shamed Asylum Films and the SyFy Channel twenty years ago, Claudio Simonetti's score is a long way from the wonderful Goblin sound of Argento's mid-period classics, the final confrontation between Van Helsing and Dracula (neither of whom are close to the most memorable portrayals) lacks any kind of excitement or impact. Let's leave aside the always troubling issue of Asia Argento nude yet again - I've no particular objection to looking at her naked, but I feel uncomfortable that I'm looking at her through her father's eyes. And why make it in 3D? The flat version doesn't feel lacking in visual depth and it's hard to imagine the film transformed by stereoscopy into anything even slightly better. Hardly surprising that it still doesn't have the sniff of a UK release and the only version in circulation appears to be the Italian DVD and Blu (the DVD is Region 2, the Blu is uncoded).
In Argento's defence, of course, Dracula is such a hoary old tale that it's impossible to make it scary again, and it's been done so well in the past (whether it's the silent Nosferatu, the Lugosi version, the Hammer classic, or even Francis Ford Coppola's epic) that it seems pointless to do it again unless you're bringing something genuinely radical to the project. But there isn't anything radical here; indeed there's not much that's even interesting. It's a silly film (what's with Dracula turning into a nine-foot praying mantis?), a visually dull film with little of the panache and gosh-wow imagery you expect, nay demand, of Dario Argento. Sadly, Argento is now in his seventies and it looks like he just doesn't have the energy, style and vision any more, style that the Argento who made Tenebrae, Suspiria and Opera would have brought to it.
Moments of the film do look like Hammer, but a lot of it looks like a cheap generic Dracula knock-off that could have been directed by anyone. The only moment that screams Argento is a brief bit of slo-mo showing the bullet through the open mouth of a man shooting himself in the head, which harks back to a similar moment in The Stendhal Syndrome (a film I hated back in 1996 and haven't been back to since). Other than that, it's stunning in its ordinariness and you'd never know it was Argento if it didn't credit him (incidentally, Bram Stoker isn't credited). Granted it's better than, say, Jess Franco's version, the abominable BBC version of a few years ago with David Suchet, or whatever Dracula-themed incompetence someone like Al Adamson might have thrown together over the years, but the fact remains that Dario Argento's Dracula is a failure as a Dracula film and a failure as a Dario Argento film. Sad. Maybe it's time to stop, and at least go out on a slight improvement from the last couple (Mother Of Tears, Giallo) rather than straining for one last glory.