Imagine a world where you are a legendary director, one who has rights to claim participation in the vibrant creation of an entire horror sub-genre. Now imagine it’s forty-years after that sub-genre flourished and eventually faded away. What do you do? Do you live on your legend, retiring to adoration and mai-tais? Or do you move forward, continuing to make films? Well, if you’re Dario Argento you not only continue to make films, you write and direct a retelling of the well trodden story of Dracula. But not just that, you make it 3-D. Senility is an easy joke to make here, Dario is comfortably in his seventies and his quality of work has noticeably degraded over the years, but is that easy joke an appropriate one? Is a bad film, or films, a sign of an aging mind or an indication of how hard it is to consistently tap into that creative ethos for an extended amount of time? There is a fine line between prolific and burnt-out directors, and that line usually corresponds to the length of time that filmmaker is active.
And let’s get the fact that Dracula 3D is a bad film out of the way. The only real redeeming quality it may have is that it could possibly elicit a tickle of nostalgia for a certain type of viewer. That nostalgia is lost pretty quickly though, when the production quality is so flat and polished it loses all style and form in comparison to its eluded predecessors. On a technical level, the lighting is flat and incredibly bright, assumedly for the 3D, and the sets look like nothing more than that, sets. There is no world building here. It looks and feels like a special live-broadcast of an off-off-around the corner from another off Broadway play. It’s as if Argento had a cast come for a dinner party that included a read-through of a fragmented Dracula script and decided to film it.
The performances as well have that first table-read feel. Expository and noticeably awkward no one seems to know how to embrace the material presented. It’s typically a bad sign when the presenters show no sign of understanding what it is they are presenting. Cast in another strangely sexualized role, Asia Argento, seems especially uncomfortable here. Perhaps it is because we have all seen her in more successful roles, but her portrayal of Lucy is awkward and more than a little stilted. And then there is Rutger Hauer. Yes, Rutger Hauer finally plays Van Helsing. The bad news, though, is he doesn’t do so until there is about thirty minutes of running time left. And when he does show up he seems particularly confused on why he’s there.
On a direction level, Argento seems especially interested in CG here. Considering that this film is also filmed in 3D, it is clear that Dario is interested in the technology that is such a large part of modern filmmaking. In fact, there is so much CGI for such an extended amount of time it is clear that he is intent on exploring this technology personally. The trouble is that he does it really bad. None of it nears effectiveness, SyFy might turn up their nose at some of the CG here. But instead of hiding the ineptness of the CG technology in shadow or quick edits, Argento dwells on it, alot.
All of this adds up to be a painfully laborious version of movie watching. For a large portion of the film it is unclear if this badness is a playful homage to the old Hammer films and their ilk, or if it’s just bonafide badness. Once the third-act and the limp of a climax happens, however, it becomes clear that the intent isn’t really important here. What results, no matter what the motives were, is a vapid and forgettable movie that is only notable by the added context of the history of the director. So whether Argento has burnt out, is generally angry towards his audience, or just doesn’t care anymore, his output in Dracula 3D further cements that while his lasting legend will always endure, there will always be a communal cinematic wince when anyone brings up the latter portion of his career.