During the Walpurgis Night celebrations in the Carpathian village of Passo Borgo, a young couple sneak off into the woods for sex, only for their coitus to be interrupused by some suspicious noises and, shortly thereafter, a winged predator. Some weeks later, Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) arrives in the village ahead of his wife to take up a post as Librarian for local nobleman Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann), visiting his wife’s friend Lucy (Asia Argento) before he reports for duty. By the time Mina Harker (Marta Gastini) arrives in the village, her husband has been missing for days and nobody seems willing to take any action against the mysterious Count.
Things don’t start well, with opening titles so cheap and clichéd, they feel like they’ve been lifted directly from cult Anglia Television series “Knightmare” or maybe a deleted scene from the VHS video board game “Astmosfear”. Things briefly look up as the film’s opening scenes showcase the picturesque location and while the early sex scene is particularly gratuitous, it’s playing into the expectations of what you’d anticipate an Argento Dracula would deliver: plenty of flesh, blood and violence. Of course, this is a horror movie so there’s a penance to be paid for penetration and in this case the punishment for having sex is swift and strigidaen as our lusty young maiden is killed by Hogwarts hate mail: a vampire owl. The owl may be one of Dracula’s lesser-used disguises but it’s far from the weirdest this adaptation has to offer with a swarm of flies and even an enormous praying mantis being added to Drac’s fancy dress repertoire.
Thomas Kretschmann turns in a half decent performance as Dracula (one year ahead of his taking the role of Van Helsing in the 2013 “Dracula” TV series) but is hampered at every turn by a clunky and bizarrely inept script as surely as the count would be thwarted by a garlic crucifix. The script problems are magnified by an astonishingly bad filmmaking. When former Guinness spokesman Rutger Hauer eventually saunters into the movie as Van Helsing, he gives such a relaxed performance you’d be forgiven for suspecting he’d had a pint or three of the black stuff before the cameras rolled. In fact, he may have shared a keg with Argento himself so sluggish and ham-fisted is the direction.
Apart from Argento’s penchant for filming his daughter naked to an extent that nears Trumpian levels of Griselda Complex, there’s very little effort or artistry evident in even the most basic components of filmmaking. Composition, colour, lighting are all haphazard and slapped together with an evident disinterest that, from the director of such a meticulously crafted iconic film as “Suspiria” is just staggering. The footage is then cut together with little regard for flow or post-production tweaking leaving the film feeling far slower and longer than its 110 minute running time.
Even worse are the special effects. While the few practical effects on offer, such as a brutal shovel murder are – heh – well executed, the rudimentary digital effects work would have looked dated and cheap in a film made two decades before this one.
Lazy, cheap and featuring a story that feels like someone trying to reassemble the story from having read the novel once and seen a couple of movies, this is a sad and sorry milestone for the venerable vampire and everyone involved in the production. It’s only possible redeeming feature is the curious fact that it marks the first time on film that the character of Van Helsing, in the novel a Dutch doctor, has been played by a Dutch actor. Beyond that, though, this is a toothless and tacky end to the 31 days of Dracula. Bleh bleh bleaugh indeed.