‘Thank God I had enough garlic for one bullet.’
Though blessed (or cursed) with 3D, Dario Argento’s second gothic horror classic remake – after his peculiar Phantom of the Opera – is surprisingly among the smaller-scale Draculas. Argento and several credited co-writers borrow heavily from Jimmy Sangster’s tailored-to-a-tiny-budget script for Terence Fisher’s Dracula, again summoning Harker (Unax Ungalde) to Castle Dracula to catalogue the Count’s library rather than expedite emigration to far-off (and expensive) Victorian England. Action is confined to shot-in-Italy Middle Europe, though no country is specified, and most characters conveniently live in the shadow of the castle.
In one reasonably interesting innovation, this Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann, in a costume very like Louis Jourdan’s Count Dracula) has a pact with corrupt town worthies, endowing schools and limiting his predation on the condition he is not defied. The best horror sequence comes when he contemptuously avenges himself on these treacherous minions. Like Hammer, Argento cuts costs by reducing Dracula’s harem from three to one; indeed, buxom Tania (Miriam Giovanelli) is a lift, down to the character name, from Anouska Hempel’s hoyden in Scars of Dracula.
A new wrinkle, adopted especially for 3D, is that the Count manifests as all manner of vermin, including an owl, a cloud of flies and an alarming (female!) giant praying mantis. Pallid Asia Argento is a surprisingly subdued Lucy, upstaged by Giovanelli when turned into a vampire, while Marta Gastini’s tagalong Mina is yet again a reincarnation of Dracula’s lost love (if barely present in the film). Getting round the problem of Van Helsing’s dodgy accent, Argento casts Rutger Hauer (the first Dutchman ever given the role) but the promise of a face-off between Kretschmann’s Count and Hauer’s Professor fizzles in a climax which is heavy on CGI but light on drama. Dialogue is high-flown but clunky (‘I am nothing but an out of tune chord in the divine symphony,’ laments Dracula) and Argento seems hampered rather than liberated by 3D. Claudio Simonetti’s score makes nostalgic, eerie use of the theremin, which has fallen out of fashion as a signifier of unworldliness since the 1950s. Lesser Argento, lesser Dracula – but major mantis.
Extract from Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon.