Dario Argento has his way with Dracula. No, not literally… but close enough.
Our story opens with an ample young woman luring a less-than-faithful husband into debauchery, just the kind of late-1800s sin that attracts the likes of Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann) to swoop in for the kill. Cut to: Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde doing his best Keanu Reeves impression), newly arrived by train into the terrified village that Dracula lords over – just before he goes off to the castle and discovers what the Count really is. Cut to: Mina Harker (Marta Gastini), newly arrived by train and expecting to meet her husband but only finding her friend Lucy (Asia Argento, the director’s daughter) waiting to be washed thoroughly; she had been with Dracula earlier, after all. Cut to: Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer, doing his best Rutger Hauer impression) who mysteriously arrives just before the third act and begins eliminating bloodsuckers, working his way back to Dracula, babe.
Where to begin? The film is nothing if not a low-budget spoof of better Dracula films, over-acted and gratuitous except for the occasional glimmer of true horror – a secret meeting in the village where The Count makes a rare personal appearance is a good example. It’s played for absurdity in a Adam West “Batman” kind of way. For every cheesy transformation we get a cool one; for every eye-rolling moment we get a genuine bit of dread. There is a sense of being played with, as if the viewer isn’t meant to know whether the next scene will farce or spectacle. Intentional or not, the final cut is perfect for a living room full of inebriated hecklers to have their way with it.
You can see director Dario Argento’s film experience on the screen; he’s perfectly happy setting up the camera and letting the actors act. The cinematography feels like an old film, both the angles and the way they were edited together for a story. All of it is betrayed, however, by the modern construction, empty sets and hit-and-miss effects. The music? While some of it fits in a classical sense, too much of it sounds like leftover sound cues from Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks, complete with wavering electronic sci-fi effects straight out of a 1950s flying saucer invasion. Plus, this Dracula is a shapechanging fiend; he can become anything but seems to have a preference for insects (and size does matter, folks).
If you were hoping for another Suspiria or perhaps even a great vampire film, you’re in for a disappointment. If you’re a fan of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and itching for a new interactive experience with a group of friends, this is the film you’ve been looking for, possibly destined to keep as a favorite. One thing is for certain: you’ll never look at a praying mantis the same way ever again.
(a three skull out of four recommendation)