With “Dracula 3D,” we finally know which of the great '70s genre filmmakers have fallen the hardest, and the answer is Dario Argento. The Italian horror pioneer was one of the leading lights of the giallo movement, and early career masterpieces like “The Bird With The Crystal Plumage” and “Suspiria” led the way to later triumphs like “Tenebre” and “Opera.” Most knew the director had lost a step in recent years: he closed a thematic trilogy that started with “Suspiria” and “Inferno” with the dopey gorefest “Mother Of Tears” and was also behind the borderline-unreleasable “Giallo.” But the latter case could at least be blamed on a runaway production that ran out of money, while the former was a trashterpiece delight. But there’s not a single moment of “Dracula 3D” where you don’t look at the screen, forget all about those early genre touchstones, and think, "What the hell is this?" You’d like a 3D Dracula film would be something every horror filmmaker had on their bucket list, but if Argento actually made this, it has to be because he bet someone he could make a movie blindfolded.
The story is a relatively straight-faced adaptation of the classic tale, with Jonathan Harker (the awesomely named Unax Ugalde) visiting the reclusive Count Dracula and disappearing under circumstances that are meant to be a mystery to the audience who bought a ticket to “Dracula 3D.” Unfortunately, this is one of those green-screen disasters where everything feels too pristine, too clean: Dracula himself is played by the handsome Thomas Krestschmann, having a great time, though his look feels straight from the makeup table. There’s absolutely nothing lived-in about this man who exhales with grace as he discusses the “children of the night.” Some moments, where the characters stand in front of still backgrounds of castles and cabins, feel amateurish in 2013. Other artificial effects, such as a choo-choo-realistic train station, look like they’re derived from a '90s PBS kids' show.
The serviceable Marta Gastini is Mina Harker, Jonathan’s virginal bride, and we have to wait for her to slowly get the clue that Jonathan has disappeared because of Dracula: it’s great that there are no self-aware winks, of course, but you really can’t just get up and make a “Dracula” movie in 2013 without acknowledging you are the latest of the late to the party. At least Argento gooses the proceedings by again recruiting his daughter, Asia Argento, to play Lucy, who falls prey to the vampire spell, and gives Mina the hint that Dracula is behind it all.
Enter Rutger Hauer as Abraham Van Helsing, a role that should be catnip to the veteran performer who can bring both a knowing layer of camp as well as an unironic gravitas to whatever garbage he’s in. Witness, and appreciate, how he turned a gimmicky role in the grotesque “Hobo With A Shotgun” into a borderline Shakesperean accomplishment, a “badass” posture given a surprisingly humane level of depth. Here, any Hauer fan has to be heartbroken: he genuinely looks lost and terrified, like he has no idea what’s going on, and is desperately scrambling to remember his lines. His eyes dart in different directions randomly, uncertain where to look, and his blocking is tentative and reluctant. It’s cruel to imagine such a thing, but considering the history of this particular Van Helsing, you wonder if he’s playing the part as a sufferer of Alzheimer’s.
It’s possible Argento knows he’s got a turkey on his hands, but he’s never been too pretentious to avoid the juvenile appeal of the genre. Unlike other filmmakers, he understands what 3D is best used for: blood and boobs. His craft deserts him on more than a few occasions here, but there is one standout massacre where Dracula keeps mutating into a CGI blur to fricassee a couple of villagers trapped inside with him, tossing weapons at the audience and letting blood fly so far into the air that it’s complete seconds before we see it spill back into the frame from above. He also convinces daughter Asia to participate in a completely gratuitous bath scene, though most of the cheesecake is provided by the impossibly gorgeous Miriam Giovanelli as one of Drac's minions. At least this thing was fun to cast.
“Dracula 3D” is that rarest of bad movies: it feels impossible, like it shouldn’t exist. Even Uwe Boll would have instituted some quality control at some point. Entire backgrounds feel like unfinished effects, and the performances seem like half the product of failed camp, and half the results of actors who have no idea what their director wants, resulting in indifferent staging when characters aren’t nude. The standout, and maybe the funniest movie moment of the year, has to be when Dracula, a shapeshifter, becomes a massive praying mantis, turning into the sort of Clip Art graphic you used to see on the cover of “Goosebumps” books. This is the sort of movie that should be playing in the background on an episode of “Tim And Eric,” and yet instead it’s being released by IFC Films. Bring alcohol. [D-]