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Argento's Dracula (2012)

IFC Films
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/28/2014

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/29/2014

Why do some directors simply lose it? Maintaining a high level of excellence throughout a career is difficult for anyone, but there are some filmmakers who have a good run and then it's suddenly like they become a different person and the quality of their output plummets. Few would argue that this occurred with famed Italian director Dario Argento. During the 1970s and the early part of the 80s, Argeno's wildly inventive and daring murder-mysteries and horror movies blazed a trail with their creative camerawork and bizarre imagery. And then, things went bad and the man hasn't made a truly enjoyable movie in nearly 30 years. But, he keeps at it, and he's turned to the gothic period piece with his latest project, Dracula. Will this mark a return to form for Argento?

As Dracula opens, a young woman named Tanja (Miriam Giovanelli), who has gone out to meet her lover, is attacked by a shape-shifter. The next day, Jonathan Harker (Unax Uglade) arrives in the small town of Passburg. He is traveling to the castle of Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann) in order to organize the Count's library. On the way, he stops to see his old friend Lucy Kisslinger (Asia Argento), and explains that his wife, Mina (Marta Gastini), will soon be joining him. Arriving at the Count's castle, Jonathan meets Dracula and begins work on the library, but soon finds himself a prisoner. Mina arrives in town and begins to look for Jonathan, only to find that Lucy has fallen ill and that she feels a strange presence around her at all times. Meanwhile, Dracula increases his control over the townspeople, just as a vampire hunter comes to the area.

At this point in his career, Argento truly has nothing to lose, but even still, doing a version of Bram Stoker's Dracula seems like an odd move, and not just because it's been done so many times in the past. Like many, I thought that Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version of Dracula was the final word on the subject, but Argento (and three more writers) have decided to take a shot at the source material. The first half of the movie stays somewhat faithful to the book. However, the movie parts way from the novel at the point in the book where Dracula travels to London. In Argento's Dracula, the entire story takes place in Transylvania. And while there's nothing wrong with a filmmaker trying something different, this movie also seems like an odd move for Argento because his movies have always been so modern. Even when the subject matter was linked to issues from the past (as in the "Three Mothers" series), the films were firmly rooted in the present and Argento seemed to revel in giving his films a modern look.

With Dracula, if his goal was to make a film which looked just like a Hammer movie from the 1960s, then Argento should pat himself on the back. Not only does this look like a period piece, it impeccably captures the look of those classic gothic horror films, from the sets to the lighting to the color palette. (When the film started, my wife said, "What year was this made?") I think even the most skeptical Hammer aficionado will appreciate what Argento has done here.

Beyond the look of the film though, Argento's Dracula does have some major issues. The filmís pacing is very slack (even for a European film) and it simply drags at times. There are also editing issues with the way in which the story is laid out. Things seem to happen in a random way and the movie has no narrative flow. Therefore, there is no suspense or sense of menace here. Matters arenít helped by the fact that every character is underwritten, most notably Dracula. If nothing else, Dracula should be creepy, if not scary, but Kretschmann is given very little to work with here, so he simply walks around like a normal person who occasional bites other people. The CG effects which are used for the transformation sequences look like something from a PlayStation 2 game. Unax Ugalde is a very bland lead, and I couldnít help but wonder if he was cast simply due to his slight resemblance to Keanu Reeves.

Iíve read some scathing reviews of Argento's Dracula, but, while it certainly is not a good movie, it wasnít as bad as Iíd expected it to be. Again, the movie has a great look and the scene in which Dracula confronts his detractors contains some nice action and gore. I think that the reason that the film has garnered such a reputation as a stinker in such a short time has to do with the praying mantis scene. Now, I havenít read Dracula, but Iím pretty sure that moment isnít in the book. And yes, it is that goofy and ludicrous. No, Dracula doesnít come close to Argentoís seminal classic movies and if I didnít know who directed it, I would have never guessed that it was from this former master. However, Iíve certainly seen worse movies and itís goofy charm makes it a nice candidate for movie night with friends.

Argento's Dracula wastes no time in earning its R rating on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of IFC Films. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The image is somewhat dark at times, but the colors look fine, most notably the reds. The daytime shots display a nice crispness. The image never goes soft and the depth is acceptable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.3 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is an excellent track which offers many examples of isolated surround sound effects. Someone took a lot of care to place these sounds in the rear speakers and it makes for an effective viewing experience. This is one of those tracks which makes you realize that there simply arenít enough movies which put sounds in the rear. The stereo effects are good as well, and the horror scenes deliver effective subwoofer action. The Blu-ray also include the 3D version of the film, which has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and offers an MVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25/18 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear. The amount of depth here is quite pleasing at times and itís clear that someone put some thought into this, as objects, such as candles, are placed in the extreme foreground in order to create a reference point for the actors which are behind that object. This creates space so that the actors really look separate from the backgrounds. This reminded me of the look of House of Wax. These effects do work best in the well-lit scenes. I did not that the extreme background blurred in some shots. The audio is the same as the 2D version.

The Argento's Dracula Blu-ray Disc only has a few extras. "Behind the Scenes" (64 minutes) is a feature-length making-of which features interviews with those involved in the film and explores several components of the movie. The piece explores the script, the production design and sets, the editing, the 3D effects, the costumes, the visual effects, and the practical make-up effects. In essence, this is a series of interviews with various members of the creative team who are allowed to explain what they did on the film. We then hear from the cast who talk about their characters and their work on the movie. We do not hear from Argento here. The Disc includes the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Kiss Me Dracula" by Simonetti Project. The extras are rounded out by the TRAILER and the RED-BAND TRAILER.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long