For a filmmaker who helped pioneer the visual grammar of modern horror and who would reliably frame and photograph well when his scripts failed him, Dario Argento barely delivers a functioning movie with 2012’s Dracula 3D. The director had long claimed a desire to craft his own entry into the canon of films inspired by Bram Stoker’s novel but lacked the inspiration until the gimmickry of 3D movies made a comeback in the 2000s. The vision he offers is a creative failure in every way and would serve as a disappointing conclusion to his inventive, weird and tacky filmography.

Stylistically, Argento owes debts to the Hammer Studios series of Dracula films starring Christopher Lee as well as Browning and Lugosi’s Count. Lee’s vampire was charming and animalistic and actor Thomas Kretschmann does his best to stand in the shadow of his predecessor, turning in the most watchable performance in the film. Hammer Studios also understood its audience and made films that titillated with more than violence. Their Dracula had a taste for busty young women in various states of undress, an aspect Argento duplicates though he likely would have done so without precedent given his own predilections. From Browning, he finds permission for the operatic in the performances of his actors. The ensemble of Kretschmann, Rutger Hauer, Marta Gastina, Asia Argento, Unax Ugalde and Miriam Giovanelli behave as if the craft of acting stopped evolving the day Lugosi and his castmates finished chewing the scenery. What was forgivable in black and white proves outlandish in the color-corrected 21st century. The high emoting seems like a joke, but there is a seriousness to this whole endeavor as if Argento hears his Dracula being lauded like Coppola’s.

The film begins with Giovanelli’s Tania walking through the woods in the dark. She is out to meet her lover, Milos (Christian Burruano) in a barn, but creaking shingles and shadows on the periphery distract her. After they have finished, she is left completely unprotected when she discards the crucifix he had given her after they argue. Dracula hunts her in the form of an owl—a special effect and sequence meant to impress in 3D but which sputters without the glasses—and kills her.

The next day, Jonathan Harker (Ugalde) arrives to take the post of librarian at Castle Dracula. The count has a centuries old collection scattered throughout his library and Harker has been hired at the behest of his wife Mina’s (Gastini) best friend, Lucy Kisslinger (Argento). While Harker and the Kisslingers catch up, Tania’s body vanishes from the graveyard. Had Harker kept up with village gossip he would have been able to report her whereabouts when he meets her at the castle the next day. Introduced as Dracula’s niece, she tries to seduce him many times, but he is devoted to Mina and Dracula has marked Harker for his own.

The usual beats for a Dracula story follow. Lucy dies and transforms into a vampire. On her first night out, Van Helsing (Hauer) has arrived for the final act and destroys her in front of Mina. Vampire hunting ensues until a final showdown between the Count, Van Helsing and Mina. Dracula reveals that his actions have all been a plot to lure Mina to him because of her resemblance to his dead wife, but Mina gets the final say on whether she will live forever or remain mortal. And just in case some miracle would occur to make this film successful, it ends with the potential for a sequel.

For that to have happened, audiences would’ve had to ignore the film’s tremendous shortcomings. Its mise-en-scène has all the quality of a porn parody with only half the charm, its special effects looking cheap and cartoonish considering the advancements in CGI at the time the film was made. Everything about this effort is lackluster and it is devoid of the sort of schlocky appeal that makes cult classics out of seemingly forgettable fare. Though anything is possible, it is difficult to imagine this film finding fans outside of Argento’s most ardent devotees.

For the last eight years, Dracula 3D has stood at the end of Argento’s filmography like a gravestone. The old master owed the world nothing, the totality of his work serving as statement enough as to his importance and impact. Whether drawn to create again or tired of this deeply flawed film being the world’s last impression of his talent, new projects have emerged. Two films are listed in some state of pre-production, undoubtedly waiting for the world to stabilize before moving forward. Like Dracula in the final shot of his last movie, Argento is resurrected and the world will likely hear from him again.

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