Argento’s Dracula

You can usually disregard the possessive parts of movie titles like “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” and “Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail” as the fulfillment of contractual obligations, not as necessary components of the actual title. (I don’t care what the poster says. Your movie is called “The Lorax.”) But I think we should make an exception for “Argento’s Dracula.” This will distinguish it not only from other movies called “Dracula,” but from the schlocky, no-name, straight-to-Netflix trash that it otherwise resembles. Without Dario Argento’s name in the title, you’d never know how it even got made, let alone released.

This ludicrous poop-pile comes from the Italian horror icon whose films like “Deep Red” and “Suspiria” influenced the genre in the 1970s, and whose less-inspired ’80s stuff at least, you know, added to the canon. His version of “Dracula” would be laughable if it were the first film by a Hollywood producer’s nephew. As the twenty-first feature by a 71-year-old genre veteran, it’s embarrassing.

Or it should be, anyway. Considering he put his name in the title, Argento probably isn’t actually embarrassed by it. What was he thinking, though? That is the question. Shooting in 3D for the first time (because why not?) and working with three co-writers — it took four people to come up with dialogue like “Did you hear that?” “Hear what? It’s just the wind” — Argento has concocted a Bram Stoker adaptation that’s as banal as it is ridiculous. It doesn’t have a single scary moment, it’s not atmospheric or mysterious, and it doesn’t offer any creative flourishes on what is already a very, very familiar story.

To wit: clerk Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde), recently married to the lovely Mina (Marta Gastini), comes to the 19th-century town of Passburg to work for Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann), who, I’m not gonna lie to you, is a vampire. Dracula has a new vampire mistress named Tanja (Miriam Giovanelli), whose admirable nude body is displayed in an early, gratuitous sex scene that is followed immediately by her unwilling conversion to vampirism. Jonathan, traveling solo for a few days until Mina arrives, gazes with alarm at the numerous garlic cloves hanging in the local tavern, and visits with Mina’s friend Lucy (director’s daughter Asia Argento), who has nothing useful to tell him regarding Dracula’s tendencies.

When Mina finally shows up, she and Lucy are delighted to see each other, and later Mina gives Lucy a sponge bath. This scene makes complete sense, and it is not weird for a septuagenarian to film his 36-year-old daughter in the nude.

The film does have some unintended laughs, if you are the type of person who finds ineptitude amusing (i.e., if you are a person). Most of the line readings have the stilted, affectless air of an elementary-school play, as if the actors not only don’t know how to act but are barely sure of how to read. An Eastern European train station looks remarkably like a cardboard facade of a train propped against a blue screen. The wolves menacing someone in the woods are clearly three very happy dogs over which growling sound effects have been added. In one very special moment, Dracula transforms into a human-sized CGI praying mantis and kills a victim by jabbing his (Dracula’s) pincer through his (the victim’s) chest.

But do not be misled by that tantalizing description of cheesy Z-movie badness. Such pleasures are fleeting. The entertainment value in Argento’s sad, befuddled decline wears thin before long; after that it’s just boring. It isn’t until the 70-minute mark that the promise of the opening credits — “and Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing” — is fulfilled, and by then it’s too late for anything to salvage the wreck. Listen to the children of the night! What garbage they make.

F (1 hr., 46 min.; Not Rated, probably R for a fair amount of nudity, some strong sexuality, a lot of blood and gore.)

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