Dracula: Thomas Kretschmann
It may seem like special pleading that I give the universally-panned Argento Dracula a pass while kicking the box-office-smash Coppola Dracula in the fangs. The differences, however, are significant. First and foremost, of course, Argento subverts Coppola by having his Mina’s love for Dracula be the result of a trance he casts upon her: his Dracula is both more pathetic and more dangerous because his hunger is greater than sanity. And while Argento’s film can be accused of being just as cartoony as Coppola’s, in his vision the insanity always springs from Dracula, preserving the novel’s irruptive fear. Sure, the human world is weirdly lit and strangely affected, but unlike Coppola, Argento has been using those techniques for decades now. People who slate this movie because it looks like it was filmed through a succession of jujubes (and scripted on a succession of shrooms) simply out themselves as never having really seen an Argento film — they all do, from Suspiria on down.
Yes, it is disappointing that Argento went to the crummy CGI well when he had perfectly good practical effects that could have done the job in some cases — blood gushing from Italian ladies should not have been untrodden ground for our Dario. (At least he filmed the movie in native 3D instead of post-producing it in.) Rutger Hauer’s Van Helsing is visibly exhausted throughout, as against Kretschmann’s sense of banked power and wolfish violence as Dracula. And yes, Dracula turning into an enormous grasshopper more than squanders in tone and seriousness what it gains in jaw-dropping shock value. (Although one Balkan vampire, the ala, inhabits grasshoppers…) The plot and incidents are indeed a mishmosh of previous Dracula films, including Coppola’s (Marta Gastini’s dress even evokes Winona Ryder’s in the final scene), but that said, Argento seized not only on the plots of the Hammer cycle but their color and lighting schemes as well, deepening the homage considerably. And somehow Argento’s film is the only one in a century to actually interrogate the town’s relationship with its murderous — but economically beneficial — vampire lord. There’s truth, and much of wisdom, in them thar jujubes.
The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Transformed into an enormous grasshopper (and fed by your comments and responses), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order lush, zoomy hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!