An unsuspecting man arrives in Transylvania, lured by a job with a local nobleman, The Count. But the undead Count Dracula's real target is the man's innocent young wife whom he believes to be the reincarnation of his beloved long lost wife. The Count will stop at nothing to be reunited with his love and will expunge any obstacles in his way, bringing a spiral of violence, deception and passion that throws the local village into disarray. Featuring the iconic Rutger Hauer as vampire hunter Van Helsing and the inimitable Asia Argento as a local all-too-eager to fall under the Count's sway.
This sweeping take on the vampire story has some stunning scenery, some impressive direction, lukewarm acting and a plethora of astonishingly bad CGI effects. To be honest, that is the review in a nutshell, but to expand …
Actors range from German, Italian, Spanish, and the Netherlands giving the production an expansive, truly European flavour. Rutger Hauer is probably the best known name here, playing Van Helsing in a typically under-written part – there is no question of engaging with any of the perfunctorily written characters. Vampire Tanja (Miriam Giovanelli) is perhaps the most striking character; her sensuality and smouldering looks bringing a real presence to the character.
The problem here is that for the most part, the long film is extremely dull, Dracula has a cunning way of disguising the bite marks on his victims by biting them on the back of the knee, at least in the case of the ravishing Lucy (Aria Argento – the director’s daughter).
There is an impressive effect sequence where Dracula (played with quiet menace by Thomas Kretschmann – sometimes too quiet, as his whispering is sometimes inaudible) forms into physical being from swarming flies, followed by a slow motion close-up of a man blowing his brains out, under the Count’s spell.
The castle, the village and locations are all extremely well shot, but as soon as a CGI effect is added, the whole spell is squashed, which has the curious effect of rendering the production a very expensive look that also appears to be incredibly cheap, all in the space of one scene. Quite an achievement.
A positive is the haunting musical score by Claudio Simonetti, a moody, heavily synthesised soundtrack augmenting a string section that provides a truly wistful feel to the various set-pieces.
About 45 minutes from the end, the campiness of Dario Argento’s directorial colours and camera swirls begins to become enjoyable (a campiness exemplified by a European power ballad used as the closing theme). Once the fact that the film is a colourful, cheesy extravaganza has been established, it draws you in. By the time Dracula has transformed into a billowing mass of ashes that suddenly looks like a wolf, the production has taken a hold – just in time for the end credits to roll.