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Exclusive Set Report: Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D

Interviews with Argento, Kretschmann, Hauer & more

Two years ago a couple of veteran Italian movie producers got together to discuss the future of internationally packaged co-productions in the light of the global economic downtown.

One was Roberto Di Girolamo, owner of the FilmExport Group, a company responsible for handling director Tinto Brass’ erotica back catalog as well as such classics as Dino Risi’s Scent of Woman. The other was Gianni Paolucci, producer of director Bruno Mattei’s most recent output, Cannibal World and Island of the Living Dead, whose long career stretches back to Antonio Margheriti’s 1984 Raiders knock-off The Ark of the Sun God.

“We were talking about 3D and its place in the current film industry,” recalled Gianni Paolucci. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy to make a 3D movie in Europe so it had to be as surefire a commercial prospect as possible. As the technology seemed to lend itself best to the horror genre from the thrill point of view, we asked ourselves two key questions. What is the world’s most famous horror story and who is the most famous Italian horror director? The answers of course were DRACULA and Dario Argento. And there was our new project.”

Talking to me inside his trailer at the Barragia forest location 60 km from Turin, Italy, where the shocking climax of Dracula 3D was shot on June 30, 2011, Paolucci continued, “I had never met Dario before so I asked friends we had in common to put me in touch with him. I pitched the Dracula 3D concept and asked him what he thought. There was about a thirty-second delay and he said, what a fantastic idea, I’ve always loved working with new technology, count me in. From that moment on we started preparing extensively.”

Launched by the FilmExport Group at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010, Dracula 3D was originally announced in tandem with Who Killed Caligula? 3D, a return by director Tinto Brass to the most controversial movie of his career. “The plan was always to put Caligula into production first,” remarks Paolucci. “That way Dario could hone his 3D skills and get completely up to speed on the whole process. But when Tinto returned from a location scout in Tunisia it was clear he had health problems. So we changed the program and brought Dracula 3D forward. Dario was fine about that as he had embraced the technology, had the script exactly how he wanted it and had firm casting ideas.”

Pausing between camera set-ups shooting Dracula’s arrival at his deceased wife’s mausoleum in the heart of the forest, Dario Argento explained, “I’ve always preferred to establish my own particular genres rather than take on such recognized ones as the vampire. Just as I did with The Phantom of the Opera, here I’ve changed the rules and shaken the undead genre up to make it my own creation. Yes I’m dealing with the classic iconography but I’m putting my own twist on it. For example Dracula doesn’t just transform into bats and wolves… I suppose Hammer’s 1958 Horror of Dracula is my touchstone up to a point – I am trying to make my Dracula as classic as that. But I’ve gone to great lengths here not to specify a particular period and I’ve made subtle alterations to the Bram Stoker story that have really given it an added power and action momentum. And shooting in 3D is allowing me to add an extra dimension to my brand of set piece…wait until you see massacre of the town elders!”

Originally Argento thought about casting Vincent Gallo as the title Count. The Buffalo ’66 star was also the first choice for Argento’s last movie Giallo until Adrien Brody snagged the lead role. “When production was moved forward we had to make a firm decision over who was going to play Dracula,” Argento adds. “I loved working with Thomas Kretschmann on The Stendhal Syndrome and watched him with pride become a major player in Hollywood with Blade II and King Kong. So I called him four days before the start of shooting and asked him to join me once more to play a bisexual Dracula.”

“I had planned to spend the summer with my children,” recollected Thomas Kretschmann, readying himself off camera for a very unusual demise at Van Helsing’s hands. “Then this call from Dario came out of the blue asking me to play Dracula. My first thought was, What will my friend Gary Oldman think? (Oldman started in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula). The second was why would I want to take on such a cliché character and repeat something that has been done so often. Quick as a flash Dario told me to treat the Dracula text as the Shakespeare of horror. Every actor likes to interpret classic Shakespearean characters so why not do the same with Dracula? I read the script and it was Stoker with that quintessential Dario spice. I found the decadence and lavish beauty sought by Dario in both the narrative and visuals something akin to director Luchino Visconti’s aesthetics in The Leopard and The Damned. In fact I think I play Dracula a bit like Helmut Berger’s mad king of Bavaria in Visconti’s Ludwig. And with Dario determined to constantly poke your eyes out in every bloody and violent 3D frame, I describe the Dracula 3D look as ‘Splatter Visconti’.”

Kretschmann based the look of his maniac Alfredo Grossi character in The Stendhal Syndrome on Rutger Haauer’s blond android in Blade Runner. So the actor was delighted to be working with Hauer for the first time even if they did only have climactic scenes together on Dracula 3D. “Tonight was my happiest moment on a film set ever,” Kretschmann beamed. “I blared out the Blade Runner soundtrack in my trailer, mouthed the ‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe’ quote, and then chatted with Rutger while the massive 3D cameras were being put in position. It was a dream come true.”

If Kretschmann was the last person to be cast in Dracula 3D, Rutger Hauer was the first to be announced. The iconic Dutch actor said, “It took two phone calls to get out of Dario what exactly he wanted me to do with the Abraham Van Helsing character. People should have warned me he doesn’t like talking about all that stuff much. No matter, it was his enthusiasm for the subject and the freedom he was prepared to give me that made me think Dracula 3D would be a good film to slot into my 2011 schedule. I’m playing Van Helsing as an early scientist on a research mission but that’s all I want to say as it’s up to the audience to figure him out. It’s my job as an actor to give you enough of a flavor to do that. At first I thought a mix of stuffy, campy and realistic would work for the role. But I soon realized Dario didn’t want the camp approach in any form. He wanted it serious and once I got a handle on just how serious, I was fine.”

Joining her famous director father for the fifth time in front of the camera is Asia Argento. But unlike her headline parts in Trauma, The Stendhal Syndrome, The Phantom of the Opera and Mother of Tears, Asia is only playing a supporting role in Dracula 3D. “I’m Lucy, the best friend of Dracula’s main target, Mina (The Rite‘s Marta Gastini),” she says, after being fitted with her vampire fangs for the first time on the night we spoke. “I just didn’t want the pressure of starring in another of my father’s movies. I’ve made six Italian movies this year alone and I could just turn up here for my ten-day stint with the machine already in operation and the excitement of filming in 3D still palpable. My father has always been a pioneer so it didn’t surprise me at all how much he has embraced the 3D process.”

“I’m not a Dracula fan or of vampires in general,” she continued. “Of course I’ve seen all the movies but I’ve never read the Bram Stoker book. Goth friends and people who love the book were more excited about me playing Lucy than I was. What has been my inspiration? Loving the idea that my father is thoroughly enjoying tackling such a classic story in so modern an approach. It’s the first time I get killed in one of my father’s movies too. He’s killed my mother (Daria Nicolodi) repeatedly on film, now it’s my turn!”

Many are seeing Dracula 3D in terms of an Argento “family” reunion. Alongside cast members Asia Argento and Thomas Kretschmann, the crew features such Argento veterans as production designer Antonello Geleng, special make-up effects supervisor Sergio Stivaletti and composer Claudio Simonetti, who true to form turned up on set with much of his soundtrack already written. But another key member of the crew is the one Argento fans should be most excited about. Director of photography Luciano Tovoli gave Suspiria its ground breaking vibrant look and turned Tenebrae into a crisply crystal nightmare. Watching Tovoli in action on Dracula 3D is a master class in cinematic lighting. For after placing banks of lights in the forest setting to enhance its atmosphere, they seem to magically disappear once the 3D Arri Alexa camera turns and the dark fairytale imagery is captured.

Suspiria and Tenebrae are the two movies in my CV I like the most,” pointed out Tovoli after discussing the climactic shots with the six-man 3D advisory crew. “Now Dario and I are back together again to connect with the 3D format. Like in a silent movie, the 3D image has to express more than the dialogue and that’s a terrific discipline. So I’ve gone back to essential F W Murnau and Tod Browning while Dario keeps the camera moving in complicated ways. Our personalities have always created a unique alchemy together – it’s why we’ve done our best work as a team. With Dracula 3D all I can hope for is we’ve made something iconic again for the third successive time.”

For a collection of mini-reports/observations from the set, follow this link!

Source: Alan Jones