Dario Argento on Dracula 3D, Halloween and daughter Asia's onscreen nudity: interview
Dario Argento's new Dracula 3D, which showed at the Chicago International Film Festival over the weekend, doesn't do a whole lot to freshen up Bram Stoker's classic, beyond making the scenery pop in three dimensions. But the Italian horror maestro says his intention was to tinker with new technology to tell an old tale. In town for the CIFF screening, the 73-year-old director—perhaps best known for his 1977 art nouveau nightmare Suspiria—sat down in a Mag Mile hotel's bland, very un-Argento conference room to talk about everything from his opinion of modern horror to his own worst fears.
What inspired you to make a Dracula film? Did you feel like you could do something new with the material? For many years I had the idea to do this film. I didn’t find the way to give this film a new vision, and then I saw the new technology for 3D. I saw the new technology as something very important, and then I understood I could use the new technology to do Dracula in new dimensions, in new ways to describe this character, because as you say, there are many, many films about Dracula. But every film is different.
Which do you feel is the definitive version of Dracula on screen? Which do you love or revisit most? I love the Dracula from Hammer Films. [The British company released the film, starring Christopher Lee as Dracula, in 1958.] For me, it's the best Dracula in the world.
Did you re-watch that version before you started making Dracula 3D? No, but I was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder because he shot the film in 3D, but it was released in 2D. I had the chance to see the film at a convention in the United States. It was a marvelous film. He experimented with depth. A genius film from a genius. It inspired me because then I understood the easy three-dimensional effects where things seem to come out of the screen to the audience are not important. It’s easy to do, like a joke for children. The important thing with 3D is to put the audience slowly inside the screen to stay close to the characters, with the characters all around you. If you’re in the forest, you’re really in the forest. You wanted viewers to lose themselves in your film. Yes, yes, this is important.
Speaking of losing yourself in a 3D film, you have to see Gravity in IMAX. Ah, IMAX! Oh, my god. I haven’t seen it yet because it hasn’t come out in Italy, but I will.
Do you think about shooting in a different way when you’re working in 3D? No, but some places are marvelous in 3D, like a forest, for example. A forest is marvelous because you can see a tree, another tree farther back, a house in the distance—you can play with depth. Marvelous! Marvelous! But the camera is not so easy to use because it is enormous, very heavy. It’s impossible to do very much movement.
Your daughter, Asia, costars in Dracula 3D, and there are a couple scenes in the film where she is naked. Is that uncomfortable for you or for her to be shooting nude scenes together? This is, like, the fifth film we’ve worked on together. In other films she was naked. [Laughs] And now it is not a problem, absolutely no problem.
On the first one, though, it was strange? The first film, we were both embarrassed. But if the film calls for [nudity], you must do that. After that, it’s simple, it’s nothing, no problem because on set we are professional. I’m the director, she’s the actress. When shooting finishes, we again become…
Father and daughter. Yes, father and daughter. We have dinner, we are friendly. And when we are on set, we are professional.
So if not thousands of people ogling your naked daughter, I’m curious: What scares you most? Psychological things? Psychological, yes, because my films come from my my dreams, my nightmares. These stories are subconscious, strange, symbolic, Freudian. After Freud, everything changes: literature, films, paintings—through them, you discover the unconscious, the sexuality, the stories deep in the stories. This is the reason why my films are [popular] in many, many countries in the world—because I describe something universal, you know, something in your soul, something in your dark side.
There are a number of things in Dracula 3D that seem so bizarrely comedic that you must have included them intentionally. In one scene, Dracula appears as a giant, B-movie–ish praying mantis. At the screening I attended, the scene was met with big laughter. Did you intend that? People can laugh if they want to laugh. Dracula traditionally becomes a bat or a wolf, so it’s possible for him to become any creature—a cockroach or a spider or a bug.
A swarm of flies. And a mantis! I like this. If someone is laughing, it’s okay because it’s [true to] the story.
So the corny and stilted aspects of Dracula 3D were intentional or done with tongue in cheek? It was all intentional.
Does Dario Argento celebrate Halloween?
Yes. I celebrate in Rome. I have a shop of horror things and a little museum [Profondo Rosso, also the name of his 1975 film] where it is possible to meet my fans who come from all parts of the world. They ask questions and I answer.
Do you dress up for Halloween? No. [Laughs] No.
What do you think of modern horror movies? Modern horror movies seem too similar. All the movies are young people going into a forest to stay in a house that is haunted. They’re all too similar. Much more interesting are [horror] films that come from Paris or Japan or South Korea or Taiwan. Also from Spain and France. The titles are impossible to say. I don’t know the translation. But they’re good.
What’s next for you? I’m directing Verdi’s opera Macbeth. It’s being staged in three places: Naples, Navara and Paris. People have been surprised by it.
Seems like a good fit given that you directed Opera (1987), which incorporates Verdi’s Macbeth. It's also one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest. Yes, lots of blood. I put blood on the stage, yes! [Laughs]