Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dracula 2000 Trilogy


In the year 2000, Dimension Films graced theaters with a modern day re-telling of the classic tale of Dracula in the form of Dracula 2000. Wes Craven's editor Patrick Lussier wrote and directed, while his former boss produced. He gathered a group of recognizable and new faces to act in his masterpiece: Jonny Lee Miller, Omar Epps, Jeri Ryan, Christopher Plummer, Danny Masterson, Jennifer Esposito and Sean Patrick Thomas being the named actors/actresses; Gerard Butler, Justine Waddell, Shane West, Nathan Fillion and Colleen Ann Fitzpatrick (pop singer Vitamin C) being the (at the time) unknowns.
The trailers looked cool, with plenty of action to go along with the horror. With today's special effect capabilities making the supernatural goings on that would be required for a Dracula film would be a snap! The story was already laid out for the writers (Bram Stoker wrote the novel a while back... duh!), and only some modern tweaks would be needed to make things work.

Too bad the film was a dud. The story being that Van Helsing (Plummer) has been guarding over Dracula's mummified body for a century using its blood to keep his body sustained. Posing as a rare antiques dealer in London, he and his apprentice (Miller) have kept things running smoothly. That is until Van Helsing's secretary (Esposito), who really was a thief planning on raiding her boss' vault with the help of some friends (Epps, Masterson, Thomas), accidentally lets the creature free. Now with Dracula (Butler) on the loose in present day New Orleans he hunts down the daughter of Van Helsing, Mary (Waddell), to even the score.
It starts off decently, but after a while the movie seems to be more interested in showing off that Mary and her roommate Lucy (Fitzpatrick) work at the local Virgin Megastore (making one of the film's dumbest in-jokes, as well as showing off Vitamin C's latest album prominently), and shifts the focus onto the secondary characters instead than the main ones. So Dracula turns the scorchingly hot Jeri Ryan into a vamp bride. Why did we need to see a whole character explanation when we know she's going to die a few scenes later? The thieves get more screentime than Justine Waddell, thus not allowing the audience to connect with her character like we should have from the start. The same goes for Dracula. His minions, the thieves turned vamps, get more to do than him. I'm surprised that Gerard Butler got more work after this film since he never really did anything to show off his acting talents. His version of the classic role is, well, pretty damned boring. 

The dialogue is trite and childish, with the vamps always spitting out some kind of cliched pop culture reference before doing anything threatening. The cinematography looks really good when there's action happening. However, the whole thing is like a big train wreck (except for the fact that Vitamin C shows off her lovely ta-tas). It can't seem to find the right balance between the old book and what would pass today as a vampire film. In the end it completely throws out the novel when we find out that Dracula is really Judas. The fact that he was paid in silver for tattling on Christ explains why silver hurts him. Plus he hung himself at dawn, thus he's allergic to sunlight. Blah blah blah. An anticlimactic ending caps off this mildly entertaining attempt at a Dracula film.
Since the film was not a big hit at the box office, but performed well on video, the inevitable DTV sequels were commissioned a couple of years later. Dimension paid for Lussier to write and direct two sequels that were filmed back-to-back in 2002.

Dracula II: Ascension was released on video in 2003 with another cast of recognizable faces: Jason Scott Lee, Jason London, Diane Neal, Craig Sheffer and Roy Scheider.

This time the burned body of Dracula from the first film is rushed to a medical school's morgue. Two students, Elizabeth (Neal) and Luke (London), are on duty when it comes in, and they immediately realize that something is wrong. An autopsy reveals that the corpse was that of a vampire, and almost immediately afterwards they are notified by a mysterious phone call that a person will pay them $30 million for the body. Accepting the deal they steal the corpse, and along with some friends and a crippled colleague re-animate it. Using clever vampire traps to keep Dracula at bay, they test him for the possible medicines that could be made out of his blood. They don't realize that a priest, Father Uffizi (Lee), who hunts vampires for the Vatican is on their trail and intends to destroy Dracula, medicines or not.
Right off the bat, watching this film you can tell that it's going to be a decent film. It takes it's time setting up the characters and the situations we find them in. We are treated to a cool little intro featuring Lee's Uffizi kicking some hot chick vamp ass in Romania that sets up his character with very little dialogue. Events are played out in suspenseful fashion, and while some are cliched and predictable, the actors manage to pull it off.

The dialogue is at times childish again, especially in the case of the lone black character in the film that ends up becoming a jive talking vampire. But that's made up for in the creativity on display throughout the movie. Instead of having a whole city to play in, the budget only allowed the crew to use small sets, like the swimming pool facility where the majority of the film is set. It's basically a “ship in a bottle” film, and when you are limited in what you can do, you're forced to focus on what matters, characters and plot instead of FX and action.
The trappings that the characters use to keep Dracula at bay are pretty cool (and humorous), like the fact that vampires are obsessive about undoing knots and counting things. So Luke's character makes a net out of knotted fabric and drapes it over the vampire, as well as scattering millions of seeds on the floor around where they keep him.

It's still not a great movie by any means, but it's pretty enjoyable and entertaining. It helps that the lovely Diane Neal is featured prominently, and thankfully so because she's fucking beautiful.

It ends in a cliffhanger that leads directly into part 3...

Made at the same time as part 2 but released in 2005, Dracula III: Legacy is the (supposedly) final chapter in the series. Most of the actors from the second film are back: Jason Scott Lee, Jason London, Diane Neal and Roy Scheider. Rutger Hauer is the guest star, taking over the part of Dracula.
Uffizi (Lee) and Luke (London) have joined forces to hunt down and destroy Dracula, who has hidden himself away in Romania. Luke has an ulterior motive; he wants to save Elizabeth from the clutches of the beast. Together they comb the Romanian countryside, finding Dracula's lackies left and right and following the trail to his lair.

After the so-so part 1, the promising and entertaining part 2, this last film in the series is a total kick in the balls. I was expecting it to be an all out war between good and evil. What we get is a hackneyed road trip movie that occasionally makes stops to introduce useless characters that were tailor made to be vampire food.
Again, it starts off with a cool action scene that re-introduces us to the heroes, they find out from their quarry that Dracula is in Romania, striking fear into the villagers and such, and off they go. Nothing much happens for the rest of the film. Occasionally they find something that is mildly interesting, like some hooligans that kidnap villagers to offer to Dracula as tribute in exchange for letting them live. Other than that there's a pointless reporter character that pops up routinely (like whenever the movie gets boring) and drags it to new lows.

The finale is a total disappointment. The Dracula that Rutger Hauer is playing is a jovial, smack talking impish character that is the polar opposite of the version we got in part 1. I think I liked the boring Dracula better. Then there's the (anti) climactic fight. It's like two old men slashing at each other with swords. Then the big twist comes along and makes absolutely no sense. I won't ruin it for you all, but it's flat out dumb. Plus the final shot is silly. And the final nail in the coffin is that Diane Neal is only in 2 minutes of film!!!!! IT'S A TRAVESTY!!!! But I will say she makes for one sexy vampire!
I guess you can say that the film is left open yet again for another sequel. I'll watch it mainly because the even numbered ones seem to be the better films. I just hope that someone other than Patrick Lussier is writing and directing. This guy's 1 for 3. Not a good track record if you ask me.

When all is said and done, the trilogy's prologue is weak, the body of the story is pretty good, and the epilogue is crap. Watch them if you have a high tolerance for boredom and disappointment.

Dracula 2000 - 2 out of 5
Dracula II: Ascension – 3 out of 5
Dracula III: Legacy - 0 out of 5



*written 7/12/05

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