We knew Dracula was popular, but geez! Apparently there have been one thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine films leading up to the new film, Dracula 2000. And we missed all of them, except Dracula A.D. 1972.
Besides the numerical silliness, the film's title is sometime preceded with the words "Wes Craven Presents." These three words have been approaching the notoriety of "Dino De Laurentis Presents" when it comes to warning horror movie fans that something stinky is on the way. Craven is a fine director, even if his ability to choose scripts is suspect. But for the last few years Craven has been lending his name to movies he didn't direct, presumably because he approves of them in some fashion. It's tough to imagine what Wes found to like about films like Mind Ripper or the remake of Carnival of Souls (shiver). At least in the case of Dracula 2000, the newest film Wes Craven is "presenting," the connection is easy to see. Craven's favorite editor, Patrick Lussier, is the director of this newest version of the Dracula story. And surprise of surprises, it's a moderately good film. It's certainly better than most of the horror efforts that have managed to reach the multiplexes in recent years. Remember the big movie this Halloween, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2? If you do, we hope the therapy is going well.
"Warn me if you see
Susan Lucci's daughter coming this way!"
Set in the present day, we learn that Matthew Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer) has continued his famous grandfather's antique business, or so he tells his right-hand guy Simon (Jonny Lee Miller). In this movie, the characters are well aware of Stoker's novel, though they dismiss it as fiction. But then a group of high tech thieves break into a ludicrously complicated vault that Van Helsing keeps in the remains of Carfax Abbey. After the alarms are tripped and they have lost a couple of their members to some vicious booby traps, the thieves (who include Omar Epps and Jennifer Esposito) blow a whole in the wall of the abbey and escape into the sewers with a sealed coffin they figure has to be full of treasure. (Actually, we couldn't help but wonder why, if blowing a hole in the wall was so easy that the thieves do it as an afterthought, they didn't just do it in the first place to avoid the guards and the four-foot thick vault door.)
The thieves make their way to America in a private plane. But a guy from That '70s Show dicks around with the coffin until he releases its contents, the Dark One. No, not Bette Midler, but Dracula. The plane crashes in a swamp near New Orleans with nothing but corpses on board. Dracula then makes his way to the Big Easy and decapitates Anne Rice for writing all those dumb books about vampires that spend their time being morose because living forever sucks.
The new, new Mod Squad.
Sorry, we were thinking of the movie we would like to see. Dracula actually proceeds to the Big Easy to find Maria (Justine Waddell), Van Helsing's estranged daughter. Maria has been having rapidly edited dreams about an evil figure that threatens her innocence. No, not Leonardo DiCaprio, but Dracula. Dracula, for his part, wants to convert Maria for reasons that have to do with the fact that Mathew Van Helsing is not really the grandson of the famous Van Helsing, but the famous Van Helsing still vital a hundred years after the events Stoker imperfectly described.
Gerald Butler, a relative unknown, plays Dracula. He seems to be a good enough actor, but this version of Dracula really requires him to be seductive. We may not be the best judges of whether or not he has he has the kind of smoldering good looks that turn women into puddles of lovelorn goo, so we tried to ask our usual estrogen experts, Niki and Jyotika, for their opinions on this subject. Unfortunately, Niki has not answered the phone since Gladiator came out on tape, and Jyotika just mumbled something about the only vampire for her being "boring anus," whatever that means. So we take it that Gerald Butler's performance is not going to go down in history as one of the greatest or sexiest Dracula performances.
UPN's remake of The Big Valley.
The biggest actress in the film is Jeri Ryan. Of course, she's likely to be the biggest actress in any film she makes, at least until she co-stars with Dolly Parton (rim shot). But from all the press she's getting, you'd think she has a pretty big role, but she doesn't. In fact, genre reporters will use any excuse to interview Jeri Ryan, including Star Trek: Voyager reaching an important milestone, Star Trek: Voyager filming a new episode, or the words Star Trek: Voyager appearing in TV Guide. Genre reporters do this because they want to look down her shirt. Here Jeri plays a newscaster who gets real pale, real fast.
Other stunt casting falls flat (never an adjective used to describe Jeri Ryan). Omar Epps spends most of his small role vampirized. Great, because we needed another hip hop vampire. Someone named "Vitamin C" plays Mary's roommate Lucy. How much did her parents hate her to name her after a dietary supplement? Luckily Vitamin manages to use her pain for her acting, because her character admits to being named after the Peanuts character.
Playboy's "Girls of the Undead."
What pushes Dracula 2000 over the edge from hopeless contemporary remake to a mildly worthwhile enterprise is the film's visual look and half-smart script. The film's look comes courtesy of cinematographer Peter Pau, who has worked on such films as The Killer and The Bride with White Hair. More recently he shot Bride of Chucky and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He gives Dracula 2000 a slick, atmospheric look, and he often frames characters with arches and religious iconography. While Pau, almost a shoo-in for an Oscar this year, should really be making better movies, he still raises this one to a new level.
And where Peter Pau goes, so goes wirework. A surprising amount, really. Characters make love on the ceiling, jump off of rooftops. During the climatic fight two of the vampire characters even engage in some wire fu, though nothing spectacular. Somewhere, Gerry Anderson is smiling. Who knew that thirty years later actors with strings would be popular again?
The script, by Highlander: Endgame scribe Joel Soisson, is fairly intelligent. Dracula is given a Biblical back-story here, and for once the screenwriter has actually read the Bible. After The Prophecy and End of Days, we were beginning to wonder if Hollywood was using some other Bible, one we aren't familiar with.
This is what happens to people who
ask Jeri Ryan, "Are those real?"
The movie also avoids some of the worst pitfalls of bad dialogue and characters acting unaccountably stupid. Sure, there's still a scene where the guy from That '70s Show is trying to open the coffin, and after many failures smoke begins seeping out of the coffin and points to the right handle to turn. Real people would stop screwing with the coffin right then, but this guy opens the coffin and gets a leech in eyeball for his trouble. People may be really dumb in these movies, but at least justice is swift. Outside of the coffin scene, the film is fairly logical. A compelling explanation is given for vampires' weaknesses, and for Dracula's immortality. The characters are well drawn so it's a bit of a let down that the main actors can't do much with them, especially Jane Waddell. Her late transformation into Mary the Vampire Slayer is not very convincing.
Still, this is an entertaining (if not essential) entry into the modern vampire genre. It may not be as interesting as average episode of Angel, but at least someone took the time to write an intelligent script, and it was committed to film with modicum of style.
Here's an excerpt from the Book of McBain: "An lo, the hero cop did have a partner, and that partner did have dusky skin and talk about the future. So God ordered the partner be smited mightily." Go Back.