Sunday, August 2, 2015

Dracula 2000 (2000)

Director: Patrick Lussier                                   Writer: Joel Soisson & Patrick Lussier
Film Score: Marco Beltrami                              Cinematography: Peter Pau
Starring: Gerard Butler, Christopher Plummer, Jonny Lee Miller and Justine Waddell

Vampires have been done to death. Part of me feels as if they aren’t even scary anymore because of the way they’ve been used and abused in film for the last eighty years. Dracula 2000 is no exception, and in many ways it’s a bad film, but ultimately I watched the entire thing and was able to extract something positive from the experience. The same can’t be said of another classic monster film that came out ten years earlier, Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound. That film was, literally, unwatchable. But this Dracula also shares a TV-movie type pedigree with Werewolf: The Beast Among Us, which was made twelve years later and is easily the best of the three. This updating of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was produced by Wes Craven and directed by Patrick Lussier who had been at the helm of Craven’s Scream franchise. This was probably not a good choice, as he seemed to carry the artifice and poor production values of those films with him over into this one. The screenplay was written by Joel Soisson, who has primarily worked on direct-to-video films for Craven, and that is another nail in the coffin, so to speak, for the film. And yet, like the title character himself, the critical failure of the film did not stop it from spawning two direct-to-video sequels.

The opening credits roll over the voyage of the Demeter, from Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau’s unauthorized adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula, but put back to the original 1876 date of the novel. When the ship runs aground in England all of the crew is dead, and footprints leading away from the ship are washed away. Then the date jumps ahead to London in the year 2000. Abraham Van Helsing’s grandson, Christopher Plummer, is buying a medieval crossbow for his collection with the help of his assistants, Jonny Lee Miller and Jennifer Esposito. Plummer even jokes about how ridiculous it was that Stoker used his grandfather for a character in his book. Later that night a team of thieves, led by Omar Epps and Danny Masterson, attempt to break into the vault of Plummer’s extensive collection, but instead of treasure they discover a metal coffin that they can’t get into. When Esposito comes across the open vault and walks inside, there is some genuine suspense, until she is revealed to be part of the conspiracy. The coffin is guarded by some protective booby-traps that kill two of the thieves, and unbeknownst to the rest of them, their blood is pulled into the coffin. Plummer hears the alarms, but he and Miller arrive too late, and the thieves take the coffin, assuming there’s money inside, and fly to the Caribbean. Meanwhile, in nearby New Orleans, Justine Waddell is having incredibly vivid dreams about the man in the coffin, almost as if he’s actually in the room with her. Then Plummer and Miller head to Louisiana to do battle with the newly released Gerard Butler as Dracula.

For many people, the film is unwatchable, and that’s completely understandable. The profusion of television actors in the film, for one thing, only adds to the low-budget feel. But for all that, the acting isn’t bad at all and the principal actors, along with Jeri Ryan and Shane West, do nothing to embarrass themselves. Easily the worst part of the film is the production design, which actually is embarrassing. The entire film appears to have been shot on a sound stage and even the shots in New Orleans fail to add any type of atmosphere to the picture. On the positive side is that the special effects are from the Matrix era, and they are a welcome relief from CGI, which I’m beginning to hate with a passion. The other thing that makes it watchable is the clever ideas that permeate the screenplay. The trip on the airplane with the coffin turns into an updated variation on the Demeter, and setting the film in New Orleans is clearly a nod to Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat. There’s also a wonderful revelation about Plummer’s true identity and how he got that way, as well as the identity of Waddell. But the most ingenious plot twist has to do with the genesis of Dracula, which gives the title added meaning. Though the film tanked at the box office, it did quite well in its video release, enough to make back its production costs. Dracula 2000 continues to be seen on cable TV, and that would definitely be the place to watch it, interesting for the ideas but little else.

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