From Calvary to Carfax
Dimension Pictures has been getting ribbed in the press for releasing Dracula 2000 so late in the year (just in time for Christmas), but this ink no doubt comes from folks that haven’t actually seen the film – for this is the rare occasion when the number in the title has some meaning beyond the year of release. The story by genre veteran producer Joel Soisson (The Prophecy, Phantoms) and director Patrick Lussier (Prophecy 3, editor of the Scream series) could have taken the easy horror/thrills track in this updated take on the Dracula legend. But instead they did something a bit more ambitious by taking the character beyond what other films have told us about him, and questioning how such a being could exist in the first place. If kept within the realm of common real world beliefs, where else could the Lord of the Undead’s powers and weaknesses have come from, if not from God Himself?
Abraham Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer), having discovered that – unlike other vampires – Dracula cannot be killed, devises a trap to capture his nemesis. Keeping himself alive with a serum derived from Dracula’s own blood, Van Helsing is still around guarding the vault which imprisons Dracula 100 years later. However, a gang of thieves manages to get past his security (including vicious death traps), and, not knowing what it contains, makes off with the silver coffin.
En route to the Camen Islands with their haul, the group’s cracksman (Danny Masterson of Face/Off and TV’s That ’70s Show) frees the Count, who wastes no time in turning the entire gang into his vampire posse. Dracula then forces their plane to crash on the outskirts of New Orleans, where he seeks to enlist Van Helsing’s estranged and unknowing daughter Mary (Justine Waddell) in his plans for world domination. Van Helsing packs up his special vampire-killer gear and heads off in pursuit, joined later by his concerned assistant Simon (Johnny Lee Miller of Hackers and Trainspotting).
Soisson and Lussier’s script has trouble with focus in several spots, with none of the many characters taking hold of the story sufficiently to carry identification or interest very long. Also, some of their ideas are too ambitious to interest a modern audience out for blood-sucking action ala Blade. However, their portrayal of the title character is what keeps things going, and raises this – the first Dracula film to be released theatrically since 1995’s Dead and Loving It – a step above the usual horror flick. The flick hits on everything that’s gone on in vampire pop culture over the past decade, retains all the classic elements, and takes it all into new territory. Some may argue that their origin of Dracula is cribbed from some recent novels or short stories, but as far as I know this is the first time it’s been used in a movie.
Wisely, the production hired the little known Gerard Butler to play the title role. Butler’s treatment spans aspects of every other portrayal of the character and combines them all convincingly, unlike, say, Gary Oldman, who could only pull off separate parts. His Dracula has all the hypnotic sexual power of Lugosi, the strength of Christopher Lee, and the tragic quality of Jack Palance. Not only that, but – with the help of some subtle CGI f/x – his Dracula retains that underlying repellent quality so often forgotten by the glamorous portrayal of modern vampires. Dracula is not only attractive and sympathetic here, but also frightening and dangerous. He retains all the supernatural abilities attributed to him by Stoker, but we’re also told why other vampires don’t necessarily share the same powers he possesses. The only fault I find with Butler’s Dracula is that his hair is always salon perfect, even after 100 years mummified in a casket.
Much of the supporting cast seems to be comprised of folks too famous to be playing smaller roles in a film like this one. Jennifer Esposito (Summer of Sam, TV’s Spin City), Jeri Ryan (Star Trek: Voyager) and Colleen Fitzpatrick (of Eve’s Plum and Vitamin C) make for a babe-o-licious scene-stealing trio of vampire brides.
This makes two films in release at the same time featuring gorgeous cinematography of Peter Pau (Bride of Chucky), the other being Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It’s rare that I’ll see movies just to check out a favorite cinematographer, but I may just have to do so in the case of Mr. Pau.