I’m watching these completely out of order, but Dracula 2 gives me hope seeing both Khary Peyton and Craig Schiffer’s names in it. Of course I know this is a Gary Tunnicliff effects film, and I got to meet Jason Scott Lee’s character in Dracula 3– a movie I enjoyed enough to want to explore this middle one now as well.
We have a woman in white running for her life against a shadowy figure, what’s interesting is the figure is Lee – our vampire Hunter. What they are doing, is turning the tables. She’s not in innocent victim, she is vampire and in a few minutes and she and her twin sister turn the tables, attacking Lee and trying to destroy him. Getting a fight sequence with a marvelous beheading like this before we’re even five minutes into the film leaves me confident that the director who gave me Dracula 2000, one of my favorite vampire films ever, is on his game and about to give me something remarkably fun.
Schiffer is a paralyzed college teacher and Peyton is one of his students. It’s a great deal of fun to watch these two Hellraiser alumni together but it’s not long before we get a shot of the burnt up Dracula from Dracula 2000 hanging from neon cross and then delivered to a morgue, and now I’m ready for this thing to start in earnest. The corpse is completely desiccated and blackened and the doctor begins his autopsy. While the skin is charred, the organs inside are pristine – white even, as if they had never been touched by blood. While checking his teeth, a fang pops out – piercing the finger of one of the morticians. A single drop of blood hits the body which absorbs it greedily. Our mortician put in a call to Scheffer, while Lee, in full priest gear arrives at the morgue and stalks the halls, looking for a vampire to kill. He arrives, under the guise of giving the body last rights – but it’s too late… The morgue attendants have absconded with the body. A phone call from someone interested in buying the body came through and the $30 million payday was too much for them to resist. We find themselves on the road spiriting the body away to a property where they can test the body and figure out what’s going on. It’s a gorgeous old mansion deep in the heart of Romania (these kind of scenic locations were a staple of these kind of productions as financial concerns led Dimension to start filming there frequently in the early 2000’s).
The group fills a tub of blood in attempts to reanimate the corpse, as Craig Schiffer watches on a computer monitor. It’s all very reminiscent of Hellraiser, particuarly when the bloody corpse emerges from the water alive and energetic – Dracula has risen, emaciated and bloody alive. They subdue him with light and water. , and then keep him captive with iron chains and UV light. It’s kinetic and modern, and for a moment almost feels like the Lost Boys.
It’s a vampire action movie though, despite the scientists best efforts to study, the hunter arrives, the infection spreads and the action starts. Great execution where vampires are blown out the window by a gunshot, then bursting into flames she plummets down.
I got admit, I dig this series a great deal more than it deserves. There is something about the style in which it’s made, it just really appeals to me. It’s not nearly the film that Dracula 2000 was, but as far as fun vampire and action films, this works. It suffers a little bit from being the middle entry of a trilogy and you have to pair it with number 3 to really satisfy, nevertheless this is one I’ll definitely be coming back to with plenty of rewatch value.
I’ve spent way too much time trying to figure out why this film is so hated. I’ll admit, the font used on the titles is a little over the top and the use of classic Dracula protagonists names for modern characters is a little irritating, but honestly – look at that opening shot of the Demetre… The blue cast that contrasts with the red blood on the people and on the sails. It’s amazing. The footprints in the sand where we slowly see animal turn the human, it’s marvelously understated and yet perfectly effective.
We get a good bit of establishing banter with our characters. It’s perfectly clear who Van Helsing is, but Johnny Lee Miller himself still charms as well. I feel a little heartbroken when Selena turns down his date.
Downstairs, the thieves are quick and efficient. Omar Epps actually does a marvelous job being sinister. He has a cultured style to him that underlies his efficiency. I could actually really dig a pure heist movie featuring this crew… it’s almost a shame that they won’t live long enough for a sequel.
In a gothic cave chamber below Van Helsing’s office (Setting off a few traps to give us some fun, spiky kills) The chamber itself, adorned with vampire skulls, almost feels like a hammer film set. It’s more of an homage than anything else, because the rest of this film will do its best to be slick and modern.
Across the pond in New Orleans, our heroine Mary, he is having bad dreams. Flashes of Dracula, armor, and strobe lighting mix with her face until she awakens terrified. It’s a reasonable bit of foreshadowing considering Dracula is on his way to her in the thieves airplane. The first attacks from Dracula are fast and brutal, and more than once it’s succeeded in making me jump. Gary Tunicliff wields fake blood effectively, though I’ll dmit I wish Dracula’s de-ageing were a little less sudden. Then again, when you got Gerard Butler in your cast, you want to get his shirt off and have him looking pretty as quick as possible.
We effectively sidestep skepticism by having Johnny Lee Miller follow Van Helsing and almost immediately witness the vampires firsthand. They’re well done too, Gary Tunnicliffe chose to make them gruesome more by virtue of blood spatter rather then the physical deformity we see in Carpenter’s Vampires or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Still, there is no mistaking the red eyes and fangs for anything less than monsters. Lussier delivers us a kinetic action scene before Van Helsing takes Miller aside to explain the plot. There is a new twist to the vampire legend here, the idea that Dracula is patient zero – the first vampire, and that the methods that destroy other vampires simply don’t work on him. It’s a logical, organic addition to the mythology. We get additional foreshadowing as silver Mardi Gras coins are dropped from a balcony while Dracula wanders the streets of New Orleans. Foreshadowing is actually something Lussier is good at and the general confusion and massive activity that we get from this admittedly small-scale Mardi Gras celebration provides a colorful and acceptable challenge to our vampire hunters. It’s no challenge for Dracula though, as he finds Mary‘s roommate Lucy to continue the game of cat and mouse that he is playing with her and her father.
Lussier creates an almost Suspiria like atmosphere to introduce the brides and finally give us our first real confrontation with Dracula. We get great wolf and bat imagery as Miller savers Mary and they race after the Church for sanctuary.
We get bloody scripture, exploding bibles and massive cemeteries, not to mention one of the best crucifixion scenes I’ve ever seen and as we finally discover the origins of the first vampire.
There is some cringe here, brilliant dialogue like “we are also much more complicated than our names aren’t we? “Are undercut by goofy dialogue like “I don’t drink… Coffee”. The ever present Virgin Records marketing can get on your face a bit as well and the name itself is admittedly a bit hokey. Still, the imagery, the twist and the action all serve to make this one of my all-time favorite vampire films, second only to the Lost Boys. It’s an incredibly fun vampire romp, not overly grotesque like Fright Night or John Carpenters Vampires but still free of the over-the-top romanticism that Anne Rice and the later Twilight stories would infuse into the genre.