The Wes Craven Collection (DVD)

Are vampires Y2K compliant?

First things first: Calling this The Wes Craven Collection is a stretch. While Craven’s name is in the credits as executive producer, these three films, Dracula 2000, Dracula 2: Ascension, and Dracula 3: Legacy are the brainchild of director and co-writer Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry).

In Dracula 2000, a group of thieves breaks into a vault owned by a still-alive Dr. Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country). Finding nothing inside but an antique coffin they can’t open, the thieves—who I guess have never seen a movie before—make off with this coffin in the hope that there’s treasure inside. You know where this is going. It opens, they all die, and Dracula (Gerard Butler, 300) is on the loose in the modern day.

Drac heads to New Orleans, in pursuit of Van Helsing’s long-lost daughter Mary (Justine Waddell, The Fall). Along the way, he kills a bunch of folks, many of who later return as vampires. In the film’s final act, we learn the “real” origin of Dracula. The big reveal will be a lot for some viewers to swallow, but I say Lussier and company deserve a round of applause for coming up with something a new twist on the world’s most-filmed fictional character.

There’s a lot to like about Dracula 2000. It moves along at a quick pace and is filmed with style. The cast includes a ton of familiar faces, including Omar Epps (House, M.D.), Jennifer Esposito (Blue Bloods), Jeri Ryan (Star Trek: Voyager), pop singer Colleen Fitzpatrick (a.k.a. “Vitamin C”), and Nathan Fillion (Castle). Unfortunately, there are a lot of missteps as well. The novelty of Dracula walking around in the modern day isn’t explored in any meaningful way. One scene has him marveling at all the sleaze and violence of the year 2000, but it’s then never followed up on. Also, the fangs. Every vampire movie has to have the “fang shot,” where the vamp actors open wide so we can get a good look at those razor-sharp pearly whites. In a good vampire movie, the fang shot is held off until a big reveal or dramatic moment. In Dracula 2000 the vampire actors are constantly showing off their fangs. Sorry, but just the fangs by themselves aren’t that scary. Turning to the camera and opening wide doesn’t build suspense, it’s just posing.

Still, Dracula 2000 boasts nice production values, a good cast, and some interesting twists in the script. Then there are the two direct-to-video sequels.

Dracula II: The Ascension has a group of med school students coming across Dracula’s remains, and, knowing it’s a major discovery, fret over what to do with him. Dracula very, very slowly returns to life, and a Vatican-sanctioned kung fu fightin’ priest named Fr. Uffizi (Jason Scott Lee, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) is hot on their trial. This is actually a cool idea for a story—our heroes have a vampire’s corpse on their hands, and a mysterious billionaire has offered them a fortune for it. Do they take the cash, or do they try to unlock the secrets of immortality for themselves, for an even bigger payday? All the while, the vampire hunter becomes the “monster,” giving the characters a ticking clock, knowing he’s after them. Sadly, these intriguing concepts are marred by what has come to be known in cinema circles are C.W.D.S.T.O.T.F.T.P.A., which obviously stands for “Characters Who Do Stupid Things Only To Further The Plot Along.” Dumb, out of character choices abound, only because there’d be no other way to eventually get loose and wreak havoc. Note the word “eventually.” Dracula spends the first third of the movie as an inanimate corpse, and the second as a zombie-like monster silently and slowly lumbering about. It’s only near the end of the movie that he takes a form we might all recognize as Dracula (now played by Stephen Billington, Resident Evil). This will have many viewers asking, “Why isn’t Dracula in this Dracula movie?”

The same is true as we head into Dracula III: Legacy, which picks up where the second left off, as Fr. Uffizi and other surviving characters head to eastern Europe in pursuit of Dracula. Yes, it’s the old “film the movie in Romania to save money” thing, one that has brought to life so many trashy B-movies. I can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers found these locations, and then wrote the script around them. Our heroes tool around the dumpy-looking countryside battling vampires for a while, before the final confrontation with Dracula, who this time around is played by cult fave actor Rutger Hauer (Hobo With A Shotgun). He’s clearly having the time of his life, as if thinking, “I get to be Dracula? Sweet.” It’s a long haul before getting to him, though, as we have to deal Uffizi and the gang running around rural Romania battling vampires and worrying about NATO. (There are a ton of references to NATO in this movie. The Vatican battling vampires I get, but NATO?)

I will say this about Dracula III: Legacy, it has one of the biggest “WTF” moments I’ve ever seen in a movie—and I’m a big David Lynch fan. At one point, Uffizi is punching and kicking his way through a bunch of vamps in downtown Crappy Little Village when he comes upon—brace yourself—a vampire on stilts. There’s no reason or set up for this, just a vampire, walking along on a pair of stilts. Again, I’m left to speculate that the filmmakers happened to meet a guy who’s a stiltwalker and said, “Hey, let’s put him in the movie. Why not?” Stilt-boy doesn’t do a whole lot except for (what else?) show off his fangs before he gets staked, but he certainly leaves an impression.

All three movies are presented on one double-sided disc. Video is good, but not spectacular. There are a few scenes in Dracula 2000 where the audio really impresses, with nice use of the surrounds to create some chilling atmosphere. Outside of those moments, though, audio is clean and clear, but not a standout. Previous DVD releases of these three films had commentaries and other extras, but none of them have been ported over to this disc.

The Verdict

Good but not great. There are better vampire movies out there, and there a lot more worse. Fans of cheesy horror will find some thrills here. Everyone else, you’re not missing much.

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