Cinema/TV, Dracula, Film Notes

Your Daily Dracula – Dracula II Ascension (2003)

Stephen Billington, Dracula II Ascension (2003)

Given that DRACULA 2000 owed so much to Hammer’s DRACULA AD 1972, it’s apt that it should turn out to be the first Dracula movie in three decades not only to yield a sequel (using the plot that was the original story outline for DRACULA 2000) but to become the fountainhead of a franchise.  Though shot by Doug Milsome (FULL METAL JACKET) in 2.35:1 widescreen, as showcased on the DVD release, it’s essentially a direct-to-video effort.  Like the SUBSPECIES saga, Dimension stretches the budget with cheap Romanian locales (perversely, passed off as New Orleans rather than representing Transylvania) and making two sequels back-to-back.  It doesn’t wind up with a MATRIX RELOADED-style ‘to be continued’ caption, but is very much an instalment in an ongoing series, expending most of its plot on an elaborately resurrection of an arch-villain who is only unleashed near the finale.

An introductory sequence pulls a reversal as a man in black (Jason Scott Lee) who resembles the Dracula of DRACULA 2000 stalks a white-clad woman (Jennifer Kroll) around a Czech street but turning out to be vampire-hunter Father Uffizi pursuing one of the undead.  In a neat, tiny moment, we have just long enough to glimpse the woman’s reflection in a window and assume the filmmakers have made a boo-boo before it turns out that Uffizi is dealing with a brace of lookalike vampires, nostalgically labelled the Twins of Evil in the end credits.

Then, we pick up where the earlier film began with Dracula burning at sunrise.  New characters are introduced at the morgue where the body is taken and a nearby university, and the bulk of the film takes place in large, abandoned Eastern Bloc-style settings (a ruined mansion and a swimming pool) where crippled lecturer Lowell (Craig Sheffer), his medical examiner girlfriend Elizabeth (Diane Lee), a sinister Englishman (John Light) and some disposable students keep the barely-revived monster (Stephen Billington) strapped down as they probe his blood in an effort to isolate the curative properties of vampirism, unwisely neglecting the inherent spiritual evil.  Under orders from a cameo cardinal (Scheider), Uffizi tracks them down and arrives just as the monster’s influence has thoroughly corrupted his captors.

The big idea of the first film, that Dracula turns out to be Judas Iscariot, is downplayed here but not taken back.  Billington’s blonde, white-faced Dracula is never referred to by that name, and the use of a new actor is cleverly explained by the revelation that the vampire (like Dr Who!) looks different with each regeneration (Rutger Hauer is set to take over).  It’s even an unusual and workable idea (derived perhaps from Hannibal Lecter) that Dracula, at his weakest and most confined, is still an unbeatable opponent, capable of corrupting or defeating people by his sheer presence.

It’s also a nice touch to flirt with scientific rationale for vampirism before confirming the basic but now-unfashionable notion of the undead as irredeemably damned and supernaturally evil.  As with director/co-writer Patrick Lussier’s PROPHECY sequels, DRACULA II isn’t short of clever little bits (it’s the first vampire film to make use of the creature’s folkloric obsessive-compulsive disorder, a need to count spilled seeds or undo knots) though the cramped, cheapskate feel prevents it from being a fully satisfying picture.  A modish cynicism pervades everything, with characters who are mostly rotten even before the vampire gets to them – even the apparent heroine is willing to sell a corpse for thirty million dollars.  A couple of revelations that characters are nastier than we have assumed aren’t that surprising since everyone snarls their dialogue.

Originally published in Video Watchdog.


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