This concludes a trilogy director/co-writer Patrick Lussier began with DRACULA 2000, which rode its ‘Wes Craven Presents’ caption to a modest theatrical profile. On the model of their PROPHECY series, which Lussier has also contributed to, Dimension opted to extend his take on Bram Stoker’s material with a pair of non-theatrical sequels, economically shot back-to-back (but in 2.35:1 widescreen). Dracula metamorphoses between films (from Gerard Butler to Stephen Billington to this entry’s Rutger Hauer), but LEGACY retains the hero team from DRACULA II: ASCENSION: vampire-hunting martial artist priest Uffizi (Jason Scott Lee) and guilt-ridden civilian sidekick Luke (Jason London). Though both follow-ups were made in Romania, ASCENSION was ostensibly set in Louisiana, picking up from the first film; here, Dracula has returned to his Carpathian fastness, and there’s a certain relief on the part of the production that the country – which recently had to pose as Hollywood in SEED OF CHUCKY — can play itself for once.
The avowed model for the storyline is Heart of Darkness, with the heroes travelling through a blighted land riven by factions fighting a complicated war, towards the lair of a Kurtz-like monster who has, it turns out, lost touch with his empire and become an ultimate couch potato, watching television while taking in blood through intravenous tubes. It’s a strong idea, distanced from the Dracula-as-Judas and Dracula-as-Hannibal-Lecter of the earlier films, but Hauer comes to the role too late, after ineffectual stabs at king vampiredom in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ‘SALEM’S LOT. One of the perils of including the original screen treatments as an extra is that it can show how the finished film has become less interesting or unusual than was intended. Hauer makes up mad speeches, but is neither the bloated, dissociational madman of the treatment nor a more vital, engaging villain who can face Lee in a swordfight.
However, this road to Castle Dracula has a few engaging diversions: following the TWINS OF EVIL homage in ASCENSION, there’s a VAMPIRE CIRCUS theme here as the heroes are attacked by blood-drinking clowns and an impressive vampire on stilts (plus a LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES lookalike); and the business with vampire-hating rebels and human-harvesting minions out in the Romanian sticks at least shows a grander ambition than, say, the SUBSPECIES films or Stuart Gordon’s DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS (if nothing on the level of Dan Simmons’s novel Children of the Night). Luke’s motivation is to save his girlfriend (Diane Neal) who was bitten in the previous film, and the state he finds her in – addicted to other vampires’ blood in an impressive, if discreet semi-lesbian orgy of fluid-exchange – is at least a new development in a crowded genre.
Lee, fighting a Blade-like vampire infection, is defrocked this time to allow a mild romance with ‘EBC’ newswoman Julia (Alexandra Westcourt, homaging BBC personalities probably unfamiliar to US audiences, Kate Adie and Angela Rippon). The Conradian final conflict sets up an ironic reversal which not only is a logical extension of the finish of APOCALYPSE NOW but also a reprise of Lee’s fate in TALOS THE MUMMY. As a Cardinal, Roy Scheider has no bigger a role than in ASCENSION, but showoff make-up man Gary J. Tunnicliffe gets to panic, be bitten and expire in his own special effect as Julia’s tagalong cameraman.
Originally published in Video Watchdog.