Ah, Dracula…Corrupter. Destroyer. Movie star.
Bram Stoker’s immortal Count has been mutilated, mutated, and reborn endless times on the screen, and no doubt will continue to do so into this relatively young century. The mythology Stoker tapped into is as restless as the bloodsucker himself, and if there is no rest for the wicked, Dracula shouldn’t expect nice nap for a good long while.
This version of the world’s most famous Transylvanian comes to us from director Patrick Lussier and producer Wes Craven. Like the two Hammer entries I recently reviewed it’s yet again an attempt to bring Dracula (300’s Gerard Butler) and his nemesis Van Helsing (the great Christopher Plummer) into modern times, as well as putting a post-modern spin on the vampire genre a la Craven’s Scream films. Sad to say that despite some interesting bits, it’s a bumpy ride.
Back in the Victorian era Prof. Van Helsing captures Dracula, but is unable to kill the vampire lord. You see, like in “Van Helsing” and “Blade Trinity”, Dracula here is presented as a sort of super-vampire (apparently simply being Dracula isn’t enough anymore). Briefly pained but otherwise unharmed by the traditional weaknesses of other vamps. So ol’ honest Abe decides to watch over Dracula until he can find a way to destroy him. To this end he injects himself with Dracula’s blood filtered through leeches. That plot device is one of the more interesting ideas in the movie – one I felt was fairly fitting with the psycho-sexual subtext in the original novel, as well as tapping into metaphors of addiction. Plummer is able to play off all of this, thankfully without losing Van Helsing’s moral authority.
Anyway, all goes well for about a hundred years or so. Van Helsing pretends to be his own grandson and builds up rather nice business empire for himself. This is all wrecked when a pack of thieves break into his vaults and steals the vampire’s coffin (mistaking it for treasure). Dracula escapes, puts the bite on the thieves and heads towards New Orleans to take revenge on Van Helsing’s daughter. Which brings us to one of the film’s other major problems.
Dracula has been locked in a silver coffin since the Victorian age. And yet he’s played as a fairly modern guy. He’s in the 21st century for less than day and he’s wearing Doc Martins and rocking out to Monster Magnet. Van Helsing on the other hand has seen the world grow and change, yet he’s played as more of an anachronism. There’s a massive missed opportunity here – imagine how interesting it would have been to have seen Dracula played as “dinosaurian” warlord lost in a modern city, with the elderly Van Helsing ironically more in line with the modern world. I suppose I’m asking a lot, but a little role reversal would have been fun.
Butler’s Dracula is also an issue. The script refreshingly portrays Dracula in a more Satanic light than we’ve seen in a good while, but this is completely undercut by Butler’s coiffed hairdo and whispery voice. Years after this film, Butler would turn in a decent performance as another Gothic monster in “Phantom of the Opera.” But here you see all of the “fried ham” with none of Phantom’s bombast. One almost thinks that this Dracula wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Baywatch.
Another problem is the movie’s attempts to co-opt the post-modernism of the Scream films. Several characters sport names from Stoker’s novel, even though the novel itself is stated to exist early on. There’s also several “wink, wink” nods to older Dracula films. Some times it works (“I never drink… coffee”) but most of the time it falls flat, and people not in the know won’t get it at all. The director would have done himself and the audience a favor by leaving that sort of thing in the hands of his more skilled producer/mentor.
As corny as the movie is, it still manages to be entertaining in many ways. For example, Trainspotting’s Johnny Lee Miller does his best wise-assed Bruce Campbell impersonation as Van Helsing’s young pupil, wielding well-designed weapons against the undead, as well as one-liners. Every time things threaten to get too stodgy, Miller manages to open his mouth and say something stupid. I mean that in the best way possible.
I also liked that unlike many modern vampire films, Dracula 2000 doesn’t shy away from religious themes and concepts. While I’m no bible-thumper, I’ve always felt that Christian lore does much to enhance the depth of the vampire genre, and that it’s central to the ongoing appeal of these movies. Here, Dracula is given a bizarre (if heavy-handed) origin story that ties directly into the bible, as well using this mythology to finally explain some of the weaknesses of the vampire. It’s that sort of care and thought that I wished had gone into the whole movie.
In the end, I wish I had nicer things to say about this movie. I’m not going to lie and say I’m not entertained by it. But I also fully recommend with a clear conscience. At best I can say it’s a silly wreck of a movie that has a few moments of glory. If that’s enough for you, then by all means… rent away.