Buena Vista // 2003 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // July 1st, 2003
You can't keep a good vampire down.
Just a few short years ago, Wes Craven brought us the horror fest Dracula 2000, a reworking of the classic Bram Stoker legend for a new generation of moviegoers (i.e., teens). It's 2003: welcome to Dracula II: Ascension. Taking place only moments after the last film ended, Dracula II picks up with Dracula's charred body being taken to a morgue in New Orleans for an autopsy. It's there that a group of medical students, including Luke (Jason London, Dazed and Confused) and Elizabeth (Diane Neal), discover that this is no ordinary burn victim: it's a living, breathing...err, I mean solidly inert vampire! When a call comes in with a substantial monetary offer for the body from an unnamed buyer, the students -- led by a crippled professor and Elizabeth's boyfriend, Lowell (Craig Sheffer, Nightbreed) -- take Dracula's body to an old abandoned house and bring it back to life. After a few unexpected deaths, Dracula (Stephen Billington, Braveheart) is bound and captured while the students begin a study of what makes a vampire tick. Could it be that the secret of life can be found in his blood? And who's that weird Asian priest (Jason Scott Lee, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) that keeps hunting down the undead? All of these questions will be answered (well, not all of them -- you have to wait for the upcoming second sequel) in Dracula II: Ascension.
I was a big fan of the original Dracula 2000. Although it was far from being the perfect horror film, it was atmospheric, well acted, and featured a great twist on the Dracula legend (Dracula was really Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Christ). In Dracula II: Ascension, co-writer/director Patrick Lussier has crafted an only mediocre sequel that is sub-par in every respect: acting, plot, and special effects. In place of an interesting story is a movie that takes the character of Dracula, binds him to a cross, and keeps him locked up for most of the feature's running time. While the filmmakers' intentions were good, I can't really recommend this sequel to horror fans looking for true cinematic terror. Slow going at best, Dracula II has too much talk and not enough backbone -- the idea of using Dracula's blood for medical science is an idea that can only go so far (and even at a scant 85 minutes, the film feels like a stretch). While there are bursts of energy throughout the story (Jason Scott Lee's Father Uffizi kicks some major ass in a few well choreographed scenes), overall this feels like a watered down version of Dracula 2000. Ah, but there was potential...the production design is fairly well done, along with a well crafted music score by Kevin Kliesch (with themes by Scream composer Marco Beltrami). The sexy young teenage cast isn't nearly as discernable as the first film's characters (somebody please take the London brothers out of the acting pool), and Roy Scheider (filling in, sort of, for Christopher Plummer) appears only in flashbacks, a long way off from his Jaws glory days. The only truly fascinating character is Jason Scott Lee's Father Uffizi -- and apparently we have to wait until the next film to find out more about his character's history. The filmmakers would do good to heed my advice: when you're making a movie about vampires, let the vampires run amuck. Otherwise, you get a lackluster sequel that pales like vampire flesh in comparison to the original.
FYI: This is the second feature film in two weeks I've watched bearing the title "Wes Craven Presents." Once again, I don't see any proof that Mr. Craven had anything to do with this sequel. Anyone else get the feeling that he's sitting in a Hollywood Hills mansion collecting royalties off his name alone?
Dracula II: Ascension is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I don't have a lot of complaints when it comes to this transfer -- the colors and black levels are all solid and dark without any major imperfections marring the image. Like Buena Vista's release of the original Dracula 2000, Dracula II: Ascension looks very crisp and clean -- you can practically feel the blood oozing off the screen. Buena Vista gets high points for this fine looking picture. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. While this sound mix isn't as aggressive as anticipated, generally speaking it gets the job done -- there are a few well placed directional effects and surround sounds throughout the film to make it an above average track. All aspects of the mix are free and clear of any excessive distortion. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English.
Fans will be happy to see a few extra features included on this disc, though none of them are overly exciting. There are a few deleted scenes from the film (presented in non-anamorphic widescreen), though none of them would have added much to the final cut. "Cast Auditions" features videotaped interviews and readings by a few of the supporting players, and a commentary track by director/co-writer Lussier, writer/producer Joel Soisson, and effects supervisor Gary Tunnicliffe enlighten fans on the story, production, and special effects (and for those of you who just can't wait, the answer is yes: the director makes mention of the third film in this series that is already in production). The commentary is the best supplement provided on this disc -- it's obvious that the filmmakers have a love for this genre. Overall the features aren't great, though they're better than most straight-to-video horror sequels.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary Track by Director/Co-Writer Patrick Lussier, Writer/Producer Joel Soisson, and Visual Effects Supervisor Gary Tunnicliffe
* Theatrical Trailers
* Deleted Scenes
* Cast Auditions