August 17, 2012

Dracula II: Ascension (2003)

"The burned corpse of Dracula (Stephen Billington) is revived by a wheelchair-bound scientist, Lowell (Craig Sheffer), and his devoted students in an effort to cure Lowell of a fatal disease."

Would you believe that a direct-to-video sequel could actually be good? No? I'm still not sure if it's any better than "Dracula 2000" technically, but I have to say that I had a thoroughly enjoyable experience watching "Dracula II: Ascension" for the very first time.

As I said in a previous post, I had no idea that any sequels to "Dracula 2000" even existed until I recently bought the DVD pack of all of them. Either my local Blockbuster in England didn't bother to get them, or I was interested in other things at the time. I know it's hard to believe, but, really, I do have other hobbies.

Anyway, "Dracula II: Ascension" was apparently filmed back-to-back with the second sequel, "Dracula III: Legacy" (which didn't get released until 2005 for some reason), and so is really the first half of a completely different story rather than continuing with the same cast of characters from "Dracula 2000". Thus, there's no sign of Gerard Butler, Jonny Lee Miller or even Justine Waddell. The absence of the latter two pleased me greatly.

Apart from the director, Patrick Lussier, being the same, and the title having "Dracula" in it, there's only the slightest link possible with the original film. The burned corpse of Dracula, which was apparently left to the local authorities to cut down from the illuminated Jesus sign, provide the vampire body which is the centre of all the shenanigans which follow. Strangely, he's never once referred to as "Dracula" during the whole movie, and he's blond like Lestat, so make of that what you will.

Of course, "Dracula II: Ascension" owes more to "Blade" than it does to anything by Anne Rice. Jason Scott Lee plays a laconic, half-vampire, Catholic priest to the best of his ability, but the "Blade" influence overshadows his ethnicity. I'm not entirely certain, but I think the comic book version of "Blade" was supposed to be English. Maybe I'm confusing him with someone else since it's been years since I read a comic. The point is, it doesn't matter if a vampire-hunter is black, white, yellow or purple because "Captain Kronos" was the first anyway. You thought I was going to say "Blade" again then, didn't you?

Now that I've brought "Captain Kronos" up, I'm sure he was the first character I remember who was bitten by a vampire and survived. Other than the mythology about destroying the head vampire to release the victims as invented by Bram Stoker, there wasn't any attempt to change that prior to Hammer. In the Wes Craven/Patrick Lussier "Dracula 2000" story, Dracula cannot be killed, so obviously they had to do something new which was actually done before slightly differently. Thus, you have Father Uffizi (Jason Scott Lee) having to very painfully burn the vampire infection out of himself in sunlight every morning. Presumably any other victim would have to do the same thing or turn into a vampire.

Obviously, at least one person wants to become a vampire in "Dracula II: Ascension" otherwise there wouldn't have been any need to steal Dracula's body from a morgue, chain it up under spotlights in a drained indoor swimming pool, or conduct cruel experiments on it. It isn't exactly "torture porn" by any stretch of the imagination though. If you've seen "Blade" then it isn't very original either. I'm tempted to throw in "Day of the Dead" as an influence too, but really any movie where a monster was captured and experimented on could have inspired this.

Usually I like to run through the cast at this point in a review and say what I thought of them, but I honestly didn't recognise any of the actors apart from Jason Scott Lee. I've probably seen them all in different things over the years, but I don't know their names without looking them up on the IMDb.

The disabled Professor (who is a big character in this) is played by Craig Sheffer. I thought he was channelling Gary Busey for most of his role so finding out that he wasn't a Busey was a surprise. John Light plays an English guy named Eric and there's nobody who was more shocked than me to find out that he was married to Neve Campbell.

As for the rest of the cast, who cares? The pretty girl, Diane Neal, who plays Elizabeth is very lovely and, of course, her wannabe boyfriend, Luke, I now know was played by Jason London. Are they famous on American TV or something? To me, they were unknowns.

It's only from the synopsis that I even knew that Dracula is played by Stephen Billington. At one point I thought he looked just like a younger version of Rutger Hauer. I only realised the irony of that thought after I'd watched "Dracula III: Legacy" later.

It doesn't matter if I'd never heard of any of the actors in this before anyway since they all do a really good job. I didn't notice any particularly weak links among them or even anything too horrible about the dialogue. There were a few smartass one-liners, but nothing stupidly comedic.

The effects are really good with lots of blood everywhere although only half a dozen moments could really be described as "gory". One of those involves a dead cat which I'd rather forget about, but I suppose it was necessary to that part of the story. As ever, I can't say that anything is scary in this unless you overthink it all.

I learned a couple of things about vampires from "Dracula II: Ascension" which I probably knew before but had forgotten. I'm not going to tell you what they were because I'm going to recommend that you watch this movie for yourself. You've probably already spotted that I've embedded the full movie from YouTube at the top of this review so you don't even have to go to Wal-mart or Kmart to grab a barebones copy from the $5 bargain DVD bins.

I enjoyed "Dracula II: Ascension" so much that I'm going to put it into "The Vault". It wasn't a new film, but it was new to me, and it was way above what I expected.

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