DRACULA WEEK DAY 5: Gerard Butler in Dracula 2000

Dracula 2000Director: Patrick Lussier

Writer: Joel Soisson & Patrick Lussier

Cast: Gerard Butler, Christopher Plummer, Jonny Lee Miller, Justine Waddell, Colleen Fitzpatrick, Jennifer Esposito, Omar Epps, Sean Patrick Thomas, Danny Masterson, Lochlyn Munro, Tig Fong, Jeri Ryan, Shane West, Nathan Fillion

Plot: Matthew Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer) is an antique dealer in London in the year 2000, and constantly attempts to downplay the tales of his grandfather Abraham, who supposedly inspired the vampire hunter character in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. His secretary, Solina (Jennifer Esposito), helps her boyfriend, Marcus (Omar Epps) break into Van Helsing’s vault. They set off a series of traps, killing several of the thieves in the process. The survivors steal a silver coffin, which they take with them as they flee to New Orleans. Van Helsing and his apprentice Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) pursue them. On the way over one of the thieves, Nightshade (Danny Masterson) opens the coffin to find a corpse covered in leeches. The corpse rises and attacks him, slaying two thieves to regain a healthy, human form – Dracula (Gerard Butler).

In New Orleans, at Mardi Gras (because in Hollywood, Mardi Gras happens every day of the year in New Orleans) we meet Van Helsing’s daughter Mary (Justine Waddell) and her friend Lucy Westerman (Colleen Fitzpatrick). Mary, who has been having nightmares, finds herself with an unexplained psychic link to Dracula. She turns to Father David, (Nathan Fillion) an old friend who knew her late mother, hoping he can help her uncover the secrets she carried with her, but he knows nothing that can help her. Van Helsing arrives in New Orleans to see news of a plane crash in a nearby bayou, and sees the silver coffin among the wreckage. Reporter Valerie Sharpe (Jeri Ryan) is on the scene of the crash – and soon becomes one of Dracula’s new brides. Simon and Van Helsing find the bodies of Marcus’s crew, only to find they’ve become vampires.

Van Helsing tells Simon that Dracula cannot be permanently destroyed, even by the normal methods of killing a vampire (stakes, silver, sunlight). He has spent his life seeking a way to kill the beast, to no avail. What’s more, he’s not Abraham Van Helsing’s grandson, he is Abraham, having prolonged his life by leeching Dracula’s blood and injecting it into himself. All he knows is that Dracula hates God and Christianity, presumably lining him up for a correspondent’s job at MSNBC. Dracula seeks Mary, but instead encounters Lucy, who he bites. Mary sees a flash of Lucy’s assault just as Simon approaches her with the promise of explaining why her mother took her across the world to escape her father. As she leaves, he’s attacked by Marcus, but slays him.

Van Helsing tracks Dracula to Mary’s house, but is killed. Mary finds him under the bed, and is soon assaulted by Dracula’s three new brides: Solina, Valerie, and Lucy. She learns the telepathic link she has with Dracula is because her father had injected himself with the vampire’s blood. Dracula shows Valerie the truth of his origin – he is Judas Iscariot, betrayer of Jesus Christ, condemned to walk the Earth ever since the night of his great sin. He takes her to Simon, captured by the Brides, and offers him to Mary: drink his blood and join them as a vampire. She tricks him and they fight, slaying the Brides. After a struggle, she wraps a cord around his neck and pushes him from the roof, hanging him, just as Judas was hanged for his sin, as the sun rises. He catches on fire when the sun touches him. Mary, however, remembers that her father said none of the normal ways to kill a vampire work on Dracula, and vows to return to London to watch in case he ever returns.

Thoughts: Produced by Wes Craven, whose name has turned up in previous movie studies a time or three, this is an odd telling of Dracula. Although it acknowledges the classic story, it also borrows elements from it, making Dracula 2000 an attempted hybrid between a sequel to Bram Stoker’s original and a contemporary remake of the same.

Craven’s greatest work – and here I am thinking specifically of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream,  which the movie poster vehemently reminds us of – fall into the “slasher” category of horror. Dracula, however, is a different kind of beast, and the same things that work for Freddy Krueger or Ghostface don’t necessarily work here. The weaker elements of this movie, in fact, are those that attempt the same sort of jump scares or plot twists that make up the very DNA of a slasher film, but feel a good bit sillier in the context of a vampire movie.

Speaking of silly, I know this is just my personal sensitivity as a lifelong Louisiana boy, but I really would love to get my hands on whoever dressed the extras in this movie and batter them in the face with an oversized set of Mardi Gras beads. People don’t always dress for a party here, nor does everybody in the city show up wearing oversized novelty hats. The fact that this story takes place at Mardi Gras bears absolutely no bearing on the plot, making it just another case of Hollywood thinking it’s like that here all the time. And the “local” news reporter who asks “what’s the deal with these bugs?” It’s Louisiana, jackass. That’s the deal. We gots bugs.

But I digress.

One thing about this movie I do find interesting is the origin story of Dracula. This is one monster that I always feel is actually stronger when he has a religious bent of some sort. Perhaps it comes from the old notion that he can be driven back by a Crucifix, but Dracula as an enemy of God is a concept that makes sense to me and I think works for the character. (It was, in fact, a strength of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.) Casting him as Judas, however, doesn’t quite do the trick. It may seem to fit the requirements, but it also betrays a rather fundamental misunderstanding of Judas as he was presented in the Bible – he never hated Christ. And come on, even if we’re to believe that Dracula didn’t hate Jesus in the beginning, but grew to hate him due to his curse, it’s not like he didn’t have it coming. Plus, the Biblical flashbacks in this film are pretty cheesy, clear soundstage set-ups and not convincing at all.

Gerard Butler – who, by the way, isn’t nearly oily enough in this movie to be recognizable as Gerard Butler – doesn’t have as much to do as Dracula as you would think. He basically is called upon to stand around looking menacing, throw people smaller than him through scenery, and seduce beautiful women. He has a better job than any of us, is what I’m saying. But he plays Dracula as more of a force of nature than a character, with little dialogue and littler personality.

The rest of the cast is largely forgettable – sitcom actors and other b-movie stars or musicians taking a stab at acting. Only Christopher Plummer has any real acting chops, and he’s hamming it up with the rest of them. It’s telling that arguably the supporting performer in this movie with the best post-Dracula career is Nathan Fillion, who appears for all of five minutes.

The design aesthetic is so, so nineties. It’s not enough that our hero have a gun, it has to be a gun with a detachable knife. Hallways must appear endless. Even the Crucifix Simon gives Mary at the end has a hidden blade inside it. Admittedly, there’s a practical purpose for it, but it still feels like overkill.

Overall, it’s hard to really recommend this movie. From a technical standpoint, it’s superior to Blacula, but damn if that movie won’t stay with me more. This film has two direct-to-DVD sequels as well, and while a weird part of me wants to seek out Scream, Blacula, Scream, and all of me wants to continue watching more of Christopher Lee in the Hammer Dracula movies, if this is the end of my road with Wes Craven’s Dracula, I think I’m okay with it.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

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About blakemp

Blake M. Petit. Author. Podcaster. Teacher. Actor. Geek Pundit.

Posted on October 25, 2013, in 4-Icons, Horror and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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