In 2000, Dracula 2000 was released, starring Gerard Butler as the vampiric count. It was a mild success, and apparently, its cult following was enough to warrant two sequels. That was a very good thing though, because those sequels are very good!...
Dracula II: Ascension is set immediately after the first film, and focuses on a group of people trying t harvest Dracula's blood for a wonder-drug.
D: A opens in Ostrava, in the Czech republic, with a woman running away from a mysterious figure. The woman is revealed to be a vampire, and she's being chased by Father Uffizi (Jason Scott Lee), a Vatican vampire hunter so badass, he doesn't even bother to run after the vampire chick, he just slowly walks after her, yet still remains right on her tail the entire time! She eventually runs in front of a shop window, and Uffizi sees her reflection...except vampires don't have reflections... Behind the glass is another vampiress, and she manages to get the drop on Uffizi. He manages to dispatch them both though, in a cool double decapitation scene!
During the fight, Uffizi was scratched, and now, each morning, he has to go into the sunlight to purge out the vampire infection and keep it at bay. The film then cuts to a university lecture in New Orleans, two months later. An invalid professor, Lowell (Craig Sheffer) is talking to his class, then the scene abruptly cuts to him in a bar with friends. Elsewhere, at a morgue, trainee-doctor (it's never said, I'm just saying that for brevity) Luke (Jason london) brings in a desiccated body that was hung from a cross and burned up (Drac's fate from D: 2000), and he and morgue attendant Elizabeth (Diane Neal) start to autopsy the body. Less than ten minutes in and already this film is contradicting the first film's ending! D: 2000 ended with Mary Van Helsing gathering up Dracula's ashes and taking them back to London, to watch over them, yet here, Drac is just a burned body and Mary's probably gone on holiday to Brazil, or been abducted by aliens or something.
Luke is actually pretty smart (or incredibly dumb), and assumes that the body is a vampire, since 1)-the severe burns are only superficial, 2)-the organs are not only undamaged, but white, "as if they've never seen a drop of blood", and 3)-the body was hanging from a cross, burning at dawn. Luke tells Elizabeth to check the body's teeth, and she finds a fang and accidentally pricks her finger on it. Blood drops from her finger fall onto the body and it starts to regenerate.
While Elizabeth calls Lowell (her boyfriend), Luke, armed with medical tools in case Drac rises up, is distracted by the nearby phone ringing. On the line is a mysterious voice who knows what the body in the morgue is, and is asking for it, offering thirty million dollars for it. Also at the hospital is Uffizi. He approaches Liz for the body, and she directs him to the body of another burn victim. She and Luke smuggle the real body out of the hospital, and Ufizzi starts to chase after them once he realizes the body he was sent to was a fake, but he loses them.
As she and Luke drive off, Liz calls Lowell and he tells her of his parents' old house, a secluded, rundown, dilapidated...mansion! Lowell, you're on hell of a downplayer, that house is massive! Hours later, Lowell arrives with two friends (of his and Liz) in tow-Kenny (Khary Payton) and Tanya (Brande Roderick). They bring several bags of blood with them, and they restrain Drac's body, then fill a bathtub full of the blood. The dip Drac in the bath, and at first think nothings happening, then when Tanya leans over the bath to check, BAM! DRAC ATTACK!
A guy named Eric (John Light) (the one who called Luke earlier about the money) comes onto the scene and stuns Dracula with an ultraviolet gun, but not before Tanya is hurled out a window. The group bury Tanya and restrain Drac heavily, even putting up big UV spotlights above him. Kenny rages at Lowell for Tanya's death, and when Lowell tells him of 'the bigger picture' (using Drac's blood to heal himself and gain fame), Kenny says a hilarious line! Meanwhile, Liz is getting worse from her finger-prick from Dracula's fang-her arms and body are growing veiny and she's seeing hallucinations.
A little while later, two policeman (Nick Phillips and John Sharian) arrive,on a tip from a neighbour who heard screams coming from the house. One stays outside to keep guard, and the other goes inside, sees blood, and goes upstairs, finding Father Uffizi. He starts to arrest Uffizi when the vampirized Tanya jumps in through the window and attacks them. Uffizi tosses her into the sunlight, roasting her, and he then burns the corpse of the other cop.
Meanwhile, the group are at another location (I guess, it's never said or shown, but since none of them know what just happened at the house, I'd guess that they're somewhere else), doing scientific tests on Dracula's DNA. While they're all busy at work, Luke goes to a church and comes back with a stockpile of holy water mustard seeds, and knots (those latter two sure aren't vampire folklore that are seen in many movies!).
Father Uffizi goes to the church where Luke stole the holy water from, and questions the priests there, then has a random flashback of him talking with his mentor, Cardinal Siqueros (Siqueros: "His face may change with each regeneration..."...Dracula is Doctor Who?). Soon enough, One of the party injects themselves with one of Dracula's blood samples and becomes a vampire, and sinister secrets emerge about someone else...
Dracula 2: Ascension is definitely a fun vampire movie, even if Dracula isn't totally in the spotlight (well, he is literally!)! On its 2003 release, it got a bit of flack from film snobs, some for silly reasons-one insulted it for 'being gory for the sake of being gory' (THAT'S PRETTY MUCH THE WHOLE POINT OF GORE, YOU SNOBBY DUMBASSES!), one critic uses the word 'tired' to describe the film no less than five times on a single sentence, one calls it cliched (if it was, it wasn't a problem for me), and one critized the acting (which I didn't think was too bad, but too each his own).
When it comes to being a sequel, Dracula 2 does fall down a bit, but only slightly. It doesn't fit in with Dracula 2000's ending, but that's really the only connection that this even has to that film. That and Dracula in this movie is still Judas Iscariot, the guy who betrayed Jesus. In fact, that's all he is for this movie, as the name Dracula is never mentioned in the whole movie (it is in Dracula III though-more on that later).
On its own merits, Dracula II: Ascension is a good movie, in my opinion. It has a cool story, very good effects (namely the autopsy scene), some goofy effects (namely the double decapitation), good acting.
There is one pretty big drawback to the film though. Dracula spends most of the movie silent and strapped up. This is actually a plot idea that could work if he wasn't Dracula, but just some random powerful vampire-the whole film could be suspenseful to the leadup to where this vampire is released, and the climax is when he manages to get out, but since the vampire is Count Dracula, he'd be expected to do something during the movie, and not just at the end!
Despite being pretty underused for most of the film, Stephen Billington is still an intimidating force throughout as the Count. The rest of the acting is decent, including gravelly-voiced David Boreanaz lookalike Craig Sheffer (Nightbreed, Hellraiser V: Inferno) as diseased invalid Lowell, and Jason Scott Lee as Uffizi, who's a bit like an Asian Blade. He certainly gets some cool gadgets, from a huge curved blade, to a knife-whip, and a few other cool knives! Roy Scheider is also in the movie in a cameo.
Ascension was filmed in Romania, and unlike many other movies, this doesn't actually look particularly obvious about it. We never see any Eastern European architecture, just a few city blocks, and a run-down house. The movie is meant to be set in New Orleans and nearby, which I wouldn't buy because of what the outdoors here look like, but what do I know, I've never been to Louisiana.
The film's ending is very abrupt, but that leads into the next movie, so it's not a big problem as it otherwise might have been.
Now onto Dracula III: Legacy!...
Set five years after Ascension's finale, D: Legacy focuses on Uffizi and Luke's quest to slay Dracula and find the vampirized Elizabeth.
The movie starts off with Luke in a train station, fighting against two vampires-a hottie, and a scraggly rasputin-lookalike. He's pinned down by the two, and is about to be killed when Father Uffizi shows up and swings a blade at 'Rasputin', and crossbows the femme-vamp non-fatally. He and Luke ask her where Dracula has gone, and she refuses until they put her on a train-track, with a train fast approaching, and she tells them that Drac's gone to Romania.
Uffizi goes to Cardinal Siqeuros and asks for currency, NATO clearances, etc., but is denied, as the Vatican believe that Uffizi may have been 'tainted' by Dracula. Siqeuros offers Uffizi a simple job as a preacher in any parish that he so chooses, but Uffizi rebufs him and leaves.
Uffizi and Luke arrive in Romania, which is suffering from a civil war. The government leaders of the country are mostly (if not all) vampires, and a rebellion is fighting against them, and as said by reporter Julia Hughes (Alexandra Wescourt), they wish that the government officials make at least one statement in daylight. Uffizi and Luke head deeper in the country and come to a military roadblock, set up by French-Canadian UN forces. After they are refused entry past the roadblock, a carful of soldiers arrive, saying that they were attacked by people, 'not with blades, but teeth'.
The two drive off and come nightfall, they come across two burning straw crosses with pumpkin heads. They see people-possibly the rebels-off in the darkness, and they drive away. The next day, they come across a local warlord who's...Played by Claudiu Bleont from Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave to the Grave!
Bleont (yeah, I'm not spelling that with proper Romanian cyrillics, but my keyboard doesn't exactly have those at my immediate disposal) plays Bogdan, a warlord who has kidnapped several people to be sent to Dracula and cohorts for blood. Uffizi keeps driving but Luke makes him pull over, so they can help.
What follows is a funny scene where Luke struggles with their demands. Luke, who acts totally badass! (Isn't character growth fun!) makes the mercenaries drop their ammo, and he secure the release of the civilians. He and Ufizi walk off with Bogdan in tow, hoping he can lead them to Dracula. Their plans are cut short in a surprise bazooka-to-car scene (Claudiu Bleont must have one of these in all of his films!).
Now that Bogdan has gotten away and they're without a car, Luke and Uffizi head off and find a town filled with corpses. As sunset comes, they burn all the bodies, so they don't come back as vampires, then a little boy approaches them. They are wary of him, and just when he walks off, a helicopter crashes in the town. While Luke goes after the boy, Ufizi goes to the crash-site and finds the gun-toting Julia and her coworker Tommy (Gary Tunnicliffe). He convinces them that he's there to help.
The boy Luke is after is human, not a vampire, and he goes to the body of his mother, who comes back as a vamp and bites him, leading Luke to speargun her. Since the boy will also vampirize, he spearguns him too. Julia and Tommy go to the nearby church, and while Uffizi gives last rites to the helicopter's dying pilot, a shaken Luke enters the church and finds Julia and Tommy.
Soon the foursome are under attack by clown vampires (it makes sense in context, I SWEAR!), which leads to an awesome scene! Uffizi is fighting a clown-vampire on stilts, and an acrobat. He slices the acrobat in half (which doesn't stop her at all until he finishes her off) and the stillt-vamp gets one stilt stuck in a drain. Uffizi cuts the stuck stilt off, and the vamp topples over and is staked on the broken end of the stilt!
Once the attack is over (and Tommy is vampirized, then killed), and morning comes, Luke and Uffizi send Julia away to go to the nearby military base, so she can be safe. They go off, heading into the Carpathian mountains and are captured by the rebels. The rebels, not sure on whether or not to trust the duo, lock them up. Being locked up isn't the best thing in the world to happen to Uffizi and Luke at the moment though, because thanks to a vampire assault on the base, the duo may never reach Dracula's castle at all!...
WOW! I mean, WOW! Dracula III is beyond awesome, and beyond original! While D: Ascension was small and claustrophobic, D: Legacy takes place across large stretches of wide, war-torn Romania! (which is of course, a far-cry from how Romania actually was back then in 2005 and is now). The film has many big setpieces, from the town filled with corpses, to the vampire attack on the rebel base, and more.
The film does have one kinda big problem though-but it's also a positive. Dracula and Elizabeth don't appear until the film's final twenty minutes, and while this is effective as the movie builds up suspense for the final confrontation, the fact that Dracula is absent for most of the movie (that's even titled after him!) is a bit of a problem.
As for the acting, Jason Scott lee is still uber-awesome as Blade-like Father Uffizi, and Luke gets character growth as well as many great scenes. The rest of the acting is decent. Alexandra Wescourt is good as reporter and Uffizi's love interest Julia, and Claudiu Bleont is cool as Bogdan (he's never actually named in the movie, that's what the end credits call him), though he only has about five/six minutes of screentime total. Roy Scheider is also back, for an extended cameo (why did they get him in these movies for such small roles?!).
As for the prince of darkness himself, Dracula is played by Rutger Hauer, and he makes for a cool Dracula, even if there is nearly a thirty year age difference between his Dracula and Gerard Butler's and Stephen Billington's. He only has less than ten minutes of screentime, but he's still an intimidating, cool villain
A few scenes don't really make sense though. Luke's nickname for Uffizi is DG, and at one part of the movie, Uffizi asks him about it, but the two have known each-other now for five years-and he's only asking that now? Luke also ask Ufizzi a couple of things during the movie, like where the name 'Ufizzi' came from, and about Dracula's beginnings. These two scenes have the same above problem-why is Luke only asking these now?! At least the scene where Uffizi asks Luke why he's calling him DG has a funnny line-Luke: "'Damaged Goods'. It was either that or Buffy!". If there's one thing the film has, it's some cool dialogue!
Another silly scene is when Luke is thrown into a room filled with feasting vampires by Dracua, so he can find Liz, and he goes to everyone asking, "Elizabeth?", even for blondes, and one guy! Dude, you knew Liz for years, surely you'd recognize her if she was just leaning over, or do you think she either dyed her hair, or got a sex change!
The film's locale is very impressive, and the 'cheaply film in Romania trick' works wonders for this movie, which is actually meant to be set in Romania. The movie was filmed in many places in Romania, from Sighisoara, to Sibiu, Rasnov, and Zarnesti (all listed in the credits). As for the war-torn feeling, the movie pulls that off fine! (although we never see any battles between people and people-only vampires and people).
Onto SPOILERS now, so BEWARNED!
As I said before, D: L has great character growth for Luke. He's gone from a simple morgue atendant with an unrequited love, to a vampire hunter desperate to find his lost love, wanting to save her, but knowing deep down that he's going to have to kill her.
The film's ending is also great! Uffizi (who is infected with the vampire curse that he has to purge every morning) has killed Dracula, and he goes to the dying Julia. The next we see of him, he's sitting in Dracula's throne, cradling the now vampirised (by him) Julia, and Luke leaves the castle as the sun rises, but uffizi doesn't, and he misses his morning purge...
Unfortunately, the filmmakers must have thought this scene wasn't clear enough (it totally is clear enough) and they inserted a flashing title card-'The King is Dead. Long Live the King.' SUBTLE! SUBTLE!
The ending could also be a great stepping off point for the conclusion to this trilogy (that's discounting Dracula 2000)-Uffizi is now the vampire lord of Romania, and a now alone Luke must take Uffizi, his former friend, down and remove the vampire curse from Romania once and for all!...But unfortunately, nothing of the like was ever made.
So, in closing Dracula II: Ascension, and Dracula III: Legacy are very good movies that I definitely recommend!...