*½/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras B
starring Jason Scott Lee, Jason London, Craig Sheffer, Stephen Billington
screenplay by Joel Soisson & Patrick Lussier
directed by Patrick Lussier
by Walter Chaw As far as direct-to-video sequels to awful franchise films go, Patrick Lussier's ponderously dubbed Wes Craven Presents Dracula II: Ascension (hereafter Dracula II) is better than Hellraiser 3 and Children of the Corn V, but really just a vampire knock-off of Suicide Kings, of all things. After tackling the mummy mythos in Russell Mulcahy's dreadful Tale of the Mummy, poor Jason Scott Lee takes on the vampire canon, assuming the Van Helsing role of self-flagellating holy vamp hunter Uffizi, all decked-out in priestly black and doing his Bruce Lee berserker song-and-dance, this time armed to the nines with obscure weaponry. A shame that the film spends so much of its time watching a suddenly Aryan Dracula (Stephen Billington, Gerard Butler apparently not available) tied to a table between banks of ultraviolet lights while mumbling dreamy phrases in a Count Chocula accent, as the potential is there for a campy cheap-o action/gore piece.
A group of medical students led by the comely Elizabeth (Diane Neal) and punky Luke (Jason London) dissect the crispy corpse of Dracula (Billington)--who, fans of Dracula 2000 will remember, is also Judas Iscariot. Yep. Deciding they'd like to try to distill the immortality out of Dracula, Elizabeth and Luke spirit his cremains away to an abandoned manse where, with the help of their mentor, Professor Lowell (Craig Sheffer, playing a character who appears to be in the early stages of cerebral palsy, leading to a Dr. Strangelove ending funnier than it really should be), they commence to experimentin'. To the surprise of no one on this green earth, things go awry. Oh yes, and Roy Scheider makes an appearance in a flashback.
The expansion of vampire lore is sort of interesting (including a bit about untying knots and counting things, bwa-ha-haaa), particularly in light of the almost complete lack thereof in Dracula 2000, but it ultimately isn't enough to make Dracula II compelling to any substantive degree. What Dracula II benefits from the most is the lowered expectations that one carries into any enterprise like this--the idea that no one in their right mind would expect anything greater than the minor rewards a film like this could possibly offer. It also occurs to me that the only time criticism is really necessary for a film like this is when it surprises--when it in some way transcends its limitations in ways that Dracula II does not. The only use for reviews of disposable, interchangeable garbage is to offer puerile consumer reports information. Nothing if not obliging, there are a few beheadings, a face bitten off, a few flashes of maybe-nudity, and a bimbo in a red bikini who fights with Jason Scott Lee (he in full priest fetish), though in truth, the bulk of skin is shown by Lee in a pair of flexing tableaux that mainly showcase how clearly you can see a weightlifter's neck tendons.
Dimension releases Dracula II to DVD in a very nice 2.35:1 anamorphically enhanced presentation. No banding or artifacts are in evidence, while shadow detail and black levels, vital in most vampire films, are spot-on and pleasing. The video transfer's technical expertise is matched by a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix that provides some nice atmospherics (particularly in a prologue set in a small village in Romania) along with a faithful platform for its booming score and soundtrack. Though neither the image nor the soundtrack is showcase material, both acquit themselves admirably--particularly for a project that holds such low promise.
Again unusual for something like this, the DVD offers a significant number of special features, starting with the requisite feature-length jabberwocky from director Lussier, co-screenwriter Joel Soisson, and makeup effects supervisor Gary Tunnicliffe. Excited and packed with errata, the commentary is the preferred soundtrack for the film, revealing a great deal of joy in the act of creation and an obvious respect for genre that mainly illustrates the gulf that separates intention from execution. FANGORIA fans, in particular, should tune in for Tunnicliffe's secrets on a few of his weapons designs and make-up tricks. Five deleted scenes are largely expositional (which, given the general quality of the dialogue, aren't missed), and a quintet of auditions goes a long way towards highlighting how difficult it is to cast these things: it takes a far more observant man than I to discern any kind of talent from these things. Then again, well. Trailers for Dracula 2000, Tangled, Asunder, and Kill Bill round out the disc. Originally published: July 22, 2003.