DRACULA III: LEGACY
**½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Jason Scott Lee, Jason London, Alexandra Westcourt, Rutger Hauer
screenplay by Joel Soisson & Patrick Lussier
directed by Patrick Lussier
*/**** Image A- Sound B- Extras B
starring Kari Wuhrer, Paul Rhys, Simon Kunz, Doug Bradley
screenplay by Neal Marshall Stevens and Tim Day
directed by Rick Bota
THE CROW: WICKED PRAYER
½*/**** Image B+ Sound A Extras B
starring Edward Furlong, Tara Reid, David Boreanaz, Emmanuelle Chriqui
screenplay by Lance Mungia & Jeff Most and Sean Hood
directed by Lance Mungia
by Walter Chaw This is the game plan if you're in the business of producing direct-to-video schlock for Dimension: go to Romania (the poor man's Czech Republic, itself the poor man's Toronto--itself the poor man's New York), show some tits, throw buckets of blood against the wall, and scrimp, wherever possible, on niceties like script and direction. It's sure-fire--particularly if you can skim a month or two off the shooting schedule and lure a few has-beens in serious decline. But the question with urgency is "Sure-fire what?" Not good art because they seldom have anything to say about the society that spawned them (and because the directors of these messes are generally assclowns) and not good travelogues, either, what these little straight-to-home penny dreadfuls tend to be are tired variations on the same quasi-Christian mythos, tarted up with surprisingly good production values and the kind of cheap thrills that kept EC Comics, then Hammer Films, then Italian giallos, in business.
Start with Patrick Lussier's third contribution to the Dracula and "Wes Craven Presents" canons, Dracula III: Legacy. Vampire-killing priest Uffizi (Jason Scott Lee) and comic sidekick Luke (Jason London) are as we left them, hunting the undead in the name of the Lord. Their budget, I mean mission, takes them to Romania--which is, serendipitously, the birthplace of Dracula (Buffy the Vampire Slayer's vampire baddie Rutger Hauer this time around--like the Gidget flicks, there's a different "Gidget" in each of Lussier's Draculas). If you're one of the two or three people with enough time on his hands to wonder why Uffizi didn't die from the mortal wounds he suffered at the end of the previous instalment, well, it's because, Blade-like, he's part self-hating vampire. And if you're wondering whether this big hunk of Asian man-meat is going to get some post-Dragon Caucasian tail, it's a short wait until the arrival of British reporter Julia (Alexandra Westcourt) and her twitchy cameraman Tommy (F/X man Gary J. Tunnicliffe). After battling an undead circus troupe during which Uffizi swings around the torso of a vampire woman as though she were the suitcase in that old Samsonite commercial, the two find themselves on the horns of a similar dilemma. Will Uffizi turn Julia into a vampire to save her from her mortal wounds? Will Luke kill ladylove Elizabeth (Diane Neal), who, since the last movie, has become a member of the sucking dead? The answers may mildly surprise you.
The strength of Dracula III is in its use of locations, with Lussier finally figuring out how to work with a DP to create a foreboding atmosphere. A field of burning scarecrows, a wonderful moment in which a band of vampires crawls down the side of a rock face, the requisite orgy with vampires suckling off one another in a cannibalistic Moebius strip--though none of this does anything to push the narrative, the aggregate of such random seediness results in something akin to pleasure. The appearance of Dracula, especially, with Hauer ripping shunts out of his arms and hamming it up in high hog, is camp delightful. Although I'm a little unhappy that great yellow hope Lee has been relegated to the C-list, where he's contractually obliged to flash the abs and flex the tendons, at least he's still getting white girlfriends in opposition to popular Hollywood wisdom. If reports are true and this is Lussier's last dip in the Carpathian pool, at least he's ending somewhere just north of mediocre--which is certainly more than can be said of the seventh dip into the Hellraiser pool, Deader.
You know you're in trouble when the word you use to augment your franchise moniker is a semi-creepy, made-up word ("Hellraiser: Spookeegery"). You also know you're in trouble when your screenplay is for a completely unrelated potboiler gifted with a hasty retrofit (see also: I, Robot), when you hire an ex-soft-porn princess to serve as the centre (see also: the upcoming "Project Greenlight" horror Feast) of your supernatural melodrama, and when said melodrama happens to be a slack redux of Candyman (another franchise that originated with Clive Barker, but the wrong one), what with its investigative heroine getting seduced by the object of her investigation. Luckily there's plenty of gore and nudity along the way as hotshot tabloid reporter Amy Klein (Wuhrer) is assigned to a story on a Romania-based resurrection cult by her Stathis Borans-like editor, Richmond (Simon Kunz). Seems that followers of the cult kill themselves for the express purpose of being resuscitated by Rick Springfield-look-alike Winter (Paul Rhys)--and if you know your Hellraiser lore, you know that Winter is a long lost descendent of mythical toymaker LeMarchant, the creator of a puzzle box that opens the door to Hell.
Opening the door to Hell, of course, also releases the demon Cenobites, led by baritone Pinhead (Doug Bradley), a Freddy Krueger wise-cracker or a humourless prophet depending on the tone of the sequel. Find him in the latter category and relegated to the background in Deader, as he appears just a couple of times before finally dispatching dilettante Winter in the typical Hellraiser fishhook manner. Between: lots of Romanian location shots that, as in Dracula III, look better than the film probably deserves, as well as a requisite orgy scene inside a train car that comes off as more jejune than verboten. Wuhrer is awful but awful in a Linnea Quigley, she-can-scream-and-she-ain't-modest sort of way that forgives a multitude of dead line readings, and while there's not a moment in the flick that I would feel comfortable describing as "scary," a couple of moments are, at least, respectably gross. A series of flashbacks taken from The Witch Who Came from the Sea give Amy a little borrowed depth that you won't buy for a second and Bota has a bad, bad propensity for overworking the "it's just a dream... Or is it?!" gag--all of which leads to the truism that knowing he was shooting Hellraiser 8: Hellworld consecutively is very possibly the only thing about this mess that'll keep you up at night.
It's bad in a humourless way where The Crow: Wicked Prayer is bad in a hilarious way. Consider that this fourth Crow film's bad guy, Crash, a.k.a. Death (David Boreanaz), wants to be Satan, and that in pursuit of his lofty goal, he enlists the aid of his ex-girlfriend Lily Byrne (Tara Reid) and three dudes who are, apparently, the other horsemen of the Apocalypse: War (Marcus Chong), Famine (Tito Ortiz), and Pestilence (Yuji Okumoto). The only reason I can ken that Crash isn't named "Death" from the get-go is that it struck Six-String Samurai-auteur Lance Mungia as too funny that his Badlands duet is named "Crash and Byrne." Also not-funny are title cards introducing each of the antagonists and a moribund turn from Edward Furlong as Jimmy Cuervo, the fourth avenging angel Crow, who, in the proud tradition of such supernatural vigilantes, has his girl (Emmanuelle Chiriqui) treated most-foul before he's killed-then-resurrected as everybody's favourite non-Robin Williams sad clown with a grudge.
Your standard little-blood/no-skin exploitation exercise, The Crow: Wicked Prayer lacks the athleticism and pathos of the Brandon Lee original (and the imaginative eye of Alex Proyas) but suffers most at the hands of its lightweight roster of villains. To be fair, a few of the shots are well-framed in a lurid, U-Turn fashion, yet so much of it is so painful that flashes of real skill tend to cast the missed opportunities into bas relief. Boreanaz is a shockingly bad actor; paired with the unspeakable Reid, he would be found lacking compared to unmanned Punch and Judy dolls, much less the first film's dynamic duo of Michael Wincott and Bai Ling. A revenge flick, it goes without saying, is measured by the worthiness of its villain/s (not to say that Furlong is anything to write home about as the anti-hero), and you feel throughout that these retarded yahoos will finish themselves off soon enough through a mixture of alcohol and skank-love. Maybe fearing the same, enter El Nino (Dennis Hopper) for a cup of turbid coffee, punching the time clock as he's wont to do in like-minded garbage such as Land of the Dead and Unspeakable, delivering the arrogant performances for which Christopher Walken is (unjustly) stereotyped and announcing, simply by his presence, that this thing is a fucking joke. The kind of knowing laughter that Hopper inspires these days is an instant boner for people who love to hate movies--and while the majority of The Crow: Wicked Prayer is innocuous, trashy kitsch, once Hopper turns up, that sudden thickening of the atmosphere is my hostility towards the project rising.
But rejoice if you happen to enjoy indulging your dtv fix, as Dimension absolutely does not scrimp on the DVDs. Start with Dracula III and its fulsome 2.20:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. (Bizarre that they keep filming these Dracula 2000 sequels in 'scope knowing they'll debut on the small screen.) Banding artifacts and colour bleed betray the essential cheapness of the endeavour, but honestly, it looks gorgeous beyond any reasonable expectation. The DD 5.1 audio boasts consistently strong directional and atmospheric effects; the final showdown in Drac's multi-media chamber, especially, gives the home theatre a rumbling, complex workout. A feature-length yakker with Lussier, producer Joel Soisson, and Tunnicliffe is lively and warm whilst providing little in the way of useful information. (On the other hand, as I can't imagine what might constitute useful information about Dracula III: Legacy, I guess it's pointless to complain.) Most of the track is composed of shout-outs to various local colour, a couple of whom we'll meet in the "audition" portion of the presentation.
Lussier returns with "A Conversation with Patrick Lussier on Vampire Myth" (5 mins.), in which the dude goes on at length about plenty of useless, nifty things he discovered while researching his trilogy. Tunnicliffe, meanwhile, resurfaces in "A Conversation with Gary Tunnicliffe" (8 mins.), which you can watch all at once or in five parts. Keeping the secret of his water-soluble fake blood close to the vest, Tunnicliffe insists that he's the most-hated man on a given set (something Wuhrer will dispute in the Hellraiser: Deader making-of docu) for forcing the cast to endure latex fittings and lengthy sessions in the makeup chair. An "Alternate Ending" (2 mins.) is so inconsequential that it could have been a second unit outtake and no one would be any the wiser--and then there are those audition reels (14 mins.) for four minor roles and the actors (George Grigore, Ilinca Goia, Cladiu Bleont, Alexandra Westcourt) who eventually got them. (I personally would be more interested if these audition tapes showcased people who didn't get the part.) In addition to a deleted scene (2 mins.) I would swear was actually in the movie, an "Original Treatments" feature that includes hundreds of pages of text from all three films in the series, and trailers for Dracula 2000 and Dracula II, find through the menu and upon startup trailers for Sin City, Cursed, and Hostage.
Hellraiser: Deader comes home in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks fabbo if, ironically, overly sharp in key moments. Saturation and shadow detail are excellent: several shades of blue are vibrant and distinct in a key, claustrophobic scene while the reds during the orgy train sequence are free of colour bleed. The DD 5.1 audio is remarkably flat, however, with little work for the rear channels throughout. Eleven deleted or extended scenes (24 mins.) are outfitted with optional commentary from Bota and Tunnicliffe, here full of the usual self-flagellation and regret along with the usual lack of real clarity concerning why certain things were jettisoned. To be fair, Bota does use the word "redundant" a few times and admits there's a great danger for any filmmaker to fall in love with stuff that just doesn't work. If I were feeling snarky, I'd offer that were this truly his criteria for cutting, Hellraiser: Deader would only be five minutes long. But I'll resist. I liked that Bota mentioned receiving one of those infamous "memos" suggesting he shave three minutes off the final product; I didn't like Bota and Tunnicliffe getting all lascivious in a scene where two female extras are asked to make-out in Showtime fashion. I get it, fellas: boobs are great. In other words, the deleted scenes are a successful extra because they peddle a little more flesh and blood.
Two film-length yakkers adorn the platter, the first pairing Bota and Tunnicliffe, the second Bota and Doug "Pinhead" Bradley (who, by all accounts, is a very nice fellow). Both preceded by a lengthy content disclaimer, track #1 deals primarily with specifics on the shoot including location, casting, and how the backstory over the opening credits was pretty much an afterthought. The endless talk of who did second unit on what and who lit this and how weird it was to shoot in Romania is to be expected, I guess, once you've forsaken hope for ironic self-knowledge. The main problem with commentaries for flicks like this, I think, is that because these people are trying to earn a living making films like this, it doesn't behove them to ever tell the truth about what an emotional and artistic rape it is to work for Dimension on a shoestring with extraordinary producer interference. What's left is a lot of chitchat touting the sets and the actors, how great everything turned out except, it goes unspoken like the white elephant in the room, for the film itself. It reminds me of a line in Code 46 to the effect of, "With so many special children out there, it makes you wonder where all the ordinary adults come from." My ears perked up, however, when Bota spoke of "dry icing" a few stunt flies, a.k.a. the David Blaine method of magically resurrecting insects. Where're the PETA people when you need them? Muscidae unite!
The second yakker, perhaps predictably, is focused on the joys and miseries of donning the prosthetics to play Pinhead, the guy we've all come to see--even though, as is usually the case, he's not in the portion of the film they're talking over. Bradley does, indeed, seem smart and warm, though, and I was affected by a moment towards the middle where he confesses that there are times when he regrets the kind of notoriety that comes with playing one of the few genuine bogeys of the new horror pantheon. Bradley also appears to be the only member of the Greek chorus with any sense of lore: his quoting of scenes from each of the films in an attempt (sometimes successful) to connect the pictures into a constant throughline serves as the shot to the heart of the fanatic that the film itself largely isn't. For as non-specific as the commentary is (and despite a handful of repeated stories from Bota), there are surprisingly few quiet spots and even spots where Bota (a guy I really don't want to like) admits that time and money have resulted in a lot of the effects looking sort of goofy. Bradley mentions the bond between Wuhrer and Bota as well, which starts one wondering if there were some naughty shenanigans going on behind-the-scenes.
"The Making of Hellraiser: Deader" (17 mins.) is the usual on-set PR reel with Wuhrer coming off ditzy and deluded, going on about the relationship she established with Bota that facilitated absolute dedication and trust. A clip where Wuhrer is caught bitching about the slash-and-burn tactics of the Weinstein tyranny is worth the price of admission, though. A one-minute "Gag Reel" generally has people flubbing their lines and giggling, but one scene where Wuhrer flings a lamp, stops, then whimpers "sorry, Christine," is fucking hilarious. "Behind the Visual Effects" (7 mins.) is an extended look at some of the effects for the film, narrated with a workmanlike professionalism by Visual Effects Supervisor Jamison Goei. Nothing too revealing, to be sure, but not a painful experience by any stretch. Three "Storyboard-to-Film Comparisons" (8 mins.) are exactly what they are and the sort of thing no one ever looks at, while a wordless location scout montage (11 mins.) reveals how six scenes were set-up and blocked for the film using a stand-in and a video camera. It's essentially the live-action version of the storyboard function and, again, only interesting for friends and family of the stand-ins who're sure they would've done a better job than the above-the-liners. "Practical Effects with Gary Tunnicliffe" (1 mins.) takes another look at how the fishhook climax was staged as a combination of physical effects and CGI, and a 35-image photo gallery split into three categories (Behind the Scenes, Set Design, The Deaders) rounds out the film-specific extras. Upon popping the platter in, brace yourself for skippable previews for Cursed and Dracula III: Legacy.
The 1.78:1, 16x9-enhanced image on The Crow: Wicked Prayer's DVD release is long on soft images and grain. I'm betting this has a lot to do with Mungia's "indie cred" aesthetic tied to his southwest, Kill Bill locations and aspirations to Peckinpah, thus I'm giving the transfer a pass. The DD 5.1 audio is loud and packed to the rafters with atmospherics; it's not a top-of-the-line mix for obvious budgetary reasons, but it did cause me to jump a couple of times with the stray coyote wail or muscle-car rumble. Two more commentary tracks adorn this little gem, one featuring Mungia and producer Jeff Most, the other teaming Mungia, DP Kurt Brabbee, editor Dean Holland, and sound designer Steven Avila. Mungia and Most make more references to Six-String Samurai than is probably wise for a guy, Mungia, who would probably be better served keeping that film separate in the popular mind from this one. Most and Mungia spend a lot of time kissing each other's asses, something that gets a little embarrassing and a lot boring, although the latter is lively throughout and the pair fills the track from start to finish with confused aphorisms ("Everything's a big deal, but it's not!") and boring anecdotes ("I type really fast. And you talk really fast!"). There's a lot of enthusiasm here, but not a lot of substance--not a bad nutshell critique of the film itself, as it happens. Predictably, the second yakker is much more technical: lots of talk about colour timing, point-of-views, camera placements, lighting. I'd venture that it's not a bad primer for young filmmakers, except that there are so many better primers for young filmmakers. Besides which, paying too much attention to how The Crow: Wicker Prayer was realized may result in you making a film like The Crow: Wicked Prayer.
"Wings and a Prayer: The Making of The Crow: Wicker Prayer" (30 mins.) is the usual B-roll PR stuff, its stories inevitably repeated from the three-plus hours of commentary dressed up with the same kind of desktop iMovie gimmickry as the film itself to spice up the proceedings. Weird observation #1 is that Furlong in repose is starting to resemble Robert Patrick, the liquid terminator that tormented him as a child in Terminator 2. Hopper appears burnt to the gills, Boreanaz proves you can't spell Boreanaz without "bore," and Reid, in full psycho-gear, turns in what is in essence a screen test for "Wild On... Tara Reid: Taradise!". Lots of philosophizing on the meaning of vigilantism affects in all its hollow glory ("It's not about life and death, man, it's about love!") while the great Danny Trejo steals the show with his enthusiasm and natural creepiness.
"El Pinto" (3 mins.) is a story told by Holland, Avila, and Brabbee regarding the origin of one of the cars used in the film that is just so friggin' insider and banal it made my back sweat. An animated storyboard comparison (5 mins.) of the "Black Moth Bar" sequence in which the bad guy from The Karate Kid Part II gets killed by the kid from Terminator 2 is what it is, if admittedly presented in a visually interesting way--which is more than can be said for "Margaritas and Conversation" (4 mins.), wherein Mungia and Most sit in a bar reminiscing. I kid you not that, completely without irony, Most introduces this segment by saying, "Mostly, I remember the laughter." Me, too, fellas. Me, too. Jim Jarmusch this ain't, and if you sit through it, you deserve a medal followed closely by a boot to the head. Two deleted scenes (4 mins.) arrive with non-optional Mungia commentary that shows Furlong's character incapable of starting his car and then a bit where Trejo grips a bible and causes that vein in his forehead to pulse. "Jamie's Attic" (4 mins.) is a "look inside the mind and studio of composer Jamie Christopherson"--lots of candles, lots of harmonicas, and a little Spanish gee-tar. More insight into the process I did not get and do not need. A 47-image photo gallery rounds out the disc along with semi-forced trailers for Sin City, Hostage, and Cursed. Originally published: August 17, 2005.
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