“Think about what we saw, what we learned…what we can still learn”.
Sounds like a comment from someone who’s just accepted $30 million dollars to hand over the scalded corpse of Count Dracula. Only to have the sponger astoundingly come to life, eradicate an onlooker and go berzerk.
In fact, that’s exactly what a band of medical students, a paralyzed professor, and a sinister middle-man (there to hand over the money for the body) have done – brought the vamp back to life for testing, at the expense of their own lives. Unfortunately they’ve also picked the most desolate of deserted houses to house Dracula in, so chances of anyone hearing anyone else scream are infinitesimal.
Picking up where “Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000” left off, “Dracula 2: Ascension” – the first of two direct-to-video sequels to the moderate hit – is a far superior addition to the genre than the first film. In exchange for the glitzy MTV like visuals and pin-up cast of the first, we’re now treated to a much slicker production with a tighter narrative and cast of lesser-known actors, who give much more intensity character-wise than anyone did in the first. Except perhaps, Gerard Butler, who played the tempting charmer, Dracula, in the first film, and who’s sorely missed here. But if Dracula is to be sidelined for the chapter, chained down as it were, newcomer Stephen Billington fits the mould perfectly. Smothered in eerie make-up and complete with shooting lexis, the blonde rogue ‘almost’ makes you forget about Butler’s performance. Almost.
Jason London, best known for the films “Dazed and Confused” and “Out Cold” is a welcome addition to the series as Luke, the morally conflicted numeral of the bunch, a morgue attendant who comes to the foreseeable conclusion – too late alas – that shoplifting Dracula for a few greenbacks, wasn’t worth it. In addition, as his subordinate, Diane Neal gives one of the most believable performances of the film, as the easily swayed Elizabeth whom Dracula has his sites on.
But to be honest, it’s Jason Scott Lee who in essence makes the movie. Suggestive of the “Angel” character on TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, Father Uffizi, is a stranger of the night, one who seems to turn up at all the right times. Cloaked in black and shrouded in anonymity, Uffizi is one of the story’s high points – one looks forward to learning a little more about the character.
“I want to lick you and suck you dry” scowls a soon-to-be-beheaded vampire at the film’s beginning. She could’ve been talking about all the direct to video sequels Hollywood seems to drowning in at the moment – but in this case, she perceivably isn’t. While it is only a genre film, and won’t stir the senses of anyone looking for something deep, momentous and memorable, “Dracula 2” does the all too rare bustle of improving on its predecessor, whilst playing an interesting spin on the Transylvania prodigy.
Director Patrick Lussier proves himself quite the master here – conceiving a polished, well-toned feature. He’s made good use of locale [the film was shot largely in Romania], as well as good use of color and natural light, and it works a treat – Simple, but effective. It’s amazing what you can do on a limited budget. And although there’s a few too many ‘slow-mo’ shots, Marco Beltrami’s infectious score, as well as some welcome jumps, get the Director a golden star – Again, reconfirming the belief that Director’s with a lack of money make better films than those with it.
“Dracula 2: Ascension” is presented in Widescreen, and fit with a Dolby Soundtrack. It all looks good and sounds good.
Extras-wise, we’re treated to a few nice bonuses.
Firstly, a light porty but informative audio commentary by Director Lussier, Joel Soisson and Gary Tunnicliffe (Special Makeup Effects Supervisor). Everything from casting to location to storyline details are discussed in pleasing detail – giving the audience some extra welcome insight into the films narrative.
There are four deleted scenes, or extended scenes, as they seem to be. One gives more exposition to Craig Sheffer’s character, another unmitigated look at London and Neal’s character delivering the body and a scene of Uffizi opening up a can of whoop-a*s on a morgue attendant.
In addition, there are audition tapes for some of the key players including Neal, Brande Roderick, Khary Payton, John Light and Daniela Nane. Light, especially, proves an amiable and capable talent from the get-go as we see with his tape here.
Finally, there are filmographies and a couple of theatrical trailers.
Bring on “Dracula 3: The Legacy”.
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