Dracula 2000 A Guilty Pleasure Fun Fest
By Kristin Battestella
The 19th century had Bram Stoker’s original Dracula, the 20th Century had the likes of Nosferatu, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, and more scary, sensual, or comedic vampire spins. The turn of the millennium, however, had Dracula 2000 – producer Wes Craven’s authorized revision of now dated camp, clichés, twists, and so bad its good delights.
Alerted by the amount of impressive security around her boss Matthew Van Helsing’s (Christopher Plummer) antique shop, Solina (Jennifer Esposito), her boyfriend Marcus (Omar Epps), and his team of thieves (Sean Patrick Thomas and Danny Masterson) break into Van Helsing’s vault, steal a dazzling silver coffin, and inadvertently unleash the imprisoned Count Dracula (Gerard Butler) on their getaway plane. Once the plane crashes outside New Orleans, Dracula quickly makes vampire brides (Jeri Ryan and Colleen Fitzpatrick) as he searches for Mary (Justine Waddell) – a young woman who shares his visions thru a unique blood connection. Van Helsing and his assistant Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) pursue Dracula and the undead in his wake – but can they stop him before Dracula takes Mary as his next vampire bride?
Although it is probably common knowledge today, I don’t want to spoil everything about the solid Van Helsing family plots, vampire blood connections, smart use of leeches, and Biblical concepts anchoring Dracula 2000. The first time you see it; these unique topics from director Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine 3D) and co-writer Joel Soisson (Highlander: Endgame) stand out in very pleasing, memorable twists. However, the more one watches Dracula 2000, the more flaws and campy over substance mistakes appear. Despite the tremendous potential of these unique vampire spins, this is unfortunately not a Dracula adaptation for the new millennium, but rather a very of the moment, cliché vamp tale. From its then-hip cast, action styles, and dated fashions to turn of this century tunes and ridiculously obvious product placements, most of the excessive flash and over the top, uh, excess of Dracula 2000 has not stood the test of time. Longtime Dracula fans will spot book references like Dr. Seward, Carfax Abbey, and other Stoker connections, but there should have been more of these nuggets included even if you are updating the tale. It’s a pity, as this picture could have been a lot more than just a cheesy, pop excuse for some great bad, very bad to the point of quotable lines. I still use, “I don’t drink….coffee.” Dracula 2000 is certainly watchable and even down right entertaining if you indulge in the formulaic fun, but you have to forget the glorious potential and what could have been in order to enjoy.
Naturally, part of the joy in watching Dracula 2000 is Gerard Butler, and I actually don’t really like him without a beard. That aside, there’s still enough hotness here from the 300 star, oh yes – he’s wet, open-shirted, black trench coat wearing, kicking butt, and biting necks. Thanks to his more recent action or sour romantic comedy films, one probably wouldn’t think of Butler for a horror movie, much less as a vampire these days. Here, however, he’s the perfect mix of pale, svelte, mysterious, bewitching, and deadly. Granted, some of the vamp flying leaps and theatrics that were so popular fifteen years ago are over the top, but Butler also keeps the eponymous Count just cheeky enough alongside his angry, century long battle with Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, Beginners) as Van Helsing. He’s always classy and simply perfection, yet Plummer’s Van Helsing is also wonderfully shady at the same time. He’s the good guy gent who has royally messed up, yet we trust his wise ways and vampire hunting skills to out do Dracula. Plummer adds a much needed elder statesmen panache to Dracula 2000 – his potential father, son, and daughter emotions belies a hope that the film will stay a serious undead with consequences picture. Much as Dracula 2000 is remembered for Gerard Butler’s youthful glory and his 2,000-year-old twist, it’s a pity Van Helsing ends up as a secondary character. Though Direct to Video retconned sequels Dracula II: Ascension and Dracula III: Legacy do follow, today’s model would have been to keep stars like Butler and Plummer for some Hammer-esque, big ticket franchising. I would have liked to see that!
I liked Justine Waddell’s period piece turns in Great Expectations and The Woman in White – her later work perhaps proves she has the best acting skills of all the ladies here – but her Mary in Dracula 2000 nearly sinks the entire picture. Even for the Y2K era, Mary is woefully dated, too innocent, simple, and small. She’s erroneously set up as Dracula’s main foil, but the telepathic connections and when and how she uses her ties to the vampire are conveniently utilized as needed for a plot deus ex machina or cool, dreamy effects. It’s not fresh, since Dracula and Mary so uncomfortably lack chemistry, and it’s simply unbelievable that she is the object of his affection and main foe in this battle of undead wits. Their dynamic just doesn’t register – this is the one? Really? I know it is a stupid thing to notice, but Mary also wears little flip-flop sandals for the duration of Dracula 2000’s vamp mayhem. This is just such impractical footwear when battling the nosferatu! I’d much rather have seen the blood ties between Van Helsing and Dracula explored. Two men at odds sharing such a personal, suggestive connection – now that would have been interesting! Thankfully, Jonny Lee Miller (Hackers) works as the then-cool hipster turned sudden vampire hunter in training. Yes, he has some greatly stupid but fun lines amid the preposterous slow motion action. His Simon, however, looks good with the crossbow and vampire hunting gadgetry, and Miller’s scenes with Plummer are delightful. The Van Helsing legacy comes thru far better in their early scenes than in the inexplicable Mary metaphysical moments. Besides, “Never, ever fuck with an antiques dealer!” is far more memorable.
Fortunately, Dracula 2000 is also littered with fun to spot appearances by everyone and their grandmother from back in the day. Some performances are better than others, some live longer than they should, and most of them have ridiculously bad lines, yet this, “Hey, it’s that guy!” humor adds to the audience’s good time. From Omar Epps (House) and Jennifer Esposito’s (Blue Bloods) seriously campy and innuendo-laden dialogue to brief appearances by Danny Masterson (That 70’s Show), Sean Patrick Thomas (Save the Last Dance), Lochlyn Munro (Scary Movie), and Shane West (ER), there’s a pun for everyone. And did I mention Nathan Fillion (Firefly) as Mary’s resident Priest? Colleen Fitzpatrick, better known as then-hot singer Vitamin C, gets to stand beside her own CD for posterity, and Star Trek’s own Seven of Nine Borg hottie Jeri Ryan asks a victim if he’s ever thought about making it with a TV star. I also love how Dracula’s brides all magically get curly hair after being bitten – nyuk nyuk nyuk!
While some of the special effects and paranormal designs in Dracula 2000 still look pleasing, other makeup and visuals look very poor compared to today’s high definition and CGI. Again, the of the moment need to look cool trumps any possibilities for lavish or timeless style, and what suave scenes are present are purely there for the style over substance. What is that red hallway with all the breezy red sheers supposed to be? Some of the aforementioned slow motion also contrasts with the too fast and flashy editing at times. It all looks nice and fancy when it wants to be, but the pace can be undecided if you think about it too much. Of course, all the Virgin Records symbolism, logos, Megastore fronts, and products also immediately date Dracula 2000 – our heroine works in a record store that no longer exists stateside! But it’s cool, this record store had, like, escalators, dude. The loud, unnecessary music is so in your face, and honestly, I don’t think any of it is very good. Great New Orleans locations are somehow not as cool as they could be either thanks to the cliché, unsexy Mardi Gras scenes. Clues hidden in the quick, blink and you miss it montages, dreams, and visions also don’t make sense on an initial viewing – Dracula 2000 should be viewed once for the tale, twice for the twists, and everything else thereafter is a giddy pleasure.
Younger, contemporary audiences may not pick up on all the dated charm in Dracula 2000, but today’s generation can enjoy the indulgence of it all along with vampire viewers and fans of the cast. Keep Dracula 2000 for a goofy, brainless late night alone or for a mature Halloween party drinking game. It’s campy, cheesy, and of its time, but a blood sucking good occasion nonetheless.