A few years ago Dimension Films gave us "Dracula 2000," a mediocre entry in the vampire field that only die-hard fans of the genre must have liked. "Dracula II: Ascension" is its direct-to-video sequel. You figure out if it's worth it.
Again, Wes Craven ("Nightmare on Elm Street," "Scream") lends his name to the production, so the movie's official title is "Wes Craven Presents Dracula II: Ascension." But, again, Mr. Craven does nothing I can see in terms of actually producing the film except to put his name to it, which is really all the poor enterprise has going for it. However, we do get the same team of director Patrick Lussier and screenwriter Joel Soisson back with us from the first film, of whatever value that is.
We also get one other person back from the first film, the character of the vampire, supposedly Dracula himself because that's how he's billed in the closing credits, although he's never actually called that in the story. He's just the "thing," the "vampire," or the "monster." In any case, he's played by Stephen Billington as a cross between Frank Langella's movie-idol Dracula and a Southern California surfer.
The story opens in true horror-movie fashion, so much so that it plays like parody. A beautiful girl is being chased by a dark man through the shadows and alleyways of an old European city, while pseudo liturgical music plays in the background. But there's a twist. The dark man is the hero, Father Uffizi (Jason Scott Lee), a vampire hunter, and the woman is one of his malign targets. From that point on, about five minutes in, it's all downhill.
Attempting to describe the plot is futile, I know, but I'll give it a try. It's about a group of college med students (all of them exquisitely beautiful people, by the way. Why are there never any ordinary-looking students in a Hollywood movie?) and their professor, Lowell (Craig Sheffer), an invalid with a degenerative blood disease. The Prof is thinking maybe if he can find a vampire, he could use its blood to somehow regenerate his own. Most college professors think that way. A couple of his students, Elizabeth (Diane Neal), who is also his girlfriend, and Luke (Jason London) work for a morgue and conveniently find the charred remains of Dracula himself brought in one night. Naturally, they try to revive the creature, but not before a mysterious stranger named Eric (John Light) offers them millions of dollars for the cadaver. It isn't long before the two factions are fighting over who will get the corpse.
Enter next our fearless vampire killer, Father Uffizi. He, too, wants the remains of old Drac, but not before Drac is brought back to life by being soaked in a tub of blood. But you already knew that trick. Oh, and then there's also a bit part by Roy Scheider (yes, THAT Roy Scheider of "The French Connection" and "Jaws") as a Roman Catholic Cardinal named Sequeros. He gets about one minute of screen time, which isn't as important as a quote from him at the beginning of the movie: "The vampire casts no reflection because its image is an affront to God." But you knew that, too.
The movie is a tired collection of tired clichés bound together by tired characters in tired roles. By the time the eighty-five minutes of movie are over, you'll be pretty tired, too. Nothing happens that is in the least bit frightening. The Catholic Church is utilized to the fullest, as usual, to symbolize the fight between good and evil. I suppose the Church's long history of battling with demons and superstition makes it an ideal vehicle for occult horror movies. Moreover, the filmmakers splatter the screen with buckets of blood, severed heads, and gory, close-up autopsies, but while all this may be gross and disgusting, it's not scary.
Nor does any of the story make any logical or internally consistent sense. When the young people finally manage to resurrect the vampire, what do they expect the monster to do, thank them? Instead, the creature does exactly what is expected of him in a vampire movie: He goes on a rampage until he's finally quelled. Then he spends the rest of the movie chained to the bottom of an empty swimming pool in an abandoned gym. And when Kenny (Khary Payton), another of the med students in on the plot, decides to inject himself with vampire blood, what does he expect to happen to him? He turns into a vampire, of course, and runs off to find the nearest and cutest neck to chomp on.
Lots of people die and lots of blood flies in "Dracula II," but shock and splatter alone do not make a good horror flick. "Dracula II: Ascension" is not a good horror flick.
The movie is presented in a generous 2.16:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen, which is one small blessing. The colors are decent enough, too, even though much of the film is photographed in dim shadows. There is little grain, and when grain is present it is quite delicate. But the image is slightly veiled, slightly soft and blurred in detail, so that nothing really impresses the eye. Maybe it was done intentionally to give the story more atmosphere, I don't know.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sonics are quite good, at least in the front channels, where one can feel the deep bass and strong dynamic impact. Unfortunately, this dynamic range is used mostly for loud noises meant to startle us, a rather shabby and transparent trick designed for cheap thrills. The background musical score is too mundane hardly to notice, let alone remember, except that some of it seeps into the surround speakers from time to time. Plus, the music's constant bump-bump, bump-bump sounds remind us of "John Carpenter's The Thing," which is the best that can be said of it. Otherwise, the rear speakers don't light many fires, and a lot of subtle opportunities for creating suspense through the use of rear-channel sound effects are wasted. Oh, well.
Remember, this is a direct-to-video release, so you can't expect too many extras. There's an audio commentary with director Patrick Lussier, screenwriter Joel Soisson, and special makeup effects supervisor Gary Tunnicliffe as the main bonus item. In addition, though, there are four deleted scenes and five cast auditions that may be of mild interest. Buena Vista also include Sneak Peeks at four of their other titles, and there are fifteen scene selections. English is the only spoken language choice, with English captions for the hearing impaired. Again BV provide no informational booklet insert.
"Picked a bad day to become a vampire," says Father Uffizi to a would-be monster in the making. There's a point there. You see, at least "Dracula II: Ascension" is not as bad a really awful, unfunny comedy. Really bad horror films have a built-in camp factor that allows one to laugh at them, something bad comedies can't possibly conjure up. And you know "Dracula II" is a bad horror film because there's almost nothing in it that is in the least bit suspenseful or frightening. Well, except one thing: The ending leaves open the way to yet another sequel, which, incidentally, is called "Dracula III: Legacy." Now, that's scary.