Horror films with delusions of historical grandeur have to strain awfully hard these days to come up with fresh explanations for the origins of evil. Hasn’t it all been done at least 10 times over? Well, as it turns out, no.
The doozy of an explanation offered by “Dracula 2000,” a thudding, suspense-free montage of unshocking shock effects and more severed heads than toppled during the French Revolution, is that Dracula is actually the undead spirit of Judas Iscariot. Or something like that. Judas, you see, tried but failed to commit suicide (the rope broke), and thereafter became the father of the undead. The movie doesn’t go into details of how these two villains are actually related.
The Judas connection is why the movie’s rapidly expanding population of the undead drooling and foaming and biting their way through the movie are so terrified of silver (there are repeated shots of silver coins being scattered). It also gives the film, “presented” by Wes Craven and directed by Patrick Lussier, the excuse to throw in several warehouses full of tawdry Christian symbolism.
This version of the Dracula legend might be described as Dracula Meets Stigmata and They Fly to New Orleans via Hong Kong. That’s because on top of all the Christian imagery (electrically illuminated crosses exploding into showers of sparks and such), the action sequences sometimes find the characters doing combat in the air. In barely two years, the airborne Hong Kong action-adventure antics that promised to refresh Western action-adventure movies have turned into a grating new cliche carelessly tossed into a picture (as it is here) to give it a hip kinetic gloss.
It’s a little sad to see actors of the quality of Christopher Plummer and Jonny Lee Miller struggling straight-faced to dignify this sewage. Mr. Plummer plays Abraham Van Helsing, a 100-year-plus-old vampire slayer who keeps himself alive through leeches that have sucked on vampire blood (the leeches are the only scary element in the film). Mr. Miller is his assistant and surrogate son Simon, who has been kept in the dark as to his boss’s true occupation.
Justine Waddell is Van Helsing’s estranged daughter, whose small quotient of vampire blood (through her father via the leeches) makes her the ultimate apple of Dracula’s eye and an object of jealousy among his many female victims who, once liberated from human life, turn into foul-mouthed, bloodthirsty sex fiends.
The clunking fill-in-the-blanks screenplay portrays Dracula as irresistible to women the moment he walks into a room. Gerard Butler, the pale, glowering actor clad in chi-chi black duds who plays him, radiates a certain suave self-assurance, but he is no head-turner.
A continuing annoyance is the movie’s promotion of Virgin megastores. Two of the characters work in one such store, and even when they’re off the job they wear shirts with the Virgin logo prominently displayed.
“Dracula” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It is crammed with gore.
WES CRAVEN PRESENTS DRACULA 2000
Directed by Patrick Lussier; written by Joel Soisson, based on a story by Mr. Soisson and Mr. Lussier; director of photography, Peter Pay; edited by Mr. Lussier and Peter Devaney Flanagan; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Carol Spier; produced by W. K. Border and Mr. Soisson; released by Dimension Films. Running time: 99 minutes. This film is rated R.
WITH: Jonny Lee Miller (Simon Sheppard), Justine Waddell (Mary Heller), Gerard Butler (Dracula), Colleen Ann Fitzpatrick (Lucy), Jennifer Esposito (Solina), Danny Masterson (Nightshade), Jeri Ryan (Valerie Sharpe), Lochlyn Munro (Eddie), Sean Patrick Thomas (Trick), Omar Epps (Marcus) and Christopher Plummer (Abraham Van Helsing).
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company