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Dracula II: Ascension

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: R (For Violence/Gore and Language)

Running Time: 85 minutes

Starring: Jason Scott Lee, Jason London, Craig Sheffer, Stephen Billington, Diane Neal, John Light, Brande Roderick and Roy Scheider

Written by: Joel Soisson & Patrick Lussier

Directed by: Patrick Lussier

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Patrick Lussier, Co-Writer/Producer Joel Soisson and Special Makeup Effects Supervisor Gary Tunnicliffe, Deleted Scenes, Cast Auditions

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (15 Scenes)

Released: June 10th, 2003

 

 

Dracula's back! In this sequel to "Dracula 2000," a few medical students end up getting the body of a certain vampire. This leads to a get rich quick scheme when they are offered 30 million dollars to steal its blood for auction and go through its body. But what's important about the blood? Why, it cures a disease and blablabla and then Jason Scott Lee is a vampire hunter to kill people. Doesn't sound like much? Does it sound pretty stupid? Well, this is a direct-to-video horror movie. Chances are if you're going to watch this movie, you're not really in it for the story but for the idea of vampires, some action and drooling over some of the actresses like perverts (if you're a guy).

I've actually never seen the original "Dracula 2000," but it was a pretty big flop at the box office and I've heard some pretty terrible things about. But believe it or not, the film did seem to get a pretty strong following on home video (even if it seems many people still don't like it). While I guess the first film's failure didn't warrant a sequel to be put forth directly in theaters, it seems the filmmaking pair of Joel Soisson and Patrick Lussier still wanted to continue the groundwork from their first movie. Hence, this new and updated Dracula is now a trilogy (with the third and final film, with the same cast, due out on video and DVD in 2004). You can't blame those loveable Weinsteins though - this movie will suck people in by the name alone (because as I said, the first film does have a surprisingly big audience), and given the idea of distributing directly to video with a pretty small budget will guarantee that this film makes Miramax a tidy profit (all while saving the embrassment of putting the film in theaters and not subjecting it to a load of publicity).

I like a cheesy, non-serious horror film as much as the next guy, but I found that this movie was a pain to get through. Sure I admire it's high production values for a direct to video production, but having some nice things usually doesn't save a movie. Yes the film has some decent special effects and sets, but I just found the movie as a whole to be really uninvolving and really uninteresting. Aside from the concept being really ridiculous (yes, even for a horror film!)... the characters are incredibly dull and often annoying, let alone stereotypical. The dialogue is usually pretty atrocious, making this a great "horror" flick to mock as far as its cheesiness. The film isn't all that scary either, as there is a difference between horror and over-the-top violence.

Former film editor Patrick Lussier directed this movie and co-wrote it with long time partner, Joel Soisson (they also did "Dracula 2000" together, among other projects). These guys seem to be in charge of all the lower horror/sci-fi properties Miramax/Dimension is involved with now and are steering course (mainly Soisson) for a future in helming direct-to-video productions of such franchises like "The Prophecy" (the next one is supposedly without Christopher Walken!), "Hellraiser" and "Highlander" (these guys certainly have a lot on their plate for the next few years). My main problem with "Dracula II: Ascension" was that it jumped around way too much. At times I was a little perplexed at what happens (I thought some stuff was poorly explained, not explained at all and things just happened way too quickly and weirdly), let alone the logic of some of the characters, what they end up doing and their motives. Lussier seems to be all for flashiness with quick cuts, some slow-motion shots and the like, but in the end it makes the film even more messy. The film's jumping around and how it all felt splattered made me feel really uncomfortable. The randomness is annoying.

The actors don't save this movie, but there is a good cast to be found (none of which are from the first movie). Jason Scott Lee seems to have a pretty fun time here (I think he's a pretty cool actor), and it's great to see Craig Sheffer sweat his stuff again (where has HE been? he's another cool actor). There's also a decent Jason London in this movie and a strong Diane Neal. Oh, Roy "I-need-to-eat-too" Scheinder pops up for a tiny bit - if you blink, you just might miss him. The actors sadly don't transcend the material (most of them don't look like they're trying too hard), but they seem to be having a good time. Too bad most of the characters in this movie are terrible.

I could bash this movie even more, but since there's really nothing to begin with, there's not much more to say and you should have an idea of what you're in for if you choose to watch this. Besides, I might as well save my breath for the third one ... but I swear to you, I'll keep an open mind when that finally comes out and won't make any assumptions for now. Even if that is pretty hard, given the fact it will feature the same writers, director and cast.

 

Even though this movie is direct-to-video, you would think otherwise. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, "Dracula II: Ascension" looks pretty damn good and is definitely on the level of transfers Disney provides for their theatrical releases.. Color saturation is pretty strong (especially the blacks and reds) and fleshtones do look pretty good. Detail is good too while black levels are very solid. At times the movie looks a bit soft, but it often does retain a certain sharpness. Still, there are edge halos to be found, shimmering plus blemishes, dirt pieces and the like. There is no edge enhancment whatsoever but at times the print looks a bit grainy (which would make sense given that this film's budget was probably pretty low). In the end, it's just a bit above average and nobody should have any qualms over this presentation.

 

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track included for this release is quite effective and top-notch, so no one listening to this track should be disappointed. This is a "horror"/action film, so you can expect plenty of surrounds and that your speaker system will get a workout (not bad for a direct-to-video film!). All the sound elements are well-balanced too, so don't expect any one portion of sound to overpower the other. What I was most impressed about with this track was how great Kevin Kliesch's score sounded. It definitely creates a strong sound stage and is very well-mixed, adding a lot to the tension and action. The dialogue is pretty clear and crisp, the surrounds do pack some mighty fine punches (especially the chase sequences, when the body pops out of the bathtub and battles with Dracula) that use the rear channels very well. In all, this track is quite robust with high fidelity and strong dynamics. Also included are English closed captions and English subtitles.

 

The supplements are not bad for a direct-to-video release, and what's here should keep fans happy. The main draw is definitely the Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Patrick Lussier, Co-Writer/Producer Joel Soisson and Special Makeup Effects Supervisor Gary Tunnicliffe. Even though I wasn't a big fan of Soisson and Lussier's work here, I have to say that I do respect them for their passion in making the film. However, I will say that I was surprised how much control Miramax seemed to have. I was a bit familiar with that fact before thanks to the HBO show "Project Greenlight," but it's often pointed out what Miramax did with this movie as far as casting and even deciding the title of the movie (it's mentioned the film had several). Nonetheless, the commentary does point a lot out as far as praise for the actors, shooting locations, many technical aspects, some things that were chopped from the story and the effects. There are some fine production anecdotes, and the commentary did clear up some of the story arcs for me ever so slightly (just slightly). There is no dead air to be found here as something is always brought up, and it's usually quite interesting. This commentary covers quite a lot and in a lot of different areas, making it very impressive. Also, the commentary is definitely better than the film, so if you actually liked "Dracula II" or are interested in its production, then gives this a listen.

You can watch several Cast Auditions. Included are Brande Roderick, Khaky Payton, Diane Neal, John Light and Danilea Nane. They're in full frame and in terrible digital video - the sound is horrendous too as you can't usually hear the actors and the audio is FILLED with annoying hiss (meaning if you want to hear everything, you'll have to put it up with the atrocious background noise. Still, the auditions are a bit interesting.

There's also four Deleted Scenes. No explanations on why they were cut, but most of them don't really seem to mesh well into the film - though the filmmakers probably could have gotten away with it since it's a mess anyway. The scenes are in non-anamorphic widescreen and two-channel English sound. The scenes are titled "One Good Finger," "Severed Snake Head," "Burn Victims" and "You Still Don't Get it."

Oh, and there's the obligatory Sneak Peeks: one for the original "Dracula 2000," "Tangled, " "Asunder" and Quentin Tarantino's upcoming "Kill Bill" (looks great).

 

Fans of the original "Dracula 2000" are sure to enjoy this movie and from what I hear, just might like it better than the first (I still think this movie is terrible though). Who the hell knows why this didn't get a theatrical release either, but I assume it was just more profitable and a better overall business decision to be a home video release (so go ask the Weinsteins). Still, this DVD does not disappoint. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is of high quality, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is kickin' and there are a few supplements to enjoy. The retail price is a bit high at $29.99, but if you're a fan of the series you'll probably want it for your collection. Otherwise, those curious and who want to see the next chapter in this "franchise," a rental should suffice.