An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…
These reviews reveal plot twists.
Setting: We begin in 1897, on board the ship the Demeter then in London. We soon cut to the year 2000, in London and later New Orleans.
Faithful to the novel? It’s a new story – a sequel to the events of the book, in effect – but there are lots of interesting parallels. After a Victorian prologue, the main action takes place in 2000. Matthew Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer) initially tells us that he’s the grandson of Abraham Van Helsing, the man Bram Stoker fictionalised in his novel. Matthew runs an organisation called Carfax Antiquaries and collects ancient weapons. One night, a team of criminals break into his vaults, where they find a coffin – inside it are the remains of Count Dracula, who was defeated a century earlier. When the crims steal the coffin and fly it back to America, Dracula (Gerard Butler) is accidentally resurrected and starts killing. The plane crashes near New Orleans and the pilot is later found lashed to his controls (a nice echo of the captain of the Demeter in the novel). Van Helsing and protégé Simon Sheppard (Johnny Lee Miller using a wideboy accent) follow the count to the States and start to hunt down the vampires he’s created. Van Helsing also reveals that he’s actually Abraham: he’s been taking small doses of vampire blood for over a century in order to extend his life. (We see flashbacks to him capturing Dracula in 1897: it’s nothing like what happens in the novel. Is the idea that Bram Stoker invented all the stuff with Jonathan Harker and the others?) Unfortunately, Van Helsing’s connection to vampire blood has been passed on to his daughter, Mary (Justine Waddell, poor), who Dracula is now targeting… The character of Dracula is given a new history – after the clichéd hint that he’s Vlad the Impaler, we get the real story. In a move that adds an extra layer of meaning to the film’s title, it’s revealed that Dracula was Judas Iscariot before his immortality – hence his dislike of Christian symbolism and his allergy to silver. There are also some other interesting rhymes with the novel: Mary’s best mate is called Lucy Westerman (sic), a police doctor is named Seward, while three of Dracula’s female victims form a version of the Brides.
Best performance: Nathan Fillion shows up as a priest, a role that prefigures his grandstanding stint in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a show that must surely have been an influence on this movie).
Best bit: Newly arrived in America, Dracula attacks a TV reporter (Jeri Ryan) and cuts her throat – but because we view the incident through the viewfinder of a camera (which uses a mirror) we don’t see the vampire as he does it.
Review: A pleasant surprise. ‘Executive produced’ by horror legend Wes Craven, this is good schlocky fun. There are effective scares, a few good gags, and lots of pleasing directorial flourishes. It also inventively riffs on Stoker’s story and characters, while there’s a pleasing combination of old-school horror tropes and modern, high-tech thriller elements. It’s not perfect, of course, and sadly the two lead characters – Simon and Mary – are very underwritten. But this is a mid-budget B-movie that isn’t embarrassed to be a mid-budget B-movie. It revels in its genre-ness and is all more entertaining for it. (When released in Europe several months after its US debut, it was renamed Dracula 2001.)
Eight Virgin Megastore logos* out of 10
*The movie’s director claims on the DVD commentary that the frequency and blatancy with which we see the Virgin logo is not actually product placement but rather a gag punning on the brand’s name.