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Dracula II: Ascension (2003)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

DRACULA II: ASCENSION (2003)

Starring: Diane Neal, Jason Scott Lee, Craig Sheffer, Jason London, Khary Payton, Stephen Billington

Written By: Joel Soisson, Patrick Lussier Directed By: Patrick Lussier

The Short Version

The dumb title is a built-in excuse.

Decent beginning; awful ending.

Leave the title character incapacitated for 95% of the movie.  Brilliant.

“Dracula” and “boring” do not belong in the same sentence, yet here they are.

Dracula II: Ascension is just plain bad.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

DEHYDRATED.

As in that packet of powered stuff you find in a mac and cheese box. (In this case, a generic one.)  Water it down, and now it’s boring in a whole new way!


Pairs Well With...

ARBOR MIST PINOT NOIR.

It’s cheap as hell, but it’s still wine!  Right?  Hmm.  Well, it makes the movie better, anyway!

“Well that was a real jilted bitch thing to do!”


Dracula II: Ascension is a movie with a built-in excuse that the producers are counting on.  After sitting through eighty-odd minutes of this weak drivel, one is tempted to ask “Why the hell did I just watch this?”  But of course, the box has the answer: because the movie’s called Dracula II.  Someone could have filmed a live action Care Bears movie, slapped the Dracula II title and box art on it, and the sales results would have been pretty much the same.  (Though maybe by the end, more people would have appreciated the power of friendship.  Who knows?)  It’s the nature of the movies, and why initial box office and rental numbers are deceptive: the pool is jumped into without actually knowing what the water’s like.

Considering that Dracula has made his way to the screen well over a hundred times, the title is rather absurd, but, just like the producers predicted, we as a loyal vampire audience are inclined to just go with it.  As it turns out, Dracula II: Ascension is an immediate sequel to Dracula 2000 (which was itself green lit on the strength of its title alone).  Interestingly, though, it drops any references to the Van Helsing family, despite the fact that Dracula 2000 based its “set up for a sequel” moment on following them.  Instead, Dracula II does what a pulp story would do: it follows the body.

Specifically, it follows the body to the morgue, since our heroes from the previous film were too foolish to finish the disposal job.  There, medical student Elizabeth Blaine (Diane Neal; yes, the one from the “Law & Order” spin offs) has the task of processing the corpse.  Strangely, the organs within appear to be bloodless, which, combined with the circumstances under which police say they found the body in the first place, immediately causes her fellow med student, Luke (Jason London, The Rage: Carrie 2), to helpfully suspect that this apparently dead body is actually a vampire.  When they check its teeth, Elizabeth pricks her finger on a canine, and the drop of blood that touches the body does cause a little healing, seeming to confirm the suspicion.  Moments later, a call comes in to the morgue: an anonymous fellow will offer $30,000,000 in exchange for the vampire’s body.  Whatever qualms Elizabeth may have with the idea are quickly shoved aside, and she and Luke smuggle the body out of the building, just beating the arrival of a mysterious priest (Jason Scott Lee, Soldier) who’d had his own plans for the body.

Does anyone think this will turn out well for the med students or that they’ll ever see that $30,000,000?  Anyone?  Yeah, thought so…

Let’s be honest with ourselves, shall we?  Any sane person who’s suckered into watching a movie because it’s called Dracula II is keenly aware that he or she is being suckered into watching a movie because it’s called Dracula II.  (The built in excuse noted earlier isn’t exactly a secret.)  Add to that the certain knowledge that it’s a direct-to-video sequel to a movie that got a tepid response at the box office to begin with, and, if one is honest, the expectation bar should be set low enough that even the Lollipop Guild would have to bend back to limbo underneath it.

Incredibly – and unfortunately – Dracula II: Ascension can’t even live up to those severely hobbled expectations.

What’s especially sad in this case is that the potential for a cheaply decent flick is there.  The opening scene rocks… and there’s not another one like it for the rest of the movie.  The premise of using a vampire as the starting off point for medical experiments aimed at physical regeneration and immortality (everyone’s favorite MacGuffin) is sound enough… as long as one doesn’t try to apply it to a heavyweight character like Dracula, at which point it becomes ridiculous.  For all of its faults, at least the previous flick left some cool lore to build upon… if anyone felt like bothering.  The leading cast isn’t bad as far as direct to video fare goes… if only they were given something worthwhile to do. 

But no.  This movie happened instead.

After a teaser opening with a lot of promise, Dracula II: Ascension is just plain awful.  It’s also got next no Dracula.  Once he’s resurrected in the form of Stephen Billington (whose lack of being Gerard Butler is explained by a declaration that he changes his appearance every time he resurrects), he is quickly subdued, after which he spends all but the last few minutes of the film tied up and looking like a wannabe Sisters of Mercy groupie who got talked into an extremely low rent bondage photo shoot.  Master of all vampires?  Vlad Tepes?  Judas Iscariot?  Please.  He’s set dressing, and that’s pretty much it.

No, the real story is about how all of the humans screw each other over, and it’s insanely predictable.  The script doesn’t even have the dignity to throw in a red herring; it just makes you sit and wait for things to happen.  For what feels like years.  Occasionally, you’ll get teased by the badass looking priest who’s obviously the Van Helsing analog here, but that just heightens the painful awareness that he won’t be joining the real action until the final showdown… a final showdown that’s just all kinds of wrong.  I won’t go into a complete discussion of it for spoiler purposes, but I will say that when the ending happens, your reaction is very likely to be a more colorful variation of “That’s it? What the hell was that?”  (“That,” by the way, would be the world’s crappiest cliffhanger, which works neither as a cliffhanger nor as a self-contained ending; indeed, it’s not even as effective as a “To Be Continued” sign.  It does, however, display a remarkable amount of faith that anyone would want to bother with the next film – which was shot simultaneously with this one – after having had the experience of watching this tripe.)

And as for vampire lore in general… forget it.  Even the fun opening scene can’t tell the difference between vampires and faeries, and the script at large continues to peddle the completely illogical notion that absolutely everyone who is bitten and killed by a vampire – regardless of injuries – turns.  (That would by default lead to complete human and vampire extinction in under ten years.  That’s called a zombie apocalypse.)  One could say that this is being picky by making sense, but that’s before you see the lame ass special effect of a guy whose face is completely eaten off and who then turns into some lamprey-looking abomination.  Um… yeah.  Oh, and whatever lore is applied to some vampires isn’t necessarily true of other vampires, so it’s basically a matter of whatever the script says should work on a scene-to-scene basis.  Um… yeah.

All of this is made even worse by bad direction.  As someone who has been all around the horror world and who has worked as a protégé of Wes Craven and who has indeed done some very decent work elsewhere, Patrick Lussier really should know better, but instead, he delivers a passionless, pedestrian bore.  His awareness of horror history is obvious – especially the Hammer films – but instead of that being a point in his favor, his lame revisions of classic (and not-so-classic) Hammer lore only make things that much more disappointing.  As do his sudden drops into slow motion, for that matter.  Action sequences are a yawn, drama is drab, and if anything in this movie was supposed to be fun after the opening scene with the evil twins, I missed it.  The camera brings no life to anything, and there’s just no atmosphere to this movie whatsoever.   Even with this lousy script (which Lussier also shares blame for), given the lead cast, Lussier should have been able to draw some blood from this stone, but Dracula II: Ascension bears all the marks of having been made under the philosophy of “get it done next week” instead of “get it done right.”

Its marquee line also bears the definite marks of stunt casting.  Roy Scheider (Jaws) gets top line billing; he shows up for less than two minutes, and his role is inconsequential.  Not that the actual role was the point, of course; the point was to get his name on the box to sell videos, hence the term “stunt casting.”  The other bit of top line stunt casting comes in the form of former Playboy Playmate of the Year and “Baywatch” babe Brande Roderick, whose role is slightly more consequential than Scheider’s, but still short-lived and still a stunt.  One of the few hopes that many a direct-to-video horror junkie often clings to is that if all else fails, at least there might be nudity, and when someone with Roderick’s resume makes it to the credits… come on; do the math.  Needless to say, there’s no nudity, and the brevity of her time on screen (no more than five minutes) clearly says “you’ve got me for X time and that’s it.”  Too bad, too; nudity or not, she’s a better actress than some of the supporting players who are still around after she’s gone.  If she was going to stain her resume with this anyway…

Besides, if anyone asked later, she’s got the same built in excuse for being in it that everyone else has for watching it: it’s called Dracula II.  How could anyone pass up a title like that?

Bottom line, when it comes to Dracula II: Ascension, that built in excuse is really all you’ve got, because this is just a bad movie.  Whatever potential this flick may have had got flushed early on, and there’s nothing that the cast can do to save it.  The director doesn’t even try, and the horrible ending seems to have been deliberately designed to make audience members feel used.  Which they have been.

Doom Cheez Cinema is now Cinema on the Rocks. Thank you for your support!

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, August, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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