Horrormeister Wes Craven executive-produced this surprisingly stylish, frequently clever, always watchable modern-day extension of the Dracula story from director Patrick Lussier and screenwriter Joel Soisson. This first effort at a Dracula film since Francis Ford Coppola’s bloated, overlong, pretentious and ultimately vacuous Bram Stoker’s Dracula doesn’t always work, but it’s blessedly free of self-importance and boasts just the right mix of horror-movie savvy and originality to more than get by. Opening with an exceptionally well-crafted depiction of Count Dracula’s original journey to England aboard the Demeter (an event faithful to the source novel), the film makes an abrupt — yet quite successful — jump to modern-day London, where an apparent descendant of that old vampire fighter Prof. Abraham Van Helsing, Matthew Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer, boasting a plummy Dutch accent) runs a prosperous antique dealership. Unfortunately, Van Helsing’s primary reason for the business — particularly its high-tech security — is the secret he has locked away in the vaults beneath the concern. It will come as no surprise to anyone that the secret is nothing less than the coffin containing the still undead remains of Count Dracula. Naturally, a team of expert thieves are sure that something of immense value must lie in that coffin. Of course, the thieves’ larcenous efforts unleash the King of the Vampires on the unsuspecting modern world — which, in this case, happens to be New Orleans during Mardi Gras (where their getaway plane and its unholy cargo crash). Equally obvious is the fact that Van Helsing will journey to the Big Easy to attempt to set things right. That much about Dracula 2000 is a given. However, Lussier and Soisson use this basic premise to add some genuinely intriguing twists to the myth, including the true origin of Dracula (a fascinating take that the film itself nearly spoils by tipping its hand too soon). In any case, Dracula 2000, is not just a reshuffling of the old story, but a full-blown rethinking. Add to this the fact that Lussier presents a dazzling array of some of the most startling and disorienting dream imagery to grace any horror film of recent memory; throw in some excellent performers (Gerard Butler’s Dracula is a remarkable blend of sexuality, horror, romanticism and intellect); and you ought to have something close to a classic of modern horror. But Dracula 2000 falters somewhat in that vein by trying to be all things to all people. Despite the many strengths of Soisson’s screenplay, it also makes too much effort to pepper itself with clever one-liners (only one of which really works) and hip characters. Making Van Helsing’s daughter an employee at a Virgin Megastore is a so-so excuse to infuse the soundtrack with enough rock songs — usually ineptly chosen — to fill the requisite soundtrack CD. But that ploy also threatens to make the film look like an extended commercial for Virgin on more than one occasion. Lussier’s use of bold colors and highly saturated wide-screen photography alone make the film worth seeing. But no amount of style can overcome the tedious gymnastics of vampires who seem like nothing so much as refugees from a Kung Fu movie. But for true horror-film fans, Dracula 2000 is still a worthy offering.
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