The late, great Wes Craven has been a horror icon for several decades and is responsible for fathering some of our most beloved and terrifying creations...
...He was a true pioneer, shaping the very horror subculture we know and love participating in. There is absolutely no way around attributing a colossal amount of credit to the man. Those of us who know Craven’s work also know that there is a slew of films, either produced or directed by him, that did not fare as well as his more recognizable brands of terror. Many of them went unnoticed by the average moviegoer, only being eagerly consumed by Craven’s most devout fans. Films like Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), Wishmaster (1997, which he produced), and My Soul to Take (2010) all fall under the category of Wes Craven’s “other” films. That might be the consensus among the masses, but I consider those other films some real diamonds in the rough. Of course, they aren’t up to the quality or universal appeal of Scream (1996) or A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) but they do have an extraordinary cultish charm. Dracula 2000 (2000) fits right in with that bunch. Craven took an executive producer role with this one, proudly displaying his name before the title, while Patrick Lussier helmed the director’s chair. Being that this month marks the film’s 20th anniversary, there is no better time to crack open the coffin and see how well Craven’s take on vampire mythology holds up.
The year 2000 was an interesting time for film. It was the beginning of a new age, where technological advancements were in full swing and pop culture was obsessed with everything being futuristic and having a sleek, almost minimalist, steely style. The tail end of the ‘90s saw several films using the millennium in their title. Godzilla 2000 (1999), Blues Brothers 2000 (1998), and Heavy Metal 2000 (2000) are just a few of the now cringy titles. Even as an 11-year-old kid, I found this to be a bit silly. I didn’t get to see Dracula 2000 when it hit theaters, but I was able to catch it on Direct TV about a year or so later. To me, it was just that vampire movie with the guy from Hackers (1995) (Johnny Lee Miller). Once I revisited the film several years later, I was able to view it through the lens of a genre fan, and one who is more forgiving and less cynical than the snooty early 2000’s version of myself. One of the more obvious things to revere about the film is the cast. It’s a fun ensemble of ‘90s favorites such as fandom culture darling Nathan Fillion, acting alumni Christopher Plummer, an incredibly young Gerard Butler, and, as previously mentioned, Johnny Lee Miller. Unsurprisingly, Butler steals the movie as Dracula, offering us an appropriately hammy performance. This is before Butler became a household name, so he really put everything he had into the role, enchanting us with his seductive charisma. He has some really fun one-liners too. In one scene, Dracula is cornering a sniveling, spineless doctor. Smelling the fear on him, Dracula toys with his prey and says “dignity doctor…” followed by a mousey high-pitched scream from the doctor. Butler clearly has fun with the role and it coincides nicely with the film’s tone, never taking itself too seriously. I adore Underworld (2003) (I even wrote my college thesis on the series), but it is a film that robs its audience of any joy. Its characters and plot are played so straight-faced that it almost feels like the film doesn’t want you to have a fun time watching it. Not all films are intended to be “fun” but when it comes to vampires, werewolves, and the occult, a bit of campy charm can go a long way. I don’t think Dracula 2000 is a better film, but it does succeed in being a solid piece of early 2000s B-movie entertainment. It won’t scold you for cracking a smile.
The Toronto Sun praised Dracula 2000 for being “hip and happening.” Most of what I love about the film is the shameless, blatant attempt to appeal to the disaffected alternative youth of the time. Essentially, it is a 100-minute commercial for several hip and trendy rock bands of that year. There was a good deal of marketing surrounding the soundtrack, which featured nü metal giants such as Linkin Park, Marilyn Manson, Static X, and System of a Down. Being a child of the late ‘90s, these tunes produce a warm nostalgic glow within. No amount of clove cigarette smoking hipsters telling me it’s bad music can take away those special feelings! It’s great nostalgic fun to hear these tracks in the film, as it meshes well with the quick cut, music video-like editing style.
It isn’t just the music that gets a big push in the film, but the product placement too. Our protagonist, Mary, played by Justine Waddell, works in a Virgin Records Megastore (remember those?) and though it fits in with the film’s MTV-addicted target audience, there is hardly a scene without the brand’s presence. During the DVD commentary, Lussier claims there wasn’t a big endorsement deal. No offense to Lussier or the producers, but I certainly know better. The iconic red neon Virgin sign, our lead character wearing a Virgin tee shirt, and Virgin Megastore shipment trucks all make a very loud and proud appearance in the film. Normally this kind of product placement might irritate me, but Dracula 2000 has essentially become a meta love letter to my teenage angst years, so it gets a pass.
The actual horror in the film is somewhat mild. Yes, there are beheadings, stakes through the heart, and a fair amount of gore, but it is not anything very memorable. The action is one of the weaker aspects of the film. I attribute these shortcomings to a moderate budget and a poor use of computer-generated effects. CGI was still in its infancy and many special effects houses were under an insurmountable amount of pressure to meet release dates. Many quicker tools and easier methods of production were not created until much later. Despite the CGI effects lacking, there is a surprising number of practical effects. In particular, the floating sex scene still looks fantastic and Dracula’s flaming death uses real pyrotechnics, making the finale more effective. The wire work is a bit wonky at times and while digital wire replacement was used, just as it had been for years at that point, most of the time the actors simply look like they’re hanging. In a film as silly and goofy as this, it is hardly distracting. I would even go as far to say that the cheesy effects add a bit of personality to the film.
Dracula 2000 is not Craven’s best out of his cultish variety, but there is so much to fall in love with here. Through this goofy horror film, I can vicariously relive my glory days as a rebellious, baggy pant-wearing teenager. As a disclaimer, I would say that you may not get unlimited mileage out of this film if you aren’t smitten with late ‘90s pop culture. Most of my enjoyment comes from simple nostalgia. Even so, Wes Craven fans and horror fans in general should give this a go, because it is still a ridiculously fun vampire flick. I would be willing to bet there are several horror hounds out there who haven’t even heard of this one. It has the potential to be the kind of cult followed film that you and your fellow dorky horror friends gather around to watch and crack open a few beers. Dracula 2000 deserves to be resurrected, if only to make sure more horror fanatics like me have another flick to obsess over.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth