Dracula II: Ascension (2003)
By: Craig Villinger on July 14, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Buena Vista (Australia). Region 2 & 4 PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, Italian DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1. English, English (FHI), Italian, Spanish Subtitles. 81 minutes
The Movie
Director: Patrick Lussier
Starring: Diane Neal, Jason London, Craig Sheffer, John Light, Stephen Billington, Jason Scott Lee
Screenplay: Joel Soisson, Patrick Lussier
Music: Kevin Kliesch
Country: USA
If you've come here expecting an analysis of a celluloid sequel to Bram Stoker's classic piece of literature you may be disappointed. Dracula II: Ascension is not a sequel to Bram Stoker's Dracula, but rather a sequel to Wes Craven's Dracula 2000. I'm not sure why they chose to follow-up 2000 with II, but then again, mathematics has never been my specialty. Let's just talk about the movie and leave the numbers stuff to someone else.

Although it has appeared on Australian retail shelves some five years after the release of its predecessor, Dracula II: Ascension picks up directly after the events of Dracula 2000 with the charred corpse of Count Drac delivered to a New Orleans morgue for processing. After a perfunctory inspection of the crispy critter the morgue attendant (Diane Neal) and her paramedic sidekick (Jason London) realize that the body on their slab is a fang bearing creature of the night, but their subsequent "Holy shit, they do exist" conversation is abruptly halted by a mysterious caller offering thirty million dollars cash in return for the body. The offer is too good to resist, and with the help of a few friends (including their crippled professor, who quickly takes charge of the group) they head for a secluded location in order to conduct a series of experiments on the vampire in the hope of discovering his secret to immortality.

One blood bath later and The Count is up and moving, but luckily the group's financial backer has come prepared with harsh UV lights and sturdy chains to keep the bad boy in check, allowing them to extract a few CC's of blood here and there without getting fanged for their efforts. Microscopes are produced and scientific theories are formulated, but with Dracula's mojo returning ever so slowly, and a member of the group gradually succumbing to a touch of vampire-itis herself after an earlier fang pricking incident, it is only a matter of time before their grand plan goes pear shaped in a big way. A mysterious priest/vampire slayer (Jason Scott Lee) dressed in a black cassock and wielding a mighty scythe might turn up just in time to save the day if they're lucky.

Dracula 2000 was loaded with action set-pieces, sexy women, camera-friendly locations, and an occasionally wicked sense of humour, but unfortunately for the viewer Dracula II: Ascension is very much a downsized sequel in every respect, and despite the fact that Director Patrick Lussier and most of the main creative team behind the first instalment returned for the sequel (including Wes Craven, whose efforts probably amounted to no more than collecting a cheque) Dracula II has little in common with its predecessor. We do get a neat opening sequence which features Jason Scott Lee's character chasing down and slaying sexy identical twin vamps after almost falling for a crafty bit of vampire trickery, but after that most of the attention is focused on the science types and their attempts to exploit Dracula's unique regenerative abilities for the good of all humankind (and their bank balances). Dracula himself doesn't get a lot of screen time, and when we do see him he his bathed in UV light and starved of blood, which is not exactly the way we like to see the Prince of Darkness portrayed. Occasionally he shows a hint of menace, and it almost looked at times as though the filmmakers were going for a Silence of the Lambs style vibe where the viewer finds themselves wondering what this heinous monster could be capable of if he were to break free of his shackles and run amok, but frankly it didn't work, mainly because we know damn well what Dracula is capable of. We've been reading about and watching him for over one hundred years for God's sake! A relatively droll performance from Stephen Billington (replacing the charismatic Gerard Butler from Dracula 2000) doesn't make the character any more endearing.

Jason Scott Lee as Father Uffizi provides one of the more interesting aspects of the film, however apart from the aforementioned opening sequence and a spot of slaying towards the finale he is barely present. His character - a priest who also happens to be part vampire and must face the sunrise each morning to burn out his vampiric impurities - could have pushed this film into entertainment territory had he been given more screen time since vampire slaying is a lot more fun to watch than people observing cellular regeneration through microscopes and arguing about the possible ramifications of their actions, but unfortunately for fans of beheadings and vampire butt-kicking the latter option is much cheaper to film.

I'm a big fan of Dracula 2000 and had moderate hopes for the sequel, but as is so often the case with horror franchises, Part 2 didn't deliver the goods. Guess I should have seen it coming. Despite the obviously limited budget Lussier has tried to make a visually impressive feature, and to an extent he succeeds, but ultimately the film is dragged down by an uneventful script, poor performances, and a terrible ending which offers the viewer no closure whatsoever. We love our vamps, but we love them when they are ripping throats open or spouting cheesy dialogue with faux Transylvanian accents, so a vampire film where the vampire spends most of the running time bound in chains isn't very exciting. Another sequel – Dracula III: Legacy – was shot back to back with Dracula II (hence the abrupt ending) and will hopefully improve upon this dull second chapter.
Dracula II: Ascension may have been an el cheapo production, but this fact is masked by some eye-catching widescreen photography, and the discs anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer reproduces the visuals almost flawlessly. Colours are rich and vibrant, the dimly lit moments are enhanced by solid blacks with no sign of grain or print damage.
As with the video, the English 5.1 channel audio presentation almost manages to distract us from the fact that we are watching a crap production. The rear channels are used frequently, and when the film does decide to give us some action and mayhem, these scenes are accompanied by healthy activity from the subwoofer which will have your knick knacks rattling. Italian and Spanish 5.1 tracks are also provided.
Extra Features
Director Patrick Lussier, screenwriter Joel Soisson, and special makeup effects supervisor Gary Tunnicliffe provide a lively audio commentary with loads of anecdotes and not a lot of dead air. Lussier kicks things off by laying the blame for the Dracula II title squarely on the studio, and the trio goes on to talk about the production of Dracula III and crew members enjoying cat naps on the morgue slabs between takes among other things.

We also get a little over twenty minutes of audition footage, featuring separate clips of Brande Roderick, Khary Payton, Diane Neal, John Light, and Daniela Nane doing their thing, and four deletes scenes, which are more like extended scenes and don't show us much in the way of new material.
The Verdict
A disappointing sequel and a disappointing vampire film in general, Dracula II: Ascension does have its moments, but they don't make this DVD worth your hard earned, despite a passable technical presentation.
Movie Score
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