Now, I have to admit I have yet to see the first two films in this series, “Dracula 2000” and “Dracula II: Ascension” but I didn’t find it confusing to come in at the end of a trilogy. “Dracula III” did very well as a stand-alone film and a pretty entertaining one at that.
Set in the near future, where the Romanian people are embroiled in a civil war against the vampires, Father Uffizi (Jason Scott Lee), the intrepid vampire killer who has been infected, and his sidekick, Luke (Jason London), are on a mission to once and for all rid the world of the most powerful vampire of them all: Dracula (Rutger Hauer). Luke has his on agenda as well – to try and rescue his love, Elizabeth (Diane Neal) who has been taken by Dracula. After an early meeting with his superior, Cardinal Siqueros (Roy Scheider) who tries to dissuade Uffizi, who ultimately quits the priesthood, Uffizi and Luke are off. Armed with a interesting variety of weapons, among them, croquet mallets broken down and sharpened into stakes and Uffizi’s…scythe, for lack of a better work, the two set out from Bucharest to carry out their mission.
The film reminded me of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” or Coppolla’s “Apocalypse Now”, for those unfamiliar with the Conrad classic Coppolla based his film on and it turns out, on listening to the director’s commentary, that that was exactly what Lussier and Soisson were doing themselves. As they get closer and closer to the lair of Dracula, the problems Uffizi and Luke encounter as well as the sights they see grow worse. Encountering a British film crew, whose helicopter has been shot down, the two rescue reporter Julia Hughes (Alexandra Westcourt) and her cameraman, Tommy (Gary J. Tunnicliffe, who was also the film’s special makeup designer), who unfortunately isn’t around very long due to the vampire infestation. But Julia stays around for the hunt and soon probably wishes she had left when she was given the opportunity. The group encounters impaled bodies, vampire circus characters (loved the vampire on stilts!), “procurers” who round up humans to take to the vampires for food, lots of fight sequences (choreographed by Jason Scott Lee) and finally, the prey they had been seeking – Dracula, played similarly to Brando’s Colonel Kurtz by Rutger Hauer. I won’t give away any more other than to say I wasn’t expecting how the film ended although it works.
Filmed on location in Bucharest, Sighisoara (the actual birthplace of the real Dracula), Snagov (the island where the real Dracula was supposedly buried), Rasnov and Zarnesti, Romania at the same time as “Dracula II: Ascension” was filmed, the locations are wonderful and really intensify the mood. Also, “Dracula III” was filmed in the late autumn and winter of 2001, according to the director’s commentary, so the autumn colors are gorgeous and former Kubrick cinematographer, Douglas Milsome, gives the whole film an amber glow. The score, by Kevin Kliesch and Ceiri Torjussen, makes use of many Romanian folk instruments, particularly the dulcimer and pan flute and was very effective.
The acting was varied – Jason Scott Lee and Jason London had great chemistry between their characters. Rutger Hauer was his usual interesting, charismatic self, particularly as he was trying on Marlon Brando’s mantle of playing Dracula as Colonel Kurtz. The two major female characters really didn’t stand out for me – Alexandra Westcourt is a lovely actress but she didn’t really DO anything, positive or negative, for the film, and Diane Neal as Elizabeth really only showed up at the end to have her “showdown” with Luke. Roy Scheider’s role was strictly a cameo but it’s always fun to see him on the screen.
For gorehounds, there are numerous decapitations, one person cut in half, many impalements, a melting face, an arrow through an eye and an arm cut off. But, I will say the blood wasn’t excessive; which is to say this isn’t a gory, gross-out movie. There is one scene – the “blood orgy” scene – for those inclined to ogle bare-breasted vampires feeding on each other but it too wasn’t very explicit.
All in all, being new to the Patrick Lussier “Dracula” trilogy, I was impressed by this film and the degrees to which the filmmakers went to get the right look – by filming IN Romania as opposed to some sound stage in the US. And by using the classic novel “Heart of Darkness” as the basis for their script. This was, to me, a pretty intelligent vampire movie and I haven’t seen too many of those in quite a while.