Friday, February 15, 2008

Dracula 3: Legacy

Director: Patrick Lussier

Release Date: 2005

Contains spoilers
It is unusual, I personally feel, for the quality of the films in a series to improve as the series goes on. There is a tendency for the quality to drop, for the style and story to become staid. Not in this case. The first movie in the series suffered through muddled story an over stylisation that became too fake and “MTV”. The next movie had a simpler story but it was better told and though the “MTV” nature perhaps remained it was controlled more. This final instalment was very much where the series grew up, it had genuine style and atmosphere and whilst the story was, when you break it right down, simple it was also interesting.

As a plus it was also a direct sequel to the second film, the ending of the last had not been forgotten – indeed the opening has clips from the second film – and, despite a one-liner that seemed to blow the interesting myth source of Dracula (Rutger Hauer) in the series, worked well against the second film. Again, as the last sentence intimated, Dracula has changed form and is now in the venerable hands of Hauer – we shall look at this later. The last film ended with vampire hunting (infected) priest Uffizi (Jason Scott Lee) injured, body stealing Luke (Jason London) surviving and his infected (unrequited) love Liz (Diane Neal) walking off with Dracula.

The film is set in the near future, five years after the events of the last film. It begins with a figure, bleeding from the hand, running from a train yard. It is Luke. He is pursued by a female vampire and then grabbed by a male. Enter Uffizi, who beheads the male and then spear guns the female. She is prone across rail tracks and a train is coming as he questions her about where Dracula is. It seems that Luke and Uffizi are working together (at the climax of the last film Uffizi told Luke he could use someone like him) and later we hear why. Uffizi is on his Dracula hunting mission and Luke wants to rescue Liz – though she is utterly turned.

Uffizi goes to see Cardinal Siqueros (Roy Scheider) to ask for further aid as the female has revealed that Dracula has returned to Romania. We discover that Uffizi has been incommunicado from his superiors for the intervening five years and they are somewhat worried about the state of his soul and how far over to the dark he may have strayed. They recall him and he removes his dog collar. He is defrocked but still determined to end Dracula’s reign of terror. He and Luke go to Romania.

This is a Romania in the grips of a civil war. UN peacekeepers are out of their depths, thinking that they are dealing with normal insurgents it becomes clear that the real enemy is a much darker foe. Various factions have been turned and, in a lore structure that offers one bite turning, the numbers of undead are multiplying. Through a news report by Julia Hughes (Alexandra Westcourt) we discover that insurgent leaders will only meet for peace talks when their counterparts appear in daylight – though the reporter doesn’t understand that request.

As Luke and Uffizi travel through the land we come across groups of black marketers who kidnap people to sell to the vampires and their range is getting larger as the number of humans diminishes. This is a country where blood is becoming the main commodity. Often there are outbreak films (more often zombie but occasionally vampire) but I felt the way this was handled was excellent. Dracula seems, currently in Romania, to be hastening the end of the world and it fit very much in with the conversation the character had with the effigy of Christ in the first movie.

I mentioned that, at its basest level, this is a simple story. It is essentially hunters get to a town, fight vampires and meet reporter. Hunters get to insurgents, fight vampires. Hunters get to castle Dracula, try to save girl and fight Dracula. There is the throw away line that seems at odds, Uffizi talks of the church records on Dracula and mentions records of him in Ancient Egypt – perhaps it was bad scripting only, as I would have said that Ancient Egypt pre-dated Judas, perhaps it is just me. However, the strength of the film is both in the fact that we are given insight into the characters that was, perhaps, lacking in the first two movies and the amount of atmospheric style in the film.

The fact that the film was shot in Romania obviously helps to add in atmosphere but the scenes in the decimated town, after the sun had set, were excellent. Here we have an attack of circus vampires and it is just darned creepy. I have screenshot a vampire clown because, lets face it, clowns are creepy anyway. However, when they find the insurgents and fight vampires again the film is careful to change the timbre and style of the attack.

Perhaps Jason Scott Lee is a little too stoic as Uffizi but his struggle against, what seems to be a worsening, infection is well handled as is the mutual attraction he and Julia begin to feel for each other. Perhaps Luke is a little too naive, given that he has been on the road with Uffizi for five years, but as we didn’t see the intervening time I could live with that. Diane Neal was in the film for an incredibly short amount of time and here we have an issue.

The name Dracula 3 is a little bit of a misnomer. The film should have been called Uffizi. I like Hauer, generally, and despite the fact that he never looks too comfortable with fangs – he didn’t seem too uncomfortable in ’Salem’s Lot but let us not forget (despite how much some of us might try) his performance as a vampire in the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer flick – he seemed suited to the role of Dracula and aging the vampire helped take it out of the “MTV” type arena. However he was only in the film for a very short amount of time.

It was nice to see little details such as the impaled bodies on the approach to his castle but there was much left unanswered. For example, at one point he seems to be hooked into feeding tubes, almost in a Dune type set up, but we do not know why. I almost felt that he had lost the will and came alive again when faced by his nemesis Uffizi, but that is supposition and the film does not tell us.

How the film sidelined Uffizi, during the build up to the climax, to pace the ending as it wished seemed a little too obvious but I loved the ending – up to a point. The ending was absolutely fine until some text came up on screen that betrayed the film all the way back to its “MTV” styled roots and was both unnecessary and embarrassingly felt like an idiot’s guide.

That said, a little cliché and a bit of text cannot take away from the fact that, to me, this is the strongest instalment in the series. The film is not perfect but, had they started with this level of filmmaking (in film number 1) and then built up, this would have been a world class series. 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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