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31 Days of Halloween: Days 14 thru 17 + One Honorable Mention 
19th-Oct-2014 10:01 am
I am one double-feature away from being back on schedule. Knocking out some Dracula this time--four in a row!

Day 14) Dracula II: Ascension
The first of two direct-to-video sequels of Wes Craven's Dracula 2000. I found the whole trilogy in a cheap boxed set this week and went, "What the hell?" This one was refreshingly meta. Our med-student protagonists are aware of vampire mythology and ask all the questions you'd probably ask when dealing with a dead body that might possibly be a vampire--check the teeth, spread some seeds around so he'll have to count them (this is a more obscure facet of the mythos, but a good one), keep those UV lights turned on so we can keep control, etc. And hey, let's take some tissue samples and try and learn the secret of eternal life! This does a surprisingly good slow buildup of seeing the vampire (here played by Stephen Billington) restored, restrained, and getting stronger as the movie goes on. There's also a sub-plot of one of the students who pricked her finger on one of the fangs while examining him, and there's a web of dark veins starting to spread up her arm as a result. The threat is lurking in the background the whole time, but it takes right up to the last ten minutes to actually reach out and cause damage. Also, the absurdly over-the-top performance of one Chris Hunter, who's basically a poor man's Benedict Cumberbatch. He plays our suave, cool, collected vampire hunter who's got everything so very under control--or would like us to think so, but when presented with an actual threat he flips out and runs away. Basically he's a combination Bill Paxton's character from Aliens and Spike from Buffy--wants to be a badass, succeeds at being a punchline. It's not the smartest vampire movie I've seen, but it is one of the more original, and consistently entertaining.

Day 15) Dracula III: Legacy
By contrast, the final entry in the trilogy is barely watchable. Offensively, grievously, deeply B-A-D, and pretty much what I've come to expect from direct-to-video horror. The first problem is our titular vampire is barely in it, and when he does show up in the end, he's both less interesting and more cliche than the last movie, even though this time he's played by Rutger Hauer of all people. By the way, they get around the fact of Dracula being played by three different actors in the same continuity by saying he "changes faces with every regeneration," which obviously had me asking, "So, Dracula is a Time Lord, is what you're telling me?" Unfortunately, this just raises too many questions: Has he been killed off again between the last movie and this one? When did that happen? If someone managed to kill him who wasn't actively looking for him like our heroes from last time, then what's taking them so long? Aren't they trained for this sort of thing, especially the half-vampire priest guy with all the weapons? They also mention that no one really knows exactly what Dracula's origins are, and it's possible even he forgot them, which is demonstrably NOT true because we found out those origins in the FIRST movie, and it was brought up again in the second. This is sloppy, a chore to watch at less than 90 minutes, and instantly forgettable.

Day 16) Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula
I thought this was a documentary for some reason, but nope--it's a made-for-TV narrative feature starring Rudolf Martin, and yes that's the same Rudolf Martin who played Dracula in that one episode of Buffy. Roughly a week after this aired, actually, which must have been hilarious to anyone watching it live. This is probably the story most naysayers were expecting when they heard about Dracula Untold, and it is a great story: lots of pathos, drama, family conflict and political intrigue/conspiracy not unlike Game of Thrones. It's good stuff. Would've made a sweet theatrical feature if they'd wrangled the backing for it. The only setback for me is the lead, who while he looks the part more convincingly than some, and certainly carries this air of, "I am up to no good, always, do not trust me," mostly because of his eyebrows, his performance isn't nearly nuanced enough to carry the thing. This guy has one speed, and it's Gloomy. It works most of the way through, because while his methods are the ultimate example of Disproportionate Retribution, he has good reasons for being pissed off at pretty much the whole world. I should also add that this works better in a short, one-off appearance where the surrounding characters are our main focus, and he's relegated to Monster of the Week status. I'm not complaining exactly--Dracula should be a villain protagonist if you actually go and make him the protagonist--but he should still be a character, rather than a one-note caricature. I didn't buy his relationship with his wife, is what I'm trying to say, and that's a problem. One thing all incarnations of Dracula have in common is that he truly, deeply loved his wife, and I wasn't feeling it here. This was a good one though--I was surprised by how fast it went by, even though "true story" is still stretching things kind of a lot. Now, if only we could merge the relentless evil of Martin's character with the conflicted guilt and devotion of Luke Evans', we might have something closer to the real thing.

Day 17) The Monster Squad
I first heard about this movie thanks to James Rolfe's (aka the Angry Videogame Nerd) yearly Monster Madness countdown. There's this group of school kids obsessed with movie monsters the way some kids are obsessed with comic books. One night, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, Frankenstein's monster, and "Gill-Man" which is what we're calling the Creature from the Black Lagoon, show up in town with plans to Take Over The World!! Rather, that's Dracula's plan, and eventually the rest of them get bored of him telling them what to do and decide to warn the kids instead. (At least, the ones who can talk do that.) This is fun, campy, and silly on the surface, and there's plenty to enjoy, but it unfortunately falls in that realm of kids' movies where the child actors think YELLING ALL THEIR LINES REALLY LOUD counts as "drama." It gets annoying after a while. Also, I was disappointed to see the A Man Is Not A Virgin trope played completely straight--they need a virgin to read this incantation to save the world, and it doesn't even occur to them to try to read it themselves, since they're, y'know, like ten years old. They just find the nearest girl and make her do it. I can see why people like this movie nostalgically, but I can also see why it never achieved the legendary cult status of movies like Lost Boys, Fright Night, The Gate or even Hocus Pocus.

Honorable Mention: Urban Gothic, "Vampirology"
Not counting this towards the marathon since it's a single TV episode, but I wanted to mention it all the same because this is possibly the single greatest vampire performance I've ever seen on-screen in my life. I heard about Urban Gothic, a British horror series that lasted two seasons, thanks to Diamanda Hagan, and her unflagging praise for this particular episode made me especially curious. The setup is simple: Rex, played by Keith-Lee Castle, is a vampire, and has agreed to let a documentary film crew follow him around for one night. And that's it--that's the whole plot. It is brilliant. The documentary style--shot completely at night during a London bar crawl, for obvious reasons--heightens both the realism and the immediacy of the danger. Most of it is conversation: Rex shows them his apartment, talks about his life as a vampire, introduces the crew to his "friends" if that's even the right word for them, and cracks jokes about sucking people's life blood through a McDonald's straw. His delivery is right on that edge between casual boredom and ticking time bomb, and as the night wears on and he can't find anyone to eat, you start to fear for the life of the film crew. Also, since it's edited chronologically out of order, you see shots of him back in his apartment, covered in blood, but not until the very end do you see the kill he made to get that way. This is excellent and well worth tracking down--by the end, you could easily believe vampires do exist, and that Keith-Lee Castle is one of them.
20th-Oct-2014 04:29 am (UTC)
Ascension is easily my favorite of the Wes Craven trilogy; I used to watch it all the time on Showtime. You pretty much hit all the things I like about the film: The characters are smart, there's a persistent sense of dread, and I liked the scientific approach to explaining how a vampire could exist through science.

Meanwhile, Legacy is a boring mess and I prefer to think that it doesn't exist.
21st-Oct-2014 01:13 am (UTC)
I loved the bit with the seeds, and the result when he gets out of his chains. It was both, "Oh shit!" and "LOL!" at the same time. It's a good one--I'm glad I got the boxed set so I have the first two at least. It was only $4, so.
21st-Oct-2014 01:34 am (UTC)
LOL. That was my exact reaction. "Oh, that's a lot of seeds, he's going to be at this awhile--OR NOT!"
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