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Buena Vista Home Video presents
Dracula II: Ascension (2003)

"Everything you know is about to end."
- Dracula (Stephen Billington)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: June 08, 2003

Stars: Jason Scott Lee, Craig Scheffer, Diane Neal, Jason London
Other Stars: Stephen Billington, Brande Roderick, John Light, Khary Payton, Roy Scheider
Director: Patrick Lussier

MPAA Rating: R for violence/gore and language
Run Time: 01h:24m:47s
Release Date: June 17, 2003
UPC: 786936208436
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB+B+ B+

DVD Review

A lot of genre fans were split right down the middle on director Patrick Lussier's Dracula 2000, which was often viewed as either a silly, uneven vampire film, or as a silly, but clever, retooling of a venerable horror icon. Personally, I thought Dracula 2000 was a pretty darn good time, and considering how unoriginal many vampire flicks are, Lussier and screenwriter partner Joel Soisson managed to put a refreshingly cool spin on Drac's origins, one with very biblical implications. Based on the modest success of that film, Dimension green-lighted a pair of direct-to-video sequels, both directed by Lussier, the first of which is Dracula II: Ascension.

Though the cast and characters are completely new and different this time around, the story picks up immediately after the events of the first film, with the charred and crispy corpse of Dracula (Stephen Billington) ending up in a New Orleans morgue. A couple of morgue attendants, Luke (Jason London) and Elizabeth (Diane Neal) get suspicious when a mysterious phone caller offers $30 million dollars for the burned body, and when they do a cursory exam they realize they have what appears to be a very dead vampire on their hands (not before Elizabeth gets her finger pricked by an errant fang, in a moment of good ol' foreshadowing).

The film follows two paths simultaneously, which of course ultimately converge. The first tracks Elizabeth, Luke and a small group of impromptu researchers who steal Dracula's body to do a little experimenting on the regenerative powers of vampire blood; one character refers to it as "cancer without the chaos." The eclectic and bickering group of researchers is led by the wheelchair-bound Lowell (Nightbreed's Craig Sheffer), a guy with a glorious Tom Waits growl who was once Elizabeth's lover, as well as Tanya (former Playboy centerfold Brande Roderick) and the hot-headed Kenny (Khary Payton). When edgy Brit Eric (John Light) shows up as the rep for the $30 million dollar money man, tensions escalate even further.

The second storyline centers on the ass-kicking Uffizi (Jason Scott Lee), a somber, vampire-hunting priest with deep pockets full of cool weapons designed to sever the heads of troublesome vamps, something that he does quite often. Lee's character of Uffizi, originally meant to be part of Dracula 2000, is cartoonishly grim and destructive (and I mean that in a good way), and if he doesn't get his own series very soon I will hold my breath until I pass out. Listen up people, I swear I will.

Anyway, for a vampire film, the title character surprisingly doesn't get to do all that much until the final act, and actually spends the bulk of his screen time trussed up like a pale Frankenstein, under a big bank of debilitating UV lights. With the big bad mostly hog-tied for the duration, Lussier and Soisson's screenplay turns Dracula II: Ascension into more of a character-driven film, as the group's cohesiveness begins to deconstruct, due in large part to a bad case of mental mind-f***ing by Dracula.

Like a lot of trilogy "middle" films, this is really a setup for the final installment, coming in early 2004, and knowing that a third film is coming, a few parts of the storyline are left dangling, visible in hindsight. Some of the speedbumps in the presented vampire logic (especially a weird one during a climactic final battle) are offset not just by the well-played genre roles, but by the beautiful work done by director of photography, Douglas Milsome, who gives a real boost to Lussier's latest spin on the Dracula legend.

Depending on how well the third film in the series plays out, I smell the making of a potentially marketable franchise.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: It might be straight-to-video, but that didn't hold back Buena Vista back from releasing this one in a beautiful 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, so kudos to whomever made that intelligent decision. For the comparatively meager budget of Dracula II: Ascension, the overall look of the transfer (and image detail) is damn good. Lussier's film is pretty dark, visually, with a deep blue hue dominating, but colors are especially well saturated, with equally deep and clean black levels. I noticed a bit of haloing and ringing in spots, but nothing monumentally distracting.

Dracula II: Ascension looks terrific.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The fine Dolby Digital 5.1 mix reaffirms my belief that I actually have rear channels and a sub, something that a lot of so-called audio transfers seem to forget these days. The rears come alive quite a bit with some discrete sound cues, as well as some fairly booming LFE signals, which together turned Lussier's vamp flick into a pretty enjoyable experience, from an audio standpoint. Dialogue is cleanly anchored firmly in the center, with a fair amount of directional imaging spread across the fronts.

Fun stuff.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Kill Bill, Dracula 2000, Tangled, Asunder
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Patrick Lussier, Joel Soisson, Gary Tunnicliffe
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Cast Auditions
Extras Review: Director/writer Patrick Lussier, writer/producer Joel Soisson and makeup effects designer Gary Tunnicliffe gather together for a better-than-average full-length, scene-specific commentary. I often find commentaries for films with tighter budget restrictions to be somewhat more revealing, insightful and just plain informative, (at least when the participants are eager to talk) and Lussier, Soisson and Tunnicliffe deliver in that regard. Why? Because when money and time are both tight, it is really gut check time when it comes to successfully transferring the screenplay vision to the screen. There's plenty of chatter on this track about the hassles and challenges of shooting in Romania, as well as the iterations the story went through prior to production. There are some tidbits about the final film in the trilogy, 2004's Dracula III: Legacy, which was shot at the same time as Dracula II: Ascension.

There are four largely uneventful deleted scenes provided, which total less than four minutes altogether, with the longest running 01m:57s (and essentially an extended version of an early barroom scene with Diane Neal, Craig Sheffer, Brande Roderick and Khary Payton) and the shortest runs 27 seconds. Also included here is some brief cast audition footage, if you're a fan of that stuff, from Brande Roderick, Khary Payton, Diane Neal, John Light and Daniella Nane.

The disc is cut into 15 chapters, and features English subtitles, along with trailers for Kill Bill, Dracula 2000, Tangled and Asunder.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Though there isn't a Van Helsing to be found anywhere, Patrick Lussier's second chapter in his Dracula series is a fun, solid genre outing that continues to build on the mythos he and Joel Soisson created in Dracula 2000. Craig Sheffer chews up the scenery as a gravelly-voiced professor, and Jason Scott Lee introduces the most memorable vampire hunter since Sarah Michelle Gellar picked up Mr. Pointy. All that, plus an equally enjoyable commentary track from Lussier, Soisson and makeup effects wiz Gary Tunnicliffe.



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