A group of thieves breaks into a chamber expecting to find paintings, but instead they release the count himself, who travels to New Orleans to find his nemesis’ daughter, Mary Van Helsing.
The dialogue in Dracula 2000 is as expected. That is, a mixture of overwrought nonsense (“the only way to know death is to embrace it” says Mary, this version’s Mina, breathlessly) and witty one liners – I did love the count’s dismissal of the Holy Bible as “propaganda!”.
Though when it comes to propaganda, aren’t most movies about dear old Vlad biased towards him rather than holier-than-thou Jesus? Dracula is the ultimate bad boy, so sexy you can put to one side his soul-stealing, murderous inclinations – his opponents often old and weary, or young and a bit wet.
This time though his youthful nemesis is Simon, played by Jonny Lee Miller in a leather jacket, a bad boy saved from crime by antiques expert Van Helsing. “Never, ever fuck with an antiques dealer” says Simon after dispatching a vampire, and he’s certainly got a can-do sex appeal that even Lovejoy couldn’t manage.
Dracula 2000, also known as Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000, is also known as Dracula 2001, and no I don’t know why, unless it was still in cinemas when the new millennium started and they wanted to keep it topical. (I haven’t googled, I doubt anyone cares anymore.) Still, as the man himself says in the film, we are so much more than our names.
In this world, Bram Stoker has written his novel, though everyone believes it to be fiction. Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer, great fun and with an accent from an indeterminate eastern European country) lives in a house on the site of the old Carfax Abbey so he can keep watch over a metal casket in the cellar, locked away in a high security metal capsule.
His assistant Solina (Jennifer Esposito) has hatched a plan with her boyfriend Marcus (Omar Epps) to break in and steal whatever is down there, assuming that something so guarded must be valuable, but what they find is that coffin and some toothy skulls. Marcus isn’t impressed, though soon two of the team are – literally, by impaling metal spikes.
Before Van Helsing can get downstairs and stop them they’re away with the coffin and en route in a private plane to America. But something is stirring, and it’s really ugly, until he transforms himself into a curly-haired hot guy with eyes that change colour.
Butler is certainly charismatic as the undead bloodsucker, despite having only two expressions: slight bafflement, and, when an attractive neck comes into view, that of a small boy who’s just heard an ice-cream van tinkling round the corner.
And as he always looks as if he had one too many teeth added when he had his Hollywood smile done, the addition of fangs do give him a slight Alan Partridge air. He’s still gorgeous though, and once Dracula has transformed from a desiccated, long-fingernailed living corpse into curly-haired Gerard Butler you can see why the ladies feel drawn to him.
As befits a monster sometimes said to prefer the blood of untouched young women, but who finds himself in the year 2000, Dracula heads to – wait for it – the Virgin megastore in New Orleans.
It’s brazen product placement but also a neat trick. In an updated retelling where young women can’t really be expected to be virgins themselves, both Mary Heller and Lucy Westerman, who work there, live in t-shirts with the word emblazoned across their chests.
He’s looking for Mary (Justine Waddell), who seems to have some kind of connection with him; she’s been having dreams about him all her life, and they’re getting stronger.
Mary and Lucy’s townhouse home is a perfect late-90s mix of gloomy gothic, richly coloured textiles, and sparkle. Lucy takes him home so he can meet Mary, but they end up having sex. It’s great sex, because they literally levitate during it, though I hope any youngsters watching don’t get their hopes up.
The shocks are both daft (Dracula appears and disappears in a puff of smoke) and impressive (his final moments).
Decapitations abound, undead women climb up walls, dry ice bubbles around tombs in a midnight hunt through a New Orleans graveyard. I particularly liked the mix of old and new in Van Helsing’s house: the crumbling skulls, stone cellar walls, and space age vault where Dracula’s silver coffin is kept.
Justine Waddell is believably wary and lonely as Mary, exhausted by years of dreams and unanswered questions about her late mother and missing father. And while her open-mouthed look of sleepy surprise does become wearing, there’s certainly a fragility to her that suggests a lost soul.
Colleen Fitzpatrick (otherwise known as 90s singer Vitamin C) is, as Lucy Westerham, a flirty, flighty counterpoint to Mary, though I was constantly comparing her to the underrated Sadie Frost, Lucy Westenra in Coppola’s 1992 version. Just as every British person my age has a favourite Doctor, most of us also have a favourite Dracula, and mine is Gary Oldman. I can’t imagine anyone being able to top him: white hair piled on top of his head in two huge rolls, laughing while biting his finger, scuttling up the outside wall of his castle (one of the most unnerving scenes I’ve ever watched).
Dracula 2000/01 is a very different kettle of fish, and isn’t trying to do so much. It’s good fun, a reasonably diverting supernatural thriller, bringing into the story other legends about the first vampire, Jesus’s disciple Judas Iscariot.
Like many “modern retellings” it looks a period piece already of course, with its Virgin stores and lack of mobile phones.
The soundtrack is great, though don’t ask me who anyone was. It sounded a bit Marilyn Manson-y? Dracula liked it, anyway, and so did I, and we’re about the same age.
Tonally it’s a bit of a muddle, and doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be mainly funny (Val the TV reporter, exorting her viewers to “turn me on at 11!”), scary (Dracula’s impressive demise) or sexy (do I really have to explain this bit), so jumps around all three.
Still, the film bounces along merrily, everyone throws themselves into their roles with enthusiasm, and it mostly doesn’t get bogged down with portentous nonsense or heavy allegory.
This is a Dracula for 2000, sorry, 2001, or round about then anyway, not for the ages.
Watch the trailer now: