Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Dracula III: Legacy

What I Knew Going In / What I Was Expecting

I knew this was going to happen sooner or later with this blog, but it's finally here: I have no idea what this is a sequel to.  I know Dracula is a stock character and has inspired many a movie (and franchise).  But this particular Part 3?  I have no clue.

The cover art on Netflix shows Jason Scott Lee holding a scythe in a menacing pose, so I'm going to guess he's a vampire hunter who uses a combination of martial arts and sharp things (hopefully at the same time) to dispatch his enemies, and probably at some point in his adventures in... oh, let's just say China, he squared off with Dracula.  And they've tangled twice so far, ending in a stalemate each time.  Now he's out to finish the job once and for all.

All I know is: if he doesn't do a back flip to kick a stake through the air straight into somebody's heart, then this will be a huge waste of time.  Not saying all Asian vampire hunters have to be kung fu masters, but if you put Jason Scott Lee on the cover of your movie, you're making a promise.

A Plot Summary

Father Uffizi (Jason Scott Lee) and Luke (Jason London) are vampire hunters.  I'm sure there's a rich history between the two of them that may have been explained in the prequels - especially since the epic opening credits show a lot of clips from misadventures and tragedies they've apparently experienced prior to the movie - but you can pretty much throw all of that out and just say "vampire hunters."

After hunting a couple of local creeps and killing them while being Totally Cool, Uffizi finds out from his church informants that Dracula is in Romania.  (Didn't see that coming.)  Uffizi says he's going to go kill him once and for all, but the informant - played by an extremely tired Roy Scheider - says the church is concerned about Uffizi's soul.  Outraged, Uffizi defrocks himself and quits the church.

Cut to Romania.  Uffizi and Luke watch a news report about some rebels who have been fighting the Romanian army and then start driving straight into rebel territory.  Along the way, they have a few misadventures.  First they tangle with some corrupt military types who are trying to herd civilians as food for Dracula.  Then they go to a village that's been massacred by circus vampires.  Then Luke tries to help a woman and her infant, but finds out the infant is actually a doll with a bomb in it, and this ends up getting both he and Uffizi caught and held prisoner by rebels.  And so on.

All of this stuff is really just a lot of incidental filler to get from Point A to Dracula.  There's only three main things you learn along the way that are of any consequence:

1) In the circus village, they rescue Julia, a reporter who later turns out to be a rebel sympathizer. For no real good reason, Uffizi and Julia fall in love.

2) Uffizi is apparently a vampire, but he's able to fight off his infection by "purging" himself each morning.  I don't know what "purging" is - perhaps it was explained in the prequels?  It seems to involve him squatting next to a river and rage-screaming for thirty minutes, then getting sad.  But after that, he's good to go for the rest of the day.

3) Luke is helping Uffizi because he wants to rescue his girlfriend, Elizabeth.

Throughout their adventures, Luke and Uffizi have a lot of light banter with each other that's supposed to be fun and charming, but I found most of it confusing.  It comes across as though they're still getting to know each other, but the movie sets up their relationship as though they've been friends for a long time.  So which is it?  Are they long-time vampire hunters?  Have they only been working together for a few weeks?  I don't know.

Anyway, they find Dracula.  Eventually.

Dracula throws Julia in a cell and fights with Uffizi.  At the same time, Luke finds Elizabeth, but she's been turned and is possessed by blood-lust.  He tries to "wake" her from her obsession.  These two threads cross-cut with each other until Dracula gives Julia a mortal wound, and then Uffizi chops Dracula's head off.  Elizabeth snaps out of her vampire trance long enough to demand that Luke kill her - which he does - and then Julia dies.

Luke finds Uffizi brooding over Julia's corpse and says they should go.  Uffizi agrees and says he's right behind Luke.  Luke leaves, then realizes Uffizi isn't following him.  He gets an eerie feeling, and the movie closes with Uffizi sitting on Dracula's throne, holding a revitalized and vampirized Julia in his arms.

And just in case you haven't gotten it yet, the movie puts up a title card that says, "The King is dead. Long live the King."

What I Liked

Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot that I sincerely liked.

I'll say this much: it looks like most of the cast and crew were trying. They didn't have a lot to work with, but they tried.  Jason London's comic relief isn't terribly charming, but he makes some modicum of effort and at least comes off as neutral, even though he doesn't win you over.  (In a movie like this, that's a triumph.)  Jason Scott Lee never actually does the backflip stake kick that I wanted, but he's got enough physicality to hold your attention.  And all the bit actors and actresses try their best to sell the creeeepy Romanian countryside villagers schtick.

But ultimately, the only things I really liked were bits of unintentional comedy.  I don't know if it counts.  Regardless, here's two moments I thought were funny.

One is in the scene where they're in the circus village.  The score and the camera angles tell us that the village is terrifying and creepy, and we're supposed to be afraid.  Then a tall, dark figure comes out of the misty shadows and casts his ominous presence on the street - you think maybe it's going to be some kind of Mega Vampire or something.

As he comes into frame, you realize it's a stilt-walker (with bionic pogo feet) that's been turned to a vampire.  And at first, it actually is a fun and halfway-scary image: he's a huge vampire clown!  OHMYGOD!

But then he tries to walk... and it just immediately becomes hilarious.  It's obvious the actor's having a hard time just staying upright, let alone move with any kind of speed or physicality, so he keeps awkwardly plodding forward and wobbling.  And Jason Scott Lee isn't supposed to be laughing, so he has to kinda slow down and pretend like he can't get away from the very slow-moving, precariously balanced dickweed above him.  I laughed.

The other scene is early on when Uffizi quits the church.  There's this moment where Roy Scheider's character says something about how they'll find another place for him, and Uffizi indignantly says, "I don't bless babies."  Then he takes off his collar and hands it over with the exact same framing, music, and blocking you'd use in a cop movie where a rogue detective hands in his badge.

That alone was pretty funny to me, but I especially started to laugh when I thought about how he must be justifying that.  "Listen, if you won't let me brutally slaughter vampires and bathe in blood each night, then what the hell good is the church!?"  Like, this is the whole reason Uffizi became a priest in the first place, apparently.  Blessing babies?  No, no, he joined the Church to make a difference, goddammit.

What I Didn't Like

I guess I can't say I'm disappointed that a direct-to-video movie named "Dracula III: Legacy" was generic and lifeless... but why even bother making it?  There's not a single thing in this movie that justifies its existence.

It's not necessarily poorly-made.  It's just so pointless.  If somebody says the words "vampire hunter" and then you just think about it for five minutes, you'll have already brainstormed a more interesting movie than this.  At a minimum, you will have at least covered all the same points.  Dracula III just doesn't care to do anything the slightest bit unique.

Except, I guess, by making Uffizi Asian?

....and even that isn't utilized well.  Look, if you're an American film company and you want to put a neat spin on your low-budget vampire movie, why not embrace the fact that you hired a Chinese-American martial artist in your lead role?  Either make him kill vampires with kung fu (which he never does), or at least try to incorporate some elements of Chinese mythology into your vampire lore.  Spice it up a bit.

Okay, fine, maybe you're just trying to be progressive by not calling attention to Uffizi's Chineseness.  That's cool.  I get that.  So how about doing something else that's unique instead?  Maybe he can have a really cool weapon, like some kind of automatic rifle that shoots miniature scythes.  Or maybe you can play up the fact that he's a priest and have him do a lot of stuff within the church - maybe you can explore the minutiae and politics of Catholic doctrine.  Or maybe you can make it like a police procedural, but with vampires: Uffizi gets a call to investigate some supposed vampirism, and he has to methodically investigate and dispatch them with techniques from the Church's rulebook.

The vampires don't even get killed in particularly interesting ways.  They're not even threatening.  They're just whiny... until they die.  And then they're dead.  Whatever.

Would I Recommend It


What Do I Think the Prequels Were About

This is a little weird for me to guess at because Dracula III implies that it had a lot of backstory that was covered by the previous two movies, but it's told in such a way that it might as well be its own one-off film that just has Dracula branding.  This means that either it actually IS a one-off movie and the prequels were unrelated vampire nonsense, or it's just such a poorly conceived trilogy that you could lop off the first two acts and you don't lose anything.

I'm going to guess it's the second one, in which case I bet it goes like this:

Dracula I: Uffizi is some streetwise punk kid who's part of a larger group of victims, including Uffizi's girlfriend.  They all get together somewhere to party, and then Dracula picks them off one by one until only Uffizi is left.  He fights with Dracula and thinks he's killed him, but turns out he didn't at all; Dracula got away and Uffizi is really bummed.

Dracula II: The movie opens with Luke, who is part of a different group of victims (including Elizabeth), who are gathering somewhere slightly different to party.  Dracula starts to pick them off one by one, but before he can get too carried away, Priest Uffizi enters with his scythe and does battle.  Dracula escapes and Luke passes out from some injury.  When Luke wakes up, he finds out Uffizi is caring for him.  Uffizi explains who Dracula is (just in case), and then we find out through flashbacks that after the events of Dracula I, Uffizi joined the church and studied the ways of vampire hunting.  Uffizi warns Luke to go home before it's too late, but Luke doesn't want to because Elizabeth is missing.  He teams up with Uffizi to find his girlfriend, and after fighting some vampires, they eventually track Dracula down to his lair.  Unfortunately, Elizabeth is in another castle, and Uffizi gets bitten.  The movie ends with Luke helping Uffizi to recover, and it's implied that Uffizi might be thinking about killing / eating Luke.

My Pitch for the Next One

Do we really need another vampire movie?  Jesus.

Alright, fine.  Here's the next one:

Luke goes back into the lair and finds out that Uffizi has taken over as the new Dracula.  He's about to kill him, but then Uffizi explains that he wants to take the Dracula concept in a new direction: he's not going to hunt and kill innocent people.  Instead, he wants to market his vampirism as an assisted suicide service.

So Luke and Uffizi leave Romania and form Bloodletting Bros, LLC.  They struggle to build an identity at first, but soon business is booming and they become millionaires.  Life is good, until a new hotshot executive decides to muscle his way to the top.  The rest of the movie is a detailed exploration of corporate politics that uses vampirism as a thin metaphor for the tendency of big companies to drain and exploit talent to serve a soulless beast.

It ends with Uffizi setting up Luke as the fall guy to take the brunt of a lawsuit and get fired for the larger goal of taking the hotshot executive out as well, and the last shot has Uffizi sitting alone in his high-rise office and staring out the window as the sun starts to rise.

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