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There’s more than one way to kill a vampire

by Kaori Shoji

Dracula 2000

Rating: * *
Japanese title: Draculea Director: Patrick Lussier Running time: 99 minutes Language: English
Showing at Marunouchi Piccadilly 2 and others

The last thing you’d want to watch at this point in time is a horror movie, but if for some reason you must, then “Dracula 2000″ (released in Japan as “Draculea”) is your best bet. The reason being that it’s not scary at all, even for people like myself whose eyelids had to be forcibly pried open during “Friday the 13th.” You want scary? Watch the news.

Gerard Butler and Justine Waddell in “Dracula 2000″

As for “Dracula 2000,” there’s almost an element of healing about it, a sense of comfort that comes from the clear-cut battle between good and evil, with the evil displaying exaggerated allergic reactions to things like garlic, crosses and bibles. Compared to what’s happening daily on television, this seems strikingly quaint.

Unfortunately, healing and reassurance were not the intentions of either director Patrick Lussier or executive producer Wes Craven (of “Scream” fame). Unfortunate, that is, for folks looking for a real “screamer” but who will go away with underused lungs. The frayed-around-the-edges storytelling, the misuse of an otherwise fine cast, the overuse of fangs and full moons, the gory but predictable ending — put them all together and what we have is something that would make Bram Stoker sigh and shrug in his grave.

In this rendition, Dracula (Gerard Butler) has been around since the 15th century, doomed to a life of eternity stalking human victims for their blood. Then a scientist called Abraham Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer) comes along, takes some of Dracula’s blood and injects it into his own bloodstream, thereby giving himself semi-eternal life. Van Helsing entraps the evil being into a silver casket and creates a mega-heavy security system around it so he can guard his terrible secret forever.

A century later, in the year 2000, Van Helsing runs a London antique shop with protege Simon (Johnny Lee Miller) and secretary Solina (Jennifer Esposito). Simon calls him “Uncle” and is loyal and loving. Solina turns out to be working for high-tech hoodster Marcus (Omar Epps) and his gang.

Convinced that the casket contains things of immense value, they steal it and fly it back to the States in a small aircraft to share the booty. On the way, however, Dracula emerges from his 100-year-old incarceration, in a manner not unlike the squiggly thingie in “Alien.” Everyone on board is attacked and turned into vampires, then unleashed by Dracula onto the streets of New Orleans, home to Van Helsing’s daughter, Mary (Justine Waddell).

Dracula is after Mary, to make her his own, but Van Helsing is determined not to let this happen. He and Simon head to New Orleans themselves, and there, Van Helsing reveals the secret of Dracula and the fears he has for Mary.

The vampires soon kill Van Helsing, but Simon is tough and feisty. Despite the incredible physical damage he suffers, he always comes through, brandishing a stake and ready for more. And everywhere he turns there are crosses, holy water and cloves of garlic to aid him in the nick of time. In one scene, Simon thrusts a bible in front of Dracula’s face and the pages burst into flames then fly out very much like the bread from my toaster at home. See what I mean by quaint?

But more interesting than the battles or the revelation of Dracula’s deep, dark past (the crux of the story involves Judas Iscariot) is the supposed female fantasy suggested by screenwriter Joel Soisson: Women have a secret longing to be the chosen prey of vampires. Soisson is going over ground so well-trodden it’s practically turned to asphalt, but he makes full use of the dishy blondes who practically beg to donate blood, who all flit on and off the screen in a variety of very low-necked dresses. Of course there is an abundance of bite marks and lotsa pointy teeth protruding from made-up lips. The question: Is this sexy or just plain gross? Is it titillating, or too mindful of AIDS?

The biggest problem of reviving a Dracula story in present day is there are so many methods at one’s disposal to get rid of the monster. It’s a mystery why Van Helsing never bothers to use any of them. He could have, for example, asked for information and volunteers over the Internet. Or he could have flown the casket out into the Sahara, opened it up at about noon and let the sunlight fry the monster. He could have sprayed the casket with garlic, then put it in storage at Kuroneko Yamato. Or, he could have sent the casket up on the Russian Space Station Mir, then have it turn into space debris. Or he could have simply registered the thing as hazardous industrial waste.

Such are the possibilities that run through the mind as, up on the screen, people bite at each other’s necks and sigh in ecstasy. As it is, the experience is closest to one of those nightclubs where the staff are Goths, the decor is punk-dungeon and drinks are served in goblets shaped like skulls. For those who just said “Ooh, love that,” “Dracula 2000″ is just your cup of potion.