There are numerous horror films set in the depths of space. Many of these films were highly effective (for a myriad of reasons), with quite a few titles now considered to be classics of the genre (or, technically, the horror and sci-fi genres). Films like Alien, Event Horizon, and It! The Terror from Beyond Space are now widely considered by many to be legitimate classics of the cosmic horror sub-genre (and horror, in general), while films such as Galaxy of Terror, The Green Slime, Planet of the Vampires, and (even) Queen of Blood have sizable (and growing) fan bases and are considered “cult classics” (even if some of those titles teeter more on the side of sci-fi than “true” horror). Then again, there are also quite a few forgettable films set in space too.
What about those cases when an already established and (often, but not always) celebrated horror character finds themselves written into a space set excursion? As Jason X, Hellraiser: Bloodlines, and even Leprechaun 4: In Space have taught us, these attempts are usually the result of concepts that have ran their course and now feel the need to try new things in order to stay “fresh” and relevant, but generally come off as nothing more than silly and ludicrous. To be fair, I actually enjoy all 3 of the films that I used for examples (for various reasons), but each are far from the best entry in their respective franchises (with the exception of maybe Leprechaun 4, but I digress about that shitty series). In fact, many fans consider each to be the worst entry in their franchises.
Which leads us to the topic of this review…
Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula” is an undeniable work of classic horror literature, just as Universal Studio’s 1931 film adaptation of the tale is widely considered to be a “classic” work of horror filmmaking, and possibly one of the greatest horror films ever made. The 2004 film Dracula 3000 is not widely considered to be a “classic” piece of horror filmmaking. If anything, many critics and unfortunate viewers alike generally consider Dracula 3000 to be a “classic” piece of shit. Truth be told, the world may be better off if the film is never considered at all. Let me explain….
Dracula 3000 was written and directed by South African filmmaker Darrell James Roodt. Widely considered one of, if not the most prolific director in South African film history, Roodt started his career making films dealing with the then-current subject of apartheid, achieving his biggest success with 1992’s Sarafina!, which starred Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg. However, with apartheid now seemingly a thing of the past, Roodt has since moved into other subjects, most notably (at least for people like me) low-budget action and horror films, directing titles such as the Ice Cube-starring Dangerous Ground, 2017’s The Lullaby, and the made-for-TV sequel Lake Placid: Legacy
Set in the year 3000 (as implied by the film’s title), the crew of an interstellar scavenger ship take on the task of retrieving and salvaging the “Demeter”, a large cargo ship that reportedly vanished 50 years prior. Although the vessel appears to have been abandoned and some of its systems long since failed, the Demeter seems to be traveling a course towards Earth.
TRIVIA: The “Demeter” is also the name of the boat that brings Dracula to England in Stoker’s novel.
Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers, Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow) stars as Abraham Van Helsing, the scavenger ship’s captain and (unbeknownst to him) a descendant of the legendary vampire hunter of the same name. Comprising his crew are his 1st mate, Aurora (Erika Eleniak – “Baywatch“, Under Siege), paraplegic engineer Prof. Arthur Holmwood (Grant Swanby – Blood Diamond, Invictus), navigator Mina Murry (German model and actress Alexandra Kamp), and two cargo specialists (aka laborers); The big, but not overly bright Humvee (the late, great Tony “Tiny” Lister – Friday, No Holds Barred) and resident pothead, “187” (rapper Coolio). Udo Keir also makes an appearance as the Demeter’s ill-fated captain, lending the film some additional “name recognition” and acting credibility. Yes, you read that correctly! The guy from films such as Blood for Dracula, Flesh for Frankenstein, and Spermula is here to class things up!
One of the first things modern viewers (meaning those watching the film as of this writing) may notice is that the CG used to create the film’s spaceships, while not exactly praiseworthy, aren’t actually all that bad. Well, they aren’t that bad by the standards of low-budget, early-2000’s fare, almost rivaling the cutscenes found in many video games of the era. While this aspect may be one of the film’s stronger points (I said “stronger”, not “strong”), Dracula 3000 can take no pride in this fact as these scenes were jacked from the short-lived early-90’s sci-fi TV series “Space Rangers“.
Upon boarding the Demeter, the crew soon find a desiccated corpse (Udo’s captain) bound to a chair with a crucifix clutched in its hand. However, as Christianity has long since been abolished by the year 3000, only Van Helsing recognizes the symbol, but fails to grasp its relevance. Not long after, 187 stumbles across a room filled with coffins while searching the ship for some space weed. I shit you not! This actually happens! He proceeds to start prying open the coffins, looking for his fix, but cuts his hand in the process. If you have ever seen a vampire movie before, then you know exactly what this bloodshed brings with it. Here’s a hint: It brings Dracula.
A “computer error” causes Van Helsing’s ship to undock from the Demeter and depart into the depths of space, leaving he and his crew stranded. While not explicitly stated, one can only assume that this incident was Dracula’s doing. This, however, only raises the question of how and when Dracula developed his knowledge of advanced computer and navigational systems. Actually, quite a few questions will be raised by the film’s end, but I highly recommend not thinking too hard about the answers.
187 soon surfaces as Dracula’s vampiric thrall. Unfortunately, this leads to little more than his bouncing around like an idiot while talking in a voice that makes him sound like “Snarf” from “The Thundercats“. Thankfully, this transformation does present him with the opportunity to spout some of the most memorably ridiculous dialog in recent film history, including a rant at Aurora that features remarks about “stroking his big black anaconda to her snow white ass” and “ejaculating on her bazonkas.”
Dracula (Langley Kirkwood – Dread, Death Race: Inferno) finally decides to show his face, and most viewers will probably wish that he hadn’t as what we get is easily one of the least effective Draculas in cinematic history. Here, we get some nondescript, pasty, white guy in a rather plain looking cape and vest that you can probably buy at your local Spirit Halloween. For a Lord of the Dead, he’s rather lacking in the intimidation factor.
In what is surely the film’s lamest development (and boy, are there many), it is disclosed that Dracula (who also goes by “Orlok”, the same name as the central character in Nosferatu) is the last survivor of a dead planet named… wait for it… Transylvania. I can only assume that many of you reading this review just rolled your eyes, but it gets better (by which I mean “worse”). Planet Transylvania just happens to be located in the Carpathian galaxy. In his search for a new life source, Dracula was the one who set the Demeter on its course for Earth. This development may expose a large plot hole; if this Dracula is from outer space, then how did he face off with the original Van Helsing on Earth all those hundreds of years prior?
In another questionable development, one of Van Helsing’s crew members is exposed as something other than human or vampire. Granted, there’s nothing that makes the character appear to be what they claim other than the claim itself. One might think that a revelation of this magnitude would have some importance or relevance to the remainder of the film, but no. It doesn’t. Just like many things that are mentioned in this film, it ultimately becomes trivial and meaningless.
As more crew members become the vampire’s loyal servants, those remaining must find a way to not only survive, but to also take down Dracula and their one-time friends (not that these folks were overly chummy to begin with.) However, these battles are over quite quickly and lack any punch or (dare I say?) bite.
There’s an old saying about “going out with a bang instead of a whimper”, but Dracula 3000 manages to achieve both at once. There is not even a final showdown with Dracula, although he does lose an appendage near the film’s conclusion. What we end up with is an unsatisfying conclusion that honestly feels like the scriptwriters worked themselves into a corner and just decided to call it quits. After watching the film’s previous 85 minutes, I can’t say that I blame them.
The film’s cast give generally weak performances throughout, although it may not be completely their own faults. Kamp gives the film’s weakest performance, but (in her defense) isn’t given much to do and may have been included in the cast due solely to the film being backed by German investors. As for Coolio? Well, his performance is undeniably fairly painful to watch outside of the previously mentioned dialog moments, but this is probably due more to the character being an inanely-scripted pop culture/counter culture stereotype (hiphop stoner) than any fault of the actor/rapper. Certain pieces of dialog and a few character traits do make it seem as though the character was intended to be more of a hippie surfer, but that the character’s more “urban” aspects were tacked on once Coolio signed on to co-star. To be fair, even if Coolio gave a stellar performance, it would be pretty difficult for many viewers to see beyond that dead cockatiel perched on his head. At least Lister remains fairly entertaining throughout.
The film also features some fairly amateurish camerawork and editing, as well as a paper-thin plot. There’s also solid argument that the film doesn’t know if it is a horror film with comedic elements or a comedy with horrific elements. All this said, Dracula 3000‘s biggest flaw is that it’s pretty damned boring. Some reviewers have championed the film as being “so bad that it’s good”, a statement that makes less sense the older I get and the more films I watch. Honestly, it’s just crap, and should probably be jettisoned into space along with its characters.
Dracula 3000 is not a sequel to the Wes Craven produced Dracula 2000, which was released by Miramax/Dimension Films in 2000. This is probably good news as that film is pretty awful as well. Thankfully, Dracula 3000 had the decency not to spawn sequels of increasingly inferior quality. See? I was able to find at least one positive thing to say about it.