The excitement of entering a new millennium certainly wasn't lost on Hollywood. The ever-modest Will Smith rebranded the event in his name with a hip-pop alternative to "Auld Lang Syne." End of Days saw Arnie thwart Satan's plans to usher in the occasion by having his wicked way with Robin Tunney while disguised as an investment banker. And a whole glut of movies attempted to capitalize on the appetite for all things Y2K by simply placing the same four numbers after its title.
Yet while the likes of Fantasia 2000, Pokémon the Movie 2000, and Blues Brothers 2000 (the latter bizarrely released and set in 1998) could ultimately have hit cinemas in any year, Dracula 2000 is, for better or worse, possibly the era's most representative time capsule.
Sure, the threat to plunge the world into chaos might emerge from a source slightly more traditional than the Millennium Bug. There aren't any accidental missile launches or airplanes falling out of the sky as was once predicted. But as suggested by its title — which according to uncredited screenwriter Scott Derrickson was enough alone to bring the now-disgraced Harvey Weinstein on board — the film plants the good old Count squarely at the turn of the 21st century.
Here, Dracula (Gerard Butler) is unwittingly resurrected by a bunch of bumbling thieves who soon discover the silver coffin they've stolen from an antiques shop's high-tech security vault was sealed for a reason: Owner Abraham Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer) has spent the previous century prolonging his age by injecting himself with the blood of his nemesis' dormant body stored inside. Having been rudely awakened, Dracula decides that revenge is best served by turning Van Helsing's granddaughter Mary (Justine Waddell) into a vampire, too.
Writer/director Patrick Lussier had been heavily inspired by the story of Dracula A.D. 1972, which transported Christopher Lee's titular teeth-sinker from Victorian times to Swinging London. Dracula 2000 undoubtedly shares some DNA with the campy Hammer horror. (We're still not sure how Jonny Lee Miller kept a straight face while delivering the line, "Never f*** with an antiques dealer.") And Jennifer Esposito, Colleen Ann Fitzpatrick (aka bubblegum pop singer Vitamin C), and Jeri Ryan look more like back-ups for the Charlie's Angels reboot than brides of Dracula.
However, Lussier, who'd made his directorial debut earlier that year with the schlocky, straight-to-DVD The Prophecy 3: The Ascent, is much more successful in grounding his parasitical villain in the modern day. And a now-defunct retail giant is strangely integral to this feat.
In fact, cinemagoers may well have believed the deluge of pre-movie commercials hadn't actually finished considering the abundance of product placement for Virgin Megastores. Richard Branson's famous logo appears everywhere you look (in a dumpster, on the side of a van, on the T-shirt its employee Mary sleeps in while being haunted by her grandfather's arch-rival) and several scenes are shot within the brightly-lit alphabetized aisles of its New Orleans branch.
Of course, this was a boom time for the record store, which sold a record-breaking 785 million albums in 2000 — a period when Total Request Live favorites such as Backstreet Boys and NSYNC were posting first-week figures higher than most of today's chart-toppers manage in total. Why wouldn't Dracula walk into a Virgin Megastore and be captivated by its mountainous array of $20 compact discs and super-sized screens beaming out a sadomasochistic promo for retro hard rockers Monster Magnet?
Yes, Dracula 2000 also firmly adhered to the golden rule that every nu-horror must be soundtracked by bands you'd expect to find on the upper reaches of the Ozzfest bill. System of a Down, Marilyn Manson, and several groups who blatantly used the metal name generator (Flybanger, Halfcocked, Taproot) all bring the appropriate amount of crunching guitars and scream-sung vocals here, while "One Step Closer" from the year's breakout stars, Linkin Park, serves as a reminder when parachute pants, baseball caps, and frosted highlights were all the rage.
Rooting the film even further in Y2K territory is the array of young actors — including Sean Patrick Thomas (Save the Last Dance) and Shane West (A Walk to Remember) — who struggled to sustain their early success. And no 2000 action movie would be complete without at least one nod to The Matrix: Not only does the Count silently stalk his prey wearing a black trench coat (always open to display his rock hard abs, obviously), but several fight scenes throw in that well-worn bullet time effect, too.
Of more significance is the audacious last-minute twist that truly makes Dracula 2000 stand apart from the dozens of adaptations that went before. Turns out that the world's most famous bloodsucker is actually Judas Iscariot, the disloyal Apostle who, after failing to kill himself, was cursed by God to live the next two millennia in a vampiric state. It's why Dracula sneers at anything remotely Christian and has an unusual aversion to silver.
"Believe in me for I am the way to eternity," the vampire writes in his native Aramaic tongue on Mary's apartment wall. This attempt to lure the younger Van Helsing over to the dark side suggests Dracula is positioning himself as the Antichrist, tapping into many Christians' fears that Y2K would spark his arrival. In 1999, the Los Angeles Times reported that over 40 million U.S. citizens strongly believed the millennium would herald Christ's second coming. According to literal interpreters of the Bible, however, this could only happen once a false prophet had risen to power.
We never get to see Dracula's endgame, of course. He perishes in the sunlight after a rooftop fight with Mary, which inadvertently recreates his botched suicide attempt 2000 years previously. But for some, the timing of his brief resurrection is no coincidence.
Of course, we should mention that Dracula 2000 isn't a particularly good film. Seemingly designed on an early version of Microsoft Paint, its visual effects are as cheap as its scares. The lifeless script suggests Lussier wasn't paying much attention to the dialog while serving as Wes Craven's regular editor. And entirely absent from the first third — and given little to do when he eventually appears — Butler's unremarkable Dracula is relegated to supporting player in his own movie. Yet while it hopelessly fails to capture the essence of Bram Stoker's finest, it does capture — perhaps better than any other horror of the period — the essence of the year 2000.