While it may be a franchise sequel and a comic book adaptation, Blade II remains one of the best superhero flicks ever - and a truly frightening monster movie. Released in 2002, the blood-drenched action-horror film was helmed by director Guillermo Del Toro, who was a lesser-known genre filmmaker at the time but so steeped in the world of nightmares that his brooding sense of dread permeates every frame.
The film follows the eponymous Blade (Wesley Snipes), who is forced to strike an uneasy alliance with a group of vampire hitmen known as the Bloodpack - mercenaries originally formed by elder vampire lord Eli Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann) specifically to take out Blade himself.
Together, Blade and the Bloodpack hunt down a monstrous super-vampire named Jared Nomak (Luke Goss) who is hunting and feeding on other vampires and turning them into nightmare creatures known as reapers. Along the way, Blade begins to develop feelings for Nyssa (Leonor Varela), one of the vampire assassins and the vampire lord's daughter.
With a supporting cast made up of the incomparably gruff Ron Perlman as one of the mercs, Kris Kristofferson as Blade's mentor and father figure, Abraham Whistler, Norman Reedus as Blade's tech inventor Scud, and famed martial arts star Donnie Yen, Blade II has the star power and deft guiding hand of a horror maestro to make it not only the best of the Blade franchise but also a genuine superhero classic worth revisiting.
This Time, Blade Is Hunting Reapers - Super-Vampires With Retractable Three-Way Jaws That Bite, Suck, And Poison Their Prey
In the first installment in the Blade franchise, the titular daywalker pursued bloodsuckers, staking them through the heart and watching them turn to dust. So, when it came to Blade II, director Guillermo del Toro and screenwriter David Goyer decided to raise the stakes with a frightening race of infected super-vampires. Known as reapers, they are stronger, deadlier, harder to eliminate, and exponentially more creepy than run-of-the-mill vampires. They hunt and feed on non-reaper bloodsuckers and have an unquenchable thirst.
The most nightmarish aspect of the reapers, apart from their pallid, Nosferatu-like appearance, are their freakish, three-way extending mandibles. Reapers' jaws can split open at the chin and expand, revealing a gaping, toothy, tentacle-filled maw. Fangs protruding from the side mandibles inject a neurotoxin, paralyzing prey. Then, proboscis-like tendrils are used to suck their targets' blood.
'Blade II' Expands The Franchise's Mythology
The first Blade film gave fans an inside look into the inner workings of the modern vampire society. The aesthetic of the film, set in contemporary Los Angeles, and vibe of its mythos was a blend of high-tech business world and old-world lore. The vampires wore suits, had clans designated by logo-like symbols, and had board meetings in office chairs. There was a corporate feel to the bloodsuckers and their customs.
With Blade II, the eponymous daywalker is plunged into the dark, wet, cobblestoned streets of Eastern Europe to contend with a vampire lord who looks less like Udo Kier's Gitano Dragonetti from the first film and more like a waterlogged corpse. Eli Damaskinos lives in an ancient castle, he wears ritualistic robes, his decor includes giant clocks and stone facades, and he rejuvenates himself in a giant pool of blood shaped like a keyhole.
The way things work for vampires in Prague doesn't appear to be the same as in Los Angeles. Crisp suits are replaced by high-collared quasi-religious garb. There is a monarchical feel to the organization, and bloodlines seem to matter more. It was a smart, frightening evolution of the mythology that mirrored del Toro's directorial choice to focus more on the terror of vampires than the action of Blade hunting them.
The Film Is About An Attempt To Create A Master Vampire Race
Blade's unique physiology as a daywalker - a half-vampire who has all the strengths of vampires without any of their weaknesses, except for a thirst for blood - has often put him in the crosshairs of his foes. In Blade II, he proves to be the key to creating a master race of vampires who would be pure-blooded but no longer relegated to living in the shadows.
As it turns out, the reapers are the result of a modified genetic strain of DNA, transferred through blood, that turns them into nightmare monsters. This so-called Reaper Strain was created by the ancient vampire lord Eli Damaskinos; however, it turned out to be something of a failure. While the reapers are stronger, faster, and deadlier, their hunger makes them go insane and burn out quickly, starving within a matter of hours if they haven't fed.
What's worse, the reapers still aren't resistant to daylight. While they can absorb bullets, knives, and explosives, UV light burns them up just as quickly as regular vampires. Damaskinos devises a plan to take down Blade and dissect him for his unique genetic material, which he plans on splicing into embryonic vampire fetuses to birth a whole generation of nearly impervious bloodsuckers who would rule the night and day.
The Film’s Fleshy, Slimy Prosthetics Bring Its Creatures To Tangible, Disgusting Life
Like so many of del Toro's best monster stories, Blade II blends together elements of practical effects, cutting-edge makeup, and computer generated special effects to create an unsettlingly visceral presence that makes it feel like you're watching something that really does hunt humans in the middle of the night.
Whether it's the splayed-open jaw of Jared Nomak and his reaper brethren or the translucent, weathered grey flesh of the ancient vampire Eli Damaskinos, the grossest and freakiest parts of Blade II come to life with some incredible work by the film's makeup team and some pioneering CG work by Tippett Studios.
The studio, which was notably responsible for bringing the reaper's immediately recognizable three-part jaws to life, explains on its site: "Tippett used state-of-the-art face-replacement techniques to superimpose digital prosthetics upon the live-action actors to create effects that were not only convincing but terrifying as well." When you see the reapers in action, it's impossible to argue.