Long before "Twilight," there was one vampire vs. werewolf franchise that stood above all others: "Underworld."
Launched by Len Wiseman -- a former music video director and protégé of Roland Emmerich who would go on to helm the fourth "Die Hard" and the "Total Recall" remake -- these action-horror hybrids take a few cues from the "Blade" and "Matrix" films to create their own unique blend of B-movie bliss.
On the eve of the fourth film, "Underworld: Awakening," we're giving you a quick primer on all the things that go bump in the blue-tinted night and look sexy doing it. Of course, it goes without saying that this guide will feature SPOILERS galore, so consider yourself duly warned.
A centuries-old war between a coven of vampires and a clan of Lycans (werewolves who can transform into humans) kicks into high gear when a young man with the blood of both species threatens to shatter both worlds. All these creatures are the product of a virus as opposed to the old superstitions.
Selene (Kate Beckinsale): Born a human, she was turned by Viktor after he killed her family. Convinced it was werewolves who did the deed, she lives out centuries as a Death Dealer, or Lycan killer, until she meets and falls in love with Michael and learns the truth. Together the two of them destroy the Vampire Elders, and in the process Selene is given powers of a hybrid by Alexander, who calls her "The Future."
Viktor (Bill Nighy): A dying warlord given the gift of immortality by Markus in exchange for his military skill; he forms the Death Dealers to combat Lycans. It is said he spared the human Selene's life owing to her resemblance to his deceased daughter Sonja. Creepy! Selene awakens vampire elder Viktor seeking his aid against Kraven, but when she discovers it was he who murdered her family, she chops his head in half.
Kraven (Shane Brolly): A power-mad vampire who formed a secret alliance with Lucian in ages past. Acts as leader of the coven living a decadent lifestyle inside Viktor's fortified mansion, and harbors an unrequited lust for Selene, wishing to make her his queen. Frustrated at her refusal, he takes Erika as his mistress. A newly awakened Markus wipes out Kraven and his men and burns down the mansion.
Erika (Sophia Myles): A slinky seductress who uses her feminine wiles to sleaze her way into Kraven's inner circle. She's willing to ditch that trust at the drop of a hat if it serves her.
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Markus Corvinus (Tony Curran): He was bitten by a bat that turned him into the first vampire in this saga; his twin brother William (Brian Steele) was likewise transformed into the first and only Lycan Elder, an albino. The vampire son of Alexander is awakened and, now a Vampire-Dominant hybrid, he goes on a rampage, eventually awakening the imprisoned William with the intent of world domination. After mortally wounding his father, he is killed by Selene in the blades of a helicopter while William's head is torn apart by Michael.
Sonja (Rhona Mitra): Bearing an astonishing resemblance to Selene, the daughter of Viktor marries Lucian in secret. After conceiving a child, she is executed in front of Lucian by Viktor as punishment for breaking the Covenant. Similar to Helen of Troy, her death launches the war between Lycan and vampires.
Lucian (Michael Sheen): A former slave under Viktor, this pure-blood Lycan (born of two werewolves) begins an affair with Sonja only to have Viktor execute her when it becomes clear she is bearing Lucian's child. Supposedly killed by Kraven, he secretly forges an alliance with him to get revenge via the vampire/werewolf hybrid Michael. He is betrayed by Kraven, who shoots him with liquid silver bullets, but not before his circuitous plan bears fruit and Selene becomes his instrument of vengeance.
Raze (Kevin Grevioux): Lucian's right-hand muscle, this big, beastly wolfman was born in the Sudan and given to Viktor as a slave. He survives through the centuries only to be taken down by Selene.
Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman): This Lycan/Vampire hybrid became a trauma surgeon in Hungary before he is tracked down and bitten by Lucian, who imparts his memories as well as the werewolf attributes. He is rescued by Selene, and the two battle several enemies and eventually fall in love, ultimately defeating the Vampire Elders.
Alexander Corvinus/Lorenz Macaro (Derek Jacobi): The first true immortal after surviving a plague in the fifth century, he's the father of Markus and William. He first appears in present-day "Underworld:Evolution" investigating the events of the first film under the guise of Lorenz. After being mortally wounded by his son, he allows Selene to drink his blood before blowing himself up aboard his ship.
Behind the Screams
While the first film may be a sprawling epic full of sex and betrayal, the shoot was ... also that. During filming, the then-married Wiseman fell hard for his leading lady, Beckinsale, and she returned that affection despite the fact that she had a long-term relationship and child (Lily) with costar Michael Sheen. Awk-ward! However, all three remain friends, with Sheen appearing in two more "Underworld" movies, calling Wiseman "a really lovely man. He has been a fantastic step-father for Lily, I couldn't really want anything better for my daughter." To top it off, Sheen is now the boyfriend of Rachel McAdams, so everybody wins.
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The brilliant production designer Patrick Tatopoulos, who defined the look of sets and creatures on previous "Underworld" movies, got to direct the third chapter, the prequel "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans." Tatopoulos was able to delve deeper into the mythology surrounding Viktor and the Romeo and Juliet-style forbidden love between his daughter Sonja and Lucian during the Middle Ages.
Kevin Grevioux, who portrays the imposing Lycan "Raze" in the first and third movies, also created the concept and cowrote the screenplay for the original "Underworld." He based the idea of warring clans on his experiences with interracial dating. Grevioux is currently a comic book writer and publisher who has a hand in another upcoming monster mash, "I, Frankenstein."
Reviews vs. Box Office
"Underworld": 31% Positive Rotten Tomatoes, $95 million worldwide
"Underworld: Evolution": 16% Positive Rotten Tomatoes, $111 million worldwide
"Underworld: Rise of the Lycans": 30% Positive Rotten Tomatoes, $91 million worldwide
As with any successful property (see "The Matrix," "Avatar"), once "Underworld" proved a success people came out of the woodwork claiming it was a stolen idea, particularly the gaming company White Wolf. They asserted that Wiseman's film bore a suspicious resemblance to several role-playing games in their line, including popular titles "Vampire: The Masquerade" and "Werewolf: The Apocalypse." After a judge granted White Wolf an expedited hearing in 2003, a confidential settlement was quickly drawn up between the two parties.
Set over a decade after the events of "Underworld: Evolution," this new chapter in the ever-unfolding saga finds Selene awakened after a 12-year cryogenic imprisonment by humans looking to study and eradicate both vampires and Lycans. Does another young escapee, Eve (India Eisley), hold the key to the survival of both species? The January 20th release, directed in 3-D by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, costars Michael Ealy, Charles Dance, Sandrine Holt and Stephen Rea.