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Van Helsing (2004)


Here’s a story
Of a man named Stoker
Who wrote a monster story just to scare
And because every great monster needs a hunter
He also wrote Van Helsing in there.

And here’s a story
Of a man named Sommers
Whose monster movies often entertained
He wanted to refurbish old Van Helsing
To make a brand-new franchise self-contained.

Van Helsing is an action horror film written, produced, and directed by Stephen Sommers, intended as an extended homage to the old Universal Studios monster films of the 1930s and 1940s. It starts Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, and Kevin J. O’Connor.

Van Helsing is an amnesiac vigilante monster hunter working for the Knights of the Holy Order, stationed at the Vatican. After returning from a mission to capture kill the murderous Edward Hyde, he is given two new tasks: Kill the fabled vampire Dracula, and while doing so prevent the last of the Valerious family from being trapped in Purgatory due to a vow one of the Valerious ancestors made. With the assistance of Q Branch Friar Carl, Van Helsing loads up on the cool toys he will need to take down the powerful vampire and sets out for Transylvania. When he arrives, he discovers that, with the recent death by werewolf of Velkan Valerious, the sole remaining heir is one Anna Valerious, who is determined to fulfill her family vow to kill Dracula. When Dracula and his three brides attack the village, they are forced to team up, and make a few chilling discoveries: 1. Velkan is Not Quite Dead, having been transformed into a werewolf under Dracula’s control. 2. Dracula has been trying to bridge the gap between life and undeath and bring hordes of little vampire babies, his offspring, to life. 3. He might be close to finding a way, if he can just get his hands on the Monster created by Dr. Frankenstein. 4. Dracula also remembers Van Helsing from a past encounter, and may hold the secret to unlocking his lost memories. Now Van Helsing is torn between stopping a cunning monster and discovering his own past, between his mission and his growing love for Anna, as he seeks a way to end Dracula’s menace once and for all. Again.

I found Van Helsing to be a neat little reimagining to a character who, in the original novel, was an old professor who had studied the ways of vampires in order to figure out how to kill Count Dracula. Here, he is a younger action hero who studies the ways of all monsters in order to determine the best ways to kill each. When you add this inventor sidekick Friar Carl, this vision of the vampire hunter becomes somewhat of a steampunk James Bond (complete with Bond Girl Anna Valerious). Like the Bond movies, this movie is mainly about the action sequences and the charmingly evil villain, and less about Van Helsing’s hinted-at background or, indeed, any meaningful character development. However, Van Helsing does manage to come off as a complex character. His mysterious past and the way he chafes at the rules and regulations of the Knights of the Holy Order echoes with Jackman’s other role at the time, Wolverine, but it heads in a slightly different direction here. Van Helsing grows cynical with his work, particularly as he recognizes that not all monsters are necessarily evil, and as he is set up as a fall guy when he kills otherwise innocent people who happen to have a monstrous alter ego. Unlike the antihero Wolverine, Van Helsing appears to be a genuinely good man whose implied horrible past seems to have trapped him in this role. The comic relief character Friar Carl balances out Van Helsing’s angst with much needed breather moments, particularly when his High Intelligence Low Wisdom antics result in explosions (to be fair, one of the explosions did save Van Helsing and Anna from a whole mess of vampires). Unfortunately, Anna Valerious manages only to be a typical Bond Girl, for despite her apparently tragic background she has about the emotional depth of a puddle, something for which I fault the writers less than the actress.

The plot of the movie, fortunately, was overall engaging, both as a standalone story and as the extended homage to classic Universal and Hammer Horror films that it clearly was. It hits all the traditional notes, with the mad scientist and his Igor, werewolves (which looked… just okay), Count Dracula and his three brides (whose flying forms were original and harpylike, but rendered in laughably bad CGI), all set in Transylvania, the place from which all European monsters hail. It’s a rule, that’s why. Most of the monsters are as expected, though they did try hard with the man-wolf forms of the werewolves, and a very steampunk take on Frankenstein’s creation. In essence, this is a reimagined crossover of classic monster movies, and it works mainly because the result is so much fun to watch.

If you want a fun, fresh take on an old character and classic monsters, I recommend Van Helsing. It’s a typical Stephen Sommers film, which means you can expect monsters and excitement, and a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

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  1. 04/22/2011 at 2:59 pm

    Loved this film for someone reason, even though I’m not real big on any of the source material. Haven’t watched it in a long time, but this review has made me want to pop the DVD in. Great opening to the review too. 🙂

    • 04/22/2011 at 3:00 pm

      Ah, “for some unknown reason.”

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