Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


VAN HELSING (2004). Director/writer: Stephen Sommers.

The church employs an amnesiac named Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) to hunt down and kill all spirits and monsters of darkness, and after defeating an inexplicably giant-sized Mr. Hyde, he is assigned to destroy Dracula and his sexy brides. Helping him with his task is a Transylvanian lovely (Kate Beckinsale, in very contemporary bustier), and a geeky friar. Although this film was released by Universal, it plays much more like a parody of Hammer Horror Films of the sixties and seventies than of the Universal monster flicks of the forties. Unfortunately the campy approach – as it so often does – means that it's impossible to really care about what happens to the one-dimensional characters, and the film falls flat on its feet. [True, James Whale's classic Bride of Frankenstein was itself a parody of Frankenstein, but at least it recreated a period atmosphere; Van Helsing, like Xena and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, has a very 21st century approach.] The movie's main strength is some striking scenic design, some very effective action scenes, and first-rate special effects, which include winged vampire-women who fly around a town square picking up struggling victims [these vampires are incredibly strong it seems]. There are some interesting concepts in the movie – Dracula wants to use the life energy inside the Frankenstein monster's body to resuscitate thousands of his vampire bat-like children (remember those brides?) -- but after awhile it simply gets too silly and busy for its own good. Jackman and Beckinsale manage to hold on to their dignity, but Richard Roxburgh's over-the-top and perfectly dreadful performance makes him the all-time worst Dracula of the cinema. This is House of Dracula for the “frat boy” generation.

Verdict: If you really love these old movies, forget about this and watch the Universal –or Hammer – films on DVD again. *1/2.


Anonymous said...

A pretty woeful film indeed. They just seemed to try throwing everything at the screen in the hope something would work, but nothing really does. Too much reliance on CGI, too many set pieces, too little real story. I quite agree, stick to the movies that inspired this and give Van Helsing a very wide berth.

William said...

Good points! And there have been so many more films in the same mode since this came out. And probably a lot more to come, unfortunately.