Van Helsing

Van Helsing is a typical Hollywood blockbuster, completely brainless drivel which looks great. We follow the hero Van Helsing as he hunts down Dracula and his many minions pausing only for the obligatory love interest. The film is fast paced and absolutely full of special effects but otherwise completely derivative and horribly formulaic.

The opening scene sees Van Helsing chasing Mr Hyde (of Jekyll and Hyde) though I doubt the makers have ever read the original book. Why he appears here at all is beyond me as there is no relation between Jekyll and Hyde and the Dracula stories. This is just another part of the foul Hollywood trend of lumping everything that they think happened at roughly the same time together (even if it is fictional).

Love interest and weapons expert monk

After this pointless introduction we move to Transylvania to see the love interest of the piece battling a big werewolf. Before long Van Helsing has arrived on the scene and impressed everyone with his ability to fight vampires. Naturally he and the girl work together to defeat Dracula and they fall in love along the way.

The writing in this film is unbearably bad, the storyline is just crap. Stephen Sommers is the man responsible and he also directs this effort. He was the writer for The Mummy and The Scorpion King so it is no surprise that this is similarly ill-informed, scornful of the source material and produces the same impression of lazily pasted together cheesy nonsense.

The film is typical of Hollywood plagiarism as many scenes have been lifted directly from other films and just wedged in here out of laziness or in order to get a cheap laugh of recognition as with the Bond style scene where Van Helsing is issued with his gadgets from a monk like Q. I'm so sick of this stupid modernisation of the past, there have been so many films set before the invention of the Gatling Gun which insist on having some kind of similar weapon and naturally this is no exception. Not a wooden stake in sight.

The Hollywood version of Transylvania is just like a theme park; Castle Frankenstein is just up the road from Castle Dracula. Dracula wants to bring his army of green winged midget demons to life and so he requires Frankenstein's monster to learn the secret of bringing the dead to life. Frankenstein's monster gets to be a good guy here but his character has none of the charm or threat of the original versions.

All this winged demon nonsense is really absurd. Dracula mates with his three brides and they produce slimy green eggs which have to be re-animated like Frankenstein's monster. I don't know where Sommers plucked this from but I have my suspicions that it might have been his arse. Not content with the straining cast of monsters he also throws in some Jawa's from Star Wars who work for Dracula and of course Igor is always skulking around.

Creepy castles galore

The cast should be ashamed. Flavour of the month Hugh Jackman plays Van Helsing and I had to laugh when it transpired that he would become a werewolf in order to defeat Dracula. After rising to fame with Wolverine in the X-Men films I guess they just couldn't miss the chance to make him a werewolf. This plot twist is shoved down your throat long before it happens which didn't make swallowing it any easier.

The love interest is played by Kate Beckinsale who just poses throughout. Despite being a Transylvanian noble she runs around in a bodice with leather trousers and looks thoroughly out of place in the setting. Richard Roxburgh was the most forgettable Dracula I've ever seen. David Wenham whom you may remember from Lord of the Rings plays the monk companion Carl and he does his best. No-one really stood out in the film and this is probably more to do with the fact that Sommers is almost as bad at direction as he is at writing.

This film is from the school of fast cuts, blurry close-ups and unintelligible action sequences. You never get a sense of the surroundings during the battles and they play out like a series of set-up stunts which is of course exactly what they are. There is a powerful over reliance on special effects sequences many of which are impressive but they become boring through the repetition and they don't really fool your eyes.

Van Helsing is monosyllabic and so you learn virtually nothing about his character other than the fact that he is a monster hunter. I always pictured Van Helsing as an old bumbling man obsessed with catching Dracula but always one step behind so the idea of him as a dashing hero is very hard to believe. There is nothing wrong with trying to add something new to an old story or changing a familiar character for your film as long as you do it well, Van Helsing doesn't.

This is quite an overwhelming shit fest. Between the overblown special effects sequences and the packed in monsters of yesteryear Sommers manages to ensure that no character is given enough attention and so none of them are done justice. If you first encountered Dracula, Frankenstein's monster or werewolves through this film then you'd be rightly puzzled as to why they are titans of the horror world.

Van Helsing is moronic rubbish. It plays out like a ghost train ride and is about as satisfying or scary. If they spent just a bit of the time they obviously put into the special effects on writing a coherent story then this might have been slightly less painful and confusing. Try not to encourage Sommers' delusions of talent or we may have to suffer more of his films and I'd sooner take on Dracula myself than endure that.


Reviewed by Simon Hill

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