TITLE: Van Helsing
DIRECTOR: Stephen Sommers
CAST: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Will Kemp, Kevin J. O’Connor, Shuler Hensley
DARREN J. POWELL looks back on Van Helsing (2004) as one of his favourite vampire films
This film was such a dizzying romp of CGI that I’m not really sure that I should include it in my Top Ten Vampire Films but it’s going in there for one simple reason, I really enjoyed it, and the arrogant overplayed portrayal of Dracula by Richard Roxburg is actually a quite endearing performance. He portrays a thoroughly evil Count Dracula who is entirely untroubled by any conscience or reincarnated love-interests and just gets on with the business of being a complete swaggering terror with good hair and even better gothic attire.
This film is a mash-up encounter between most of the main protagonists that we all know and love from various Universal Monsters Film productions and it’s most likely going to be something you love, for that reason, or hate for the modern twists that the film is given. First Abraham Van Helsing is not Abraham at all, he is now Gabriel, and portrayed with a bit of a steampunk twist by Hugh Jackman. His side-kick, the Friar Carl (David Wenham), is a da Vinci-like genius and inventor of all the marvellous gadgetry that Van Helsing employs to carry out his duties. He is a Vatican agent, a Holy Catholic Assassin, employed to wipe out all of the unholy creatures of darkness that appear in this feature film.
The opening scene, a little regurgitation of Frankenstein to start with, is deliberately shot in black and white as a homage to all the films that inspired this work. This single scene pretty much sets out most of which passes for plot line within the film. The life-reviving processes invented by Doctor Frankenstein are something that Count Dracula needs to realise his own diabolical designs. So why he then goes on to promptly kill him is the first, of many, totally ridiculous things about this film!
Within the next scene we are introduced to the hero, Van Helsing, as he now battles the monstrously transformed Mr Hyde in and around Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and shown a little of the heroes marvellous gadgetry that is something of a reoccurring theme throughout the whole film. Our hero then returns to his Cardinal masters in Rome and is promptly despatched to Transylvania to deal with a certain blood-sucking fiend and takes his inventive Friar sidekick along for assistance.
Then we have the first of many action scenes containing werewolves which, we will find out eventually, do add something to the plotline and are not just there to look brilliant in their on-screen transformations and animation.
Despite getting to meet the heroine of the film, Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), there is a cold welcome from the suspicious Transylvanian locals and it may have gone bad here for Van Helsing but for the arrival of the famed Three Brides of Dracula, lovely ladies all with marvellous and monstrous transformation powers. Indeed each may transform into a Harpy-like form to take flight and bring terror to the local peasant-folk, and the Valerious Family, who have been trying for generations without success and at the cost of the all their souls condemned to Purgatory to destroy the Old Devil Dracula and his creations.
We are supposed to believe that Count Dracula, in the enviable company of his three lovely wives, are responsible for the creation of thousands of Vampire spawn that are born quite dead (and as quite hideous b-movie styled gourds that hatch into equally nasty little gargoyles). So Dracula needs to both steal, and understand, Victor Frankenstein’s revival processes to bring them to life (or un-death I assume) and His Monster is the key to all this. I have already mentioned that Dracula, rather unwisely, kills Doctor Frankenstein in the opening scene and the monster escapes (and is also thought to have been destroyed). The other noteworthy totally ridiculous plot-twist is, we must now believe, that Van Helsing is a 400-odd-year-old amnesiac who has had some previous association with Count Dracula. This is not really explained at all and we just have to take it at face value.
There are many steampunk twists to be seen in the film, to some degree they make the film what it is, from Van Helsing’s machine-crossbow to the crackling globes of energy that serve as a heart and brain to Frankenstein’s Monster and are the key to the life-reviving process. Other gadgets Van Helsing employs might be more at home on the utility belt of the Caped Crusader.
I have said already that I enjoyed the portrayal of Dracula in the film . I will also add that Frankenstein’s Monster is also particularly well-done here by Shuler Hensley and a whole lot of SFX makeup, not just visually impressive and also with a steampunk twist, but also captures something of his tormented, oddly noble and Christian soul. When asked in the film what he wants his answer is that he wants to exist! The poor creature even tries to save his ‘father’, but he may be dead already, and the odds stacked just too high against this lonely and unloved creature.
There are many delightful gothic scenes and brilliant action sequences as the story unfolds and touches of humour, here and there, with odd references to old films and one liners. There are remarkable fight and action scenes and a Masquerade Ball in Prague that would have many gothic souls openly weeping that events of such magnitude and delight don’t actually happen. It really is not a film to take seriously, the plot line is just too thin and shaky, and this really is a great shame as with a little more creative forethought it might have all been brilliant and not just visually. So if you like your Gothic-Horror classics all mashed up and seasoned with a little steampunk then this really is a film to watch. If you prefer your Gothic-Horror undiluted and with just a little self-respect then it’s really one to avoid!
DARREN J. POWELL a.k.a Demondaz is a London & Essex based Male Model gracing the covers of a few Vampire Genre novels and occasionally suffers the indignity of having to go inside publications! Also featured in various Gothic, Vampire & Steampunk related artbooks and calendars. Also a sometime event promoter, Dj and performer and of recent decided to launch London Vampire Magazine. Check out London Vampire Magazine Facebook here.