Undeniably charming, bold, and effective, Van Helsing is a dream come true for fans of old-school Universal horror monsters. Yes, I’m talking about Dracula, Werewolf, Dr. Jekyll, and Frankenstein. Now imagine them all together fighting against and with Van Helsing, a monster hunter. Only Stephen Sommers, the man who created The Mummy, would undertake such a huge project. You have to admire the sheer ambition of what they were trying to do here. They were basically creating the blueprint for all superhero movies that flooded the market in the following decades.
Van Helsing is the first movie people started saying has too much CGI, neglecting character and story development. I mean, you cannot deny these claims but I think that this is simply that type of movie. A cheesy and silly adventure in Transylvania featuring impressive visuals and an excellent cast. The whole thing feels like it’s based on a graphic novel but I assure you it’s not. While we’re talking about CGI and special effects, I have to say they stood the test of time. Sure, some of them look a bit clunky now, almost twenty years later but at least they’re acceptable.
You have to understand that this is the first time we got the opportunity to see these creatures in broad daylight. The werewolves are not hiding in shadows along with elusive vampires who turn into winged demons. No sir, they are flying directly in front of the camera for all the world to see. The same goes for our Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I remember seeing him for the first time and picking up my jaw off the floor several minutes later. The action is relentless making the running time of two hours feel much shorter. Just like a good video game.
Meet Gabriel Van Helsing, a world renowned monster hunter, who just finished his latest mission. The next one, however, won’t be so easy. He will have to travel to Transylvania where a sinister count Dracula is planning something evil. A year ago, he used Dr. Victor Frankenstein to create a special monster he wants to use for his own experiments. Luckily, Van Helsing is here to stop him along with dashing Anna Valerious, a dangerous woman on a mission to clear her family name.
And while the monsters we’re going to be seeing here first appeared in horror movies, the one we’re talking about today most certainly is not. I mean, it might be for younger generations but if you’re a bit older this is a creature feature guilty pleasure. The story is completely preposterous with religions of the world uniting in a fight against monsters. I can think of a few other activities that would more realistically bring them together but I don’t want to go there just now. Van Helsing is just too much of a feel-good movie for that.
Apart from monsters, we also have some pretty cool gadgets as Van Helsing is a mix of James Bond and Indiana Jones. Most of them look like steampunk weapons and it was a pleasure to see them in action. I mean, why don’t other vampire movies feature a minigun firing silver stakes, I ask you why? And the cast was just fucking perfect. We’ve got charming Hugh Jackman playing Van Helsing and spunky Kate Beckinsale at his side fresh off the set of Underworld. It’s funny to think that Underworld is a much more serious movie than this one. However, Richard Roxburgh stole the show here as Count Vladislaus Dracula.
His unhinged performance is one of the main reasons why you should see this movie. I highly recommend you check him out as sarcastic, sleazy and scheming lawyer Cleaver Greene in the Australian television show Rake. Although The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a much better fit. And it also makes for a fine viewing after this movie. Speaking of Australians, poor Faramir, David Wenham, got dealt another shitty hand as Carl, Van Helsing’s bumbling assistant. Although he seems to have a unique talent when it comes to bringing to life these memorable side characters. He did the same thing with Spit in Gettin Square.
While we’re talking about other movies, I simply have to mention Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers. There’s something about the sexually charged atmosphere that reminds me of this movie. Finally, the 1987 hit The Monster Squad is probably the closest match. It also features an assortment of old-school monsters and loads of, this time, practical effects.
Director: Stephen Sommers
Writer: Stephen Sommers
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Shuler Hensley, Will Kemp
Fun Facts: Because the movie didn’t do so well we didn’t get a sequel. The same goes for the possible Van Helsing franchise.