Van Helsing

By Mark Ramsey | 2004/05/05

Show me any movie that begins with a mad crowd of torch-carrying villagers chasing the Frankenstein monster into a windmill in glorious, old school B&W and I’m in heaven.

Unfortunately, when Dr. Frankenstein shrieks “it’s alive!” he’s not referring to Van Helsing. Instead, he’s celebrating the commercial prospects for a newly resuscitated Universal monster franchise, a video game tie-in, action figures, a theme park attraction, and the animated prequel.

Van Helsing, the movie, promises gothic horror, and a gothic horror it is.

As Van Helsing, Hugh Jackman is the most wanted man in Europe: “Where else can we find a vampire slayer who knows all the words to I Go to Rio?” asked one Transylvanian gypsy.

vanhelsing_nipplefree.jpgHugh’s first task is to vanquish a surly Mr. Hyde. Evidently the genteel Englishman Dr. Jekyll not only turns grotesque, he also turns Scottish! And I mean to imply that’s different. Hyde is Hulk with a haggis! A Shrek-ish beast swinging from the rafters like they’re monkey bars, he’s dispatched faster than you can say “Robert Louis Stevenson must be spinning in his grave.”

Hugh, you see, works for a secret order of monks that keeps the world safe from Universal’s Classic Monsters. Watch as a bumbling Friar instructs Van Helsing on how to use each evil-fighting gadget from a rapid-fire crossbow to a specially equipped Aston Martin DB5 mounted with machine guns and an ejector seat. Didn’t Van Connery already make this movie in 1964?

The Frankenstein monster was assembled from various cadavers, morsels of mythology, and abundant script clichés, then boiled over high heat to remove any trace of nutritional value. For some reason his leg vents steam – much like the ears of anyone waiting in vain for actual thrills and chills from this movie. The monster’s head, meanwhile, is buzzing with electrical activity making him a rarity among cast and crew.

In this world, Dracula wears an earring and a ponytail. Remarkable! The Prince of Darkness shares his sense of style with Mexican drug lords, wedding videographers, and overzealous personal trainer Tony Little!

Once upon a time Dracula was scary. But that was before the SciFi channel aired the reality show Mad Mad House and Vampire Don went bowling.

Although that’s scary in its own way.

No surprise then that Dracula has now retired his bloodlust to run a fertility clinic in the heart of Transylvania! I kid you not! What’s next, an old folks’ home in Encino?

vanhelsing_sexytownfolk.jpgCavernous rooms full of eggs! All thanks to several lifetimes of nookie between the Count and his brides. Wow, Dracula has done nearly as much mating as Hollywood legend Robert Evans! Then again, anyone who thinks being dead means you can’t be prolific has not bought the last sixteen Tupac CD’s.

Dracula’s purpose here is to give birth to his bratty, batty spawn. In other words, he yearns to be a daddy. In the history of cheeseball Universal horror, this is hardly the cheesiest of balls, but in a summer of spectacular epics, this theme is spectacularly dumb.

Who put the cartoons in charge of the story? As is too often the case, Van Helsing suffers a fatal dose of “CGI Gone Wild.” This movie couldn’t look more extravagantly unreal if it was shot in Andy Dick’s lingerie closet.

Kate Beckinsale is the Donatella Versace of Horror. “Nothing is faster than Transylvanian horses,” says Kate, “except for Transylvanian Hooter girls.”

For the first time, Kate swings from a vine. “I’m more accustomed to swinging from the strings of my publicist,” she noted. You know it’s a bad sign when Van Helsing and Kate kiss – and the audience laughs.

Evil, thy name is the Romanian dialogue coach: “Malishka, Keel da Stlanger!” says one of Dracula’s brides as she shape-shifts into a bat-like creature and sacrifices both her clothes and her genitals in the bargain. Not even a Nosfera-tutu. “Vun minute I am Bride of Dracula, next minute I am Denuded Flying Mammal Barbie,” she exclaims as she swoops towards her dream house in Malibu.

Dracula may be un-dead, but Van Helsing is un-good. Despite it all, I’m guessing Universal will collect some serious coin, but if those bloodsuckers are betting on a long-legged franchise, they’d better get off the sauce.

As for me, I never drink.


Photos Copyright ©2004 Universal Pictures


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