Van Helsing (2004)

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How do you ruin four of the most timeless, scariest, and three-dimensional horror characters in history? Well, if you’re Stephen Sommers you put them in a special effects-laden piece of trash like this, and then make like a politician and cop -out insisting you’re a fan of these monsters, just to cover your bases and prevent criticism for directing and overseeing this chunk of cinematic sacrilege. The best about the opening of “Van Helsing” in theaters, you ask? Their releases of Universal’s monster classics in boxed sets. Maybe it was sub-conscious guilt on part of Universal for ruining their characters. Van Helsing, my favorite literary hero of all time is resurrected for the hundredth time around ala Bruckheimer motif in this franchise wannabe called “Van Helsing”.

Sommers manages to resort some of the scariest most complex three-dimensional horror figures of all time to modern mindless monsters (ala the wolfman), turns them into campy figures (ala Mr. Hyde who looks like a combination of a Shrek, an ape, and Andre the Giant), and Dracula whom sports a really corny ponytail and often has lovers’ spats with his brides; and we’re blessed enough to see horrifyingly bad scenes with horrid dialogue from his mates like “You’ll get another bride? Is that all we are to you?” They also whine incessantly about their losses, including the brides who are really obnoxious, and over the top, all scenes that beg for eye rolls. Who knew Dracula was a cornball who resembled a soap opera star? Richard Roxburgh whom I liked as M in “LXG” is dreadful as Dracula. Where’s Christopher Lee when you need him? Here Dracula looks like Antonio Banderas combined with the accent of Fernando Lamas.

Oh, and in Sommers’ reality, vampires don’t burn up when staked, they burst into green ooze, it was something I’ve never seen before, and wish I hadn’t. Many characters here are composites of better characters, or retreads of older characters ala Frankenstein whom is a more colorful version of Karloff’s Frankenstein. Our hero Van Helsing’s costume concept is a composite of The Shadow, Vampire Hunter D, and Batman, has zero personality and has dialogue that is comprised mostly of one-liners. Sommers uses the same reliable story clichés and devices such as the rogue hero under the employ of the church who has a secret organization involved with thwarting evil, and he barks that he’s tired of working, they beckon him to go back and fight, blah blah. Our anti-hero is even complete with his very own “Q” clone named Carl (David Wenham) who is zany, whacky, a misfit, but brilliant; aren’t they all?

Van Helsing is a character that I was desperately trying to take a liking to, but his character, and the way he’s written is so utterly uneven. One minute he’s a warrior, the next a cowboy, then he’s a Sherlock Holmes detective, and suddenly he can sense evil, like Spider-Man. Memo to Sommers: Just pick one concept and stick with it. Beckinsale is pretty much a clone of her “Underworld” character sans the fangs, charisma, and pure sex appeal, but she does manage to sport a really corny gypsy accent and is a relatively useless character. There’s a highly vexing moment where Anna and Van Helsing face off against Dracula’s brides in a town square, Anna is rendered helpless, but later on goes through a basic arsenal of weapons in a church… the question I ask is: why couldn’t she have used those weapons in the attack? And somehow she always sports a sword but never uses it.

She’s also bright, too; she makes this stunning deduction upon close contact with Dracula: “You have no heartbeat.” Well, gee what gave it away? The fact he’s a vampire? Or the fact he’s lived for over a thousand years? The special effects are horrible! The figures are stiff, and grainy, often times the double exposures of the actors’ faces in the creatures bodies are rigid and bland, and the morphing, though smooth, is over-used and cartoonish, and boy does Sommers love to use those special effects. Every scene in the film is comprised of eye candy more useful for people with short-attention spans and in that, Sommers manages to insult his audiences intelligence sporting non-stop special effects and never settling down to tell the story, which is completely nonsensical.

At the beginning Anna and her gang are more than willing to mercilessly slaughter a werewolf but once her brother turns, she begins making excuses like “It’s not his fault”, and “he’s innocent”, and “that body hair was already there”–well, that wasn’t one of the lines, but you have to hate her for easily being able to kill an innocent stranger who’s a werewolf, but pitying her brother who’s a werewolf and making excuses. There are also plenty of plot holes: Why did Dracula leave Anna to drown when he was so intent on capturing and marrying her? What was the point to the whole ballroom sequence? What exactly was Dracula trying to achieve with his “master plan”? Why wasn’t Anna more emotionally affected by her brother’s unfortunate circumstances? Was Frankenstein not the most useless of the characters here?

Why did we have to sit through ten minutes of explaining what and who Dracula is when many people already know his story? And finally, the biggest of ’em all: Why was the “door” such an important aspect of the story if all it did was lead to Dracula’s castle? The list of plot holes goes on and on, I’m afraid. In the end, all Sommers has done is ruined some of my favorite characters of all time dumbing them down, his usual sense of mind-numbing action and special effects, lack of characterization, and the horrible starter to a surely terrible franchise. Stephen Sommers has directed a pure utter abomination and insult to horror fans with this tepid piece of monster fluff. Bad script, bad direction, horrible special effects, and a story that goes nowhere, “Van Helsing” is a disappointment. And that’s an understatement, folks.