A monster hunter travels to Transylvania to stop Count Dracula from hatching an evil plan.
Ugh… I remembered this movie being silly, but I didn’t remember it being as rough as it was. Having recently watched a slew of the old Universal Monster movies (“The Bride of Frankenstein”, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”) I thought I’d revisit a few of the more recent depictions of those monsters to compare. Well, in my mind I remembered this film as an action packed visual effects extravaganza apropos of “Underworld”. While I won’t defend “Underworld” as a great film, I will say it blows this one out of the water. Both movies take monsters stories and turn them into no-holds barred action thrillers; only this one is utterly bonkers and completely ridiculous to the point of being annoying. While the idea of turning Van Helsing into an action hero that runs around fighting monsters might be a cool idea if handled correctly, this film has absolutely no subtlety or direction. This film looks like it was made for preteen boys who are impressed by machine gun crossbows and CGI monsters; it’s a film that has the maturity of a middle school student, and it never even tries to rise above that mentality.
“We Transylvanians always look on the brighter side of death.”
Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman, “Logan”) is a monster hunter employed by a secret sect of the Vatican. News reaches his superiors that Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh, “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”) has been terrorizing a small village in Transylvania, so the Vatican sends Van Helsing and his trusted side-kick, Carl (David Wenham, “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”) to the village to investigate. When Van Helsing arrives he’s met by Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale, “Underworld”), a gypsy princess whose family is cursed by Dracula. Together, the ragtag group must find a way to destroy Dracula, and save the town. Oh, yeah, and Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and werewolves are involved too.
So, first of all, I want to say that I think this concept has some potential. Even after watching this film and seeing the abysmal result, I would still say that there is a story that could come from the characters here; it was just executed in the poorest way possible. Studios took some of the greatest characters of horror history and trusted them with the guy that directed the Brendan Frasier version of “The Mummy”. This might be the fantasy/horror geek in my brain just running wild, but there are a billion better ideas that could’ve come from this story. Instead of something original and fresh, we wound up with an action smorgasbord that gives us lifeless characters that we don’t care about, a mess of a story that barely makes sense, and direction so aimless that every scene feels totally emotionless and boring. There are countless scenes that are clear homages to the Universal Monster movies, but the homages feel shoehorned and pointless instead of adding any real depth to the film. If the concept had some potential, what really went wrong?
Well, instead of trying to give us characters we should care about, Sommers gives us a protagonist that he clearly thinks is ‘cool.’ Hugh Jackman spends his time running around, dodging sword slashes and vampire bites in slow motion, jumping over broken bridges and jumping from death-defying heights with his trench cloak rippling in the wind behind him. They turned Van Helsing into a character that fights like Neo from “The Matrix”, but has no personality whatsoever. They reduce great literary villains and characters to poorly choreographed fifteen-minute action set pieces that take place in horribly busy, overcrowded frames. The characters never do anything remarkably interesting as far as how they fight either. Van Helsing is pretty much the Vatican’s monster hunter version of James Bond; he’s got ridiculous gadgets and weapons, but he never does anything cool with them. Instead, Jackman hits a monster and the monster hits back, over and over again until one of them dies. There’s no tension, there are rarely any stakes established- the dialogue in between the action scene is heavily expositional and often incredibly stilted. Every scene just feels like an excuse to move us to the next action sequence; there’s no thought into why things look the way they do, other than if something looks cool.
Now, I will admit that some of the sets do look cool, but that’s about the best I can say for the film. Though many of the locations and character designs look interesting, most of the time they’re clearly ripped off from other films. In a movie that is pretty much a conglomeration of a bunch of very imaginative novels, this film has very little imagination.
This movie is pretty bad. When I originally went back to rewatch the film I thought it would be poorly made but at least entertaining, and honestly, it barely held my attention. One of my roommates and I sat down to watch this after a long day, fully expecting to enjoy the schlockiness of this movie, but instead, both of us were bored by the film. This isn’t even a movie that’s so bad that it’s funny; it’s just a film that’s feels far too long, and has too many moments that are meant to be cool, but have aged pretty poorly, and in the end, look rather stupid.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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