Objectively bad film? Probably.
Nevertheless, I still want to talk about the virtues of what was a good attempt at combining a bunch of our now immortal monsters in a big swirling vortex of action and horror. So what do we have here?
Van Helsing, Count Dracula, and Dracula’s brides, which we can credit Bram Stoker for. Frankenstein, the Monster, and Igor, which we can credit Shelley and James Whale for. Mr Hyde, which we can credit Robert Louis Stevenson for. Lycanthropy taken from the common folklore also plays a large role here but without specific character names, it’s difficult to credit anybody in particular.
Given this information, we can expect one of two things. Either we have great expectations that a story with all these characters will be an incredible odyssey of tension and horror, or we decide that it will probably be a hackneyed monster-mash that kills any terror that these creatures once inspired. Van Helsing definitely doesn’t fall into the first category. For me, it toes the line of falling into the second category though.
Let me get the obvious out of the way here: I like this film. It’s great to see all the monsters you were brought up on in a single adventure. And Van Helsing made an effort to incorporate each of these into its plot as naturally as possible. In short, Count Dracula and his brides cannot give life to their offspring. The good Dr Frankenstein imbues the Monster with life – Frankenstein’s monster is now the key to unlock Dracula’s plan. Dracula has been using werewolves to do his bidding for centuries, but we later understand that this Dracula cannot be staked or shot, but is instead vulnerable to the bite of a werewolf that he could not control. Mr Hyde doesn’t really play a part in the story, but instead shows us that Van Helsing’s work for the church is morally dubious, something that irks him to no end when he kills Mr Hyde, who reverts to Dr Jekyll just before his death.
There were lots of problems with the film, I’ll admit it. Chiefly, those awful ‘Transylvanian’ accents. Another that bothers me a little is that it can’t really be classed as a horror film. It’s much more an action film with our favourite characters from horror. Which is a shame really, because with a little more atmosphere and a little less overt CGI ‘showing’, it could have made a stab at being a horror film where our imaginations are encouraged to run rampant against any of our delusions of safety.
Honestly though? I don’t think it matters all that much. The plot makes up for some of the downfalls of Van Helsing. The idea of the Monster as merely a tool for Dracula’s plan makes his character even more tragic than that of Shelley’s initial creation. The doctor immediately seems to profess his love for the Monster, and then is brutally killed by Dracula – this is the first thing the Monster sees of life and still he is good, through and through.
Van Helsing himself is a mysterious character, and we are given very little of his backstory aside from vague allusions that Dracula makes to him being the ‘left hand of God’. We are given the impression that he is as old or older than Dracula. Perhaps it is a cop-out when Van Helsing refuses to listen to the answers he has been searching for relentlessly for as long as he can remember, but it certainly adds to the drama of their dynamic.
“Some things are better left forgotten.”
– Van Helsing
Count Dracula is possibly the weakest of the mythic monsters in the film, but even then, I think from a graphic perspective, the film really excelled. Able to become a repulsive, anthropomorphic, bat-like creature at will, he really does inspire revulsion, if not outright fear. Shrieking and gurgling noises accompany the few scenes of this transformation.
It’s thrilling to watch such a gaunt, membranous creature battle it out against Van Helsing’s hairy, muscular werewolf form. It’s a quick and dirty fight, as it should be, and that’s possibly a good description of the film as a whole. For me, it cements itself as one of the most satisfying monster-mashes out there.