Van Helsing (2004)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, David Wenham, Richard Roxburgh

Directed by: Stephen Sommers

Rating: 1

Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing

What d'you get if you cross Bram Stoker's Dracula with Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein, then throw Alien, Gremlins, X-Men, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, American Werewolf in London, James Bond, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and even Star Wars and The Matrix into the mix? Answer: a complete pile of pants.

Todd Browning, James Whale, Ridley Scott, Francis Ford Coppola and Richard O'Brien must be turning in their graves (those of them that are dead anyway. so that'll be Todd Browning and James Whale, then) and even Ed Wood must be pretty pissed off that someone's finally made a worse horror/sci-fi movie than Plan Nine From Outer Space. Shamelessly plundering the charnel houses of the great monster movies, from Universal's Dracula onwards, Stephen Sommers (the man behind The Mummy - just about the only screen monster who doesn't put in an appearance) has created a Frankenstein's monster of a movie, the pilfered body parts stuck loosely together with bad CGI and a shocking lack of imagination.

Like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, from which the film so freely pilfers, Van Helsing begins with a promising premise but then goes badly array, thanks to the combination of a lazy script, an incoherent, badly structured plot, wooden acting and CGI that's over used, over the top and overly er, crap.

Kate Beckinsale as Anna Valerious in Van Helsing. Still not concussed, then.

Hugh Jackman plays Van Helsing, a sort of supernatural hitman hired by a secret papal order to eradicate monsters from the face of the earth. We first meet him in a gothic late 19th century Paris that's about as convincing as cardboard Warhammer scenery laid out in Games Workshop, taking out a cartoony, Hulk-like Mr Hyde that appears to be the same CGI model used in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Kate Beckinsale is the Transylvanian love interest, a supposedly feisty gypsy princess who spends most of her time crashing into trees and falling down holes, miraculously without ever suffering from concussion. The pair look fantastic, but even the sight of Wolverine in a loincloth isn't worth wasting two hours of your life on this rubbish.

The rest of the cast try hard - so hard it's almost embarrassing, in fact. Poor David Wenham (Faramir out of Lord of the Rings) is mildly entertaining as dweeby friar Karl, a sort of deranged ginger M to Jackman's taciturn Bond, whilst Richard Roxburgh acts his socks off as Dracula, but in the end is only the very palest of shadows of Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee or Gary Oldman. But forget fangs and a cape, perhaps the most terrifying performance comes from stalwart Yorkshire TV actor Alun Armstrong sporting a foppish Italian accent as a Vatican cardinal. don't even go there. It's just wrong.

David Wenham as dweeby friar Karl in Van Helsing

But however hard the cast may try, they can't make up for the complete dearth of imagination in the film. There isn't a single original idea in the whole long two hours. Frankenstein's monster is a Robert De Niro wannabe. Dracula's brides have risen straight from their graves in Bram Stoker's Dracula and his servants are Star Wars jahwahs. But before you think I'm just missing the point, no, Van Helsing isn't a homage, like Tim Burton's Ed Wood or Sleepy Hollow, which use cheesy classic horror devices with love and reverence and, in doing so, succeed in creating something wholly new, or Alexandre Aja's Switchblade Romance, which uses the stock shock moments of slasher movies to lull us into a false sense of expectation, before turning the whole situation radically on its head. Or even the recent remake of Dawn of the Dead, which may not have taken itself too seriously, but certainly had respect for the horror tradition of which it is a (rotting) part.

Karl, Van Helsing and Frankenstein's monster step out in Prague, which plays Budapest in the movie, and is about the only real setting in the whole film. Geographers will note that Budapest is not on the coast though. Tricky one, that.

There's not even anything clever and Scream-style postmodern about Van Helsing (although Igor the hunchback servant perhaps has some clue as to just how stupid and derivative his role is). In short, there's no sense of love for the horror genre the film is exploiting. And as a lover of horror films that really pisses me off. And as for the ending... after sitting through two hours of complete rubbish masquerading as action adventure, how they possibly imagined we would ever swallow that overly sentimental pile of tosh is absolutely beyond me.

In the hands of Tim Burton or the team behind Pirates of the Caribbean, this could have been a great film. As it is, it fails to excite, scare, engage or ever, really entertain. This isn't a terrible movie that's fun all the same, like Plan Nine or Peter Jackson's Bad Taste (are we still allowed to mention that post LOTR?). This is just a terrible movie.

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