Back in 1999, Stephen Sommers updated a genuine horror classic and raised The Mummy from it’s metaphorical sarcophagus thanks to Brendan Frasier’s innate likeability, a shit-ton of CGI and endless shots of Arnold Vosaloo gurning at a sandstorm. Not unreasonably, the money men at the studio figured that if he could draw out an action franchise out of just one member of the Universal Monsters posse, imagine what he could do if they let him loose with a whole bloody bunch of them; and thus Van Helsing was spawned into an undeserving world.
Hitting upon the idea of reinventing Dracula’s arch nemesis as a Fabian-haired James Bond type and then pitting him against the notorious vampire as he attempts to realise a needlessly complicated plan that also ropes in the Frankenstein’s Monster and some toothy werewolves (not to mention a burly Mr Hyde as a bonus), the stage was set for a whole new franchise to hit the multiplexes. There was only one slight problem… the finished product was a monstrous pile of vampire shit.
After his last adventure left Paris strangely upset that he murdered Mr Hyde in cold blood, cynical monster slayer Van Helsing returns to the Vatican for his next mission. That turns out to be a trip to Transylvania to protect the souls of generations of gypsy vampire hunters who will languish in purgatory if Dracula is not killed before the last two descendants bite the bullet. Things aren’t looking too good on that front as Anna and Velkan have just had a confrontation with a Werewolf who manages to infect the latter with it’s furry-palmed curse and therefore puts him in Dracula’s beady sights. You see – and stay with me here – Dracula has need of a Werewolf as a power souce to give life to his unborn, undead brood since he lost the far more favoured battery power of Frankenstein’s Monster who was built for that very confusing purpose. Exactly why this is apparently a scientific thing is unclear but Van Helsing, with bumbling, Jim Halpert-haired, Friar Carl (think James Bond’s Q with more stuttering) turns up with the aim to put a stop all that with his armory of flashy looking, but suprisingly ineffective weapons. As Dracula’s first attempt to be a proud, fangy daddy to a brood of over a thousand bouncy, baby, bastards goes horribly south, Frankenstein’s Monster (complete with a weird flip-top head) resurfaces and Van Helsing has to reassess his particular view of exterminating creatures with extreme prejudice – something made even complicated by the fact that he’s come down with a nasty case of lycanthopy that may be an utter bitch to cure.
An over budgeted misfire of Wild Wild West proportions, Van Helsing’s only true saving grace is that to coincide with it’s release we got shiny remastered editions of the entire Universal Monsters back catalogue – aside from that, what remains is a messy adventure that is so bloated it makes Jabba The Hutt look like Jane fucking Fonda. It’s actually a little overwhelming when thinking where to start when sticking a stake into the heart of this vapid example of vampiric crap because despite being crammed full of talented actors, gorgeous sets and a budget that probably have bankrolled every classic Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolf Man movie Unversal ever made; Val Helsing is dizzyingly bad. Imagine a sugar-filled five year old with no knowledge of plot structure or characterization frantically trying to tell you the plot of a dream he once had for two hours and fifteen minutes while clumsily acting out all the action and noisily making all the sound effects while spraying dribble in every direction and you’ll almost be there.
The plot is as nonsensical as there’s ever been in the realms of blockbuster cinema but it’s noticably one of the only films in his long and varied history that has Count Dracula trying to utilize werewolf venom (whatever the shit THAT is) and Frankenstein’s monster in order to engage in some bizarre, supernatural form of IVF so he’s able to appease his suprisingly naggy brides. Selling such an odd plan to an unforgiving audience should require a villain to bring some much needed subtlety to balance everything out, but as Richard Roxburg has apparently choosen to portray Count Dracula as a Transylvanian Adam Ant who minces up and down the walls of his castle, he instead he infuses the role with all the gravity as a space station with the windows rolled down.
In comparison, the charisma that rocketed Hugh Jackman to superstardom as Wolverine is utterly absent here in the titular role as he truly seems to be the worst at what he does. By showing off such questionable abilities being a horrible fucking shot with his rapid-fire crossbow with which he apparently couldn’t hit the sea if he fell out of a boat and having an impressive lack of chemistry with female lead Kate Beckinsale as they go to war over who has the most immaculately arched eyebrows and countlessly do that thing where people ruin each others shots deliberately while yelling “NO!” in order to signpost a plot change the other isn’t aware of yet.
It’s all legitimately tiring stuff that has the same effect on the patience and psyche as the never ending run times of Michael Bay’s Transformers sequels – in fact a scene where the gremlin-sized vampire offspring are brought to life only to messily pop when their power source is halted plays out not once, but twice during the gargantuan running time which genuinely makes you think you’re watching the movie’s climax when you still actually have over an hour to go.
You can’t even take refuge in the endless action sequences as they feature some stupendously bad CGI versions of beloved monsters that give them as much of a threatening presence as the Mon-Stars from Space Jam. The digital lycanthopes steal the same style transformations from Neil Jordan’s Company Of Wolves where the beasts reveal themselves by tearing out from within the host’s unfortunate skin (but still manages to keeps an intact loin cloth) but the climatic battle where a wolfy Van Helsing and Dracula, who keeps insisting on transforming into something from a late-80’s heavy metal album cover, look like two thrashing cartoon characters enacting the swimming pool sex scene from Showgirls. Still, they’re marginally better than the bat-forms of Drac’s vampire brides whose super-imposed faces barely look like they’re connected to their computer generated bodies and rank as one of Industrial Light and Magic’s worst efforts since the last time they worked on a Stephen Sommers film (oh, don’t think we’ve forgotten about you CGI Dwayne Johnson from The Mummy Returns).
A cringingly bad example of the worst kind of cynical blockbuster that prioritizes digital bollocks over legitimate characterization and plot, Van Helsing’s attempted update ends up being less a monster mash then monster mush.