There was a time when most TV stations ran old monster movies. Usually on a Saturday night, kids would stay up late to see Bela Lugosi's Dracula, Boris Karloff's Frankenstein and Lon Chaney's Wolfman. These old movies had thrills and chills, and we all grew afraid of those creatures that went bump in the night.
Hugh Jackman stars as a monster hunter in "Van Helsing." (Universal)
The creatures return in "Van Helsing," a movie that brings back Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman. But the movie is not about the monsters as much as the monster hunter.
Hugh Jackman, Wolverine from the "X Men" movies, is Van Helsing, a wanted man for doing the bidding of the church. Van Helsing is a mix between a bounty hunter and a secret agent. He goes to locales in search of monsters—all at the request of a secret organization housed at the Vatican. In an amazing piece of political correctness, all who work in this secret agency are not Catholic; there are Jews, Hindus and Muslims too. Who knew that monster hunting could bring about ecumenicalism …
In the movie, Van Helsing's mission is to find Dracula and bring him to an end. A friar named Carl (David Wenham), who is essentially a church-sponsored version of Q from the James Bond movies, accompanies him. A movie with monsters needs comic relief, and Carl is along for the ride to provide it.
They go off to Transylvania, the place where everyone knows that Dracula lives, to help the Valerious family vanquish the Lord of the Vampires. The Valerious family swore to rid the world of Dracula four years before, but have yet to do so. They are down to two family members, brother and sister Velkan (Will Kemp) and Anna (Kate Beckinsale).
"Van Helsing" provides us with a monster-rama, as subplots involve both Frankenstein and the Wolfman. This is a universe infested by monsters that seem to pop up anywhere and anytime.
"Van Helsing" wants to be a roller-coaster ride of a movie. Things jump out from nowhere and put Van Helsing in one predicament after another. Of course, he's the main character and he gets out of one predicament after another. In this it is trying to be an "Indiana Jones" movie, but "Van Helsing" lacks something that these and the classic monster movies had.
What it lacks is real tension. There are no real moments of fear. No matter what comes up, you know he is going to get out of it, and you don't even want to speculate how. This movie is manic and loud—which is not good, because most classic horror movies used silence so well.
One of its main problems is the re-writing of the mythos of the characters. In the canon of vampire movies, it is an established fact that vampires cannot attack in the day. Yet in this movie, they appear at any moment. Another part of the myth of vampires is the power of the crucifix to bring down a vampire. Dracula is only stunned momentarily by the presence of a crucifix, which he then takes in hand and throws down.
The producers of "Van Helsing" want to make this a franchise, but at the rate they are using up monsters, they are going to have to invent some for future movies. The old movies on Saturday nights established that Dracula never seemed to die. If we are lucky, he has made his last appearance in this series.
It's not that the movie is bad, just that it's bad for a scary movie. It needed more of a scare factor. "Van Helsing" tries, but in the end it fails to bring the goose bumps of those nights in the dark before the glowing tube.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for nonstop creature action violence and frightening images, and for sensuality. Reviewer's Note: The movie has some impalings as well.
Director: Stephen Sommers
Writer: Stephen Sommers
Cast: Gabriel Van Helsing: Hugh Jackman; Anna Valerious: Kate Beckinsale; Count Dracula: Richard Roxburgh; Carl: David Wenham; Velkan Valerious: Will Kemp; Frankenstein's Monster: Shuler Hensley; Igor: Kevin J. O'Connor; Dr. Frankenstein: Samuel West.
The movie's official Web site is here.