STUDIO: Universal
MSRP: $29.98
LENGTH: 132 long minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentaries, featurettes, outtakes, Xbox game level

It’s a guaranteed success, when you consider the ingredients:  A guy who hunts monsters, played by a charming actor who’s nearly proven his worth as an action hero.  A stunningly gorgeous leading lady.  A rogues gallery of classic creatures that includes Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s Monster.  Loads of resplendent costumes, visual zowie and rousing high adventure, with a cost around $175 million.  It’s an infallible formula.  Really.

Even if it seems unaware of its status as a parody, Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing is the Naked Gun approach to the classic Universal monsters.  That’s really the only feasible way to rationalize something so relentlessly illogical and unashamedly idiotic.  To properly illustrate the breadth of this absurdity, there WILL BE SPOILERS in this review, so if you haven’t seen the movie and are not content with just a numerical rating of 2.5, flee now.

Jason was starting to think that his Winger tribute band would never get better gigs than the Varsity Club until they got a cooler drummer.


As the movie (set in the late 19th century) begins, Van Helsing is in Paris following a trail of stogies to find the murderous Mr. Hyde, leading to a clocktower battle with the giant grunting digital creation whose dodgy quality sets the barometer for the rest of the movie.  Armed with his leather trenchcoat, pimp hat, pretty hair and unlikely weapons, Gabriel Van Helsing is essentially a glorified janitor for a secret section of the Vatican, traveling the world and cleaning up the evil boogeymen.  In order to make the character mysterious or at least slightly more than one-dimensional, Jackman has somehow retained the amnesia from his X-Men role, which may also explain why he can’t seem to decide on an accent.

Back at Rome, Van is given his new assignment: travel to Transylvania and assist the Valerious family with their blood oath to eliminate the threat of Dracula (who, as we learn in the black-and-white prologue, has already been menacing the land for at least a year – I guess the Vatican has higher priorities than a shanty town of gypsies).  Dispatched along with Van is gadget guru and irksome narrative device Friar Karl, played by Lord of the Rings’ David Wenham, channeling a more annoying version of Martin Short’s Innerspace character (without his Faramir locks, Wenham is only slightly more recognizable than screechy Sommers regular Kevin J. O’Connor as Igor, whose face is buried under mounds of pasty makeup).

"I loved you in Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies Go to College!  But your cameo in Ghoulies IV did feel a little strained."

Over in Transylvania we find the last of the Valerious family, prince Velkan (random beefstick Will Kemp) and his sister Anna (Kate Beckinsale, beautiful but looking a bit exhausted by the whole affair), as they attempt to destroy a rampaging werewolf, which manages to take Velkan over a cliff to an evident demise.  Conveniently coinciding with Van Helsing’s arrival in the dumpy Romanian village, the Transylvanian citizens are suddenly attacked by Dracula’s three brides, who alter their appearance between buxom beauties and hellish flying she-demons (whose flowing scarves and cleavage-producing corsets inexplicably disappear and reappear with the constant transformations, a small example of the movie’s truant logic).  Armed with some kind of gas-powered automatic crossbow that fires approximately seventy million projectiles before reloading (and is apparently made of a slippery metal, judging by the number of times it’s dropped), Van manages to use the handy nearby fountain of holy water outside the local church to annihilate one of the vamps (the blonde, I think), sending the other overacting beast-babes fluttering back to their lair.  Don’t worry, the CGI cow survives the assault… but the townsfolk are pissed that Van has killed one of the bloodseeking harpies. 

Distraught over the loss of his bride, Dracula (Richard Roxburgh, trying to make his Moulin Rouge work seem subtle) bursts out of his ice-covered coffin like something in a Coors Light commercial and begins ranting loudly (the villainy of he and his brides seems to be defined by the excessive volume used to deliver their shitty dialogue — but I suppose in a movie as obnoxiously noisy as this one, they need to assert themselves in any way possible).  Dracula is trying to use the late Dr. Frankenstein’s “science” to breathe life into his offspring, who hang in undulating sacks awaiting birth, and for Whatever Reason uses his new minion the Wolfman (who tears through his skin and then sheds his fur with each transformation, which is confounding), who is actually Velkan Valerious, as a vessel for the energy captured during a massive lightning storm.  The experiment seems like a success, judging by the waves of shrieking digital imps that burst from their embryos and descend upon the hapless nearby village to feed, but the creatures suddenly all explode into green goop, which I assume means the experiment was actually not successful because the electrical capacity of Wolfman wasn’t powerful enough, or something.

See, what Dracula really needs to do is strap Frankenstein’s Monster (Shuler Hensley, the only actor not completely embarrassing himself despite being covered in dough) into his lightning rig, because for Whatever Reason only he would be powerful enough to bring Drac’s brood to life.  It just so happens that Van and Anna find the Monster in the remains of the windmill (which is located about 100 feet from Dracula’s castle) where he’s apparently been hiding since the prologue.  I guess the vampires couldn’t be bothered to search there all this time, which is just wholly retarded since they watched him go there at the beginning of the movie, but now the Wolfman, who happened to be spying on Van and Anna, has discovered the existence of the Monster and scurries back to tell Drac.


"Waitwaitwait… I love westerns, too.  Can we get a shot of him stepping through randomly occurring steam, like Lee Van Cleef does at train stations in spaghetti westerns? That’d be fucking cool!  Let’s put that in there!"

In order to protect the Monster (this is the more eloquent version from Shelley’s novel, which doesn’t help it much) from being used as the vampire’s tool, Van and Anna load him onto a horse-drawn carriage bound for Rome.  “Nothing is faster than Transylvanian horses,” boasts Anna, which is an outright lie since the bitch-vamps and the Wolfman catch up to both Van’s decoy carriage and the one actually carrying the Monster.  The Wolfman (who isn’t afraid of raging flames, despite being covered in highly flammable fur) manages to wound Van and is shot by silver bullets, but doesn’t actually die until his sister finds him the next morning so he can have his really pathetic Death Scene.  This is also, of course, when the bride (who can see in the dark) finally locates the heroes and absconds with Anna. 

Suddenly everyone is in Budapest, where the remaining bride offers to exchange Anna for the Monster at a huge masquerade ball, because Van wants the trade to happen in a public place and it just so happens to be Hallow’s Eve.  Van and Friar Karl plan a doublecross, hiding the Monster in a nearby graveyard and sneaking into the party to rescue Anna.  Naturally, Drac’s thugs have captured the Monster anyway, and Van (who is in the process of becoming a werewolf) and Karl discover that pretty much the entire population of the city is a vampire, which allows Drac to get away.

The heroes hurry back to Transylvania, only to discover that Drac must be hiding in his real castle, which no one has ever learned how to get to.  Friar Karl goes into full exposition mode detailing Dracula’s origin, and then they use their combined intellect to discern that the wall map of Transylvania in the Valerious household must actually be a portal leading straight to Dracula’s stronghold, but nobody could figure it out because the map is missing a torn piece from the corner, which Van happens to have in his pocket and sweet jumping Stoker, I can’t believe I’m still bothering to describe this miserable cretinous experience. 

The sensation at approximately 43 min.

Reciting the complete incantation causes the map to become a pliable mirror that leads directly to Drac’s stronghold, a gargantuan black fortress on a snow-covered mountain.  Inside, the trio learns that Dracula possesses a “werewolf cure”, because even though a werewolf is the only thing that can kill him for Whatever Reason, he still likes to use them as henchmen and keeps the cure around in case one ever decides to not be a henchman and just kill him (by this point, even Jackman is wearing an expression of “What the fuck?!?”).  Karl and Anna rush to the tower about a mile away where Drac keeps the cure, because as a devious villain you would want to keep the only thing that could prolong your existence as far away as possible, and then they each in turn have to face Igor and the remaining bride, because that’s who they drew in the Climactic Showdown lottery.

Meanwhile, the cavern full of baby-pods hooked up to electrical devices (which the design team likely found in the trash barrel of The Matrix’s concept artists) springs to life, unleashing a fleet of flapping fiends on their way to somewhere.  Van is intermittently turning into a werewolf and learning an Obligatory Plot Twist from Dracula, who explains that it was actually Van who murdered him centuries ago and caused him to become a vampire and set everything in motion and even stole his ring, finger and all, the bastard, because Van is actually the Left Hand of God.  This may have been the point where I fell unconscious from trying to will my own IQ to the level of cement so the movie would seem even vaguely coherent, but then clouds floated by and covered the full moon causing WereVan to turn human again, because apparently a werewolf is not only susceptible to lunar effects but also drifting cumulus, and I felt something wet rupturing in my cranium.  WereVan finally slays Dracula by just sort of strolling over and chomping his neck, making him seem like quite a pussy after all his grandiloquent posturing and rambling threats, and all the flying vamp-babies detonate, and then Anna shows up with the cure but WereVan accidentally kills her.  In the coda, Van (now cured) and Karl burn Anna’s body because Valerious sounds kinda like Viking, and her giant face looks down on him from animated clouds as the music swells and the two men ride off into the sunset on horses, I swear.

"Hell yes, killing monsters is hard!  Look at my tiny frickin’ wrists!  I’m like a damn Micronaut!"

Let’s get something square: I like Stephen Sommers’ previous movies.  I’ll defend Deep Rising and The Mummy until my dying day because they gleefully revel in their stature as cheesy, non-stop junk entertainment (a routine that merely seems tiresome by the time The Mummy Returns).  But Van Helsing is so utterly cheerless in tone and so exhausting in its pacing that it becomes impossible to ignore such shortcomings as unbearably awful dialogue (arbitrary examples from a bride include “Did I scare you?  Then maybe I need to try… a little harder!” and “You can’t go until I say you can go… and I say you can go when you are dead!”), ceaselessly moronic plot points, and a surplus of spurious CGI.

Yes, a sizeable percentage of the film (creatures, stunt men, environments, etc.) merely consists of wireframe models and bump-mapped textures, which wouldn’t be so bad if the end result wasn’t comparable to that found in local commercials for carpeting companies (admittedly the FX look slightly better on a computer monitor, which may explain why any of it passed whatever quality control was in place).  But even besides the rubbery movement and unconvincing backgrounds, there’s so much oppressive eye candy happening that it becomes insufferable, and by the time the two Boss Characters have their grand final battle in the movie, you’d probably have more emotional investment in reaching the bonus stage of any Mortal Kombat game.  This is one instance where the argument of “Well, it may be stupid but at least it looks good” holds about as much weight as the thoughts wafting through Paul Walker’s head.

Offscreen, Van Zan actually managed to crawl from the dead beast’s intestinal tract, and years later would return to fulfill his promise to jam a hot poker up Quinn’s arse.

But the human characters do occasionally get to perform thrilling stuff like… swinging.  And walking on walls.  Van Helsing features more swinging around and walking on walls than Marvel’s entire run of Peter Parker: Spectacular Spider-Man (there’s also countless people and things smashing through windows, but I don’t have a decent analogy for excessive defenestration), because this sort of activity done over and over is exhilarating.  Van Helsing himself proves that Paul Mitchell was in business way back in 1888, while Anna looks like a Special Olympics participant when trying to run in her six-inch hooker-heels, yet is somehow also so acrobatic that she makes Nightcrawler seem as agile as John Goodman in a suit of armor (she also proves resilient to just about any form of vicious physical punishment up until it bafflingly becomes necessary that she isn’t).  And the monsters… oh, the poor monsters.  My doorbell rang as the credits rolled and when I answered it, the ghost of Lon Chaney Jr. slugged me in the crotch just for sitting through the entire interminable runtime.  This actually happened.

Looking at the pieces and the promise it held, to say Van Helsing is disappointing is like saying leprosy is a mild health issue. 

2.5 out of 10

"On three, ve do the flea-flicker to Invisible Man and Gill-man, and rush to end zone.  Drac and bitches vill not know vhat hit them."


The anamorphic 1.85 widescreen transfer is a little murky and would benefit substantially from not being Van Helsing.

7.8 out of 10


The dialogue is occasionally drowned by the bombastic score and other assorted clatter, which only seems to make the characters yell their lines in order to be heard. 

8.0 out of 10


There is a somewhat insubstantial gathering of features on the disc, obviously meant as mere filler before the 3-disc special edition arrives for those masochists with fetishes for bad CG.  The two commentary tracks, one with Sommers and producer Bob Duscay and the other with Roxburgh, Hensely and Kemp, are lively and informative but are of limited value as they are in reference to the film provided on the disc.  An interactive tour of Dracula’s castle (an actual set!) made me wish I’d stayed home, the multi-camera making-of will be enthralling to anyone who’s never seen a behind-the-scenes featurette, and the “Bringing the Monsters To Life” segment only made me long for the original Universal films.  The best of the bonus batch, a look at the legend of Van Helsing, is woefully brief, and not even the requisite outtakes, trailers and sampling of the Xbox game can make up for it.

4.0 out of 10

OVERALL: 3.9 out of 10