It's been a long time since Hollywood has delivered a classic monster movie in the vein of Frankenstein or Dracula. What were once commonplace characters in the cinema of horror were eclipsed by the seemingly neverending audience demands of more gore, more sex, and more thrills. The Wolf Man and friends were replaced on the movie screen by Freddy Kreuger, Michael Myers (from Halloween, not Austin Powers), and Jason Voorhees. 2004's opening salvo of the summer movie season, Van Helsing, aims to bring the classic movie monsters back into the spotlight, and thankfully without any kind of "x-treme" makeover. There's little outlandish blood and gore to be found in Van Helsing, which instead opts to focus on special effects and actual atmospheric frights. It is a welcome change from the status quo of horror movies involving crazed slashers and teens who have sex, then die horribly.

Hugh Jackman (most likely best known as Wolverine from X-men) is Gabriel Van Helsing. In the nineteenth century he is James Bond to the Catholic Church's MI6, and when we first meet him he is on assignment in Paris on the trail of the murderous Edward Hyde. He is not a hero in the eyes of the people, however, because he often causes as much death and destruction during pursuits and encounters as those he is in pursuit of. Adding to Gabe's angst is the fact that he has no memory of his life before he began the pursuit of evil under the employ of the church (making this Hugh Jackman's second character who has no memory of his past). His latest mission takes him to Transylvania, aided by the very Q-esque Carl the monk friar. Carl has come up with a satchel full of vampire slaying goodies, such as a steam-powered rapid fire crossbow and an explosive ball of sunlight. In Transylvania Gabe and Carl meet up with the last surviving member of the Valerious family, Anna (played by Kate Beckinsale, in her second role dealing with the undead). She is the princess of a small Transylvanian town and is also in pursuit of evil, but for the purpose of allowing generations of her dead family entry into heaven. She and Gabe have an Indiana Jones/Marion Ravenwood relationship; the two of them drawn together by their similarities but just as equally frustrated and repulsed by the other's methods in getting the job done.

Meanwhile, in Transylvania, evil is spawning. Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his hunchback assistant Igor are working on the reanimation of dead flesh, eventually giving rise to Frankenstein's monster. The villagers storm the castle, of course, causing the doctor and his creation to flee to the old windmill where they are both consumed in a fiery explosion. Frankenstein's employer, Dracula, swoops in with his three unholy demon brides and sends the villagers running. What does the lord of the vampires want with the doctor's research? Well, it seems that Dracula and his brides want to create offspring and being dead is putting a serious cramp in those efforts. It seems that all the wives are able to give birth to are thousands upon thousands of gooey green cocoons. The cocoons house dead monsters, thus Dracula needs Frankenstein's methods of bringing the dead alive in order to give his children life, and then the children shall feed on humanity. Rounding out the monsterous cast is the werewolf under Dracula's control, although these beasts have a relatively short shelf life, resulting in a total of three different werewolves showing up at different points in the movie.

Universal Studios is obviously planning on Van Helsing becoming their latest franchise. Before the film was released the company was already developing two sequels for release in 2006 & 2008, an animated series, video games based on the film, and a theme park attraction in addition to the usual marketing and promotional tie-ins. Not bad for a movie that is essentially a blending of Indiana Jones, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and classic movie monsters.


So, did I like the movie? Much like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen I feel that this is a movie best enjoyed with your brain turned off. I'm glad that I saw it; it's a fun escape and provides a few twists and turns, but I don't see any need to watch it again. I'll see the sequel though, which I really hope is called something like Bride of Van Helsing and not Van Helsing: Curse of the Mummy's Tomb.


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