A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 278 – Van Helsing

Van Helsing – December 3rd, 2010

I hadn’t seen this before tonight and back when we watched the Underworld movies earlier in the week Andy really wanted to put it in right away. But this movie is too long for a Tuesday or Thursday and Wednesday was Woody Allen’s birthday. So we’ve got a friend visiting for the weekend and when Andy said “How about Van Helsing?” I had to point out that generally? We like to give guests veto power while they’re here. It would just be mean to force something like Megalodon on someone who hasn’t really committed to this project. We’ve got to watch the movies because that’s the whole point. We bought them, so we’re watching them. Guests? They’re innocent. Except in the case of Incubus. That was totally given to us by a guest.

But back to Van Helsing. We gave our guest veto power on this one and our guest said “No, I’ve been meaning to see that and this seems like a good way to do it.” And so we put this in tonight. And now, having seen it, I can understand why Andy wanted to put it in right away. After all, it’s a very blue-tinted movie about vampires and werewolves and it features Kate Beckinsale. I am ashamed to admit I didn’t realize it was really her at first. I thought it was a cheap Kate Beckinsale knockoff. I think it’s the hair. It’s very ringletty. But yes, vampires, werewolves, dark ambiance and so on and so forth. It’s a perfect follow-up, especially given the tone in which it’s presented.

This is a movie that straight up knows what it is. It’s got a sort of Snakes on a Plane quality there. It knows its camp value. It knows it’s a big old wheel of cheese. And it revels in it. And I do like a movie that runs with that. The plot follows Van Helsing, a big hero type who wears a duster and carries some cordless circular saws and hunts down monsters. He’s been sent by a secret Vatican-controlled-but-really-quite-diverse organization to hunt down Dracula. The tiny town nearby, plagued by vampire attacks, seems a little reluctant to let him help, but they do anyhow because even though they apparently had two badass vampire hunters themselves, no one had actually killed a vampire in centuries until Van Helsing and his auto-firing crossbow and plucky comic relief friar arrived. And along the way, while Van Helsing hunts down vampires and has a total lack of romantic chemistry with Anna (one of the non-vampire-killing vampire hunters), there are tons of monsters.

We start the movie off with the creation of Frankenstein’s monster. Then we shift to Van Helsing hunting down Mr. Hyde. We get vampires and werewolves too, making this a real monster fest. I’m kind of sad really, that no mummies were involved. It seems like that would have completed it all. There’s a whole involved plot where Dracula is using Frankenstein’s monster to channel electricity into a bunch of primitive defibrillators to jolt his undead batmonkeybabies into life. He also somehow controls all werewolves and has a cure for them because only a werewolf can kill him. He keeps the cure in ball of ice filled with acid, you know, so he can grab it in a hurry. Me, I’d treat it like an epi-pen and keep it on me at all times.

To be honest, while I know there was lots of backstory attempted, with history behind who Van Helsing really is and what he’s done in the past, I didn’t pay attention. There’s stuff about Anna’s ancestors and the origin of Dracula. I don’t really care. The movie’s soundtrack was unpleasantly unbalanced and we had to keep turning it up to hear the dialogue at all or down so the action wouldn’t shake our apartment building down. So I missed a lot of talking and backstory. I don’t think it really would have added a whole lot. Someone’s ancestor did something. Someone else’s did something else. Vader is Luke’s father, blah blah blah. The story here is so not the point of the movie.

The point of this movie is the cheese factor. The point is to cram as many monster movie tropes in as possible, from Igor to the creepy gravedigger. It’s got bizarrely inexplicable bits, like the windmill that gets lit on fire at the beginning (I could have sworn Dracula told Frankenstein it was a castle, but then it was clearly a windmill). It’s got Kate Beckinsale’s tightly corseted waist and heaving bosom. It’s got things like a huge mirror in Dracula’s castle so he can creep out his human “guests” at parties. And in the end it’s got a stormy night and a battle between a werewolf and a vampire and if it had been directed by Joss Whedon I’m sure the plucky comic relief would have died but it wasn’t so he lived. It’s one of those really bad movies that comes out the other side of bad into camp, but then I think that was intentional, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I suppose as a tribute to classic monster movies, it succeeds in that it has a lot of fun tossing in everything but the kitchen sink (and a mummy). Now I’ll just sit back and wait for Van Helsing vs Billy the Kid.

December 3, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Van Helsing

December 3, 2010

Van Helsing

Do you love cheese? I mean, really, love the strongest, stinkiest, greenest cheese you can find? How about computer generated special effects? How about Kate Beckinsale? Hugh Jackman? If so, then this might be the movie for you.

Back in the forties there was an attempt to keep milking the classic Universal monster movies with derivative and sub-standard fare like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Sort of like the Freddy meets Jason movie from a couple years ago. This was just before the monster movie genre degenerated into self satire with the Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein. Tonight’s movie is a CGI laden “homage” to these lesser monster movies. It is like a cross between the Universal movies of yore and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The movie starts with a black and white segment where Dracula kills Dr. Frankenstein as a Transylvanian mob attempts to break into his castle. Frankenstein’s monster has apparently been commissioned by Dracula for some nefarious end in this strange mashup universe. We don’t learn more about that purpose for a little while because once the monster escapes from Dracula’s castle we cut to Notre Dame, where we meet our hero.

The Gabriel Van Helsing of this movie is not to be confused with Abraham Van Helsing, the vampire hunter from Bram Stoker’s novel. This Van Helsing is also a vampire hunter, but that and the name are about the extent of the similarity. Gabriel, for one thing, is a monster hunter and assassin in the employ of the Vatican. Being as he is played by Hugh Jackman Gabriel also has Wolverine-like memory problems and doesn’t really know anything about his own past. We join him at the start of the movie as he is hunting the nefarious Mr. Hyde – who here is a colossal digital creature with the first of a long series of ridiculous accents. (It’s at this point that the LXG vibe really begins to take over.)

A cardinal in the Vatican City (in Rome according to the title card) sends Van Helsing to kill Dracula. But first Van Helsing has to visit Carl, a sort of medeival Q in his lab where he has all kinds of useful monster-killing gadgets. Carl is played by David Wenham of LOTR and 300 fame who here is the comic relief with his strange accent, shuffling gait and submissive hunched posture. When the two of them reach Transylvania they team up with Kate Beckinsale, who here is NOT a vampire, but is the last living descendant of a long line of gypsy kings who have sworn to kill Dracula. Her brother, it transpires, has been bitten by a werewolf.

The mythology of this movie is a little muddy here. It’s unclear to me just where the werewolves come into things. When I first saw this movie I thought that the curse on the gypsy kings was somehow responsible for the werewolves (since traditionally werewolves are associated in my mind with gypsy curses.) I think that’s not really the case though. Dracula seems to have somehow created the werewolves to act as his servants, or as experimental test subjects for his attempts to us Dr. Frankenstein’s life giving electrical gadgets to bring his vast horde of stillborn children to life. Or something. Maybe it’s not actually SUPPOSED to make any sense. Maybe I should remind myself it’s just a show and I should really just relax.

I’m not altogether sure how this movie got made. It’s clearly got a huge budget, and it’s got a bunch of big name actors, but the entire thing from beginning to end sort of treads a thin line between stupid cheesy action and outright satire. It’s abundantly clear that film makers knew very well just what kind of movie they were constructing. It never takes itself particularly seriously. The one-liners and quips are often wince-inducingly awful. The menacing threat that must be stopped at any cost is a horde of flying digital vampire monkey babies that have a tendency to spontaneously burst into globs of green goo – which tends to undermine some of the tension. I love the design for Frankenstein’s Monster in this film, but his exposed electric brain would seem to be a fatal flaw for him. Kate Beckinsale’s character Anna spends practically the entire movie in a strangely corseted outfit that looks as if it’s trying to force her breasts to burst through her blouse – which you would think would make it hard to slay werewolves and vampires. In short, this movie is a complete mess.

So why do I still like it? Because I love my movies dripping in cheese. I’m slightly regretful that this didn’t spawn an entire franchise – although since the Wolf Man, Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster have already been dealt with it’s hard to imagine who Van Helsing would battle next. The Mummy and the Invisible Man I suppose.

December 3, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment