#31DOH Day 8: Van Helsing (2004)
NLet’s get the obvious out of the way, shall we? Van Helsing is pure trash. It’s a blazing dumpster fire of a movie with excess bloat, weird pacing, some bizarre editing choices, an overuse of (really, really bad) CGI, some truly awful writing and an incredibly tenuous grasp of physics. It features Doctor Frankenstein screaming “It’s alive!” in the cheesiest possible manner, Dracula teleporting across rooms in the middle of lines of dialogue (and also randomly walking up walls in a pretty hilarious way), lines from Doctor Frankenstein such as “Good God… I would kill myself before helping in such a task”, while Dracula replies “Feel free. I don’t actually need you anymore, Victor.”, Frankenstein’s monster falling into a burning windmill while a CG cog flies at the screen, Dracula’s brides wailing like demure pets rather than feeling like individual characters… And all of that is just the first five minutes. It’s terrible by every measure possible.
And yet, I love this movie.
I can’t even really explain why. It’s mostly terrible in every sense of the word, but for some reason, I really enjoy it.
A case can definitely be argued for Van Helsing fitting squarely into the “so bad it’s good” category, and I would even agree with that argument. But also, I would contend there’s several actually good things about the movie that just make the bad parts all the better. Yes I know that doesn’t make sense, but I’m going to keep talking anyway.
Take, for instance, Richard Roxburgh’s Dracula (or, to give him his full, gloriously OTT name, Count Vladislaus Dragulia). He is absolutely perfect and I will not suffer a word against him. I will forever be convinced he knows exactly how hokey the material is, and as such is hamming it up as much as possible. Fortunately, such an approach fits the world of Van Helsing to a T, where logic makes no sense and everything of import is underscored by a dramatic lightning flash. He’s basically The Duke from Moulin Rouge! (also played by Richard Roxburgh) turned up to eleven – if such a thing is possible – and given a terrible Transylvanian accent. All his lines are either whispered, screamed or delivered in a sarcastic monotone, and I love every second of his performance.
That’s about all I can say of the performances though. Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing is a weird mix of a boring version of Wolverine (complete with amnesia) and slightly more boring version of Bond. The awful quips don’t help, either. As for the rest of the cast… Kate Beckinsale does her best with the material, but there’s only so much you can do. Making this movie’s material sound believable is like trying to reverse entropy. David Wenham, of Faramir fame, is also in this movie. He is literally a quasi-Victorian version of Q (I didn’t think I’d have so many Bond comparisons in this article when I started writing it, to be honest). You can almost hear him internally screaming “I was in Lord of the Rings for f*ck’s sake!”
Okay, maybe that last paragraph was a little mean, but there’s only so much you can defend Van Helsing, and as much as I enjoy it, it is a bad movie. What isn’t bad, however, is the soundtrack, because contrary to most of the movie, it’s actually pretty great. There’s a good reason for that, and that reason is Alan Silvestri (you may just be familiar with his iconic scores to movies like Back to the Future and Avengers: Endgame), who fills the soundtrack with stabbing brass, dramatic choirs and even liberal use of Spanish guitar, which gives the movie a very unique audio identity. Honestly, I’d say the soundtrack is reason enough alone to give Van Helsing a rewatch.
The visuals are also actually pretty nice at times, if you can ignore that early-to-mid-two-thousands trend of chucking as much CGI as you can at things. You can definitely appreciate the over-the-top, Gothic atmosphere it’s going for. Hell, I’d argue it even mostly succeeds in that respect, especially as the first five minutes are entirely in black and white, evoking the classic monster movies of the first half of the twentieth century in what is clearly a passionate homage by director Stephen Sommers.
I guess my argument here is that, as derided as Van Helsing is, it does have some legitimately good things about it. And even if I haven’t convinced you of that, I would still highly recommend getting a few friends together, getting drunk enough to find everything hilarious, and putting the movie on. Honestly, it’s worth it for Richard Roxburgh and his beautiful hair and egregious accent alone.
Remember to follow the hashtag #31DOH on Twitter and Facebook every day in October to see what other terrifying treats we’ve been watching!