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One of the first scenes in Van Helsing is a
fight between the title character (Hugh Jackman) and evil Mr. Hyde in a bell tower in
Notre Dame Cathedral. During a break in the struggle, Mr. Hyde grabs his head and shouts,
The bells! The bells! The character seems to realize that he is making a joke
Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the rest of the film is laden with equally obvious
references to classic horror movies. Sometimes the cinematic tributes achieve a memorable
visual effect--as in the case of the costume ball based on the one in the original Phantom of the Opera--but mostly they are
highlights of old monster flicks clumsily dropped into a lackluster action movie.
Based on the wily professor who battled Dracula in countless pictures, this Van Helsing is the top agent of an interfaith network of monster-killers operating out of the basement of the
Van Helsing is really more a James Bond movie than a horror film. The visit to the
A more fundamental problem is that the computer-generated monsters arent really scary. Current computer technology has a hard time putting life in the eyes of its creatures, and the musculature usually ends up resembling claymation. (Thats why the least convincing monster in the film is Mr. Hyde, while the most plausible creatures are the hairy werewolves.) A lot of the action involves acrobatics at dizzying heights, but the humans uncanny ability to remain unhurt after slamming into trees and castle walls undercuts the scene-designers valiant efforts to induce fear of falling.
There are some clever twists on monster lore, including a theory about why vampires dont cast reflections (for them, mirrors are portals). Likewise, Kevin J. OConnors Igor is an enjoyable character, offering an amusing spin on Dr. Frankensteins evil henchman Fritz, who was played with abandon in 1931 by Universals go-to guy for evil henchmen, Dwight Frye. In a scene reminiscent of one involving Fritz and the Frankenstein monster, Igor wantonly torments a chained Wolf Man with a high-tech torch. When Dracula asks why he keeps doing that, Igor looks puzzled at the question and replies: Its what I do. The scene is a sharp but affectionate comment on the over-the-top underlings of old Universal monster films, but the other cinematic references dont achieve the same pitch.
Despite its many allusions to golden-age horror movies, Van Helsing more closely resembles the disappointing, overwrought monster rallies of the 1940s (House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula) than the subtle, chilling classics of the early 30s.
- Chris Pepus