Sunday, October 17, 2010

Van Helsing: Modernizing the Classic Universal Monsters

Personally, it’s hard for me to believe that I am talking about Van Helsing when it’s undoubtedly an action movie. It’s sort of like Sommer’s other movie The Mummy but today I want to talk about the monsters in Van Helsing. Sure, you can stone me to death for this but I actually really enjoyed this film because it reminded me of the classic Universal monster movies. This is probably because Mr. Hyde, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein and his monster, Igor and Dracula all make an appearance in the film. The way I see it, this is sort of like a big budget flashy version of the classic films that Universal made when they paired up their famous monsters such as Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man or Dracula Meets Frankenstein. Those films, as well as Van Helsing, both find ways to connect the monsters but that isn’t what I want to talk about. I want to elaborate on why I really think Sommer’s nailed the contemporary look of each classic monster.

Mr. Hyde

In Sommer’s short adaption of the classic story of duel personalities, Mr. Hyde isn’t really as ‘ugly’ as the adaption by Paramount in the 30s but he does show the contrast between Hyde and Jekyll. I’m not a huge fan of this modern day adaption because Hyde looks like he is on steroids and is way too big for his own good (the same problem I had with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). I do, however, like how Hyde looks facially. He is butch, gritty, vile and looks like a really mean Englishman. Also, the other problem that I had with it was that it was all CGI and I would have really liked if they played Hyde off as sort of a serial killer rather than some enormous freak in a bell tower.

The Wolf Man

I expected the Wolf Man to be in CGI and I was prepared to see an awful adaption of the classic Universal monster but I was pleasantly surprised; the CGI wasn’t that bad. The Wolf Man isn’t really that human like the original 40s rendition but you can see the human-like qualities that it possesses. It’s an abnormally huge wolf, the transformation scene is very painful to watch and you see the Wolf Man peel back it’s skin to reveal the human underneath it and when Van Helsing is turned into one… he howls in the classic horror movie sense. Though you never see what the first Wolf Man looks like in his or her human form, they really made it violent and pretty scary.


It is obvious that nobody can beat the charisma or the charm as Bela Lugosi or the dark, frightening portrayal of Christopher Lee but Sommer’s Dracula pays tribute both to the classic Universal Dracula and perhaps even Fright Night. Here, The Count is lovingly over-the-top and pretty charismatic but has modern renditions. There is not cape or slick back hair but rather a fancy masquerade like outfit (similar to that of the vampires in Interview With A Vampire) and his hair is longer and romantic. You can tell that he is very tragic and is very set on completing his goal. In his pure vampiric form he is almost like a man-bat-thing with large wings, tall body and a long bat-like mouth full of fangs. I compare him to what Jerry Dandridge looked like in Fright Night only a little scarier and violent. Still, I think this is a great modern day interpretation of the classic Stoker villain.

The Frankenstein Monster

This is my favorite reincarnation of Frankenstein in the modern era that I have seen. Taking out the fact that the film opens up in black and white and sets the dramatic tone that Universal was known for, the Monster looks brilliantly fantastic. They kept the trademark body features such as the tall, bulky body, the flat head and the screws coming out of his neck but they gave him modern day updates. The most notable is his ‘heart’ and his ‘brain,’ which look very steampunk and something that was taken right out of a Guillermo Del Toro film. Here, we finally see what is keeping this monster alive and it’s the electricity that is in his heart capacitor. The performance is very operatic and feels like it should be on the stage rather than film but that might go back to the Edison version of Frankenstein.

Like I said, this isn’t the best movie let alone action or horror but it delivered what I wanted… monster, action and a lot of humor. Up until I saw this film I had never seen anything close to the classic Universal Monsters on screen and considering this was distributed by Universal… I felt that I accomplished my task.


Wings said...

You know, I have never seen this one, but now I want to! Going over to check Netflix. Thanks!

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