B-Movie Monsters Return
Release Date: May 07, 2004
Audience: Teenagers and adults
Rating: PG-13 for nonstop creature
action violence and
frightening images, and for
Runtime: 123 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Address Comments To:Bob Wright, Chairman Designate
Ron Meyer, President/COO
Vivendi Universal Entertainment
Stacey Snider, Chairman
100 Universal City Plaza
Universal City, CA 91608-1085
Phone: (818) 777-1000
Web Page: www.universalstudios.com
The action starts immediately as Dr. Frankenstein gives life to his monster, with Count Dracula “sponsoring” the experiment. Fearful villagers storm Frankenstein’s castle and burn it to the ground. Decades later, a secretive council run by the Roman Catholic church dispatches their ace monster hunter Van Helsing to the scene to finally kill Dracula, who has been terrorizing the region in the intervening years. Through a bizarre intricacy of the plot, if Van Helsing does not kill Dracula very soon, several generations of one family will be doomed forever and not allowed into heaven.
VAN HELSING borrows some imagery and ideas from Christianity and Catholicism to make its hobbled plot spin, as Van Helsing believes that his talent to slay monsters is a gift and mission from God, and he crosses himself whenever he comes across a dead person. Salvation is even the plot’s motor, although it is gained at the hands of the monster hunter – not God alone. Several other characters refer to God, asking for His help or forgiveness, but the talk seems a formality. A friar meets a barmaid and fornicates with her almost immediately, while an annoyed priest tells Van Helsing, during confession, that he deserves “a week in hell” for breaking a window. The priest’s irreverent, flagrantly unbiblical statement is proof that this movie uses religion simply as an intriguing backdrop for its vacant story. Very similar to HELLBOY, there are references to Christianity, but no deep understanding of it as a thriving, real way of life.
Aside from the theological problems, the movie is a hodgepodge of elements that never come together. There are scary monsters to suggest a horror movie, explosions and fight scenes that say action movie, eye-roll-inducing comic relief, a vaguely mystical plotline, and even a perfunctory love story. Rather than complement each other, the components clutter the movie and bore the audience. The filmmakers should have been more straightforward and admitted that they just wanted a showcase for their special effects.
Those effects, however, are excellent. The dark, twilit atmosphere lends them a visual realness not found in some other CGI-laden movies. In the end, though, VAN HELSING is too campy to enjoy very much. The collection of 1930s movie monsters comes off as silly, and I haven’t even mentioned Dracula’s wives, with their terrible Transylvanian accents and cartoonish cackles. If only someone could make a movie that used the sophisticated special effects to enhance the story, not substitute for it.
VAN HELSING has little foul language but lots of fighting between the hero and the monsters. Van Helsing uses guns, arrows and a small buzz saw. Although there are several positive mentions of God and Christianity, other parts of the movie’s theology are unbiblical, as the hero controls the salvation of an entire family, and there is talk of past lives. There is also a priest who says something bitter and ungodly in a confessional. In addition, the movie is far too campy for today’s audiences. Despite the exciting graphics, it will be quickly forgotten.