Film Review
Source: Channel 4

Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale take on Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man in a big-budget effects extravaganza from The Mummy director Stephen Sommers

Having successfully reinvigorated the creature feature with The Mummy movies, writer-director Stephen Sommers goes monster mash mad with Van Helsing, pitting Bram Stoker's vampire hunter against a whole host of old-school horror bad boys in this FX-laden re-imagining of the 'Dracula' myth. Set in the late 19th century, Hugh Jackman stars as the titular monster expert. A mercenary for the Catholic Church who spends his time slaughtering the possessed souls of rogues and demons, he's summoned to a distant eastern European land to hunt down Count Dracula (Roxburgh), taking on Frankensteins Monster (Hensley) and the Wolf Man (Kemp) along the way.

It's this creature clash that is the main selling point for Van Helsing. Although Universal own the cinematic rights to the characters, there haven't been any onscreen meetings since the 1940s when such films as House Of Frankenstein, House Of Dracula and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein proved popular. Plans were afoot to revive the concept in a CGI horror film for kids called 'Frankenstein And The Wolf Man', but the film (a co-production with Industrial Light and Magic) fell apart amid rumours of creative differences and budget problems in 1999. However, when The Mummy and its sequel struck big at the box-office, Universal realised that Stephen Sommers would be the perfect man to helm a high concept gothic blockbuster and so gave his treatment for Van Helsing the go-ahead.

With most of the shoot taking place in Prague in early 2003 (with additional studio work in LA), Sommers and Universal certainly seem to have learned their lesson from the rushed production of The Mummy Returns, which resulted in some of the worst special effects of recent years. By the time Van Helsing opens in May 2004, Sommers and the boffins at ILM will have had the best part of a year to perfect the CGI. It's time they'll certainly need if they are going to deliver on the radically re-imagined monsters unveiled in the film's teaser posters. Featuring Dracula as a winged bat-like demon, Frankenstein looking like a savage cyborg and Wolf Man as a hulking lycanthrope, it's a long way from the capes, bolts and hairy faces of old.

This should go some way to helping it connect with modern audiences. With a budget rumoured to be around the $150 million mark, it will certainly need to pull something special out of the bag to avoid suffering the same fate as some of 2003's more lacklustre blockbusters (Hulk, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Still, it has a lot going for it. As Wolverine in the X-Men films, Jackman proved his star chops and is a firm favourite with both male and female audiences. Then there's Kate Beckinsale. Fresh from playing a vampire in box-office hit Underworld, she trades sides to aid Jackman as Anna, a young woman whose family has been dedicated to hunting Dracula for 400 years.

If Sommers gets the tone right, expect this to be one of the biggest films of 2004.

Alistair Harkness