SNARK WEEK: Van Helsing (2004), How I Hate Thee, Let Me Count the Ways

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This movie is right up there with Legends of the Fall (1994) in my list of most hated movies ever. Van Helsing (2004) has the added bonus of offending my goth sensibilities by being something of a vampire horror flick. Because, OMFG, is this a stupid movie. Boringly stupid. Annoyingly stupid. Stupid with a side of pathetic so-called costumes. Now, I love all the cheesy Hammer Horror flicks of the 1960s-70s, I love the classics from the 1930s, I love sooooo many of the ridiculous vampire movies of the ’80s and ’90s, but this Van Helsing is just crap made to irritate me. Let’s count out some of the ways…

 

1. It’s Just a Mishmash of Horror Stories

Director Stephen Sommers theoretically wanted to make an homage to the Universal horror films of the ’30s and ’40s. But the story of Van Helsing is so flimsy and random that it’s more like Sommers threw a bunch of bits of those Universal horror films into a blender together and didn’t really care much about any one of them.

Van Helsing (2004)

Dr. Frankenstein tries to impale Count Dracula, but nbd.

The flick starts with Dr. Frankenstein creating his monster, then Count Dracula shows up to steal said monster. Next, Van Helsing kills Mr. Hyde (aka Dr. Jekyll), who he finds in the attic-y part of Notre Dame Cathedral (shades of the Hunchback of same, even though the Jekyll and Hyde story takes place in London, not Paris, but whatever). Then we learn that Van Helsing is working as part of some Catholic secret society, and while that’s not relevant to old horror movies, it smacks of throwing a little Da Vinci Code / random conspiracy theory in for kicks. And the movie rounds things out with Dracula’s three brides and several werewolves, all of which (including Dracula) have a mishmash of “rules” for their existence and how to kill them. It’s a hot mess.

 

 

2. The Setting Is Supposedly Historical

Van Helsing (2004)

Just don’t. I’ve already written a whole Snark Week post about how this annoys me in frock flicks. But here it’s particularly grievous because zero attempt was made to look or feel historical, other than slapping that title card on the flick. Why do that?!? Just leave it off and have your way with the silly horror fantasy crap?

 

 

3. How Bad Is Count Dracula’s Fucking Hair?

Van Helsing (2004)

It’s so stringy! And the ponytail looks like some greasy old guy trying to be “hip” — but worse because of the weird barrette. Either rock the long hair like the poncy guys in Interview With the Vampire, or cut it short like some Twilight kid. Just don’t half-ass it here.

Van Helsing (2004)

If it’s in your way, just cut it off, dude!

Van Helsing (2004)

So cheezeball.

Van Helsing (2004)

The barrette is dorky AF.

 

 

4. There’s So Much Goddamn Leather

Van Helsing (2004)

It starts with the Contractually Obligated Leather Pants, but oh no, this movie doesn’t end there. Both Van Helsing and Anna are are fans of the leather look. Not in any vaguely 1880s fashion, of course, that would be silly.

Van Helsing (2004)

Stretchy pants & a cropped velvet jacket, but leather boots & corset.

Van Helsing (2004)

And a different type of leather corset here! Have I mentioned that corsets were not worn as outerwear before the 1980s? Oh, I guess that doesn’t matter when you’re wearing thigh-high leather boots & have a spiral perm, all to fight the evil undead in the 1880s.

 

 

5. Van Helsing Wears an Indiana Jones Hat

Van Helsing (2004)

Where have I seen this hat before?

Indiana Jones

In fact, Van Helsing wears several different throughout the movie, and his hat wardrobe is well documented by whoever gives a fuck. They all generally resemble Indy hats for the same effect. Booooring!

Van Helsing (2004)

When his hat is off, we get to see his ridiculously feathered, shiny, and soft hair.

Van Helsing (2004)

Why is the vampire hunter’s hair prettier than the vampire who’s had hundreds of years to figure that shit out?

 

 

6. The Vampire Brides Wear Lingerie

Snark Week - Van Helsing( 2004)

Not tatters of clothing, but actual modern lingerie. Or are they belly dance costumes? Or, as we suggested in a past Snark Week, World Wrestling Federation costumes? Whatever, they’re just random slutty nonsense.

Van Helsing (2004)

Sure, I guess this is a dress.

Van Helsing (2004)

But this is just a hacked-apart belly dance outfit.

Van Helsing (2004)

Because ancient undead women always wore gold lame & pink chiffon, right.

 

 

7. Anna Valerious Has Too Perfect Curls

Van Helsing (2004)

Even when fighting, which she does endlessly, Anna’s hair is perfectly in place. We’re way beyond beachy waves here, we’re into full-on spiral perm territory. Without a hairpin to be found, because this is a fantasy movie with a thin sheen of a historical setting. Her hair is just so ridiculously perfect.

Van Helsing (2004)

 

 

8. I Guess Steampunk Was Still Cool

Van Helsing (2004)

First, there’s Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, which is far more junked up with shiny bits than in the old Universal movie. Then Count Dracula recreates said lab for his own randomly nefarious purposes. But the big steampunk mess is the lab of Carl the Friar, who’s part of the Catholic secret society that employs Van Helsing. This guy is supposed to be like Q for James Bond, giving Van Helsing loads of “technology” to fight evil with. But really, this is just an excuse to show a lot of gears and tesla coils.

Van Helsing (2004)

 

 

9. The Way the Vampires’ Mouths Open Is Ugly

Van Helsing (2004)

Someone was way too excited to use CGI here, and I hate it. (Yes, I’m allowed to nitpick!)

Van Helsing (2004)

 

 

10. No, Anna’s Red Dress Doesn’t Make Up for Anything

Van Helsing (2004)

I know all y’all have been waiting to say “but Anna wears that great red dress in Van Helsing! Isn’t that worthwhile?” And I’m here to say NOPE. Most of the time she’s wearing some kind of Sexy Bull Fighter Halloween costume, so, sure, this dress is definitely better. But I’m not giving it a total pass! The masquerade scene is beautifully costumed by the excellent design team of Gabriella Pescucci and Carlo Poggioli. I particularly like the opera singer’s outfit in black and gold. But they’re all fantasy masquerade costumes. Anna’s red dress has some approximate historical lines, but from about five years later than the supposed 1888 date of the film. So yeah, a nice fantasy masquerade dress, that’s all.

Van Helsing (2004)

This is fine but pretty *sad trombone* after everything else in the movie.

If you want to suffer through this movie one more time, I recommend this Van Helsing drinking game I found. It’ll dull the pain.

 

 

Are you irritated by Van Helsing? Join in the hate!

 

 

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43 Responses

  1. Tracy

    I’ll hold the stake if you want to hammer it through this film’s heart! Everything you said is right on!

    Reply
  2. Gwyn

    As a former Middle Eastern dance teacher, I have to say, ooooohhhhh nooooo. And did, when someone excitedly showed me their new outfit that they got off the interwebs. Structurally unsound. Also smelly within mere seconds of dancing in it, as tissue lame (so aptly named, as it tears like tissue) holds smells in like plastic wrap. So glad I have never seen this movie!

    Reply
  3. Roxana

    I rather liked Anna’s wild layered costume, but it sure is 1880s, or Transylvanian. Is she supposed to Spanish l
    The actresses playing Dracula’s brides seem to be enjoying themselves in their slutty, unhistorical costumes. Which is nice, I guess.

    Reply
      • Roxana

        Ooh, I just bet the Roma community loved that!
        I am quite that’s not what a well bred Romani was wearing in the 1870s!

        Reply
  4. Frances Germeshausen

    “Sexy Bull Fighter Halloween costume” – just had to see this again.

    Reply
  5. EA Gorman

    All these reasons make sense, but then there’s Hugh Jackman in leather and suddenly they’re all null and void. [Speaking of, can Hugh please become a Man Candy Monday subject soon?]

    Reply
  6. Susan Pola Staples

    The costumes make the women look like streetwalkers trolling for….. But need any garlic for staking the film through its celluloid heart, I’ll join the team. After booze is on me.

    Reply
  7. Kate

    I love the red embroidery details on Anna’s blouse but that’s always been one of the least sexy Dracula’s out there.

    Reply
    • Kat

      I just don’t get how anyone looks at the tantrum throwing manbaby Duke in Moulin Rouge and go, yes this is exactly the guy to play the immortal badass Dracula.

      Reply
    • Ginger

      Speaking of Indiana Jones, that red embroidered blouse sure reminds me of Marion’s outfit in Cairo.

      Reply
  8. Liz

    I made it through about 6.5 minutes of Van Helsing. I honestly wanted to try because an old gymnastics teammate of mine was the stunt double for the female lead. But OMG it was SO bad I just couldn’t do it.

    Reply
  9. Kathleen Norvell

    I went to see this because Hugh Jackman. It was so loud that I ended up with my fingers in myears for the whole thing. Hated it so much.

    Reply
  10. mmcquown

    Struck a nerve about the fangs; nice for a reptile, but wrong for a vampire. I have a long-time grotch with recent vampire movies with the vamps ripping throats out and wasting all that blood. Let’s go back to the 2 neat holes, please.
    Beckinsale mentioned on a talk show that in the scene where she was upside down in the tree she experienced total fallout.
    To be fair, the hats aren’t the same. VH’s hat is of the period, and I have seen them in other films. Indy’s fedora is very 20th C. Actually, I’d wear VH’s hat.
    I love Beckinsale in leather in the Underworld series, but in 19th c Transylvania…too bad they couldn’t have moved it up to Regency.
    BTW, one of Hammer (and Amicus’s) fave actresses, Ingrid Pitt, was a child survivor of the camps.

    Reply
  11. Sam Marchiony

    I haven’t seen the movie in forever, but I feel like they did that thing where they conflated Romanian with Romani for the Valerious family, which might go a ways in explaining why they decided to go with the look they went with for Anna. Explaining, but not excusing. Just garbage.

    Reply
  12. Charity

    I love this movie as pure hilarious trash. And the soundtrack is AMAZING. I used to write epic action scenes in my novels while listening to it.

    Reply
  13. Bea

    I keep having the feeling that the female vampire harem escaped from a remake of Total Eclipse of the Heart

    Reply
  14. Nzie

    I guess I don’t regret missing this after all, even with Hugh Jackman (who is a good actor, sees to be a good person, and, yes, good looking). But I did quite like Dracula (novel). I get the sense I wouldn’t like the way any of the films tell the stories. Probably if I’d seen this when it came out I wouldn’t have given second thought to any of the issues you pointed out. But after a few years reading this blog… #knowbettersnarkbetter

    Reply
    • Roxana

      Bram Stoker’s novel scared me so much I couldn’t finish it! None of the movies have bothered me like that!

      Reply
  15. GinaP

    Another ripped off source might be Alien. The way the vampire’s jaws drops and the teeth protrude reminds me of the monster in those movies.

    Reply
  16. hsc

    /geek rant on:/

    The look of Van Helsing was obviously patterned after Solomon Kane, who was created for pulp magazines by Robert E. Howard in 1928, four years before his more famous creation Conan the Barbarian.

    Kane was a Puritan who traveled the world fighting supernatural forces, and Howard pretty much laid out that look in the stories– the hat, the long hair, the dark clothing, even the leather vest and high boots.

    After Marvel Comics had success with adapting Conan for the comics, they adapted the Solomon Kane stories in the early ’70s, with a character design like this:
    https://i.imgur.com/D5ueFQH.jpg

    https://img2.rtve.es/i/ctv-0q1-kane-buscema_1614777958438.png

    The film rights to the character were purchased in 1997, and SOLOMON KANE was in development prior to VAN HELSING, but wasn’t completed until 2009, with James Purefoy starring:
    https://i2.wp.com/www.thefancarpet.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Solomon_Kane_47523_Medium.jpg?ssl=1

    https://dyn.media.forbiddenplanet.com/udxHoAvdxrXVGYw7l3a7Nz8–u4=/0x1500/https://media.forbiddenplanet.com/events/3f/f0/936aeb52d0e6e086938460cf6722dbb36b42.jpg

    And even though it looked like they were ripping off Hugh Jackman’s look, it was really the other way around. (While the end result is certainly less wretched than VAN HELSING, it’s just a generic action film and not snark-worthy.)

    /geek rant off/

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Annnnnnd none of them have anything to do with the 1880s, so the flick shouldn’t be set in the historical period.

      FWIW, the Solomon Kane movie is set in the early 17th century, & from the little bit I’ve seen, isn’t quite as ridiculous. But who knows, it may show up in a future Snark Week too ;)

      Reply
      • Lily Lotus Rose

        Oh, God. If any of you can get through more than 10 minutes of Solomon Kane, I’ll give you a gold star or something. I love James Purefoy, but this movie was just horrible, not even my beloved James could redeem it. Also, I watched it with my best friend who is really into wigs and she kept calling James’s wig “gas station tracks” which only made me notice one more thing that was awful about the movie.

        Reply
        • Roxana

          I enjoyed the trailers focused on Purfoy but I knew I’d never be able to stomach the movie!

          Reply
          • hsc

            Having a “Y” chromosome probably helps a lot when you’re watching this sort of thing.

            It’s not as mind-bogglingly stupid as VAN HELSING– but it also isn’t as mind-bogglingly stupid as VAN HELSING, so it’s just an “eh”-level small-studio action film.

            Reply
  17. Lily Lotus Rose

    OMG–I LOVE this ENTIRE POST and agree with ALL your points. I’m one of the idiots who paid to see this movie IN THE THEATERS. Honestly, I thought it was totally craptastic!! Recently, I found it a free bin at local used book/CD store and brought it home so that I could have as a pick me on o down day. Well, I haven’t been THAT down yet so as to merit another viewing of this film, but now I just might have to.

    Also, I second a Hugh Jackman MCM and a LOVE of the movie Kate and Leopold. AND, I think we now need a FF post or a tag called “random slutty nonsense.” LOVE THIS ONE!!!

    Reply
  18. Mary

    First time commenter, hi.
    I fast forward through most of this movie, only watching the ballgown scene, Will Kemp, the man to werewolf transformation (which is great) and the fight scenes. I like the idea of this movie, but the execution is so so bad. I will say that Kate Beckinsales glorious hair made me get a perm in 2005, when perms were not IT. I do wish there had been some photos of her blouses in this movie, I have no idea as to their accuracy (though I could guess), but they’re pretty and it’s so rare to see blackwork embroidery.

    Reply
  19. hsc

    I have to ‘fess up and admit I actually paid good money to see this crapfest in a theater opening weekend, and viewed it under the influence of mind-altering substances.

    The theater concession stand was having some sort of promotion where you got a free bag of candy with a certain purchase, so I wound up with a ginormous bag of Skittles– and returned to our seats only to discover my partner hates Skittles.

    So while sitting through about the compulsory half-hour of in-theater commercials and other crap, waiting for the actual crap we paid for to start, I made the HUGE mistake of opening the bag to have a few– which promptly split in a way that made re-closing it impossible. And even worse, they’re starting to spill out the torn side, which split all the way down when I tried to re-close the bag.

    So lacking anything else to put them in, now I’m forced to eat the damn Skittles or have them falling all over the place. I asked him to help me eat them, but newp. Not going to happen.

    For the rest of the time until the film starts, I’m frantically shoving Skittles in my mouth and gulping down a jumbo Coke to wash them down, and somehow, I actually managed to eat the whole freaking thing.

    So as the film starts, I start to feel the combined effects of way too much caffeine and life-threatening levels of “tasting the rainbow” kick in– leaving me sort of simultaneously giddy and depressed, and on the verge of nausea the whole time.

    But, hey– at least it took the edge off the movie!

    Reply
  20. B

    I liked it, but it’s basically a live action anime. It is not, in any sense of the word, historical. At. All.

    Reply
  21. Ayla

    Yes, this movie is a trainwreck. Yes, the costumes are ridiculous, Yes, I too even as a kid was annoyed at how perfect Anna’s curls were even in the midst of battle. Yes, this whole film is stupid tbh. Do I still love it? YES.
    I watched it the first time at 9 (which undoubtedly colored my views of it, bc it was like the coolest thing child-me had ever seen) and ever since then it has had a special place in my heart. It also makes me laugh at how highkey crushing I was on both Van Helsing and the Dracula brides, because I didn’t realize I was bi well into my late teens.

    Reply
    • Amanda

      This is me as well. Nothing anyone says,regardless of how salient their points may be, will ever make me feel badly about loving this movie. But I think as a historic fashion lover I give it such a big pass because purportedly set in 1887 or not, it’s a fantasy movie in a huge way. I can always soothe my complaints with the “Alternate Universe” loophole, as i do with Animes like Black Butler.

      And you know what I’m a James Bond fan so I can also dig the “Q Branch” scene.

      Reply

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