Recipe for a camp horror classic

The Movie Bunker Podcast

What a treat to talk about the critically panned but much loved gothic horror film - Van Helsing (2004) on the Movie Bunker podcast.

Movie Bunker is dedicated to reviewing the worst movies committed to celluloid… and I selected a dear favourite of mine for this weeks episode. It has Hugh Jackman spouting bad boy one liners and an eye dazzling mayhem of gothic CGI characters. There are so many reasons this stands out as a fantasy action favourite from my adolescent years - it even ranks closely behind the lighter Egyptian set The Mummy (1999), also an all time favourite of mine and also directed by Stephen Sommers.

Van Helsing for me, is one of those terribly great films that remains an overstuffed misfire of a movie inside a fun action packed ride. Worth the price of admission in my books, every single time. I still shake my head to think the film left the ending wide open for a franchise that never came to be.

The recipe for a camp horror classic:

-Set in Transylvannia with all the CGI monsters and wailing dracula brides you can handle

-Dashing Hugh Jackam with hat and hair combo

-Comedic side kick with James Bond gadgets to spare

-Kate Beckinsale kicking butt as a warrior yet still succumbing to a predictable love interest plot device


An excerpt from the podcast:

 
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Christopher Olden: We’re not here to talk about “good films.” We’re here to talk about the critically panned films that are not necessarily guilty pleasure, I get told off for using that phrase because there should be no guilt involved.

AD: Oh, ok. Yes. We’re out loud and proud.

CO: We should be celebrating this kind of thing.

AD: I’ve selected for the movie bunker today: Van Helsing from 2004…
This was critically panned according to Rotten Tomatoes it had an average score of 4/10 from critics, but it made bank at the box office so that shows the people did turn up for it and had a good time. Van Helsing stars Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing the monster hunter and it’s also got Kate Beckinsale as the love interest, there’s Richard Roxburgh as Dracula and Van Helsing’s sidekick is David Wenham.

CO: It’s a good cast isn’t it? You can tell they were attracted by The Mummy and the films that (Stephen Sommers) done previously, it’s quite a big cast. Hugh Jackman is a massive box office draw. The cast works to a certain degree but what they’re given in terms of script and dialogue, it turns this film from something quite serious into a bit more of a tongue and cheek, camp classic.

AD: I think ‘camp’ is a perfect word for it. The lines are so cheesy and so bordering on melodramatic, bordering on soapy almost.

CO: Well I watched it to refresh my memory on Friday night but I’d seen it on the big screen so I was one of those people who shelled out in the first place in 2004 to see it in the cinema. I know why, I think when you see the trailer on its own, plays on more of a grittier, darker feel to it. I was attracted by seeing this monster mash up of everything I love from that genre. Seeing it reimagined and thrown at the screen.

AD: Definitely!

CO: You think, “I’ve got to see this, looks awesome with Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale.”

AD: Exactly. What could possibly go wrong?

CO: What sticks out for you in terms of highlights. What makes it a watchable film for you as oppose to something a bit corny?

AD: Maybe this goes back to what we were saying before about why you’re more willing to go into a movie and switch your brain off and enjoy the ride - is because I do love the fantasty genre especially gothic horror. I love all those original Universal monsters with Frankenstein, Dracula, Werewolves and all that kind of stuff. This genre is right up my alley. What sticks out for me in this film? I think it has to be Hugh Jackman carrying it home. He is so charasmatic and having such a good time. I buy his heroism 100 percent.

CO: I buy his hair!

AD: Yes! And the hat!

CO: The hair and the hat ensemble is marvellous. And also for the first 20 minutes he’s pulling the most ‘blue steel’ of looks. Eventually he does crack a different facial expression but he’s ‘blue steeling’ it all the way, isn’t he?

AD: All the way. He’s doing a stand up job of it. I will say, as a whole the movie is CGI seeping out of every orifice. It’s so CGI heavy it’s crazy. It’s got this bluey-green colour grade slapped over the top. You can barely see through the misty haze of blue-green colouring.

CO: It’s got a very specific pallet. You can’t mistake it for anything else. In terms of other cast members of note, David Wenham’s Carl, a funny name for a friar. He is a strange character. He’s got the best lines no doubt, he comes out with the one-liners. He’s the comedy aspect, here to bring the laughs and baffoonery…

 

 
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AD: Now I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Kate Beckinsale’s character Anna Valerious. I did rewatch this film and as a character she is extremely problematic, not only is she hyper sexualised in this super tight corset and high heels, running and fighting monsters. But there is also a lot of sexual inuendo between her and Van Helsing, the poor thing, she’s used terribly throughout the entire film as a plot device.

CO: The two things that stick out in terms of her are: The very first shot we get of Kate is a bottom shot, a panning up in a Michael Bay way. There’s a bit where she’s having a fight with Van Helsing and she accidently jumps on him and straddles him.

AD: That’s their “meet cute” moment. The moment they first meet and she falls on top of him in the first few minutes. “Oh whoops, sorry my thighs are around your ears. That’s awkward… should we get together?”

CO: It’s of it’s time. It’s only 2004 but things have changed or are changing.

AD: I think things are changing. If this exact same movie was released today I think a lot more people would have a lot more things to say about poor Kate Beckinsale and how she’s treated in this movie.

 
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CO: Is there anything we can do to salvage this movie. Are we going to say this is in the bunker forevermore? Or are we going to offer it up to the overlords and say, are you prepared to unleash this?

AD: Which is the good option? If it’s in the bunker is it safe forever?

CO: This has never really been fleshed out

AD: Let’s flesh this out. I need some perameteres here.

CO: My idea is that the critically panned movies are in the vault that obviously I work in. We get a script that comes down in a tube that says, go to this aisle here, pick up this DVD or video, watch it, review it and if it works and it deserves another chance then you send it back up the tube and it goes on the DVD shelf for the general public.

AD: Gosh that’s great.

CO: It’s convoluted, isn’t it?

AD: No, I love it. Ok, look. I know Van Helsing deserves another chance and deserves to be back on the shelves up there with the other movies but I don’t know if the world is ready for it. Maybe we’ll just keep it amongst ourselves a little bit longer.

CO: For the ones who are in the know how good this is, or have a fondness for it, they’ll know. The rest of the people can just go about their business.

AD: Exactly. So we’ll know. A little wink to the audience.

Listen to the full episode here


 
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