Steampunk Movie: Van Helsing (2004)

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The film starts with an homage to classic black and white movies as an angry mob attacks castle Frankenstein in 1887. The twist is that the good doctor’s financial backer is none other than Count Dracula. Meanwhile in Paris, our title character enters the movie with an epic confrontation between him and a truly monstrous Mr. Hyde (of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) on the rooftop of Notre Dame. Later, Van Helsing is charged with slaying Dracula in time to protect the souls of the Valerius family, who vowed they would never rest until the vampire met his demise. Van Helsing travels to Transylvania and to aid the last members of the tragic tribe before nine generations are shut out of heaven with the help of his reluctant techno-whiz sidekick, a friar named Carl (David Wenham).

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Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is a monster hunter with a mysterious past. He is employed by the Catholic church to seek out and destroy evil, but remembers nothing before he was charged with his holy quest. As far as I can tell, the only thing this Van Helsing has in common with the Dutch doctor and do-gooder, Abraham Van Helsing, of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula is the name.

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Stephen Sommers, who brought us the special effects-laden reboot of The Mummy in 1999, lent his imagination (as well as his pen) to create Van Helsing in 2004. Even though both films are almost a decade or more old they are some of my absolute favorites for their combination of action, visual effects and fun. Here he creates a plot that incorporates Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, as well as the Wolfman, including the most terrifying version of the transformation process I have ever seen. He also gives a much larger role to Dracula’s three ‘brides’ (which by the way, are not identified as such in the novel) and they provide some wonderful action sequences as they terrorize the nearby village in order to hunt down Anna Valerius (Kate Beckinsale).

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Though the roots of this movie clearly come from a love of classic horror films from the mid-20th century, the setting, literary characters and gadgets (like a gas-powered repeating crossbow) land it squarely in the Steampunk canon. As long as you don’t take your literature too seriously (and I know, that can be very hard for some of us) I would definitely recommend this film. Certain liberties are taken in order to blend the plots of several stories, but the pay-off is worth it.

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