Monsters and Myths
September 16th 2012
Van Helsing and Unorthodox Monster Narrative
Monsters have become a regular fixture in the contemporary movie industry but it is important to remember these supernatural creatures were born from ancestors in nineteenth century gothic literature. These creatures were a cultural product of the social, scientific, and psychological concerns of a society that had lost its faith in religion. Each monster was a manifestation of a ubiquitous fear that remains relevant today. In the 2004 film rendition of Van Helsing, the director Stephen Sommers calls upon the famed vampire hunter from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to restore order to a world interweaving the plots of Frankenstein, and The Wolfman. The hero of Van Helsing has been stripped of any memory of his character’s history and triumphs but must seek to vanquish his enemy aided only my the folklore of 19th century Eastern Europe. Without a sense of identity, Van Helsing accepts this task joined by the beautiful Anna Valerious who is cursed by her ancestors’ promise to destroy Dracula. The duo must face endless threats, apply knowledge of the occult, and confront their inner demons to reach the climatic final battle with Dracula where they must cling to their disappearing humanity in a world of monsters. Although Van Helsing and Dracula are dramatic foils for one another, their similarities become as apparent as their differences as the storyline develops. In this final scene from Van Hesling, Stephen Sommers employs and distorts traditional monster mythology to prove to its viewers that the dichotomy between hero and monster is not mutually exclusive.
Initially, the physical character of the scene is the vehicle that transports its viewers from the couch in 2012 to the recognized world of monster myths. The viewers’ acceptance of the setting is imperative because it invokes a “willing suspension of disbelief” from the audience in which the time-honored mythology of the classic monsters’ stories is embraced as historical fact (Tudor 121). The horror film genre employs setting conventionally “to facilitate our entry into the fiction” where the unbelievable characters and events are embraced (Tudor 122). For this particular scene, the audience finds the characters in an archetypical gothic setting, the laboratory where Frankenstein was created (Van Helsing). In the Gothic tradition, writers “built plots around restless spirits, ageless monsters, and unresolved sins of the past that reappear to bedevil modern characters” (Worland 12). Stephen Sommers places the characters in their imagined place and time by interweaving “Frankenstein’s middle-European village, Dracula’s Transylvanian mountains, and The Werewolf of London’s fog-shrouded setting” into a location familiar to the genre audience. In this scene, the nineteenth century stylized lab is tall and imposing with rich architectural detail. In the darkness of night, moments before midnight as indicated by the baroque clock, clusters of fire and blue electrical charges are the only source light. The midnight hour is universal symbol for the time when monsters roam the earth while the men sleep (Philips 515). The evident destruction in the laboratory conveys that it has already failed terrifically. The setting is a reminder that in gothic horror the “stakes are high because the struggle is mortal and metaphysical” (Worland 17). This elaborate laboratory is paradoxical setting because the events are occurring in a time with scientific knowledge but in a part of the world that remains unchanged by industrialization. Furthermore, by combining Frankenstein and Dracula, the powers of science are directly conflicting with the religious themes of the legend of Dracula (Tudor 87). While inside the burning laboratory it is evident that both science and religion have failed the characters.
The integration of the monster’s settings is only the first device Sommers plays with....