Van Helsing: Help Me/Seen You – Two Hour Makeover of the Myth (Review)

Van Helsing - Season 1

Forget Bram Stoker. It might be a good idea to give Anne Rice a miss as well. Van Helsing takes what it wants from the vampire myth and leaves the rest.  The two episode open “Help Me” and “Seen You” establishes the characters in the most fundamental way possible.

The plot, in a nutshell, has vampires running amok after a super volcano erupts and shades the earth with a cloud of volcanic ash. This massive explosion of lava and rock unleashes the vampire horde that has been hiding until now.

At the same time, a young coma patient; Van Helsing, is under guard by a Marine detachment. She is special, they are told,  as she should be dead.  The volcano erupts and after the vampires have decimated the human population Vanessa Van Helsing wakes up.

Van Helsing has, it seems, three distinct types of vampire.  Feral’s which are pretty much as the name implies; wild, savage and not too intelligent. The other two are feeders, who can track their prey down, and the last smaller group consists of vampire leaders who run the whole shooting match. Dimitri is the big boss.

These creatures of the night (yes they are still allergic to sunlight, hence the need for the volcanic ash cloud) have no apparent fangs. They also cannot fly, do not control other creatures of the night, are not afraid of crosses,  nor are they allergic to garlic,  and they do not need to be staked through the heart to be killed.

Vampires in this world need only suffer massive blood loss or a lot of blunt force trauma to be extinguished. (They also do not disappear in a flash of smoke or disintegrate into a pile of ash a’la Buffy The Vampire Slayer.)

Bloodsuckers in this verse can be killed with something as simple as a baseball bat, or a section of steel pipe.

They have more in common with the 30 Days of Night vampires although these blood drinkers do not have a special language. (Dimitri does, however, speak Romanian.) In essence these monsters have more in common with zombies than actual vampires.

If Count Dracula were to have a family reunion it is a sure bet that none of this lot would be invited.  The Walking Dead, however, would make room at their table.

Van Helsing feels like an offshoot of Daybreakers where the vampires look very much like normal people. The main difference being that normal folks do not drink each other’s blood.

Another thing this show shares with Daybreakers is the ability of vampires to be changed  back to the human they once were.  In traditional vampire lore, the only escape is death. There is no “turning back.”

Van Helsing - Season 1
Axle Miller

At the start of the first episode, Axel is alone except for the unconscious Vanessa and a vampire he feeds via a transfusion tube.  She sucks his blood through the tube and he talks to her during the process. This captured vampire turns out to be Doc;  the woman who looked after Van Helsing initially.

A group of survivors, one of whom Axel knows, gain entry. One man’s wife is still out there and it causes some friction. As a matter of fact, all  of this new group, barring Sam and Mohamad, are a royal pain. The women are aggressive and not grateful at all for being saved.

The man whose wife was left behind attacks Axel and Ted (played by Tim Guinee) – a friend and former colleague of Miller’s – turns out to be a vampire sympathizer. He tries to take Vanessa, dead or alive, to the monsters that surround the hospital.

Van Helsing kills the Ted, by ramming the knife shoved through her hand into his eye socket. Impressive as this is, her incredibly fast healing powers actually trump the kill.

Vanessa, despite her claims to the contrary, is very special. Her blood turns vampires back into people. This “borrow” from “Daybreakers” relegates the whole demon aspect of vampires into a sort of viral infection that can be cured with the right antibody.

The second half of the season one premiere is all about backstory. Vanessa’s and  the world’s devolution into vampire territory are shown.  In “help Me” Van Helsing is desperate to get to her daughter. Miller tells her that the girl is most likely dead. This half of the premiere shows the little girl with her mother.

It also shows that the vampires were already present in this world.

Vanessa is a single mother whose ex fails in the father sweepstakes. Van Helsing turns out to be a tough woman who is not afraid to stick up for those less capable.  She is also devoted to her daughter Dylan (Hannah Cheramy).

Everything falls apart on Dylan’s birthday when Vanessa is attacked by a vampire. The two fight and Van Helsing gives as good as she gets in the scuffle.  The vampire rips open her throat as Dylan watches.  The creature is affected by her blood and rushes out of the apartment.

Van Helsing “dies.”

This introduces her “dead body”  to Doc who discovers that she may look dead but  her blood is still active.   Miller and his fellow Marines are dispatched to the hospital to grab Vanessa. As the doctor argues with the detachment commander all hell breaks loose outside the hospital.

Vampires attack the hospital and the Major orders Ted and Axle to keep an eye on “Sleeping beauty” and the Doc.  Three years later, the vampires are, it seems, trying to procreate and they are searching for Vanessa  at the same time.

Van Helsing - Season 1

A squad of Marines head out to get supplies from the base and Doc is turned by the means of a bite as she saves Axel. Her turning is painful and disturbing. She pleads with Axel not to kill her.

He decides to strap Doc to a hospital gurney instead. Within seconds she transforms into a vampire struggling to get out of its bonds and kill him.

Van Helsing takes two hours to make over the myth of the vampire and it does so admirably.  The major characters are interesting, especially Sam who must be the luckiest deaf man alive to have avoided being killed.

There are some concerns about the deviation from traditional vampire lore but, in the end,  they are still frightening and a pretty impressive foe to be conquered.

Overly as Van Helsing is a change from previous heroines in the horror genre. It is interesting to see that,  thus far, her ability to change vampires back to human consists of being bitten. Hopefully a less painful, and intrusive, way will be found.

Van Helsing airs Fridays on SyFy. Tune in and see what you think.


Byzantium (2012): Practically Perfect Irish Horror

Gemma Arterton in Byzantium
Were it not for the fact that this film was titled Byzantium, this 2012 movie could have been titled Perfection as this Irish horror tale is a dark “Mary Poppins,” in other words “practically perfect in every way.” This melancholic vampire story leaves the fangs and the long cloaks behind as it follows Eleanor Webb and her mother Clara through a journey of discovery for both the eternally young Ellie and her mother.

Directed by Neil Jordan (Breakfast on Pluto, End of the Affair) and starring Gemma Arterton (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time), Saoirse Ronan (Hanna, Atonement), Sam Riley (Maleficent, The Dark Valley) and Johnny Lee Miller (Dark Shadows, Elementary) and Caleb Landry Jones (Antiviral, Contraband) Byzantium is a dark, slow, melodic tale that moves through time and distance to mesmerize the viewer.

The film starts with Eleanor (Ronan) writing her life story page by page and then crumpling the pages into a ball and throwing them into the wind. An old man has been collecting the pages and he calls to her. Later, she kills him by drinking his blood. At roughly the same time, her mother Clara (Arterton), aka Claire is working as a lap dancer in a seedy club downtown.

After being fired for stealing a customer’s wallet and then assaulting him, she is followed by a man who says he has been looking for her for a long time. She kills him and later comes back with Eleanor to burn the place and his corpse. The two move to another town, a seaside town, where Eleanor says they have been before.

The film moves backward and forward as Eleanor recounts her life, she compulsively writes and rewrites her story throwing the tale away until she gives it to a new friend, Frank (Jones) who is dying of Leukemia. The 200 year-old teenager meets Frank at a hotel dining room where she plays the piano, he “passes the hat” for her “are you busking?” he asks her before she leaves. He later gives her the collected cash and she runs off.

Clara meets a lonely man down by the seaside arcade (she charges him £50 for a “blowy”) and invites herself and Eleanor back to his place, a sort of bed and breakfast that his mother owned before she died. Clara sets the place up as a bordello to help Noel get out of debt. Eleanor’s story about becoming a vampire relates that her mother started out as a whore, set off in that life by Capt. Ruthven (Miller).

As Eleanor and Clara settle in the seaside town, two men are searching for them, Darvell (Riley) and Savella, played by Uri Gavriel (The Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises) who look like police but are from Clara’s past. These two have searching for the two female vampire for centuries.

The tale of how Eleanor’s mother is created, first as a whore then a vampire, is spellbinding and feels like a twisted Dickensian tale. A chance meeting while gathering cockles turns the young Clara’s life upside down and begins her dark journey after one military officer gives her a pearl and the other takes her virginity.

Byzantium has very nontraditional vampires. Not created by the classic exchange of blood, in this world a demon is searched out on a bleak island, and there are no fangs, instead a long almost tear shaped thumbnail makes the necessary incisions. The vampires can walk in the daylight and are not cold to the touch. Both Eleanor and Clara are the only female vampires in the world and they are hunted not by a version of Van Helsing but by male vampires.

At just over two hours this film should drag but it does not. It is a delight to watch and the cinematography is addictive. Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave, The Place Beyond the Pines) gives the viewer exquisitely framed shots and uses lighting to accentuate every scene beautifully. Arterton holds her own against Ronan, who narrates the film, and if ever there was any doubt that this “Bond girl” could act, this film proves it.

Byzantium is a 5 star beguiling feature that lures the viewer in and seduces them completely. A new favorite and worth all 128 minutes spent watching it, the film is available on Hulu.

Watch this film and prepare to become addicted.

The Strain: Loved Ones (Recap and Review)

The Strain: Loved Ones (Recap and Review)

In The Strain: Loved Ones, Eph is tracking down his estranged wife and Zach helps at the beginning of the episode by hunting for his mother’s iPhone. Despite the WiFi signal being weak and slow, the boy finds out that Kelly Goodweather’s smartphone is moving. Things are strained between Nora and Eph since his proclamation of love for his wife last week when the two of them were caught having sex by Kelly’s best friend.

The Strain: Creatures of the Night (Recap and Review) *Contains Spoilers*

The Strain: Creatures of the Night (Recap and Review)
*Contains Spoilers*

The small group of vampire, or strigoi, hunters finally meet up with Vassily Fet in The Strain, Creatures of the Night. Eph and his crew bump into the exterminator in a medical supply store where they hope to get UVC lights. The group break into the store and Fet stops them by pointing a gun at the four and asks who they are.

The Strain: Creatures of the Night (Recap and Review) *Contains Spoilers*

The Strain: Creatures of the Night (Recap and Review)
*Contains Spoilers*

The small group of vampire, or strigoi, hunters finally meet up with Vassily Fet in The Strain, Creatures of the Night. Eph and his crew bump into the exterminator in a medical supply store where they hope to get UVC lights. The group break into the store and Fet stops them by pointing a gun at the four and asks who they are.

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