Van Helsing | 2004
Too much is never quite enough for director Stephen Sommers, the man who turned the traditional mummy from a an actor shuffling round in bandages to gigantic CGI-fest with sandstorms and plagues of scarabs. Letting him loose with the entire Universal Studios back-catalogue of monsters – as well as Mr Hyde – this was never going to be an exercise in creepy understatement.
Way too long, and often feeling like an animated 70s heavy metal album cover, it remains splurgy fun.
Along with Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein and his creature – and even Mr Hyde – are drafted in, though we're spared Abbott and Costello. The plan was to have been a series of movies, but the film's under-performance at the box office scuppered the idea of sequels, although Universal now seems to be trying to revive the idea again with its Dark Universe series.
For copyright reasons, this is not crusty old vampire-chaser Abraham van Helsing (as previously portrayed by Edward Van Sloan, Peter Cushing and Anthony Hopkins), but leather-coated proto-Goth rocker Gabriel van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), first encountered dealing with Mr Hyde atop ‘Notre Dame Cathedral’.
The vast sets, built in Los Angeles, are astonishing but the ever-present CGI – not so much. Location filming was around the Czech capital of Prague, standing in, not only for ‘Paris’, but for ‘Budapest’ and, of course, ‘Transylvania’ – the country to which Van Helsing is despatched by the Vatican.
The ‘Parisian’ square below 'Notre Dame Cathedral' into which the crudely cartoonish Mr Hyde (Robbie Coltrane) plunges is recognisably Staroměstské náměstí (the Old Town Square) of Prague.
The ‘Transylvanian’ village, in which Van Helsing encounters Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) and Dracula's flying, but nipple-less, brides, was built in front of Kunratice Chateau on K Libusi in at Kunratice U Prahy, on the outskirts of southern Prague. The site has since been redeveloped into shops and a car park.
The forest clearing, in which Anna and her brother Velkan Valerious (Will Kemp) unsuccessfully attempt to trap a werewolf, is Průhonice Park, 252 43 Průhonice, the grounds of the Botanical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, housed in the restored 13th century chateau of Průhonice. The park (but not the castle), at the south-eastern edge of Prague, is open to the public.
Further out is the interior of the Valerious family home, which the massive interior of a 15th century fortress in the Medieval town of Tabor, 55 miles south of Prague. In Tabor, you can also see the 'rundown' little theatre bought by Eisenheim (Edward Norton) in Neil Burger's 2006 The Illusionist.
To the east, toward Brno, is ‘Castle Frankenstein’. Embellished with maybe just a little CGI, it’s Hrad Pernstejn (Pernstejn Castle), about 20 miles northwest of Brno in the Moravian highlands. The castle was damaged by fire in April 2005, and is currently being restored.
The werewolf attack on the improbably inflammable coach was filmed in the forest at Srbsko-Alkazar, a former limestone quarry in the Berounka River Valley between Karlstein and Beroun, southwest of Prague, and a popular rock-climbing spot.
There was supposedly filming at the picturesque town of Cesky Krumlov, a couple of hundred miles to the south of Prague, which features in Hostel and The Illusionist, but there's little evidence of this in the film.
In Prague itself, the ‘Budapest’ street, where Van Helsing agrees to trade Frankenstein’s monster for Anna, and receives an invite to the Count’s ball, is beneath the Mala Strana end of Karluv Most, the Charles Bridge (also featured in Mission: Impossible and XXX).
Dracula’s summer palace, site of the lavish masquerade, is the extravagantly baroque interior of the 1761 Kostel sv. Mikuláše (St Nicholas Church), Malostranské náměstí, Malá Strana. The location fee seems to have come in useful – the huge church is currently (Summer 2017) undergoing extensive renovation of its murals.
Claimed to be the greatest Baroque church (no small a achievement in a city not exactly short of extravagantly Baroque churches), its organ has over 4,000 pipes and was once played by Mozart himself. Reinhard Heydrich (Anton Diffring) attends a Nazi wedding here in Lewis Gilbert's 1975 WWII drama Operation: Daybreak.
The palace graveyard, where the Frankenstein monster is temporarily hidden, is the Olšany hrbitovy (Olsanske Cemetery), Vinohradská 1835/153, seen also in From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Dungeons and Dragons.
It's back to California for the ending. Anna’s funeral pyre is on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific at – where else? – Palos Verdes, south LA; and the final shot of Helsing and Carl riding off into the sunset is at Piru, north of LA.