Please join me in welcoming author Justin Gustainis here today to Dark Faerie Tales. Justin participated in and edited an urban fantasy anthology called Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives, which was just released on March 1, 2011. You can read an excerpt here.
A former Army officer, speechwriter and professional bodyguard, Justin Gustainis is a college professor living in upstate New York. He is the author of The Hades Project (a semi-finalist for the 2003 Stoker award for Best First Novel), Black Magic Woman, Evil Ways and two forthcoming novels: Hard Spell and Sympathy for the Devil. He has also published a number of short stories, two of which won the Graverson Award for Horror in consecutive years. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. His website is here.
One lucky commenter will have a chance to win an autographed copy of Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives. As always, details are listed at the end of the post.
The Film Career of
Abraham Van Helsing, M.D., Ph.D., D. Litt., Etc.
Abraham Van Helsing, the wise, brave Dutch doctor who knows so much about vampires and so little about English syntax, was not the first occult detective in literature, but he may well be the most famous. He has been (or soon will be) portrayed in films and TV programs 61 times, according to the Internet Movie Database. Since it isn’t feasible to discuss all 61 films and shows here (and there are some, such as Transylvania Twist and The Sexy Adventures of Van Helsing that I would prefer to forget, anyway), I would like to mention what I regard as the most significant (for good or ill) portrayals and how closely they hew to the character created by Bram Stoker.
Edward Van Sloan. Most fans of the genre know that Van Sloan played the professor in the 1931 version of Dracula that made Bela Lugosi famous, but fewer are aware that he reprised the role five years later for Dracula’s Daughter (1936). Van Sloan has the physical aspects down pretty well, although he makes no effort to speak like the book’s version. Unlike the literary character, this Van Helsing doesn’t know about vampires from the get-go. He has to do research after ladies start appearing with holes in their necks. But he’s a quick learner, much to Count Dracula’s dismay. My rating: 3 stakes (out of four).
Peter Cushing played the professor in five films: Horror of Dracula (1958) (just Dracula in Great Britain), Brides of Dracula (1960), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972—duh!), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) and the little-known Asian production The Legend of the 7 Vampires (1974). In the second film, Dracula does not appear as a character. Of the last one, the less said the better, out of respect for Cushing’s memory. In the first film, Cushing plays the character as principally a scientist (apparently a British one, despite the name) who only becomes a man of action near the end. The same holds true for the deceptively titled Brides of Dracula. But beginning with the third film, Van Helsing is less a scientist and more a detective pursuing a criminal. The emphasis is on physical confrontation with the vampire, not scholarly knowledge about him. Overlooking the chop-socky Legend of the 7 Vampires (talk about doing it for the paycheck!), I give Peter Cushing’s portrayals 3 stakes.
Although it was never shown in theatres, the 3-hour BBC production entitled Count Dracula is included here because it contains the best portrayal of Van Helsing that I’ve ever seen. It is also the version most faithful to Stoker’s novel. Coincidence? Perhaps not. Van Helsing is played by British actor Frank Finlay. He’d got the accent right, he’s got the manner right – the kind old doctor with steel in his spine. He even calls Mina Harker “Miss Mina,” as the character does in the novel. What’s not to like? My rating: 4 stakes.
This brings us to Laurence Olivier, who took on the role for 1979’s Dracula, with Frank Langella playing Dracula as a brooding (and hot) Byronic hero. I had such hopes for this one, Olivier being widely recognized at the time as the greatest actor in the world. It’s not that he’s bad in the role – he just doesn’t get that much to do. He doesn’t even appear until almost halfway through the film. Like the Van Sloan version, this Van Helsing has never heard of vampires; he has to do research to catch up. The ending is downright silly, although it does make this version of Dracula the only one (spoiler alert!) in which Van Helsing dies, as well as the Count. Maybe it’s just dashed expectations on my part, but: 2 stakes.
Then there is Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), directed by Francis Ford Coppola. This version is reasonably faithful to the book, too – if you forget the beginning and ending. I was looking forward to Anthony Hopkins’ Van Helsing, given how brilliant he was as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins makes a good effort, but his accent is more German than Dutch, and he lacks Van Helsing’s essential goodness. Half the time, this guy is either insensitive or mean, or both. And he has lousy table manners. It’s borderline, but I award 3 stakes.
And finally, we have 2004’s Van Helsing – unfortunately. Hugh Jackman plays a character the screenwriters at least have the decency to call Gabriel Van Helsing. They’d have done better to call him Indiana. Rating: 1 stake – straight through the heart of whoever came up with the idea for this piece of crap.
And there you have it. Feel free to disagree – in fact, for the contest, why don’t you leave a comment doing just that (or even agreeing, if you’re that insightful and well-informed).
One lucky commenter will have a chance to win a copy of an autographed copy of Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives..
To enter, leave a comment below answering the following question:
Feel free to disagree – in fact, for the contest, why don’t you leave a comment doing just that (or even agreeing, if you’re that insightful and well-informed).
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4. Giveaway is open to everyone.
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6. Giveaway ends Tuesday, April 12th at 11:59 PM EST.
7. The winner will be picked with the help of Random.org.
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