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Abraham Van Helsing : Vampire Hunter

When it comes to the King of the Vampires, Count Dracula, the debate will always rage on amongst classic monster fans.

Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee?

If forced to choose only one of these iconic actors, I’ll go with Sir Christopher but that won’t stop me from enjoying Bela’s take on the role that made him a legend of the silver screen and pop culture. But when it comes to the role of Stoker’s Professor Abraham Van Helsing, there’s one actor that stands tall among the rest leaving little to debate or discuss …..

On to the many who have faced off against the Vampire King who when he is confronted by his enemy delivered the powerful line, “I, who commanded nations, hundreds of years before you were born” to let Van Helsing know the futility of what he is attempting.

1931’s Dracula gave us Edward Sloan in the Van Helsing role playing opposite Lugosi’s powerful performance and the subsequent follow up with Bela nowhere in sight, Dracula’s Daughter, released in 1936.

We also had a chance to see Eduardo Arozamena play Van Helsing in the 1931 Spanish Dracula where he tangled with Carlos Villarias’ vampire King. I may as well ask. Is Spanish Dracula from director George Melford a superior film to Tod Browning’s?

Herbert Lom squared off (kind of) against Christopher Lee from different sets never appearing on screen together in Jess Franco’s cash strapped El Conde Dracula released in 1970.

Nigel Davenport held his own against a powerful Jack Palance in 1974’s telefilm, Dracula, from cult director Dan Curtis.

Frank Finlay took up the role in the acclaimed BBC Production, Count Dracula, with Louis Jordan in the title role. Like many others who have seen the majority of adaptations based on Stoker’s novel, I’d say this is the film that stays closer to the source novel than any other version.

Aged though he may have been, Sir Laurence Olivier, added some class to the big budget 1979 adaptation that pitted the legendary actor against Frank Langella’s Dracula.

Sundown : The Vampire in Retreat. 1989 saw this gem of a VHS release starring Cult Hero, Bruce Campbell, playing the Van Helsing role for laughs against David Carradine’s Dracula. Bruce is soon to realize that nearly everyone in a western town is a member of the undead which gives him plenty of screen time to elicit laughs. It’s a mix of genres when the vampire flick clashes with the spaghetti western.

Anthony Hopkins seemed to be a good fit for the role in the 1992 Coppola version “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” which one could almost call “Coppola’s Version of Dan Curtis’ Interpretation of Dracula taken from The Stoker Novel.” Having fun there but I do love the look and feel of the film but as for Hopkins’ performance? I’ve always been left disappointed at his bizarre take on it. Sorry Sir Anthony. I still think you’re a credit to the craft and a gentleman to boot.

I wish people hadn’t tried so hard to compare Mel Brooks’ Dracula : Dead and Loving It with his classic Young Frankenstein upon it’s original release. Of course it was gonna get trounced but don’t let that stop you from busting a gut at Brooks’ performance as the vampire hunter who is out to put an end to the reign of Leslie Nielsen’s Dracula.

Christopher Plummer is another actor well suited to the role and I kind of liked his “B” flick that scored a theatrical release in the days of the VHS rental. It’s Plummer facing off against a young Gerard Butler in Dracula 2000. For the record, Plummer kind of played Van Helsing previously in the 1987 Klaus Kinski thriller, Nosferatu in Venice.

Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing released in 2004. Took my eleven year old son Ethan to see it at the theater. He loved it and I guess that’s all that mattered at the time……

Adding his name to the list of vampire hunters in 2012 was Rutger Hauer. Another good fit. Too bad the film is totally inept from a washed up Dario Argento. There I said it. Sorry to fans of Dario but his best days were long gone by the time this hit the market with a shoestring budget. Rutger deserved better.

Now about that actor who has no competition when it comes to debating the screen’s greatest Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

Yes it’s clearly Peter Cushing who first essayed the role to great acclaim in Hammer’s best film Horror of Dracula battling Christopher Lee in ’58 and followed it up with one of the studio’s better films, The Brides of Dracula in 1960 minus Lee’s participation. He’d be passed over for whatever reasons in the studio’s ensuing sequels but come 1972 would triumphantly return to the role opposite his old pal/nemesis Lee once again in the guilty pleasure, Dracula A.D. 1972 and it’s direct sequel, The Satanic Rites of Dracula.

With the studio running on fumes come the mid seventies, Peter, would portray the role one last time in the Hammer/Shaw Brothers oddity, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.

A closed discussion on who is the screen’s greatest Van Helsing? I think so but feel free to make an argument if you dare. Maybe I even missed one you think highly of.

13 Comments »

  1. Cushing gets my vote. The Gary Oldman Dracula was the most unsettling movie I’ve seen. Sinister from the first scenes then throw in the two young women and the group of vampire hunters and you have what Hammer was trying to achieve but couldn’t because of censorship and budgets.

  2. Best Drac: Lee
    Best Helsing: Cushing (I don’t think anyone could even argue that).
    I enjoy Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing for what it is. If you don’t take it seriously it has a lot going for it.
    Despite sharing a first name and being a fan of his earlier works, I have yet to watch Argento’s Dracula. (Is it really as bad as everyone says?)

    • Lee and Cushing tops. As for Argento’s film, yeah it’s far from good. Sadly, I’ve been pretty critical of his work from 1990 onwards. Seems to have lost that giallo touch he had that involved style over plot. I’ll probably revisit Dracula at some point but it might be to just confirm my belief that it was as bad as I originally thought.

  3. Cushing… by miles and miles and miles. I do have to mention Richard Benjamin and Roddy McDowall — both actors do a great job spoofing the vampire hunter in Love at First Bite and Fright Night, respectively. And Donald Pleasence, who is clearly channeling Van Helsing in the Halloween movies.

    • I actually had to look up Benjamin to see if he was playing a modern descendant of Van Helsing but no so he didn’t make my “official” list. McDowall a gem as Peter Vincent and one of his most memorable performances. I like that his character takes the first names of Cushing and Price. Nice tribute. Never thought that about Pleasence but yeah I can see that now.

        • He very may well have been but I was looking at character names and he played Jeff Rosenberg. I haven’t seen it in years though I did see it at the theater when it came out. Probably more than once if I remember correctly going with buddies.

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