The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
The Video Vacuum
thevideovacuum

STEPHEN SOMMERS DOUBLE FEATURE

THE MUMMY (1999) *** ½

Stephen Sommers remade The Mummy into more of a special effects-laden Indiana Jones-style adventure than an out-and-out horror movie. When it first came out many people griped about this, but being a fan of Sommers’ Deep Rising, I approached it with an open mind. Because of that, I found myself enjoying it more than most. I mean you’re not ever going to top Boris Karloff, so you might as well go in the opposite direction with it.

Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) is a mousy librarian who gets a rugged soldier named Rick (Brendan Fraser) to travel to a lost city in Egypt to find the ancient Book of the Dead. Of course, the accidentally awaken the mummy of Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) who goes around plucking out people’s organs to rejuvenate himself. He then plans to resurrect his girlfriend by sacrificing Evelyn and it’s up to Rick to save her.

Sommers does a fine job on the action sequences. He keeps a nice balance between the laughs and thrills and finds time to interject an occasional icky moment into the otherwise lightweight proceedings. But just because the movie is lightweight, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.

The prologue is easily the best part of The Mummy. I liked how the main pharaoh intricately painted up his hot wife so he could tell if anyone had touched her. And the scenes of Imhotep’s mummification are pretty cool. They cut out his tongue, wrap him up in bandages, and shove him into a coffin full of scarabs. This sequence represents some of the best stuff Sommers ever did.

The cast is game and their tongue in cheek approach matches Sommers’ handling of the material. Brendan Fraser is a likeable goofball hero and gives one of his best performances. Rachel Weisz is equally great as the sexy, but clumsy librarian, and John Hannah is pretty funny as her drunken brother. Arnold Vosloo is quite menacing as Imhotep and Kevin J. O’Connor gets some laughs as his cowardly sidekick.

Of all the action sequences, I think Fraser’s battle with the mummy army was the best. (The mummy soldiers sort of have a Harryhausen kind of quality about them.) Sure, some of the CGI is a bit chintzy (like when the scarab gets under the one guy’s skin), but it still looks way better than the crap that was passed off as “effects” in The Mummy Returns. Speaking of which, the less said about the sequels the better (although the spin-off, The Scorpion King was a lot of fun).

VAN HELSING (2004) ** ½

After directing two big budget Mummy movies for Universal, Stephen Sommers returned with another flick featuring new versions of their other big classics monsters, Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man. The idea is that Van Helsing wasn’t just the old scholarly dude we knew from Dracula. In his younger days, he was a dashing monster hunter that looked like Hugh Jackman who worked to exterminate creatures of the night for the Vatican. This isn’t the worst idea in the world, but the new incarnations of the monsters are pretty shitty.

Basically, Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) coerces Frankenstein into creating his Creature (Shuler Hensley) so he can sustain life for his CGI bat-babies. Van Helsing is sent by the Vatican to go to Transylvania and track the Count down and stop him. Along the way, he teams up with a sexy gypsy girl (Kate Beckinsale, trading in on her Underworld image), gets bitten by The Wolf Man and has to get the curse lifted by killing Dracula.

Van Helsing had potential, but it suffers from one of the weakest Draculas in screen history. Roxburgh is awful and looks more like bitchy antiques deal than the most notorious bloodsucker of all time. Every time he comes on screen, the movie just stops dead in his tracks thanks to his terrible performance. And they went a little overboard making the Creature a pathetic creation and not necessarily a “monster”. In doing so, he sorta gets lost in the shuffle. The Wolf Man isn’t bad, although the CGI could’ve been a tad better.

Part of the fun of The Mummy was the fact that it didn’t ape the original films and tried to do its own thing. With Van Helsing, Sommers is often directly referencing the old Universal films (like the black and white prologue), so the comparisons are pretty unavoidable. In fact, the further Sommers gets away from the classic iterations of the monsters, the more successful he is. (I liked the bit where Dracula kept his bat-baby offspring in snot cocoons.)

And yes, there are some good moments here. The opening scene where Van Helsing tries to trap Mr. Hyde is kinda funny, piss poor CGI notwithstanding. And I liked the part where he gets outfitted with weapons by a Q-like monk. Probably the best scene in the film comes when he fights off a trio of Dracula’s sexy gargoyle wives with a rapid-fire crossbow. But after that, it’s pretty much all downhill from there.

Jackman makes a serviceable Van Helsing. He’s not great, but he needed SOMETHING to do in between X-Men movies. Kate Beckinsale fares a bit better. Dressed like a dominatrix pirate, she is ungodly sexy in this movie, and just looking at her kinda takes the sting out of the crappier moments of the flick.

Overall, it’s a helluva lot better than The Mummy Returns.

Tags: dr. jekyll and mr. hyde, frankenstein, horror, horror remake, m, mummy, remake, v, vampires, werewolf
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