Van Helsing as Dracula’s Mirror

Van Helsing vs. DraculaI’ve always had an affection for the old Universal and Hammer horror films, but I’ve never considered Dracula one of the best. Much like The Mummy, it always seemed too slow and theatrical for me. But a little while ago I was looking through my DVDs, and came across the now out-of-print “Universal Monsters Collection”. On a whim, I popped in Dracula with the new Peter Glass score.
Wow!

The score improved it immensely, and somehow the theater of it all didn’t bother me this time. Instead of thinking of the monologues that comprise much of the film as lazy and dull, I looked at them this time as chilling little segments like the similar scene in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

But my personal feelings about the film are not the topic of this dissertation. The topic is the rather unusual character of Van Helsing.

A far cry from the oh-so-rugged Hugh Jackman version of the character (Wolverine with a top hat), Van Helsing as played by Edward Van Sloan is a smallish man with a near-incomprehensible Eastern-European accent (much like the Count actually). Observe his dress. The same style tuxedo as Dracula (of note is the fact that the only real difference between the two is that Van Helsing has white hair and Dracula has black hair).

The similarities go far deeper than that.

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Van Helsing and Mina

 

When Van Helsing talks to Mina Harker after she was attacked by Dracula, he leans slowly towards her with outstreched hands, speaking with the tone of an awkward (more on that) seduction. He speaks of “lips on her neck”, and finally moves her neck scarf away, despite a slight nonverbal protest. This is all done in the exact manner as her earlier visit from Dracula, right down to Van Helsing’s hunched demeanor.

I do not mean to suggest that Van Helsing idolizes or wants to be Dracula. On the contrary, I believe him to be an awkward, scientist who sees his manhood threatened by a superior man. For, moments after his “seduction” of Mina, Dracula barges in and all her attentions are focused on him. Van Helsing is reduced once again to the background, and once again it is Dracula who replaces him as the center of attention.

Notice the look in Van Helsing’s eyes whenever Dracula is around. It is not fear, nor is it rage ? it?s jealousy. There is a famous moment near the end of that scene in which Van Helsing tricks Dracula into gazing into a mirror. Upon realizing that Dracula is a vampire, his face registers a look not of alarm, but of smug self-satisfaction. He toys with Dracula and Dracula, far more suave than he, toys back. Their conversations inevitably turn into verbal strong-man competitions:

Dracula: You, Miss Mina, you’re looking exceptionally…
Van Helsing: Pardon me, Dr. Seward, but I think Miss Mina should go to her room at once.

Dracula: Now that you have learned what you have learned, it would be well for you to return to your own country.

Van Helsing: I prefer to remain and protect those whom you would destroy.
Dracula: You are too late. My blood now flows through her veins. She will live through the centuries to come, as I have lived.

Van Helsing: Should you escape us Dracula, we know how to save Miss Mina’s soul, if not her life.

Dracula: If she dies, by day. But I shall see that she dies by night.

Van Helsing: And I will have Carfax Abbey torn down stone by stone, excavated a mile around. I will find your earth box and drive that stake through your heart.

 

The latter passage is followed by a battle of will, as Dracula tries to draw Van Helsing near for no other reason than to prove that he can. Could this all be imagined? Possibly, but what of Dracula?s death? Let us not forget that Van HelsingĀ ends their arguments drives a three foot phallic symbol into him.

He’s more layered than Hugh Jackman, at any rate.