The Horror Honeys: Taking a Bite out of 'Van Helsing'!

Taking a Bite out of 'Van Helsing'!

A Guest Honey Horror TV Pilot Review with Addison Peacock

Van Helsing (2016 - )

If you’ve been waiting for an action girl drama with plenty of bite (pun very much intended), then you might want to look into Syfy’s new apocalyptic vampire series Van Helsing. It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and 28 Days Later’s angsty baby, pairing a Chosen One narrative with zombie apocalypse elements and just a sprinkling of a disaster movie sensibility. What the show lacks in cohesiveness, it makes up for with bold choices and a fun concept.  

All photos courtesy of SyFy
The series premiered its first two episodes on September 23 on Syfy, ready to provide the kind of vampire-based entertainment that none of us even knew we wanted. The series is produced and written by playwright Neil Labute (known for The Shape of Things, Reasons to be Pretty, and others), who has decided to make a genre shift so severe it threatens to give his fans whiplash. The cast includes Kelly Overton as the titular character of Vanessa Helsing, Jonathan Scarfe as Axel the handsome marine, and Rukiya Bernard as Doc (who is, as you might have guessed, a doctor).  

Episode 1 - Help Me:

The first episode of the premiere starts us off in the midst of the apocalyptic setting, nicknamed “The Rising." There are immediate 28 Days Later vibes as the episode opens in an abandoned hospital that has been repurposed as a military base. This base is occupied by exactly three people: Axel the marine, an unconscious woman (nicknamed “Sleeping Beauty”) he has been ordered to guard, and a vampire that used to be Sleeping Beauty’s doctor. In a twist that surprises no one in particular, this unconscious woman is revealed to be Vanessa Helsing. In the grand tradition of apocalyptic cinema, Axel is strikingly clean-cut and well-groomed for someone who has lived as a recluse for three years. 

Apparently his Military Funded Apocalypse Rations include cigarettes…
and the protein to keep those biceps looking so damn good.  
While Axel’s somewhat two-dimensional Damaged Good Guy persona can be boring, he does have some genuinely charming moments (likely due to the sharp wit of Labute’s dialogue), including a little soliloquy about his longing for a Kit Kat in the wake of the modern world’s destruction. The events of the episode as a whole are standard genre fare with few standout moments. The story experiences a significant spike in quality as soon as Vanessa’s character is officially introduced, which is a shame only because the episode takes so long to get there. Vanessa is a ton of fun to watch. She is an action girl that checks every box: badass fight sequences, someone to fight for (in this case, her missing daughter), and an insistence that there is “nothing special” about her even as her superhuman abilities would suggest otherwise. If the first two thirds of the episode do nothing for you, Vanessa may be the turning point that sells you on the show. 

She’s wondering why they waited until 30 minutes in to give her any lines. 
Episode 2- Seen You: 

The best part of any good disaster movie is the lead-up to the disaster itself. No one wants to start watching after the asteroid has already hit, or after the earthquake has already started. As an audience, we want the dramatic irony of seeing our doomed main characters dismiss weather advisories and news reports, all the while knowing that this oncoming storm is very much a Big Freaking Deal. This satisfying tension is exactly what episode two gives its audience. We flash back three years, to just before The Rising began. We see the world as it once was, and are introduced to the pre-apocalypse versions of Vanessa and Doc. There is a mounting sense of impending doom throughout this flashback portion of the episode that is completely deserved, as everything goes to hell extremely quickly. It is in this portion that we receive the backstory of The Rising, revealing its cause to be a series of environmental disasters triggered by a large volcanic eruption. In a genuinely clever shout-out to a popular theory surrounding the extinction of the dinosaurs, the ensuing heavy cloud of ash blocks out the sun and ultimately leads to the destruction of human society.  

What Rocks:

One of Van Helsing’s greatest victories is its portrayal of vampires. In the recent years of Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries, where vampires are served barely spooky with a heaping side of sex appeal, it’s thrilling see the return of the Actually Scary Vampire. These vamps are feral, snarling beasts that can turn you into one of them in mere minutes. They growl, gnash their bloodstained teeth, and many of them speak in raspy voices that are positively, unsettlingly inhuman. There is no vampiric romanticism here… Goodbye Anne Rice, hello terror. 

Yeah, that’s definitely not Robert Pattinson. 
What Sucks (Get it, like vampires?):

For a series that dared to name its protagonist Vanessa Helsing as a play on the name Van Helsing, this show sure tries to take itself seriously. It’s one thing to seriously explore the implications of an apocalyptic scenario, but it enters the realm of ridiculousness when the show refuses to acknowledge its campier aspects. Amidst the darkness of the series, there is room for humor, and lots of it: the punny nature of Vanessa’s name, the strange superhuman nature of her abilities, the general insanity of what the world has become, among many others. A touch of humor would not be out of place, as people in crisis often turn to humor for comfort. Yes, the setting of the show is serious, but there is a joylessness that permeates even the coolest of action sequences, and that prevents the audience from fully enjoying themselves. It is no fun to be relentlessly pounded with frowning faces and attempted jerking of tears. 

At the end of the day, this is not one of Neil Labute’s plays, and it is not a serious piece of theater that can paint a disturbing picture of the casual cruelty human beings are capable of. This is a show about a vampire apocalypse caused by a super-volcano, and the protagonist is named (and this must be emphasized) Vanessa Helsing. Without the little wink-and-nod of levity that is desperately needed, the audience will never truly get to sink their teeth in.   

Addison's Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stake Dinners 

Van Helsing airs Fridays on SyFy

Did you watch the premiere of Van Helsing
What did you think?
Tell Addison on Twitter: @Addison_Peacock

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