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'Van Helsing' is no match for 'Godzilla'

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If you're a die-hard "Dracula" devotee like me, the name Van Helsing conjures up memories of Bram Stoker's great gothic novel and its progeny, including Tod Browning's classic 1931 movie.

I've just seen the new picture called "Van Helsing," though, and those nostalgic vibes are fading fast.

This isn't a horror movie, it's a sensory assault, full of flaming fireballs and shrieking banshees that make your eyes and ears feel as jeopardized as a vampire at sunrise.

Taking a cue from low-budget horror hashes of old, "Van Helsing" pours every ingredient it can find into its caldron, from Dr. Jekyll's alter ego to the Wolf Man's favorite poem.

At the center is our hero (Hugh Jackman, in his biggest role to date), who discovers that Frankenstein's monster holds the key to Dracula's demise. At his side is a friar with supernatural knowledge (David Wenham) and a lovely woman (Kate Beckinsale) who makes Charlie's Angels look like wimps.

The movie has some fine visual touches, but it's edited so quickly that there's no time for real atmosphere to build.

Nor is there a shred of psychology to the characters, human or otherwise, thus foreclosing any emotional connection with them.

In sum, "Van Helsing" is yet another video game disguised as a wide-screen epic. Here's hoping the box office drives a firm wooden stake through its hokey Hollywood heart.

For a more thoughtful dose of horror, look for "Godzilla" in its new release. This isn't the heavy-handed Hollywood remake of 1998, nor the cut-and-spliced Japanese version that stormed American screens in 1956. It's the true original edition, directed by Ishiro Honda in 1954 and never distributed in the United States until now.

If you've seen Mr. Honda's movie before, you probably remember its slapdash voice-dubbing and - stranger still - the unlikely presence of Raymond Burr in a leading role.

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