‘Van Helsing’ Pilot Recap: “I’m Nothing Special, Honest”

The best thing about Syfy’s new ‘Van Helsing’ series is that the show is not a spinoff from, and in fact has nothing to do with, the infamous Hugh Jackman flop movie of that same title. The worst thing about the show is… everything else.

Weirdly, the show comes from the pen of Neil LaBute (‘In the Company of Men’, ‘Nurse Betty’), who was once an up-and-coming indie auteur until the disastrous remake of ‘The Wicker Man’ derailed his career. You’d think he’d want to avoid the horror genre after that. Even at his worst, LaBute is not known for low-rent schlock like this.

The story takes place three years after a vampire apocalypse event known as “The Rising” wiped out most of humanity. Vampires here are depicted as feral monsters that attack in packs. Zombie-like, one bite will turn a victim into one of them. The pilot episode opens with a comatose girl lying on a table (Kelly Overton, best known as the werewolf Rikki on ‘True Blood’). When a horde of vampires storms the building she’s in and one bites her, the girl immediately wakes up ready to fight. The vampire who bit her has a reaction to her blood and stumbles off woozy. The girl kills the hell out of a couple other vampires in a comical amount of bloodshed.

Flash back 36 hours. The girl is still in a coma. The building is guarded by a soldier named Axel (Jonathan Scarfe). His mission is to keep the building secure and keep the girl alive, though he doesn’t know why or anything about her. He also keeps a vampire in captivity and feeds her his own blood. Apparently, he was ordered to keep her alive too but that didn’t work out so well.

Although Axel isn’t supposed to open the building doors for anything, he does so when a group of refugees come knocking and among them is his former military comrade, Ted (Tim Guinee from ‘Hell on Wheels’). Ted paints a picture of the world as a brutal wasteland with danger around every corner. The refugees are a ragtag bunch. One gets pissed because his wife is trapped outside and Axel won’t reopen the door to let him go search for her. Another is an imposing deaf-mute man (Christopher Heyerdahl, also from ‘Hell on Wheels’ – in fact, you’ll find a lot of ‘Hell on Wheels’ connections here because LaBute worked on that show for a while).

Someone opens a door, letting vampires in. This catches us up with the beginning of the episode. Axel and the refugees fight vampires until the girl wakes up and finishes them off. Her name is Vanessa Helsing. (D’ya get it? VAN HELSING! Ha ha!) She’s been asleep since before the apocalypse and isn’t sure what’s going on. She says she has a daughter and wants to leave, but Axel won’t let her out. The others are suspicious of her because she was bitten but hasn’t turned into a vampire.

Blah blah, lots of boring stuff happens. Axel suspects that the guy with the missing wife opened the door, but it was really Ted. He’s evil and tries to kidnap Vanessa. She kills him, but gets stabbed in the hand while doing so, after which the wound immediately heals. The episode ends with a vampire from the pile of bodies Axel disposed of waking up and crawling back up a garbage chute. It’s the vamp who bit Vanessa during the attack. He’s been cured and is human again. Vanessa’s blood is magic.

Episode Verdict / Grade: D

Syfy premiered the series with two back-to-back episodes. I didn’t bother to watch the second. It’s pretty terrible. The show is very cheap with poor production values. The sets (undoubtedly shot in a warehouse somewhere in Canada) are sparse and dimly lit to save money. Aside from Guinee and Heyerdahl, most of the acting is kind of bad. The plot is dumb and predictable. You might expect that, failing anything else of value, LaBute might try to spice things up with some clever dialogue. (He used to be known for that, after all.) But no, every word is perfunctory and clichéd.

A part of me hoped that this ‘Van Helsing’ would be bad in an entertaining, guilty pleasure way like Syfy’s ‘Z Nation’. Sadly, it’s not even that memorable. There’s just nothing here of any interest.

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