Monday, January 23, 2017

Van Helsing – season 1 – review

Director: Various

First aired: 2016

Contains spoilers

Okay, let’s get this out of the way. This is a SyFy product and you have to temper your expectations accordingly. Also it is based on the Zenescope’s comic Van Helsing – so your primary character is going to be a woman.

I have seen a lot of negativity around this one and, to be fair, if you only watched the first episode I can understand where this was coming from. It almost seemed that the makers wanted to do the Walking Dead but, because zombies had been done, they called them vampires.

Jonathan Scarfe as Axel
The ferals we first see are zombie like. Burnt by sunlight (or UV units) and killed by piercing the heart or the brain (or decapitation), beyond this we see little difference. In a hospital a marine, Axel (Jonathan Scarfe), cares for a doctor (only ever called Doc (Rukiya Bernard)) who has been turned and is now in a cage. When I say he looks after her he feeds her blood through an IV line. His primary mission is to protect a woman he calls Sleeping Beauty. It is three years since the rising (when the vampires attacked) and she has not moved in those three years. Not alive, she is not exactly dead. Later we will hear that she is called Vanessa Seward (Kelly Overton, True Blood) – it is towards the end of the series that we discover that the adopted Vanessa was of the Van Helsing line.

Doc feeding
At the start of episode 1 we hear Doc exclaim that *they* are here (so maybe not as zombie like as we thought given the ability to communicate) but when Axel goes to the fortified door there are survivors at his threshold. He isn’t going to let them in until one identifies himself as fellow marine Ted (Tim Guinee, Vampires). Against his better judgement, he lets them in. One, John (David Cubitt), realises his wife is out there but Axel won’t open the door again and knocks the civilian out.

Vanessa awakens
That night a group of vampires get in. Three of them make a bee-line for Vanessa. One, Flesh (Vincent Gale, Bloodrayne 2: Deliverance), bites her and then falls, choking. Vanessa awakens and fights the other two. By the time it is all over her neck has healed and Flesh is dead. All Vanessa wants to do is find her daughter, Dylan (Hannah Cheramy), but Axel won’t let her leave (partly because of his mission and partly because she has no idea what is out there). And it was there that episode 1 ended and I wasn’t sure...

during the rising
Episode 2, however, showed us the rising and what exactly had happened to Vanessa. Pre the rising it showed her selling blood and, when accidentally bought by vampires, it turning the drinker human. Then a volcanic eruption in Yellowstone caused a super volcano to blow, the resultant ash turning day into a vampire friendly twilight (which is still in evidence three years later). One of the vampires, we see, started randomly attacking people. This caused a virtually immediate turn and those vampires attacked others. So with a bite and turn (and a tremendous initial hunger) we get something like a zombie apocalypse.

Vanessa stabbed
Vanessa is attacked in her home and her corpse taken to the hospital (the morgue is full). Doc notices something odd about the corpse and takes a blood sample. This is so strange she sends it to her sister, a military boffin who sends the marines in. The marines get there at just about the time civilisation crashes down around their ears. When it comes to Vanessa we discover that she heals remarkably quickly, she can see in the dark (though is fine in UV) and either drinking her blood or her biting a vampire turns it back to human. Flesh, for instance, “dies” and then is reborn human again – however this is not a constant.

Rebecca, an elder vampire
The primary types of vampires we see are feeders – vampires with their minds intact (although stripped of emotion). These fed after turn. There are also ferals who are mindless creatures (a bit like fast zombies I’d say and definitely going along the zompire line). These failed to feed on a human in time (which the series suggests will kill the turnee) but did get animal blood (which is described by a feeder as poison). We also meet elder vampires – hundreds of years old – and hear talk of ancient vampires. It seems the government knew of vampires as they had a file on Vanessa but the vampires had a hand in her genesis (how much is still up for disclosure). Vanessa is described as biologically a negative image of a vampire.

post volcano USA
The series grew on me, it really did. The first episode I really wasn’t sure and throughout the subsequent season I was frustrated by some very poor character reactions to situations. However the central story bobbed along nicely and the makers took a leaf out of the Walking Dead playbook by being liberal with who they would kill – meaning any character (bar Vanessa, obviously) could cop it (of course, they could always come back too, as a vampire). They also threw a serial killer sub-arc and that meant there was always unease amongst the survivors. However most of the characters were not too sympathetic, which worked against all of that.

Is it the best thing ever… God, not by a long shot but it doesn’t deserve the scorn it has earned. The complaints all read like the viewer never got past the first episode. Once past that there is something worthwhile – as a syfy release, of course, but worthwhile nonetheless. 5.5 out of 10. The imdb page is here.

No comments: