Syfy’s new original series Van Helsing premieres on September 23, and it comes with a Wynona Earp-style twist. The series follows the legendary Abraham Van Helsing’s daughter, Vanessa Helsing, as she tries to save humankind with her special, can-turn-vamps-back-into-humans blood.
Throughout the history of the character, different interpretations have painted Van Helsing in very different lights. Going back to the 1897 source material, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, we see Van Helsing as a man well-versed in odd afflictions and diseases, who also finds himself baffled by the illness of Lucy Westenra.
Some interpretations of the characters paint him as vampire expert with an intimate understanding of bloodsuckers like Dracula. Others play up his real-world knowledge in science and apply it to the tradition and lore of vampires.
As we prepare to tune in to watch a new addition to the Van Helsing family tree, let’s take a look at some of the most notable iterations of the iconic Professor Van Helsing.
The Peter Cushing
Peter Cushing’s rendering in the Hammer studios Dracula films is by far the most notable version of the character. A master of horror, Cushing pushed Van Helsing in new directions, and his interpretation was a major influence on the versions of Van Helsing that made it to the screen thereafter. If you want to get a handle on the character and understand the version of the character that’s responsible for informing the way we see Van Helsing today, Peter Cushing’s take on the character is the place to start.
The Anthony Hopkins
If you’re looking for exaggerated lunatic nutball Van Helsing, the Anthony Hopkins take in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula isn’t a bad choice. Super weird and sexual, it was certainly an oddball of an entrant into the Van Helsing legacy, but one that adds another layer to the character. Van Helsing is kind of a weirdo — who else would find themselves with the dogged determination it takes to take out a vampire?
The Laurence Olivier
The 1979 Dracula includes a new layer of the character: Father. In this version, Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier) is forced to confront vampirism not through the lens of strangers, but through his own daughter, who suffers the same affliction as Lucy (who shows up in many retellings of Dracula). In the interest of not spoiling the film, we won’t let you in on exactly how that turns out.
The Edward Van Sloan
Okay, to be fair, this version is a must in large part because it’s the Bela Lugosi version. Edward Van Sloan’s version isn’t one that sticks out as vital, but if you’re going to understand the rich tapestry of Dracula in popular culture, the 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi is one you can’t miss. The same is true of the 1922 Nosferatu, but Van Helsing underwent a name change in that version.
The Mel Brooks
You want a Dracula parody where Mel Brooks plays the storied Van Helsing? Of course you do. Nosferatu? Must be Italian.