THE FRIGHT STUFF ''Van Helsing,'' a $148 million monster extravaganza, kicks off the summer movie season on May 7. ''Basically, I play a monster killer,'' Hugh Jackman (pictured), the film's 34-year-old Aussie star, said last year while shooting the film in Prague. ''The movie is set in the 19th century and my character is sort of a black-ops priest, a mercenary for the Catholic Church. He's an assassin sent to murder monsters, even though he's not always sure how he feels about it.''
It's pretty clear how Universal feels about it: The studio is hoping Jackman's demon slayer -- extremely loosely based on a character in Bram Stoker's 1897 ''Dracula'' -- will help launch its most synergistically ambitious entertainment franchise ever. Already plans are in the works for a sequel, a TV show, and a videogame, all conveniently featuring long-dormant characters (including Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, and others) dug up and dusted off from the studio's ancient horror archives.