The Disquieting Guest — Bracing for the Universal Monsterverse

6 Oct

In 2012, we witnessed an unusual (to put it mildly) phenomenon: The Avengers was simultaneously the start of a new franchise, and a sequel to four other franchises:  Iron ManThorCaptain America and The Incredible Hulk. There was, however, a precedent. Almost 60 years earlier, in 1943, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was a sequel to both The Ghost of Frankenstein (and thus the fourth Frankenstein film) and The Wolf Man. The two series merged into one, and Dracula would be added to the mix in the films that followed. The continuity was very loose, but it was there all the same.

Now, Universal has announced that it is rebooting (yet again) its monster titles with the purpose of aping the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All the icons from the 30s and 40s will be present:  the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and the Invisible Man. Also present is the late arrival from the 50s, Universal’s last classic monster:  the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Though the official start to the Monsterverse is the Mummy reboot in 2016, it appears that Dracula Untold has been rejigged slightly to act as a prologue (assuming it isn’t a miserable failure).

frankenstein_meets_wolf_man_posterI look forward to the unfolding of the project with considerable dread.

Let’s be clear:  once we hit the monster mashes of the 40s, the Golden Age of Horror had ended. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was hacked about prior to release; the films are all entertaining, and I love them dearly, but I won’t pretend they’re Bride of Frankenstein. So some perspective is necessary. However, let’s first consider the history of Universal’s reboots of its classics.

The Mummy franchise. Van HelsingThe Wolfman.

Yeesh. The Mummy was successful, granted, but its sub-Indiana Jones tone was a total betrayal of the moody poetry of the original. It is in line with the first sequel — The Mummy’s Hand. But then in the next film — The Mummy’s Tomb — the monster brutally kills our happy-go-lucky heroes from The Mummy’s Hand, and the series becomes more straightforwardly horrific once more. The Wolfman, though a mess, at least is an honourable attempt. As for Van Helsing, lead canisters at the bottom of the ocean would be too kind a fate for it.

Now look again at the Variety piece. The intent is to create “a powerhouse action-thriller franchise.” Not horror movies. This sounds like an army of Van Helsing clones in the works.

I am particularly worried about what will befall the unfortunate Creature. There have been numerous attempts to remake the original film, and I think we’ve been lucky that all have failed. Creature from the Black Lagoon is, I believe, a film that could only have been made in the particular context of the 1950s, and trying to capture that lightning again is a fool’s errand. I’ll explain my reasoning for this with regards to the particularity of its variation of the Beauty-and-the-Beast myth in a subsequent post, but let me just mention the visualization of the Creature for now. Joe Dante has argued that the costume in the 1954 film is essentially unimprovable, and I agree. I think its safe to assume that any Creature we’ll get now will be a CGI creation. Now, it’s possible to do this right. I can imagine Andy Serkis doing something remarkable. But I would be very, very surprised if that kind of care goes into the project. So this is the Creature we know and love:

creature from the black lagoonWhat do I predict? Something very close to the singularly unmemorable Lizard we were saddled with in The Amazing Spider-Man:

amazing-spider-man-lizardAnd that, in a nutshell, is what I fear from the Monsterverse:  CGI-heavy, tone-deaf action movies with nothing of the Gothic poetry of the originals.

If I’m wrong, I will shout it from the rooftops.

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4 Responses to “The Disquieting Guest — Bracing for the Universal Monsterverse”

  1. romeorites October 7, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    I totally agree. The CFTBL will be a hashed CGI dread-fest and I shudder to think at what it will look like. I feel that this combined monster-verse concept ruins the magic and mystery of the stories that came before and the creatures themselves.

    • davidannandale October 7, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

      Granted, the monsters did all wind up together in the mid-40s monster mashes, and they weren’t particularly poetic. But even Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein respected its monsters, and had more authentic sense of peril and Gothic atmosphere than the entire recent Mummy franchise.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Disquieting Guest — Universal Monsters and the Passing of the Gothic | The Skiffy and Fanty Show - February 16, 2016

    […] to another bit of fretting on my part. I agree with the points in this piece, and I’ve already written about why I think the approach is misguided (at best), but after a some online conversation with […]

  2. The Disquieting Guest — Universal Monsters and the Passing of the Gothic | The Skiffy and Fanty Show - February 24, 2016

    […] to another bit of fretting on my part. I agree with the points in this piece, and I’ve already written about why I think the approach is misguided (at best), but after some online conversation with some […]

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