At what point does our fiction become our Mythology? When does our Mythology become passe? The Universal pantheon of monsters is firmly entrenched in pop culture to the point that not only have these properties been re-made, re-imagined, co-opted and assimilated into virtually every medium, but the Monsters themselves have become…loveable.
Horror Icon Boris Karloff captured the imaginations and nightmare of generations of Fright Fans by bringing Frankenstein’s Monster, as well as The Mummy to life. We all know the images, most of us know the stories, but do they hold up?
It seems almost every time someone mentions The Mummy, they are talking about the remake starring Brendan Fraser. Now I’m all for paying respect to the classics, but as much as I hate to admit it, the remake is a vastly superior film in just about every way you care to name. Sure, it may have some really awkward CG effects, but the original has almost NOTHING happening in it! Aside from Karloff using a truly chilling stare to pierce its way into our nightmares, the film is a total bore. Yes, I know that the standards and expectations for Horror films were much different back then, however this film just does not hold up. Full stop.
Similarly the Wolf Man was also treated to a modern remake (which I reviewed here: ), yet perhaps has a richer legacy the the Mummy. Lon Chaney Jr plays the cursed Lawrence Talbot, along with other Horror Icons as Bela Lugosi, and Claude Rains. Thanks to the Crestwood series of Monsters books (the ones with the Orange logos that you always tried to take out of the Library at school), I knew all about the story of the Wolf Man, as well as the rest of the Monsters, long before I had seen the film. I knew that Chaney’s character is meant to be portrayed as cursed, his affliction being a tragedy. When I finally did watch the film I was somewhat surprised at how so many aspects seemed cliche. The slow transformation, the Gypsy, the Tormented protagonist, etc. These tropes had been incorporated heavily into pop culture to the point that seeing them in their original context was almost humorous. Two things really stood out to me though, the setting and atmosphere and overall look is phenomenal. To be fair, ALL the Universal Monster films have this in common.
What I’m getting at is these films have a legacy of greatness, reputations that precede them, and have kick started the Nightmares of Movie-Goers for generations…yet when I first viewed them, I was bored. Could it have been that I had already watched more frightening films? As filmmaking has evolved, so have the tactics used to scare us, so by the time the late 80s/Early 90s rolled around I wasn’t too concerned with Drac, Wolfie and Franky…I was more worried about Jason, Freddy and Chucky! Or maybe it was because by this time, I had already seen these monsters reduced to Saturday Morning Cartoons. Scooby Doo, Looney Tunes, the Flintstones and others have all featured the iconic Monsters, and always seem to portray them in an unflattering light. Sure, they are established as supposedly scary, but they end up being bumbling boobs. When the Dracula character is bested by Barney imitating a Rooster crowing, then something is seriously wrong. I know these are intended for children, but our Monster Gods deserve a bit better than that!
Over the years, there have been several attempts to re-launch the Universal Monsters, and with the exception of the UKs Hammer Films(Full article forthcoming), and the Francis Ford Coppola produced remakes of Dracula and Frankenstein, the attempts have fallen flat. Either the films were plagued by turmoil behind the scenes, or the films drew poorly at the box office, or the films were successful for the wrong reasons. The Brendan Fraser remakes of the Mummy are a prime example of success for the wrong reasons as the films were moved away from Horror and into Action/Adventure. As I mentioned previously, I actually enjoyed these films more than the original Mummy, but it gave Producers the notion that taking the Monsters away from Horror was the right choice. As a result we got garbage such as Van Helsing, and the newly released Dracula Untold. Both are overly CGI heavy and employ little to nothing in the way of scares.
What is my point with all this off topic rambling? That these films are classics and should have a rich and respectable legacy, but instead have been rendered little better than Cartoons and Cereal Mascots. Newer generations will never get a chance to appreciate the Monsters for what they were intended to be, they have been de-clawed long before us youngsters ever got a chance to be afraid of them. As a child, I was more afraid of Paul Reubens as a Vampire from Buffy The Vampire Slayer than I was Count Dracula. There is something profoundly wrong with that!
For my final review of October*Editors Note: Yes I know this is coming extremely late, but it’s my life and I’ll be like Dale Keown if I fucking feel like it! *, I’ll be tackling one of my favorite films from childhood. It’s also a film that may be responsible for a bit of the tarnish upon the Monsters Legacy. It’s Nostalgic, it’s funny, it’s dripping in Halloween awesomeness, it’s an 80s bomb that turned into a fantastic, awesome, kick-ass classic…The Monster Squad!