Universal Monsters

Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein

Now that Benedict Cumberbatch is likely to lead Doctor Strange and thereby join the Avengers and Marvel Cinematic Universe, he’s on a roll as far as conquering all of Hollywood’s biggest franchises. Really, he’s only been in a few so far: The Hobbit, Star Trek and soon enough Madagascar. That’s it unless we hold on to the hope that War Horse can still spawn its own mega-series of various animal stories set during World War I. Cumberbatch had been rumored for Star Wars, and eventually he’s sure to be in at least one of the 20 or 50 they’re currently planning to produce. Like many fans, I’m also still waiting for a necessary Sherlock/Doctor Who crossover, but those aren’t movie franchises — yet. Not since Hugo Weaving has there been such promise of a multi-franchise movie star such as this. And Cumberbatch is more of a leading man than Weaving and many of the others going through their career checking off film series (Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Jeremy Renner, etc.). Maybe there are equally likable guys who are actually linking up with multiple franchises front and center, such as Dwayne Johnson and Chris Pratt, but neither has seemed to be connected to so many in at least rumored form. Cumberbatch needn’t actually do a lot of these movies, just allow us to imagine him in them. That’s why I’m going to jump the gun on a handful of properties that we haven’t heard about his believed involvement in. Don’t be surprised if […]

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Luke Evans in Dracula Untold

If we consider that Dracula Untold is the Iron Man or Man of Steel of the next shared-universe franchise, a $23m opening weekend has to look pretty dim. Yet that figure is higher than the movie was tracking to earn, so Universal is marking the release as a triumph. “It’s better than anyone expected in the industry.” the studio’s domestic distribution president, Nikki Rocco, told Entertainment Weekly. “We’re very pleased with the result.” Universal can be happy enough, too, with its international gross to date of $63m, which is a helpful addition. And as Rocco also notes, the exit polls have been promising. Through Cinemascore, audiences graded the movie an A-. That means those who went to see it liked it enough that they’ll probably be on board for a sequel and the rest. “The rest” is, of course, team-ups, “versus” movies and other such groupings of Dracula (Luke Evans) and other Universal monsters, including the Mummy and probably the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Frankenstein’s Monster. I wouldn’t be surprised if King Kong is in the mix at some point, as well, since the giant ape’s origin movie, Skull Island, is being made by the same studios (though not produced by Alex Kurtsman, the showrunner of this franchise). The next installment for the new monster mash project isn’t due for a couple more years, when the Kurtzman-directed The Mummy opens in June 2016. I wonder if many people will even remember Dracula Untold then, and I wonder if […]

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Dracula 1931

Every year near Halloween, I find myself re-watching at least some of the classic Universal monster movies from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. This year, thanks to purchasing the Universal Classic Monsters 30-Film Collection, I’m pretty much revisiting all of them. Kicking off that list is Tod Browning’s timeless classic Dracula, which was the first Hollywood production of the character and also the risky endeavor Universal diving into the monster movie market. Of course, being more than 80 years old, there are no contemporary filmmaker commentaries available on this title. In the DVD box set, which packages together all the Legacy Collection discs, we are left with a commentary by film historian David J. Skal and the screenwriter from Dracula: Dead and Loving It. As much as I enjoy Mel Brooks’ works, I felt it was a better bet to go with the possibly drier but more insightful historian. This was a good choice as Skal packs quite a bit of information into this relatively short 75-minute film.

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Warner Bros.

I don’t know what your movie news feed looks like, but mine tends to be painfully predictable. Over the past few months, with rare exception, it’s pretty much been a non-stop barrage of Star Wars, DC, and Marvel updates. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good franchise. I’m a huge fan of Star Wars and am eagerly awaiting the release of Episode VII. Likewise, I love me some Marvel Cinematic Universe and will be first in line to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron next summer. I’m still a bit cautious about Batman vs. Superman: Courtroom Drama and the upcoming Justice League slate of films, but that’s a whole ‘nother article. A friend of mine recently echoed the ridiculously common complaint that Hollywood has lost its creative edge and is no longer making original movies. Instead, it’s obsessed about remakes, reboots, sequels, and other adaptations of previous source material. My knee-jerk cynicism aside, he seems to have a point. Sure, there are some interesting original films that show up now and then, but the studios seem to be focused greatly on retreading the past. This got me thinking: Can’t we go back to the good old days when Hollywood wasn’t all about remakes, reboots, sequels, and franchises?

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Monster Squad Monsters

Remember when Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy, Wolf Man and the rest of the classic Universal Monsters were horror characters? Then 80 years worth of cheesy sequels and mash-ups and merchandising watered them all down to the point where they couldn’t even scare a baby. Hollywood has tried different ways to make them relevant for modern audiences, including attempts at grittier takes on the literary sources, blockbuster versions with lots of action and special effects and animated features starring the voices of Adam Sandler and friends. These have each only kept the creatures as corny as ever. They’re never going to be the stuff of nightmares again, so the question is whether they’ll ever be as cool as they once were. Or even cooler? What if the classic movie monsters were suddenly as hip as the Fast and Furious movies became after the franchise was refueled with high-octane entertainment value following the fourth installment? Unfortunately, a dash of Dwayne Johnson isn’t going to cut it here. He already sort of contributed to the quick ruin of the last Mummy reboot. Never mind that that was before he reenergized his own movie career. The alternative might be the reported hire of screenwriter Chris Morgan for the job of penning the studio’s previously announced super-franchise for its Halloween costume favorites. He’s the guy who wrote all the Fast and Furious sequels from Tokyo Drift onward. It took him a couple installments to really reveal the awesome potential, but he found new life in what had initially seemed […]

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monstersquad

Ever since Marvel Studios blew past the billion dollar mark by getting all of their various protagonists together and teaming them up in a big crossover movie, The Avengers, every other studio out there has been clamoring to find a way to recreate that success. Whether that’s Sony looking to build to a Sinister Six movie through their Amazing Spider-Man franchise, Warner Brothers looking to build to a Justice League movie through their Man of Steel franchise, or Fox looking to bring their two disparate X-Men franchises together with Days of Future Past, the message seems to be the same: team-up movies are the new go-to. The truth is, crossing over different properties in order to create big team-up movies is nothing new though. Universal was doing it with their popular monster characters all the way back in the 40s with things like 1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, 1944’s House of Frankenstein, or even the 1948 comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. These movies took classic characters like Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein’s monster, kept the original actors who made them famous where possible, and threw them all together into one adventure that kept the properties fresh in ways that more solo films couldn’t. It was a good strategy then, and The Avengers shows that it’s still a good strategy now, so it’s looking like Universal is getting ready to go back to it.

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Frankenstein DVD Commentary

IT’S ALIVE! IT’S ALIVE! For 81 years, those words have surely been said from at least one person to another every year around Halloween time, and for good reason. Not only is Frankenstein arguably the best of the Universal monsters from the 1930s, the monster at the film’s center has become a pivotal image for October 31st. So, to round our horror slate of commentaries, we’re diving into the classic original, our oldest film covered to date. Naturally, this means we aren’t listening to any of the cast or crew from the film (although we get some quotations from director James Whale). Since the first commentary track came out in 1984 – King Kong Criterion Collection, which will be covered at some point here – films from days of old have to settle for film historians to talk shop while they play out. That’s not to say there aren’t invaluable bits of information found here, but expect lots of film theory and LOTS of snobbery. Who knows? Maybe Rudy Behlmer, who is featured here, likes to check his brain at the door with the rest of us. Checking brains at the door. Frankenstein’s monster. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but probably not a very funny one. Let’s get the commentary started, shall we?

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Invisible Man

How do show the world an invisible man? That was the challenge for James Whale when he directed an adaptation of H.G. Wells‘ story for Universal. It was also the challenge facing Francesco Francavilla, the comic book artist who has scored some acclaim for work on “Zorro,” “Black Panther: The Man Without Fear,” and various “Captain America” tales when he took the task of creating a new poster for the iconic flick. To be fair, he had some help from how Whale dressed up Claude Rains for the role, but the poster he’s crafted for the forthcoming Mondo gallery show dedicated to The Universal Monsters is still a thing of beauty. The show takes place on October 19th (running through November 10th), and will feature art from Rick Baker, Kevin Tong and more. Lucky for you, we have a sneak peek of Francavilla’s work:

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Universal Monsters Blu-ray

Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Dracula, The Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera, The Mummy and The Creature From The Black Lagoon are finally all together on Blu-ray. Universal will be releasing a massively awesome set called “Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection” on October 5th, and there are a ridiculous amount of extra features in addition to the horror flicks. Production photos, behind-the-scenes stuff, trailers, tributes to Jack Pierce and Lon Chaney, Jr. That’s the tip of the horror iceberg (which is also the name of the script I just finished. Call me, Asylum). The movies have been together on DVD before with a decent collection of features, but this Blu-ray collection seems absolutely stunning. A big upgrade for true classics. Plus, there are books involved! Everyone loves reading. The big question is…at a pre-sale price of $112, is this a necessary upgrade or a dreamy luxury?  

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Universal’s classic movie monsters have always been an important part of their history, and a profitable part of their stable of trademarks. Normally they don’t let too many years go by without making a movie featuring a the wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster, or a mummy. So, it should probably come as no surprise that they’re currently looking for ways to further extend their Mummy franchise, the latest incarnation of which started with Stephen Sommers’s 1999 film that starred Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. Variety reports that they’re looking to do a reboot of the whole franchise, and in order to get things started, they’ve hired writer Jon Spaihts to come up with a script. Spaihts isn’t really a widely known name as of yet, but considering he’s got a co-writing credit on Ridley Scott’s upcoming project that’s set in the Alien universe, Prometheus, that’s probably going to change pretty quickly.

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Universal really wants this vampire fad to go out with a bang and a fizzle.

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Wolfman-3

Universal Pictures sent over a note this evening that their upcoming horror remake The Wolfman has been rated ‘R’ for bloody horror, violence and gore. Also, we’ve got pictures!

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thirst_movie

All I heard for weeks was how Park’s vampire opus Thirst was a gorgeous, deeply affecting film; my interest was duly peaked. Two very long hours later, I emerged in the minority. I did not like this film.

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Boris Karloff as Frankenstein

If you don’t think a 77-year old movie can make you wet your pants and think about your own existence, you haven’t seen James Whale’s Frankenstein.

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published: 11.21.2014
D
published: 11.21.2014
B+
published: 11.19.2014
C+
published: 11.19.2014
B-, C


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