Sunday, October 12, 2008

Universal Horror

As Halloween nears, and the flood of horror movies in the theater and on television begins, I find myself ready for it to be over with. Not because I don't like scary movies. I do. But in the last thirty years, there is, for every good horror movie, about fifty bad ones. Aside from the bad acting and empty plots, there is far too much over the top gore, twisted imagery, and obligitory nudity, often mixed together. It's one thing for me to watch it, but now, as a parent, I find myself wondering if there is anything out there that my son will be able to watch someday that is both scary, but safe; that won't scar him for life.

Then I remembered how much I enjoyed watching the classic horror movies from Univeral Studios. For decades they produced loads of great horror movies featuring some of literature's and cinema's favorite characters. In the 1920s, they made The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera. In the 1930s they created a slew of classics including Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. Later in the 40s and 50s, Universal released The Wolfman and The Creature From the Black Lagoon. These movies, featuring the talents of Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi were made during the Golden Age of cinema and showcased cutting edge (for the time) special effects. These films may appear cheesy by today's standards, but many (The Mummy, The Raven) were fine movies, as well as downright creepy.

Films such as Dracula and Frankenstein, based on 19th century novels reflected many of the themes of fantastic literature of the day. They questioned much of enlightenment era thinking that placed trust in science and progress. Much like the works of H.P. Lovecraft, these stories put characters that represented modernist, rational thought face to face with ancient, primitive and supernatural evils. Unlike the brainless slasher movies that would follow, they touched on basic primordial fears we all have and that is why these movies remain classics.

Since then, there have been a few gems like The Omen and Signs, but most horror movies today are gorey (or gorier) remakes of earlier movies. Director Stephen Sommmers, who claims to be a huge fan of the Universal monster movies, missed an opportunity by turning his idiotic, CGI-laden The Mummy, and its sequel The Mummy Returns into pathetic Indiana Jones homages. Then he made matter worse by directing Van Helsing, a cartoonish of vision of the classic Bram Stoker character.

But there is hope! On April 3, 2009, Universal Studios will release a remake of The Wolfman, featuring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving. The film will be directed by Joe Johnston (Jumanji, October Sky) and is set in 1880s England. Let's hope it will be a quality alternative to the Saw movies.


Tim Lewis said...

Saw V is coming out. If there are that many of them, they must be good, right?

Anonymous said...

For the people who like to be scared at the movies, may I submit the fact that for two weeks in a row "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" has been the number one box office earner? I think that's the scariest thing that happened in a movie theater in a long time.

I am holding out hope that the Wolfman remake doesn't suck. But I have to ask myself, why do they need to remake Wolfman? Is there some reason that the first one isn't worth watching? I'll admit that it's been some time since I watched it, but I liked it. Remember a few years (oh jeez, I think it was more like a decade) ago when they remade several classic Universal horror movies? We got Keanu Reeves in a Dracula movie, Robert DeNiro as Frankestien's monster, and Jack Nicholson in Wolf. I'll admit that I saw two of these in the theater. I'll even go so far as to admit that Wolf didn't totally suck. Now that it looks like Kennth Branaugh will be directing Thor for Marvel Pictures, I'm thinking I might seek out Frankenstein to see how he handles special effects and action.

I honestly don't consider the recent Mummy movies to have anything in common with the Mummy movies of the thirties except that they have mummies in them. And in case anyone wants to know, yes, it is true, Jake saw The Scorpion King in the theater.

If Hollywood wants a truly scary and timely horror movie, I've got the title ready and all they need to do is hire someone to write it and maybe see if Seth Rogen is available to be in it. I swear, these days if a movie doesn't have that dude in it, it just doesn't seem like a movie. Here's the title: Adjustable Rate Second Mortgage. Who wouldn't have the beans scared out of them with a title like that?


Anonymous said...

You know, I keep pulling up your blog and seeing the headline "Universal Horror" and I think you've posted a new article about the election results.