Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Case against Universal Monster remakes

On Feb. 15th, The New York Times summed up the weekend returns for The Wolfman as disappointing, but better than expected. After all, the internet had been ablaze for months with negative buzz from the fans. But absent from the article was any mention of the cause for such rumblings; the two year delay in getting the picture to the theaters, the reshoots, the last minute talks of re-scoring after multiple edits and the replacement of the original director. Yes, fans like myself were nervous, and with good cause.

Now, I won't spend time reviewing the film, as it's been done many times over in print and on the web. And while some have enjoyed it, the major consensus among horror fans seems to be one of disappointment. This was to be the film that jump started the Universal monster line, the blockbuster to bring back into the theaters the best known versions of Dracula, Frankenstein and the like.

Or, if not the creatures themselves, the style of horror Universal did so well in the 30's, a more serious, Gothic vision of horror. Movies where shadows, settings and characters were more important than simple jump scares and set piece moments.

And so, at this point, after much reflection, I think it’s time tell Universal not to try remaking these classic movies. I’m not saying to lock the monsters away in a vault, but stop try to recapture the flavor of those older films. Change the time period, the characters, bring the settings to more modern times, do whatever you think will bring the audience in. Just stop packaging the films as a return to the classic style of horror, because, quite frankly, you can't make those movies anymore. You don't know how, and even if you could, you wouldn’t want to make such a picture.

I know this is a strong statement and I expect it will upset a few fans. But allow me to present my argument over the next few posts before sharing your feelings on the subject. It’s not an easy thing to say, as I’m a big fan of these creatures. They were some of the first horror movies I saw as a kid. But as much as it pains me, I truly believe the sooner Hollywood stops trying to recapture the magic of those classics, the sooner the studios might make better movies with our favorite monsters.

They don't make movies like that anymore.....

I think part of the reason for the failure of The Wolfman is it's schizophrenic nature. Like the title character, this movie is a human drama until the moon is full. Then it becomes a furious collection of action pieces that undermines everything that came before it.

Look at the first 40 minutes or so of the movie. Up until the Lawrence Talbot's first transformation, we had a movie drenched in atmosphere. The rich settings, the dense forests, the interplay of shadow and light. Though I wished for a bit more character development, I liked the texture of the film. It felt creepy, something modern horror has forgotten in it's rush for the sensational and shocking.

Even the attack on the Gypsy camp, with the rapid pacing and increasingly gruesome violence, was unable to disturb the feeling of doom that hung around Lawrence like a smothering cloak.

But then Lawrence changes to the wolfman, and the film increases in pacing and action sequences until, finally, the audience is subjected to a climatic battle royal more in line with a Transformers movie than the preceding scenes.

Why the sudden change in tone and tempo? Because that's what Hollywood believes the audience wants in a movie. Because, even in an R-rated movie, the studio feels the ending has to be something that resembles a 12 year old's version of a comic book than an actual adult movie.

And this will be the fate of all Universal monsters should a remake trend take hold. Expect to see Frankenstein's Monster taking on hordes of villagers, throwing bodies about at dizzying speeds. Dracula will be bouncing across the walls of his castle to dodge a hailstorm of arrows let loose by Van Helsing and his crew. If you don't believe those scenarios, I suggest you revisit Universal's reboot of The Mummy. We were expecting a retelling of the classic Karloff film; what we got was a childish, forgettable video game.

Face it, old style film making is no longer practiced in Hollywood. Any hope of getting a serious Universal Monster movie has to come from outside the studio system, which likely won't happen anytime soon.

Next: The Trouble with Transformations.

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