Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Even A Man Who's Pure Of Heart ..."

Say it with me, now:
And says his prayers at night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.
That’s the quote as originally voiced by Maleva, the old gypsy woman in Universal’s original version of The Wolfman (1941), starring Lon Chaney Jr and Claude Rains. (The last line was changed in the 1943 sequel Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman to "And the moon is full and bright", thus ensuring that the hapless Larry Talbot would be a man cursed for all seasons.)

I take a back seat to no one in geek love when it comes to Universal Horror.

I grew up watching them all being rerun on Channel 9’s Million Dollar Movie and Channel 11’s Creature Features. As much as anything else, they made me the writer I am today. Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy -- I loved them all, and watched them over and over. Even the second tier films the studio cranked out in the Forties -- Man-Made Monster, The Creeper, The Mad Ghoul (as opposed to all those sane ghouls) ... every time the paper listed one as scheduled to be shown (yes, children, back then you couldn’t just throw a DVD on the old home theater; you had to be there), I was glued to the old black & white 16-inch RCA cabinet model in our living room. (Which had a crack in the screen's lower left corner, due to my throwing a spark plug at it; the reason why escapes me at the moment.)

In 1992, Universal released the first of an eventual trio of big-screen, big-budget remakes of the classic monster films: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, starring Gary Oldman as the titular Count and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It wasn’t bad, though a bit too much of the “Look Ma, I’m directing!” school. Coppola is not wont to disappear behind the camera under the best of circumstances, and obviously viewed this as an excuse to get crazy with period filmmaking techniques. I went to see it, wanted to like it, but there was simply too much artifice in it for me.

In 1994, Kenneth “Whatever Happened to ...?” Branagh helmed the second remake, and, not to be outdone, named it Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Again, too much style and not enough substance, although I thought DeNiro was a good choice for the Monster.

1999 saw Stephen Sommers’s vision of The Mummy, with Brendan Frasier, about which the less said the better.

And now, in 2009 will come the remake of The Wolfman (a pity they’re not continuing the auctorial tradition by calling it Curt Siodmak’s Wolfman, but fame is fickle). It stars Benicio Del Toro (good), has make-up effects by Rick Baker (also good), and will be directed by .... Joe “Honey, I shrank the Kids” Johnston.

Well, he can’t be any worse than Sommers. And I kinda liked The Rocketeer.

We’ll see ...

3 comments:

Simon said...

Hi Sir, I must admit that I do agree with your post; especially about Dracula which was overwrought romance and bad accent (Keanu). Did like Cary Elwes and Anthony Hopkins (as Van Helsin), though.

Frankenstein remake had good parts and I loved DeNiro as the monster. I really felt sorry for him. Also, the casting of John Cleese was kind of interesting.

This brings me to Stephen Sommers...I loved Deep Rising, I think he made that movie a couple of years before The Mummy, which you could not really call a remake more of a re-imagining. You know, like that Tim Burton Planet of the Apes movie.

I hate to say it, but I did enjoy The Mummy. Mind you, it is just an Indiana Jones knock off. Mindless entertainment, definitely not on the par of the Universal monster movies of the past.

Thanks for your blogs. They are very interesting.

Best Wishes,

Simon

Monsterbeard said...

You didn't mention Guardians of Luna in there. I don't actually know the status of it or your continued level of involvement, but looking up cartoons about werewolves is how I first heard your name a few months ago. Fortunately, I discovered your blog from some other blog I can't remember.

I'm excited to see it, if it gets on air. Firstly, because it sounds really cool. Secondly, I tend to like everything I've seen on your resume. I'm really glad to have found your blog, sir.

As for Batman, I'm very impressed with Nolan's take on the characters, but for me, Batman: TAS will always be the iconic vision to rely on.

Steve Perry said...

And his hair was ...