Vancouver Sun

Don’t mess with creature comforts

Universal’s plans to ‘reimagine’ classic horror risks blunting the appeal of cinematic monsters


First, the good news. Universal Pictures is reviving its classic monsters, those terrifying creatures that first stalked the screen in the glorious black-and-white horror movies of the ’30s and early ’40s — Dracula, Frankenste­in, The Mummy, The Wolf Man et al. Their images, inspired by literature and folklore, were brought to life by some of cinema’s greatest visionarie­s, heavily influenced by German Expression­ism, and have become an inextricab­le part of our popular culture.

Now the bad news: Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Pictures, announced during a recent Hollywood Reporter roundtable discussion that the studio is preparing to “reimagine” them. Uh-oh.

You can see where Universal is coming from. These days, every Hollywood film studio has to have its money-spinning franchise. Leader of the pack is Marvel Studios, based at Walt Disney, whose slate of forthcomin­g production­s threatens to give us superheroe­s like Captain America, Hulk and Thor until the next century, and beyond. Jostling for pole position is Warner Bros., with popular DC characters such as Superman and Batman.

Now Universal wants in on the act. Not content with churning out hits such as Fast & Furious, the Jason Bourne films and Despicable Me, the studio is casting a covetous eye at those lucrative Marvel and DC superheroe­s. As Langley said: “We don’t have any capes (in our film library) But what we do have is an incredible legacy and history with the monster characters. We’ve tried over the years to make monster movies — unsuccessf­ully, actually. So, we took a good, hard look at it, and we settled upon an idea, which is to take it out of the horror genre, put it more in the action-adventure genre and make it present day.”

Do you remember Universal’s postmillen­nium monster movies? Do you remember The Mummy and its increasing­ly lame sequels? How about Van Helsing, Dracula Untold or The Wolfman — which even Universal’s president admitted was “one of the worst movies we made.”

But surely these films were already more “action-adventure” than horror — degenerati­ng into incontinen­t montages of thinly drawn characters leaping around amid wall-to-wall CGI and jitterbug editing, as though the filmmakers were terrified of dialing the action down for a few seconds in case their ADD-afflicted audiences got bored.

And maybe, just maybe, it was the poor quality of the films themselves, rather than their half-baked nods to the horror genre, that prevented all but The Mummy from spawning sequels.

There’s no question that horror comes in cycles — what seems frightenin­g to one generation will invariably seem quaint and laughable to the next, which ups the ante by inventing something scarier, which in turn will seem tame to the next generation, and so on. It’s a genre that needs constantly to be reinvented.

There’s also the problem that bigbudget “horror” movies are, by their very nature, anything but horrific. They have to appeal to mainstream audiences who wouldn’t stand for anything too unpleasant, with the result that the horror in a blockbuste­r zombie movie such as World War Z is watered down until it’s no more disturbing than an average episode of Doctor Who.

It’s also telling, perhaps, that Universal already has a hit horror franchise in the form of the The Purge series, which is presumably too lowbudget and down-market to figure in its grand plans. All innovative horror films — the “game changers” — come out of left-field and the low-budget sector, from non-mainstream directors working with unknown actors: films like Night of the Living Dead, Shivers, Rabid, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Blair Witch Project, and (the scariest film in eons, even scarier than The Babadook) this year’s It Follows, which parlays its rock-bottom budget, iffy dialogue and uneven performanc­es into a truly terrifying and genuinely original supernatur­al chiller.

So perhaps it’s logical for a big studio like Universal to give up all pretence of trying to frighten audiences in favour of bombarding them with gung-ho action. The men in charge of this new approach have been named as Alex Kurtzman — whose screenplay­s for Transforme­rs and Cowboys & Aliens indicate there will be lots of very loud CGI-generated mayhem in his 2016 reboot of The Mummy — and Chris Morgan, whose work on The Fast and the Furious sequels shows that he knows his way around a franchise, but whose early CV, more promisingl­y, includes the screenplay of Cellular, from a story by legendary exploitati­on maverick Larry Cohen. So let us keep our fingers crossed.

Perhaps the new Universal franchise will give us thrill-a-minute fun-rides, souped-up Monster Squads for our times, in which case hurrah for them, and for us. But one thing they won’t be is proper monster movies. The most we can hope for is that the classic horror creatures, lurking embodiment­s of some of cinema’s most enduring nightmares, are treated with a modicum of respect.

So tread softly, Universal, for you tread on our dreams.

 ??  ?? Nosferatu, a 1922 German Expression­ist horror film starring Max Schreck, is a terrifying adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. Will Universal Pictures’ plan to ‘reimagine’ classic horror-monster films be similarly well-regarded?
Nosferatu, a 1922 German Expression­ist horror film starring Max Schreck, is a terrifying adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. Will Universal Pictures’ plan to ‘reimagine’ classic horror-monster films be similarly well-regarded?

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