Saturday, 15 November 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1195: Monsters or Superheroes?

Universal Pictures was the studio that brought horror to Hollywood.

Back in the silent era horror films were being made, but they had an uneasy relationship with the supernatural. Either the "monster" was just a disfigured madman or if the film featured what at first looked like the supernatural, the studio would always "Scooby Doo" the movie's ending, by revealing that the ghost/vampire/werewolf was just a hoax done by criminals to further their shady schemes.

Universal Pictures changed that.

Carl Laemmle Jr. was the 20something son of the founder of Universal Pictures as well as its head of production, and had been raised on a steady diet of Central and Eastern European folklore. When the opportunity came to adapt Bram Stoker's Dracula for the screen, he took it, and made a decision that revolutionized Hollywood horror.

Instead of having the titular character being a criminal or a maniac in an elaborate disguise Dracula was just an undead creature cursed to feed upon the blood of the living. There was no Scooby-Doo style unmasking, because he wasn't wearing a mask.

That changed EVERYTHING in the field of horror. Monsters were in, and Universal was the king of the monster heap.

Eventually the classic Universal Monsters, Dracula, The Frankenstein's Monster, The Wolf-Man, and The Mummy fell out of fashion. 

Universal played no small part in this demise with their tendency to flog their franchises to death with multiple sequels, crossovers, with declining budgets, and quality. Eventually they drifted into self-parody, then total irrelevance. The monster-mantle was taken up by Britain's Hammer Films while Universal pretty well dropped the gothic and followed the other American filmmakers into more science fiction based monstrosities.

Universal has dipped its toe into its old Monster well. First by reinventing The Mummy franchise into an Indiana Jones rip-off. Then they tried to turn Van Helsing into Batman, and while their attempt to re-boot The Wolf-Man attempted horror, it was an overwrought, bloated monstrosity.

Now Universal has announced that they're rebooting their monster franchises again. But instead of being gothic horror monster movies, they're going to be modern-day action adventures in a shared universe that will eventually all come together, like Marvel's The Avengers. They've even hired a "hive" of writers to develop this new idea.

All I can say is: Oy.

Basically, they're turning their monsters into superheroes.


Because they think that's where the money is.

Well, yes and no.

Superhero movies make good bank, but they're also incredibly expensive to make. That means that unless you have a popular franchise and a brand that people associate with quality stories (like Marvel) you're looking at a razor thin profit at best.

What sort of standing does the Universal monsters have with audiences?

Well, their Mummy franchise made enough to justify some sequels and a spin-off with the prerequisite diminishing returns. Van Helsing might have broken even if you squint your eyes and ignore the fortunes they spent on P&A, and The Wolf-Man tanked badly.

Ask anyone their opinion on Universal's monster movies and you'll most likely get no higher praise than a "feh" and if they're a horror fan you'll get a lecture on how they symbolize Hollywood's neutered mindset. They had neutered their monsters, from being fearsome beasts from the darkness to wimpy CGI playthings because an executive hoped kids would buy the toys and other merchandise.

So now Universal is saying that they're not only going to repeat their plan, they're going to make it even more tepid.

The irony is that low budget horror has potential for massive profits when its marketed right. The means to make a smaller scale, really scary, monster movie exist. But Universal doesn't want to do that, because that requires work and imagination. It's much easier to sell the Board of Directors a load of hooey about imitating Marvel, and when it all sinks like a stone, just blame it on the market research firm.

Fuck that.

No comments:

Post a Comment