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Universal Brings Back Horror without Horror

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | November 17, 2014 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | November 17, 2014 |

When I was a kid, one of my favorite discoveries at the one room Carnegie Library that I was allowed to walk to by myself at the ripe old age of five, was a set of what I just called the “monster books”. They were these battered old books, hardcovers and almost square, maybe a few dozen pages each, enormous things for a little kid. They were “novelized” versions of the old Universal horror films from the thirties through fifties: Frankenstein, Dracula, and Wolfman, all the way up to the paranoid radiation monster ones of the fifties. Black and white full page screenshots were complemented by bits and pieces of text. They were windows to something exquisite.

Well Universal finally realized that they were sitting on a potential goldmine with all the rights to those old movies and characters. Said a disposable Universal executive:

“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, bringing these incredibly rich and complex characters into present day and reimagine them and reintroduce them to a contemporary audience.”

I have mixed feelings. First, it’s a bright business decision. On the other hand, despite not being much of a fan or consumer of classic film myself, it feels very much like the prelude to simply stripping out everything that made those films memorable in the first place. On a third hand emerging from an unsettling place, I have some quibbles about whether this isn’t exactly what studios have been trying and failing to do with various old characters like Dracula for quite some time. So on a fourth hand, and you don’t want to know where it’s been, you could also argue that this approach is exactly what allowed DC to blow up the world with Nolan’s Batman franchise, breaking it mostly away from its comic roots. On a fifth hand that more resembles a tentacle than anything naturally occurring on a primate, embracing the roots is exactly how Marvel has kicked DC’s ass these last few years.

Finally, I’m out of hands, so I’ll dedicate an immaculately manicured mummified foot to the proposition that maybe a horror movie should be a goddamned horror movie if it wants to be successful.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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