We probably should have expected that the Universal monster movies of the 1930s would soon be revamped for a modern audience. In a sense, they already have if you include all the countless takes on Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. We’ve also seen different variations on the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and the Invisible Man. Also, the musical version of “The Phantom of the Opera” more or less relegated the Universal edition a curio to modern audiences.
So what could possibly be done to make all the Universal characters worth revamping after most of the above failed, other than the phenomenal “Phantom” musical? The thought might be to return them to their traditional roots as we saw them in the 1930s, without necessarily making the movies take place then. There’s something to be said, though, about setting any film in a timeless era.
When you see most of the Universal creature features of yore, they were almost always set in a time that wasn’t very specific. That’s one reason why they hold up so well today, because you’re not sure if it was the modern era or some point much earlier. Only Universal’s later “Creature from the Black Lagoon” brought things into the 1950s, complete with the schlocky creature costume so strongly associated with the time.
Considering the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” property has never been remade (nor Universal’s “Bride of Frankenstein”), there may be something there worth retreading. The only question is whether a combination of a modern sensibility with tradition would work when the horror genre for some doesn’t exist unless it includes enough expected gore to incite nausea for a month.
Universal might have the perfect template in the recent revamp of Hammer films in the U.K. The latter has already done a perfect job of bringing new horror films that create atmosphere rather than being explicit. “The Woman in Black.” for instance, was nearly universally loved without shedding hardly a drop of blood. And they’ve already announced a steady stream of remakes from the classic Hammer catalog. It’s a strange twist that some of those will also be tangentially related to the Universal monsters.
There may be intent by Universal to go the same route based on Hammer’s successful reformulation. Perhaps they can finally remove the stigma that’s plagued Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster for so many years. If they simply take the stories back to when they were written and be faithful to the books, they’ll find plenty of plot insights still relevant now. This emphasizes the point that bringing Frankenstein and Dracula to the modern era never has been nor never will be a good idea.
The best idea out of all of them would be “Bride of Frankenstein,” where a new actress can have a star-making vehicle playing someone brought back from the dead. With the removal of her high hair and white zigzag streaks to avoid unintentional laughs, you have the advantage of the original side plot using Dr. Pretorius and his jar-dwelling homunculi people. Doing a modern remake on the Pretorius story alone would give some meaning back to the concept of the remake.
But the immediate reaction is probably going to be one of dipping into the same old creative well to avoid original ideas. What once scared the masses 80 years ago will have to be taken at a level of more character study than shocks. After so many years of horror films with nowhere to go after so much blood spilled, a good chunk of the public will be guaranteed to appreciate something better.