When Classic Monsters Attacked The '90s
- by Señor Editor, 6 October 2016
Dracula. The Wolfman. Frankenstein(‘s Monster). In the 1930s, these guys ruled the movie theaters. In the Hammer Films golden era, they were still horror’s greatest stars. But by the 1980s, they found themselves completely outshined by the Jasons, Michaels, Freddies and Chuckies, just to name a few. Being a werewolf or a reanimated corpse suddenly seemed like it should be just the first part of your gimmick. But the early 1990s saw the trio make a grand return, and with the biggest movie stars possible playing them! What could possibly go wrong?
Even though the three classic monsters were featured in more movies in the 90s, what we’re about to examine are the three most important and biggest outings they had. The ones with A-list talent and actual potential to bring the monsters back into prominence.
While they are often referred to as “Universal Monsters” (after the studio that first made them a hit), none of these movies were actually made by Universal. Still, we all knew who these characters were and what they represented. It started in the early nineties with...
Dracula! There are no horror villains more iconic than the Count from Transilvania. That motherfucker’s visage has been used for everything from breakfast cereal to teaching children how to count on “The Sesame Street”. Clearly, the “guy in a suit and cape” image has lost some of its edge over the years. Thankfully, Francis Ford Coppola had a radical redesign in mind, and the great Gary Oldman was ready to act the part. Based on the original book by Big Bram-Bram Stoker himself, the Count’s big comeback movie also featured Keanu Reeves, doing his best to earn that “wooden acting” rep.
The Monster Redesign: When we first meet Count Dracula he looks like Emperor Palpatine got his hair done at a dog show. He wears beautiful red ornate robes and has his white hair done up into two head-sized cocoons, which end in braids on his back. There’s also a flashback bit showing the Count during his impaling days and rocking a nice red armor, which makes him look like a big muscle monster. Gotta get swole if you wanna be impaling! When he is rejuvenated, he mostly looks just like Gary Oldman, though. Other than that, he also turns into several animal forms - nothing very new here.
The Movie Overall: While it starts off well enough and has some beautiful shots and nice special effects, the movie quickly undoes its greatest achievement - Gary Oldman’s hair. As soon as Dracula turns young and loses the iconic double beehive, we are left with no more reasons to keep watching. It’s not even halfway in the movie when Francis Ford Coppola just throws away the most interesting thing he had going on. We’re left with a Victorian hipster Dracula and the movie gets painfully boring real fast.
Not THE WolfMAN. Just Wolf, period.
Even though Mike Nichols’ “Wolf” wasn’t a retelling of any prior version of the Wolfman, it’s still a werewolf movie that has most of the crucial elements. It’s also the best out of these three movies by far. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here...
The Monster Redesign: He now looks a lot like Jack Nicholson. Not that it’s a bad thing - it’s inspired casting since Nicholson already seems like a wild man, and the wolf effects just exaggerate it.
Noteworthy Changes in Origin: While the animal involved may not be radioactive, our werewolf’s origin is sort of similar to Spider-Man’s, minus a dead uncle. Will Randall (Nicholson’s character) works at a New York newspaper and gets his powers from getting bitten by a wolf. After that, things start changing fast and soon enough, Nicholson gets heightened senses and inhuman strength. He proceeds to going around biting people and romancing Michelle Pfeiffer.
The Movie Overall: The completely new backstory may have been crucial in making this movie a standout among the three films. It’s never boring and it actually holds up much better than the remaining two. This might also be the most agile performance we’ve ever seen from Nicholson. Both Nichols and Nicholson do a good job, and it ends up being one of the best werewolf movies ever made.
“Friend, good! Fire, bad!” Who doesn’t love Frankenstein? Only an utter idiot.
Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 movie promised us a whole new Frankenstein Monster - an Academy Award-winning one! The one and only Robert De Niro was going to portray a walking, talking mix of dead body parts for our entertainment, and fans of classic horror rejoiced.
Now, for the younger readers here - this wasn’t the “comedy” actor De Niro. This was Prime De Niro, still at the peak of his De Niro powers. Already a legend, but still putting out classics. He went on to do “Casino” right after this movie, so you can see why expectations for this movie could be high. Did it live up to them? Let’s start with the new things.
The Monster Redesign: Well, I dig it! Even if it’s kind of questionable. Like, why did the Doctor give his creature such a hideous, patchy face? Was it that hard to find a corpse with a nice, complete face anywhere? Was the Doctor really in such a rush to finish the greatest scientific achievement? That’s more stitches than two baseballs sewn together. You make a creature that looks like THAT and you shouldn’t be fuckin surprised if it wants to kill you. That said, it still is a pretty cool look and one that’s very different from both Karloff and Christopher Lee.
The Movie Overall: Just in case you didn’t know, Mary Shelley has been dead for 143 years when this movie came out. I understand the need to call it something else than “Frankenstein”, but I’m not sure if dating it so much in the title alone is the best idea when you’re trying to present the story to a new audience. Bram Stoker’s Dracula had the same problem, but it had a lot more new stuff to pique the modern viewer’s interest. Sadly, this movie feels as dated as the book it’s based on.
While De Niro does some great work as “The Creation” (that’s what he’s called in the movie, despite “Patchy” being the more obvious choice), the rest of the actors have a hard time keeping up with him, and the whole story lacks any sort of tension. Even the Karloff original feels pretty tense when you watch it now. This movie? Not so much. It has less to do with horror than any of Frank’s previous movies, it’s just a long, bloated drama with no likeable characters.
In summation, going back to the original book well may have been a poor idea for bringing back the classic monsters. Nicholson’s werewolf wasn’t THE Wolfman, but it was close enough and it was by far the most entertaining out of these three movies. That said, none of the Monsters really managed to reclaim their former glory in the 1990s. Still, it was better than what was to come in the 2010s.
Which of these three movies you thought worked the best? Are these three monsters still in need of a good modern movie? Let us know in the comments!
Tagged: movies & TV.