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Universal Thinks the Monsters Films Are Failing Because They’re “Horror”…

I’ve been truly excited to see the return of Universal Monsters to the big screen, especially now that the studio is thinking mega-franchise with them. But then I saw Dracula Untold, which is the first in the new series. It was so bad that I’ve turned against the ambitious plan. If they can’t even get that right, how are they going to create a new monster mash with Frankenstein, Van Helsing, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, and even The Mummy?

In one of my previous rants, I referenced how The Mummy films worked because they weren’t about The Mummy, but Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz’ characters. This also sort of turned the franchise into action films, as opposed to horror. Honestly, I think it works, so long as it isn’t forced (which is what happened with the third Mummy).

In regards to horror vs. action, THR held a roundtable in which Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley reveals plans to take the horror out of the Uni Monsters. His reason? Check out this insulting answer…

“We’ve tried over the years to make monster movies — unsuccessfully, actually,” admits Langley. “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 actually agree with the surface of Donna’s thought (see below), although it’s not as simple as “it failed because it was horror.”

Van Helsing was directed by mega-CGI hack Stephen Sommers, and The Wolfman was a behind-the-scenes mess that eventually landed the lackluster Joe Johnston as a director instead of the great Mark Romanek. And how about Gary Shore’s piece of crap Dracula Untold? That was clearly an attempt at action, which failed miserably. It feels like blaming horror is a copout, or an excuse to push “monsters” into the action subgenere.

It’s unfortunate that the execs think the reason that their Universal Monster movies are failing is because they’re horror. They’re failing because they keep making bad decisions, hiring bad directors, and using way too much CGI. The top brass at Universal are showing more and more how they don’t understand us horror fans at all.

With that said, maybe they should turn them into action films? It’s clearly where they’re comfortable. They know how to made absolutely terrible movies that are successful…

To go back to my earlier thoughts, I actually prefer these to be big-budget action films like the 1999 The Mummy. I just don’t want that to happen because they’re forcing the issue, which is what it sounds like they’re doing. I don’t find the original Universal Monsters all that frightening anymore, and prefer something along the lines of Indiana Jones Meets Frankenstein than another The Wolfman. I just don’t appreciate being told that our genre doesn’t work – what doesn’t work is their decision making skills. They need to grow some balls and pick out of the talent pool who isn’t going to just render everything in a computer….

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COMMENTS

52 Comments
  • Jonathan Larsson

    People shouldn’t be discouraged just for Dracula Untold. While it wasn’t the Dracula that we had hoped for, it was arguably one of the better vampire-movies by Hollywood released in recent years. It wasn’t what we had hoped for, but I’d have to say that it was good enough considering the circumstances.
    The best Dracula movie that pinpointed the entire Dracula story and character for mainstream audiences so far would be Bram Stokers Dracula by Coppola. The problem with making a new one is that it can be one step away from being to similar to the Coppola version.

    The one thing that Universal needs to understand is that people need the properties to be faithfully adapted, while maintaining a convincing and up-to-date sense of modernizing.
    What they have done so far is to jump the Snowwhite and The Huntsman-train with the romantic yet dark fantasy adaptions who take themselves way too seriously.

    • J Jett

      Jonathan, i actually enjoyed DRACULA UNTOLD too! not a bad flick at all IMO.

  • Richter Belmont

    I don’t understand their reasoning at all. Some of the most successful films in the past few years have been horror. Regardless of one thinks of the quality of Paranormal Activity, The Conjuring, or WWZ those films made good money.

    I think they need to stop chasing Marvel Studios because Universal doesn’t have the proper talent or the insight to pull off anything remotely similar to their success. But dang it, how much I would give for a Castlevania film, though!

  • pablitonizer

    Oh, just admit you have no idea of what to do with these movie legends! The problem is not horror genre, the problem is the bad decision made over and over again (like the article stated) If they can’t find a good way to bring them back, then leave them alone please!

  • Grimphantom

    It’s like they’re asking what does pancakes go better……add ketchup instead and remove the maple syrup…….

    sigh…….is it too hard to ask for fans of horror what they like to see in those movies? Even tho Marvel Studios does make a few changes on certain characters or stories but at least they are making to please hardcore fans with some of the reference and easter eggs they add in their movies.

    Adding stuff like action and comedy to a horror movie is not easy as they think, it needs to blend well together as we seen with movies like Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness, Dead-Alive, Return of the Living Dead, Monster Squad, Dog Soldiers and others. Heck cartoons like Courage the Cowardly Dog, Regular Show, Gravity Falls and the recent miniseries Over the Garden Wall have mix horror, action and comedy into one but that’s because they KNOW how to do it.

    This is asking too much but Universal(especially Donna Langley) should stop thinking of making big bucks and truly make a movie that shows the effort and that the director and everyone involve are interest to work on it instead of just cashing in their freaking pay checks but i know it’s impossible for them to make that decision anytime soon.

  • Ethan

    The only successful action adventure Universal movie was The Mummy and that was lightning in a bottle (while still not getting THAT critically praised). Van Helsing was hated, Dracula Untold was hated. Even the Wolfman remake I would put in the action category. Their definition of “horror” is very strange to me.

  • marklola12 .

    listen im sorry but I do think he is kind of right, no one wants to go watch a mummy movie where it attempts to scare people…no one is every again going to be scared by a mummy or a wolfman and that’s a simple fact

    • Can still be a horror movie without trying to scare people. Just make it as creepy as possible without all the jump scares.

    • Frank

      That seems kind of one-sided though. Forgive me, but if you can make movies about scary ghosts and zombies, a movie about a mummy or Frankenstein or a serial killer who cannibalizes only to find out he turns into a flesh eating wolf would work just fine in any society. They just lack creativity.

    • Jonathan Larsson

      It’s not impossible, but it’s fairly difficult to do. The invisible man, The mummy and the Creature from the black lagoon have aged badly in comparison to the rest. The thing is, in order to make them interesting and scary again at the same time, they need to use different means to the stories and take clever opportunities with them.
      For example; who is scared of an invisible man these days? No one. However, if you take that formula and expand a little, like for instance, does he know how to remake the invisibility potion? Think of the confusion and advantage that he could give himself, luring an entire group of pursuers into a room full of invisible rabid dogs that will certainly rip their throats out. Just imagine it; a bunch of people locked in a small room, attacked and disembowled by something they can’t see.

  • What’s next? Leatherface action movie? Jason Voorhees action movie? Maybe Michael Myers kicking some butt and doing kung-fu with dub-step playing on the soundtrack? I think horror is as popular as it ever was. The problem is all the crappy remakes coming out…so don’t turn it into a crappy remake.

  • Un Gsund

    i think wolfman is way to underrated.. ya cgi sucked and it wasnt a big plot but for me it worked well as an old fashioned horror movie..

    • Jonathan Larsson

      The main problem with The Wolfman remake was that it lacked consistence. It didn’t seem to know what to truly focus on.
      On one side it is the general theme of having an uncontrollable monster trapped within a perfectly decent man, but this is destroyed when they introduce the “he might be insane”-route that initially wastes a good portion of the films running time. It also feels too similar to the last portion of An american werewolf, with the wolfman terrorizing London.
      Del Toro wasn’t a good Talbot either, because unlike the original, who had a gentlemanly charm and thus earned our sympathies when he turned into a murderous monster of which he had no hope to control, Del Toros variant was more of a bleak and bitter outsider without any real layer to himself.
      After that it’s mostly minor things like the silver-cane being lazily introduced, the confusing appearance of Hugo Weaving as Francis Abberline, Anthony Hopkins being the predictable antagonist and a romance-sidestory without any sparks.

      • Un Gsund

        i have to say im a del toro fan and like his character-style.. so im not able to say if he fits perfect..and i also love those industrial revolution set’s..so you see its hard for me to not like the movie but i also really liked the roles of hopkins and his indian butler/friend/guard.. but tastes are different.. i just thougt that the movie worked and didnt deserve that much bad critics..

  • Billy Pop

    I think people are forgetting it’s Universal. They, of course, wouldn’t be trying to sell these movies to the horror fans. They are going to try and appeal to mainstream audience. I think that it’s completely obvious that this is a route they would take. In no way is this a surprise to me. Jason and Freddy are still being made by fans of the genre for the most part, these new monsters are going to be more mainstream. They never shed much blood in the past (unless you count hammer films which I’m going to guess they aren’t), therefor it seems unlikely they would make these truly scary. They are going to go for PG-13 or a 14A rating. These movies aren’t going to be good. They’re going to be a product. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. Watch, I’ll be right…you watch.

    • Mint Blend

      I think you are 100% right. Problem isn’t the horror its the lack of horror. They want to hire fancy actors and use CGI effects so they can sell toys. I would love to see a realistic The Creature From the Black Lagoon in the style of 28 Days Later but it would never happen.

      • Billy Pop

        Yes indeed! I’ve learned over the past (something like) 15 years that you REALLY have to weed through all the garbage to get to the gems. It is very displeasing that horror fans are always put on the back burner just because people want to make money. It’s things like this that make me okay with people downloading something before they buy it. If you’re going to make crap, why should we pay for it? If I watch a movie and enjoy it, I will buy said movie , no problem. If I was into big Hollywood blockbusters I wouldn’t be a horror fan, therefor I might enjoy most of the trash that is put out. That being said I am a horror fan, and I enjoy movies that are made for me. I want the genre to stay with the fans, not try to appeal to mainstream audiences so the conglomerate companies can make a a prophet whilst screwing over the people that made these movies to begin with. To this I say “Nooooo!”

  • RidleyScottIsADirector@gmail.c

    MORONS! Dracula Untold wasn’t an action movie?! Wolfman wasn’t directed by JOE FUCKING JOHNSTON, an ACTION director?! It certainly played like an action movie.

    I knew these guys wouldn’t have the balls to make them horror. Remember when Mark Romanek was on Wolfman? He wanted to make a HORROR film that was both THRILLING and CEREBRAL, and they weren’t interested in that. Oh what could’ve been.

    I do agree that these films should be primarily action-adventure in the vein of the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies, but like those movies, they should have an element of horror as well. That’s what the people like. Action, adventure, romance, horror. Give it all to us in one package.

  • Matt

    Universal clearly learnt nothing from the Mummy sequels, Van Helsing or Wolfman remake. Also, way to dismiss the genre fans who have helped keep your monsters alive all these years. The original monster movies worked because they were full of wit, pathos, humour and creativity. Maybe Universal should hire people who actually give a shit about these characters. Filmmakers who get monsters, instead of letting their marketing division make their films or, If they must turn them into comicbook movies -as they are clearly chasing that Marvel dollar – why not do a deal with Marvel and adapt the horror comics from the 70s? Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf by Night and so on.

  • Billy Pop

    Lol. I’ve got a pretty sexy script I’m working on that ISN’T a remake and is completely affordable to make. Horror fans would love it . If anyone is interested in hearing my pitch gimme an email at mr.steckler@hotmail.com, even if it never get made I’m sure someone will enjoy the idea at least. I’ll give you a hint. It’s an Evil Deadish Creature Feature. If that doesn’t sound awesome to you go watch Dracula Untold.

  • Connor Biddle

    I praise this article. It’s spot on how I feel about the movie industry right now. Perhaps they dont think it will work because the big box office horror films in the past couple of years have been, at best, less than average. It’s a real shame.

  • bdwolfe312

    Well-spoken.

  • TruthSerum

    I would have loved to see Del Toro get his chance to do the Creature from the Black Lagoon. That sounded interesting and of all the characters, Gil Man is the one least used through the years.

    • I love Del Toro’s stuff and Creature from the Black Lagoon. If they had done that it would have been a “shut up and take my money” situation.

    • Travis

      That is something I would actually like to see. That could be awesome.

    • Ken Huber

      The only reason I got even remotely excited for this so called “New monster Universe” is because I heard the creatures name get dropped….sadly I’ve heard almost no mention of it after that.

    • Matt

      Del Toro is a director who “gets” monsters and has a genuine passion for them. I’d love to see what he could do with any of the Universal Monsters, rather than them just hand them off to another underwhelming journeyman 🙂

  • I really liked this statement: “They’re failing because they keep making bad decisions, hiring bad directors, and using way too much CGI.” I definitely agree with that.
    Also, I feel like it is easy to take characters we know and put them in action movies. It is hard (and they would really have to push some limits) to make those classic monsters scary again. I wish they were up the challenge.

  • No just no! Even the ’99 mummy has a bit of horror and atmosphere regarding Imhotep. Going full action we all know how this is going to play. Van Helsing, I Frankenstein, Dracula Untold,The wolfman were all sub par films (although credit has tobe given to,VH has amazing sets/costumes!). It is certainly tricky these days as PG-13 and PG films are making billions at the b.o. So any horror loser jumps on the bandwagon for dinero and basically gives the finger to the horror audience. Oh well,I still think there are some good directors there that create gems left and right, so well we have that.

  • Krug09

    I grew up on slashers. I would like to see a scary horror with the original monsters but if i don’t get that i wouldn’t care. I never really watched many of the classics. They seem more drama driven then horror driven.

  • STRIK9

    Fuckin morons. Really Universal? What other genre of film has dedicated fans all over the world that pack conventions to meet the stars of films from 40 years along with current stars? It sure as fuck isn’t comedy. Maybe if you weak ass pussies could make a decent horror film for the fans of this genre instead of trying to appeal to the moronic classes that flood theatres every weekend-you’d make some money off of ticket sales,merchandising…all that shit. But no, you choose to give us ‘Dracula untold’. That shitbanger should have stayed ‘untold’ and never made.

  • Travis

    If they would just cut the budget and allow some talented writers and directors to get creative, we could have some awesome new versions of these monsters. But, that won’t happen so we get I, Frankenstein and Dracula Untold.

  • ThunderDragoon

    That’s completely stripping the monsters of their essence. This isn’t right.

  • Ken Huber

    I think I am the only person on earth that actually enjoyed The Wolfman even though it was seriously flawed.

    • Right Is Right

      You’re not—it was a decent, moody piece of cinema dread. Its biggest mistake was employing the painfully bad actor Benicio del Toro as its lead.

      • morrisseylikesburgers

        Benicio del Toro is a bad actor? HAHAHAHAA

    • Andrew Barloq

      I quite liked it too, even the theatrical version. The Director’s Cut is so much better though.

    • Grimphantom

      It was not bad to be honest

  • Matt

    Universal’s only really big money maker right now is the Fast & Furious series. They plan on pushing that to 10 films and whilst I like those films, they are hardly risky ventures. You know exactly what you are going to get. If they are trying to apply this “safe” approach to the Monsters, I can’t see us getting a good monster film for quite some time. Especially as those films pushed the boundaries for their time. Universal have tried pandering to the mainstream with their previously failed monster reboots. Why not make something for the horror crowd instead of dismissing us. Lower the budget, take your finger of the CGI button and just tell a good story.

  • Adrienne Santiago

    I totally agree with this–if a horror movie is mostly CGI, then it is not true horror. We need to be frightened by something tangible, not something that looks cartoonish.

  • MovieGuru

    I’m gonna play the devil’s advocate and say I can honestly see where they’re coming from…..they’re not knocking ALL of horror people….relax….but when it comes to these particular characters, they’ve stopped scaring audiences decades ago. They’re loveable now.

    So yeah, Universal could try to make genuinely scary movies with these characters….and I can guarantee you they would fail miserably. Or they can acknowledge that even though these characters aren’t scary anymore, they’re still interesting, fascinating characters who can still lend themselves to some interesting tales. There still is a sense of fun and nostalgia that surrounds these guys. There still is an audience for these monsters but to try and pretend that they can still scare audiences would just be people who can’t let go of the past burying their heads in the sand and hoping for the best.

    I love the classic Universal monster movies….I own them all. And while part of me shares the frustration that is expressed in this article, and while part of me would love to see something more in tune with the movies I grew up watching….I’m also mature enough to admit to myself that nothing about those movies or those characters would scare today’s audiences. To try to do so would be guaranteed failure. And last time I checked, movie studios aren’t in the business of just literally throwing money in the fire. They’re a business. And a business’s sole purpose is to make a profit. If you ever thought otherwise you don’t understand how the movie world works.

    And I really don’t see what the issue is with having them portrayed as protagonists or sympathetic characters. With the exception of Dracula and the Mummy….all of these characters were always portrayed as sympathetic and/or misunderstood creatures in the classic Universal monster movies anyway. So it’s really not much of a stretch. Dracula has been portrayed as a sympathetic character since the 90’s….because again going back to my original point, people started to realize that Dracula no longer scares anyone. So in order for the character to survive in pop culture, changes had to be made. He had to adapt and evolve.

    At the end of the day, the anal retentive purists are gonna hate anything different. That’s a given. But that’s the great thing about dvds and blu-rays….those classic movies are still there for you to watch and can be revisited any time you like. And no one’s twisting your arm to go see these new movies if the concept doesn’t interest you. Don’t like it? Don’t watch it. Pretty simple.

    • Un Gsund

      sad but true.. capitalism is one of the biggest problems of our time 🙁

    • Matt

      You make a very good case and I agree if folks don’t like it to vote with their wallets. I understand everything Universal are doing from a business point of view, they want those Marvel bucks. Not necessarily a bad thing, but they are in a better position than some of the other studios as they have these established characters and a precedent for a shared universe. If they played it right, they could create a unique franchise that isn’t based on comics or YA novels and would make a nice change at the cinema.

      I’ve followed these characters in all their incarnations from books, to comics, to film etc. and they do work well in other genres, but they can still be scary and explore dark themes – Look at Penny Dreadful as a recent example of using them to good effect. (Hell, Monster Squad has got some pretty good scare scenes.) As long as you have the right people working on it, those monsters can still deliver, but they have to invest in those people not hacks or first-time directors with an abundant love of the CGI button.

      The thing that bugs me about their statement, is it just appears to be really lazy thinking. The old excuse of “we need to appeal to mainstream audiences.” is redundant. Right now horror/fantasy/scifi geeks make up a pretty good proportion of a movie audience. I’d say the gap between mainstream and genre audiences has never been smaller, geek culture is pretty dominant right now. As I’ve commented elsewhere, Marvel have shown you can appeal to the mainstream whilst still being true to the source material 🙂

  • Horseshit, because you know, a full action approach did wonders for that turd I, Frankenstein, right?

    I was trying to keep an open mind about this cinematic monsters universe, but Dracula Untold changed everything. Luke Evans’ performance is the lone bright spot in that movie, because the rest of the film is so painfully boring and dull.

  • Darnell

    This doesn’t make much sense. Gary Uldman’s version of Dracula was epic and it was a horror film and probably the best Dracula film ever made.

    I Frankenstein was an abomination to movie making and Dracula Untold was a complete joke. Has anyone forgot about the turd that was Val Helsing?

    I think the action platform has failed more times than it has succeeded with the Mummy being the only one that worked.

  • K-Zombi3

    First off, Universal needs to go back to it’s roots for horror. While everything these days revolves around mainstays like zombies, vampires, and werewolves, the classics are what started horror.
    Lon Cheney’s films were some of the original Universal horror and all he did was use make up and prosthetics to frighten the audience. Hell, his portrayal of the Phantom of the Opera had the theaters selling smelling salts in the lobby for the mask removal scene! There was no CGI, no big budgets, just pure imagination.
    Secondly, The remake of “The Mummy” was acceptable because it worked. You can’t really have a mummy story without archaeological journeys, but it wasn’t just a “Here, we dug up a mummy and now he’s loose on the world.” There was a backstory and you began to understand why and how he became the mummy. I personally enjoyed that version and the sequel, but the third was a shitfest and I gave up.
    While Coppola’s “Dracula” is by far one of the greater remakes, Universal needs to realize that while the new fads are great and might make money, true horror fans want the old feelings of looking in the closet before you go to sleep or checking under the bed. Those feelings that left you waking from a nightmare.

  • That worked so great with “Van Helsing”, a real BO miracle. Glad they got the screenwriters of that masterpiece for this project as well.

  • Russ

    I’m so glad I was a kid when I was.

    • James Allard

      Ditto. Hell, I just picked up The Most Dangerous Game and loved it. I loved Island Of Lost Souls. Great movies, worth watching and re-watching. This notion that everything has to be drained of horror only tells me that they/Hollywood are admitting they don’t know what the fans want. They can’t figure out how to make a low-budget horror as it is and now are apparently just shrugging it off and saying “Bring in Michael Bay.”

      Bring in Barry Levinson, speaking of “The Bay.” HE gets it.

  • The definition of a monster is “any creature so ugly or monstrous as to frighten people.” So, by abandoning horror they’re setting themselves up for even a bigger failure in my opinion. However, since they don’t know the definition of monster it will be horror anyway as that is absolutely frightening.

  • Ty

    If they want to make these into action flicks, they should take a few pointers from Tommy Wirkola. Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters was pretty awesome in the action/horror department. So is Dead Snow

  • EB

    I have no doubt this is a cash-in on the super-hero genre success, and the producer basically admits as much. I agree that action could work if done for the right reasons, but I don’t think that they are interested in the right reasons or any reason beyond the dollar sign.
    Sadly, its true Dracula Untold was lackluster. It also made great bank. The Wolfman and van Helsing (really more action imo) can’t make that claim.

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