Monday, October 17, 2005


Monster Match-Ups

As Halloween approaches, I was thinking about some of the great movie monster match-ups. Universal Studios had built a profitable franchise of horror films (and characters) with Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolfman. In 1943, Universal decided to team-up two of its popular monsters for the first time in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. In the film, Bela Lugosi (who originally played Dracula in the 1931 film, and was offered, but turned down, the role of the Frankenstein monster that same year) finally plays the monster. The concept was so popular with moviegoers, two years later, in House of Frankenstein, it was a monster "battle royal" as the studio brought back not only the Frankenstein monster (now played by Glenn Strange) and the Wolfman but also Dracula (played by John Carradine), the mad scientist (played by Boris Karloff, who originally played the Frankenstein monster in the 1931 movie after Lugosi turned it down); and an Igor-like hunchback assistant (played by J. Carroll Nash). This monster teaming would be spoofed four years later in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. (They also meet Dracula -- now played by Bela Lugosi again -- and the Wolfman, in the same film.) The Universal Studios monster movies are by now iconographic. When people think of Frankenstein, Dracula or a werewolf, they think of the images of those creatures created in these movies.
The next great movie monster match up would come from Japan. The Toho Studios had made a fortune with Godzilla, a movie about a prehistoric 500-foot lizard brought to life in the atomic age due to post-war bomb testing. The social commentary of Godzilla was soon lost as the studio began to introduce a new monster for him to fight in each subsequent movie in the series. In 1962, Godzilla faced his most legendary battle when he took on King Kong in King Kong vs Godzilla. It was billed as "The most colossal conflict the screen has ever known!" This film is a real guilty pleasure of mine. While not a great movie, there is something about its schlockiness that I just love. Of course the filmmakers kinda threw caution to the wind since King Kong is supposed to be a 40-foot gorilla and Godzilla, a 500-foot fire-breathing lizard. Not really much of a match up. But the writers took care of that. Kong not only grew, but got stronger when he munched on electrical wire. The new, bigger, badder Kong could stand toe-to-toe with Godzilla and give a good fight. And fight they did, destroying scores of buildings along the way.
In the 1980s, a new crop of movie monsters were developing. Leatherface of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Shape from Halloween has already hit the screens when, in 1980, Paramount Pictures and Sean S. Cunningham created Friday the 13th and introduced audiences to the murderous and deformed, hockey mask-wearing Jason Voorhees (although he didn't start actually wearing the mask until the third film in the series). In 1984, New Line Cinema and Wes Craven (former filmmaking partner of Sean S Cunningham -- the two made Last House on the Left together) countered with A Nightmare on Elm Street, which gave moviegoers the razor gloved-wearing, dream-invading bogeyman, Freddy Krueger. Throughout the 80s and 90s, both franchises produced scores of sequels. When it was announced that New Line had picked up the rights to Friday the 13th from Paramount, a pairing of these movie monster giants seemed inevitable. Fans of both series talked endlessly of a team-up, online and at conventions, until finally, in 2003, it was "winner kills all" in Freddy vs. Jason. The two monsters fought on each other's turf (while still having time to do away with scores of teenagers) and gave fans of each series their money's worth.

The thing about monster movies is that the monsters are obvious. They are deformed or larger than life. Clearly identifiable as something/someone to be frightened of. Scarier to me are movies where the "monster" is cleverly disguised as just a normal person that you might see walking down the street.
Monster movies are neat.
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