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Looking ahead to 2017…

We’ve got 12 months of movies ahead of us. Now that we’ve looked back at 2016, let’s see what’s coming out this year that’s got me excited…

  • The LEGO Batman Movie (Feb. 10). The first LEGO Movie was one of the most unexpected gems of the last few years. The trailers for this first spinoff look to be unfettered fun.
  • John Wick Chapter 2 (Feb. 10). Another unexpected hit was the first John Wick movie. I can’t wait for the sequel.
  • Logan (March 3). Hugh Jackman’s final turn as Wolverine looks like it’s going to be a much darker, more intense take on the character than we’ve seen before.
  • Kong: Skull Island (March 10). With Legendary planning an MCU-style connection between this and their Godzilla franchise, I’m really looking forward to the new take on King Kong.
  • Beauty and the Beast (March 17). Disney’s rash of live-action remakes of their classic animated films has been hit or miss for me, but Emma Watson as Belle is perfect casting. I’ve got high hopes for this one.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5). After a thrilling, joyful first film, I’m hoping director James Gunn can do the same with this one.
  • Wonder Woman (June 2). It’s almost a crime that it’s taken this long for there to be a live-action Wonder Woman movie. Gal Gadot stole every scene of Batman V Superman, and I can’t wait to see this one.
  • The Mummy (June 9). Universal is hoping to revive its classic monster franchise with (again) an MCU-style shared universe. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it works.
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7). Marvel and Sony coming to an agreement for Spider-Man is the best thing that could have happened for the character. Tom Holland rocked in Captain America: Civil War, and I’m hoping for more of that in this film.
  • War For the Planet of the Apes (July 14). The first two films in the new Apes franchise were phenomenal — deep, thoughtful films with mesmerizing performances. I feel very good about this next one.
  • Dunkirk (July 21). Christopher Nolan doing a World War I epic. How can you not be excited?
  • The Dark Tower (July 28). Stephen King’s self-proclaimed “Magnum Opus” is a work that has a need personal meaning for me. I want this movie to be great. The casting is spot-on, although the information that’s come out so far leaves me wondering exactly what angle they’re intending to take on the material.
  • It (Sept. 8). Another Stephen King adaptation. Although not as personal to me, it’s still a great book that had an okay TV adaptation. Can any film truly capture the novel?
  • Thor: Ragnarok (Nov. 3). Although the Thor movies gave the MCU its most charismatic villain, they aren’t quite as memorable as the rest of the franchise. This time out, having Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange along for the ride may finally give us a great Thor movie.
  • Justice League (Nov. 17). I’ve been waiting for this movie since I was a kid, and the promotional materials have looked fantastic. I can’t wait.
  • Star Wars Episode VIII (Dec. 15). Little independent movie. You probably haven’t heard of it.

In Defense of the Universal Monsterverse

Universal Classic Monsters

Universal Classic Monsters Essential Collection Blu-Ray (a perfect Christmas gift for wives named Erin to buy their husbands)

Universal Studios has been catching a lot of crap lately about their announced plans to reboot their classic Monster franchises as a shared “Cinematic Universe,” similar to what Marvel Studios has done with their Avengers and related movies. A lot of the internet snark about this particular topic can be dismissed simply by pointing out ill-informed snark is what at least 37 percent of the internet is for (it’s the third most dominant form of content, after porn and pictures of cats), and usually, I think the best way to deal with snarkers is to ignore them entirely. In this case, however, I feel like two of the most oft-cited criticisms of the Universal plan are so blatantly unfair that something needs to be said, and since Bela Lugosi isn’t around to do it, it’s up to me.

First, let’s talk about the notion that Universal is merely trying to copy Marvel’s success. Well… sure, of course they are. Let’s be honest here, that’s what Hollywood does. Virtually any successful film or franchise spawns imitators, plain and simple. Marvel’s parent company, Disney, is doing it themselves, attempting to emulate Marvel’s success with a new series of Star Wars movies. Warner Bros is doing the same thing with the DC Comics characters. Sony and Fox are doing it with their respective Marvel licenses, Spider-Man and the X-Men. Warner Bros is also planning a trilogy of Harry Potter prequels showing the history of the Wizarding World, and Sony is considering a shared universe franchise based on Robin Hood, of all things. And while each of these has been met by at least some level of e-cynicism, the bile being diverted to Universal seems particularly ludicrous to me because, far from copying Marvel, if anything, they did it first.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man

In Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), the monsters began to meet

In 1943 Universal released Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, and after that the floodgates were opened. The franchises became inexorably intertwined, Dracula soon entered the picture, and the “monster mash” films became the norm. Granted, the films being made in the late 40s had very little concern with continuity. Characters would suddenly leap to different time periods so they could coexist, dead characters would return to life with little or no attempt at explanation, and nobody gave a damn about consistency. But despite this, it was an early example of what people now think of as Marvel’s model, and in fact is the earliest example of such a thing I’m aware of. (If you know of an earlier one, please tell me, because I want to see those movies.) To be certain, Universal is reviving the concept now because Marvel has been so successful at it, but that in no way negates the fact that they did it over sixty years before Marvel rolled their first foot of film.

The other thing that people are complaining about, a complaint that admittedly has at least a little more validity, is Universal’s recent statement that the new Universal Monster movies will be less of a horror franchise and more of an action-adventure series. I can at least understand why someone would be perturbed by this. The image of Lugosi’s Dracula, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein monster, or Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolfman are some of the most enduring images of classic terror. But it is in the characters’ enduring nature that we find the problem. Fear stems from the unknown. The more we know about any subject, the more we understand it, and the harder it is to truly fear it. Drac and Frankie are so well known at this point that modern efforts to make them terrifying invariably run the risk of becoming self-parody.

Pictured: Icon of Evil

Pictured: Icon of Evil

Or to put it more bluntly, we live in a world where the first vision of Frankenstein’s monster kids see is his pink counterpart selling them marshmallow cereal. You can’t make that scary. And they don’t want it scary.

Even in the 40s, Universal seemed to know the monsters were becoming too popular to be frightening. When you watch the old monster mash movies, the emphasis is rarely on fear, but instead on providing you a few awesome fights between beloved creatures. Perhaps the crowning achievement of that period was not House of Dracula or any other such picture, but instead, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

It’s not just Universal, either. One reason Ridley Scott’s first Alien movie was so scary was because we didn’t see the monster in full until the very end. By Aliens, since we all knew what it looked like, James Cameron shifted genres from suspense to action, and it was the perfect move. And what about more modern horror icons like Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, or Chucky? How many films did each of these villains get before they switched from being embodiments of darkness to winking at the camera and going for the most over-the-top kills possible? In fact, horror franchises that don’t go meta often fall apart entirely: Halloween’s sequels grew tepid and dull before a reboot that itself was tepid and dull by the second film, and the Saw franchise limped to the finish line a garbled, confusing shadow of its own early sharp as hell installments.

It's easy to forget, but the 1999 version of The Mummy was actually pretty good

It’s easy to forget, but the 1999 version of The Mummy was actually pretty good

And lest we forget, Universal itself has had success with this approach in the past. In 1999, when director Stephen Sommers was tapped to reboot The Mummy, the resulting franchise owed far more to Indiana Jones than to Karl Freund, and it hit very big for a while. They tried to get scary again with the 2010 remake of The Wolfman, and it flopped. Last month’s Dracula Untold, which had a tacked-on post-credits sequence that could have made it a sort of back door pilot for the new Universal Monsterverse, similarly bombed. (Although the studio has not made any official declaration as to whether Dracula Untold will be “canon” in its new universe, I for one am betting against it.) I’m not saying it’s no longer possible to make Dracula or Frankenstein scary, but to do the sort of long-term franchise Universal is picturing, taking an action-adventure route is not only easier, it’s more practical as well.

If the movies come out and suck, then sure, I’ll complain. I’d rather have no Universal Monster movies at all than have bad ones. But nothing that has been said so far indicates an inherently bad idea. Granted, if people online were inclined to wait for evidence to complain about something, an awful lot of bloggers would run out of things to talk about. But frankly, that’s a chance I’m willing to take.

Building a Franchise

In this weekend’s episode of the All New Showcase podcast, Kenny Fanguy and I talked about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as other studios that are trying to duplicate their success. Sony is trying to expand their one Marvel franchise — Spider-Man — into a full-blown universe, while 20th Century Fox is planning to merge their two Marvel properties (The X-Men and the Fantastic Four) into one world. Warner Bros is finally launching a DC Cinematic Universe, and Disney seems to have similar plans for the Star Wars franchise now that they own Lucasfilm. It’s the usual pattern in Hollywood, folks — whenever somebody finds success, everybody else wants to duplicate it. In this case, though, I applaud it. A lifelong comic book nerd, the shared universe style is something I dearly love. And in fact, it’s something that kind of surprises me has never been done in the movies before.

Oh, there have been small crossovers. Alien Vs. Predator comes immediately to mind, and Freddy Vs. Jason. Godzilla faced off against King Kong and a plethora of other kaiju back in the day, and if we go back to the 40s, Universal Studios had their “Monster Rally” sequence of films, in which the likes of Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Wolf-Man, and Abbott and Costello would encounter each other over and over again. But nobody ever did it on the scale that Marvel has, or that these other studios want. In fact, I’ve heard some rumors buzzing that the big movie studios are looking at a lot of their different properties to see just how this may be done. So that gets me thinking: what other film properties might evolve into this sort of larger cinematic universe?

The first thing that comes to mind for me is Harry Potter. Granted, the books have all been adapted, but Warner Bros has recently announced a new sequence of films based on the spin-off book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This should surprise no one. For over a decade now, the top-grossing Warner Bros movie has either been a Harry Potter film or a DC Comics film. Since they’ve got neither scheduled for 2014, they’re no doubt looking to fill the gap in their schedule. If they can get creator J.K. Rowling on board for this, I’m fine with an expansion of the Potter universe. Now let me make something clear — I don’t want any more movies about Harry Potter. His story is over and done with, and I really don’t need to see his adventures as an Auror after the death of Voldemort, because frankly, anything else is going to be anticlimactic. But one of the best things about the Harry Potter world is that Rowling did, in fact, create an entire world — a rich, detailed world, one with many curious ideas and facets that she only brushed up against in her original seven novels. Fantastic Beasts will be the story of Newt Scamander, a wizard who lived centuries ago and cataloged the most amazing magical creatures in the world. There’s plenty of story potential there. Stories of young Dumbledore or McGonagall? I’d watch that. The story of the founding of Hogwarts? I’m there. There are ways to expand the Potterverse that don’t require Harry, Ron, or Hermione, and if anything, that’s the direction Warner Bros should go in.

Universal Studios is planning a remake of Van Helsing, which itself was an attempt to do a sort of modern “monster rally” film. I say they should go all-out. The Universal versions of Frankenstein and Dracula are still the most recognizable in the world, so why not use the new Van Helsing to relaunch a Universal Monster Universe? Throw in Frankie and Drac, put in a Wolf-Man, give us the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Tie in the Brendan Fraser Mummy films while you’re at it — the original Van Helsing had a very tenuous tie in the first place, and it’s easily the most successful Universal monster franchise in decades. Even kids who have never seen a Boris Karloff picture love the monsters, and this is a perfect time to bring them back.

20th Century Fox, as we’ve said before, has both Aliens and Predator in its pocket, and regardless of the quality of the crossover films in those franchises, it’s a pretty natural pairing. The two concepts fit well together, and I think there’s still more that could be done with them. But you know what else Fox owns that could do with a bit of a boost? The X-Files. Think about it for a minute… a new X-Files movie, one that opens with Mulder and Scully sent to investigate a mysterious crash site uncovered beneath the arctic ice, and they wind up finding a Predator, or one of the Engineers from Prometheus. Ridley Scott may not be wild about it (especially if, as the rumors persist, he plans on linking the Aliens franchise back to this own Blade Runner film), but I think there’s room for connectivity here.

I’m just spitballing, friends, I’m throwing stuff around to see what sticks, but I think there could be fun had in any of these directions. If Sony insists on bringing back Ghostbusters, why not build that into a universe with not just ghosts, but all manner of supernatural entities and different squads of heroes combating them? Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are probably done with Men in Black, but there’s plenty of juice left in that universe. Sam Raimi is already planning to tie the reboot of The Evil Dead back into the original Evil Dead/Army of Darkness franchise — why not take a page from the comics and have Ash encounter the likes of Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, or Herbert West?

I know I’m throwing a lot of things around here, but that’s how these things start. Here’s hoping that somebody decides to run with this ball soon, and decides to do it the right way.

Lunatics and Laughter Day 13: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

bubba-ho-tepDirector: Don Coscarelli

Writer: Don Coscarelli, from the short story by Joe Lansdale

Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy

Plot: In Mud Creek Texas, there’s a quiet little nursing home called Shady Rest with a few extraordinary residents. Sebastian Haff (Bruce Campbell) lies in bed bemoaning how his grand “plan” went horribly wrong. As he feeling sorry for himself, his roommate loudly expires in the bed next to him. That night, a woman is attacked in bed by a huge scarab beetle. After the beetle bites her, a horrific man appears in her bedroom. Down the hall, Sebastian sees her being dragged past his door, asking for help. Thinking it’s a dream, he goes back to sleep, and the next morning, she’s found dead.

Sebastian wakes up to find a young woman going through his deceased roommate’s belongings. Callie (Heidi Marnhout), the man’s daughter, starts throwing things out, and Sebastian asks if he can keep some of them. He’s dismayed that she hasn’t been to visit him in the three years since he’d come to the home, and he wonders if his own daughter would visit him if she knew he was still alive. His nurse (Ella Joyce) comes in and he insists she call him by his given name. He doesn’t go by Sebastian Haff anymore – he’s Elvis Presley. The nurse insists he’s an old Elvis impersonator who has had mental problems since he came out of a coma years ago. Elvis claims he traded place with the real Haff, an Elvis impersonator, after he decided he was tired of the manufactured thing his managers had turned him into. Elvis isn’t Shady Rest’s only celebrity tenant, though. His friend Jack (Ossie Davis) claims to be John F. Kennedy, victim of a conspiracy. Jack says his brain was tampered with and his skin dyed black in order to get him out of the way years ago. Even Elvis is skeptical of Jack’s story.

That night, when Elvis wakes up to go to the bathroom, he sees a scarab the size of his hand. He manages to kill it and goes to Jack’s room, where his wheelchair-bound friend is lying on the floor facedown. He’s alive, but confused, saying he saw someone “scuttling” through the hall, someone he believes the conspiracy sent to finish him off (possibly Lyndon Johnson). As he thinks about the bugs, about Jack, about Callie, Elvis starts to feel an energy he hasn’t had in years. For the first time in years, something interesting is happening.

The next night, Jack wakes Elvis up to show him bathroom graffiti that turns out to be Egyptian hieroglyphics. Jack tells Elvis that, the night before, his strange assassin tried to suck out his soul, and he believes there’s a connection. Elvis finds a book that indicates the creature may be a mummy, one that survives by eating souls, but can’t last long on “small souls,” souls of people who have little joy for life. The nursing home makes for the perfect place to feed without drawing suspicion. As the lights start to flash Elvis steps into the hall and encounters the mummy – a gnarled, ancient man in cowboy attire (Bob Ivy). Their eyes lock and Elvis sees moments of the mummy’s life. As it walks away, another resident comes out of his room and dies of a ruptured heart. Elvis and Jack take comfort in the knowledge that the mummy failed to consume the old man’s soul.

The next day Elvis tries to track the mummy, finding his way to a creek nearby. In the water, he finds a submerged van near a bridge, and recalls the mummy – from its own memories – being lost in a van crash. Jack meets him later with research that indicates there was a mummy stolen from a museum years ago by a pair of crooks in a van, on the night of an incredible storm. Although Jack wants to adopt a defensive strategy against the monster, Elvis persuades him to go on the offensive. Suited up and armed, the old men prepare for battle. When the mummy appears and tries to suck out Jack’s soul, Elvis douses it with lighter fluid and sets it ablaze. Jack implores him to “take care of business,” and dies. Elvis climbs in Jack’s wheelchair and charges, battling the mummy to the edge of the creek. He lights the mummy on fire again, and it plunges into the water, inert. Too wounded to go on, Elvis Aaron Presley dies as what he always only pretended to be in his movies: a hero.

Thoughts: By the time Bubba Ho-Tep came out in 2002, ten years after the final Evil Dead/Army of Darkness film, Bruce Campbell had legitimately ascended to the status of a cult hero, even if he’d never had any real mainstream success. It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, much of the mainstream public still is unaware of his sheer awesometude. On the other hand, he’s largely avoided making any tremendous suck-fests (largely, not entirely), because he has a lot of freedom to pick movies that really speak to him. This utterly, utterly bizarre film fits that bill perfectly.

At its core, this movie has all the hallmarks of a Type-B horror spoof: Nursing Home Elvis and Black JFK team up to fight a mummy. How could that be anything but a goofy farce? But in fact, although the characters and performances are very funny, the movie is surprisingly grim, from the unending pallor of death around the nursing home to the thoughtless, sometimes cruel things the residents do to each other. An early scene features a woman stealing a tin of cookies from a friend in an iron lung, a crime for which she is targeted by the scarabs. It’s actually a neat sort of twist on the classic horror-as-morality-play motif. The characters who fall victim to that trope are usually teenagers. Seeing an old woman chosen to be struck down for her sins is an interesting change of pace.

With the horror played straight, it’s largely up to Campbell and Davis – and the ludicrous nature of their situation – to provide the comedy. Campbell’s voiceover narration does a lot of the heavy lifting in that regard. His commentary on the world around him, his feelings about being an old man, and his regret over how his “new life” went so terribly wrong, are actually pretty amusing. The flashbacks that show him trading places with Haff are entertaining as well, if they’re left somewhat unclear as to exactly how real they are. The film doesn’t bother to explain whether our heroes really are who they say they are, or if they simply suffer the delusions of old age, and I’m rather glad they don’t. Confirmation would make the film almost too ridiculous to be believed, while busting the myths would just make them sad figures. The ambiguity is practically essential for the film to remain entertaining.

Coscarelli makes liberal use of the comedy factor in seeing older characters throw around toilet humor. Elvis is constantly concerned with a growth in a private area under his pants, and is overjoyed when it starts to show a little life while his nurse applies ointment. The discussion of the mummy itself is ripe with scatological commentary (pardon the pun). It’s all justified in that it works for the purposes of the story, but one can’t help but get the impression it was structured in such a way as to wring out a few extra laughs by the juxtaposition.

One of the few bits where the laughs fall flat comes from the pair of hearse drivers who arrive after each death. The first one is treated fairly straight, but the next one comes with jokes about the smell of the corpse, and by the final time they appear it’s an outright comedy of errors, as they drop the body and stumble into the bushes. Sandwiched, as it is, between two fairly intense scenes, it’s no doubt intended to be a little light comic relief, but as Coscarelli just made us feel a sense of honor for the body they’re transporting (it’s the man who died naturally and escaped the mummy), treating him as a slapstick prop just feels wrong.

I give Coscarelli some slack, though, for the way he manages to pull some genuine tenderness out of these two truly absurd characters. The friendship between them feels honest and genuine, even if you suspect they’re both totally off their rockers. The scene where Elvis asks Jack what Marilyn Monroe was like in bed would feel crass in most other cases, but instead, it comes across like a bonding moment between two old soldiers, and it makes us believe in both of them just before they’re about to risk their lives to stop the monster. By the time Jack dies, it’s actually heart-wrenching. When Elvis dies a few minutes later, his last words are simultaneously funny, sad, and absolutely perfect: “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

On paper, even as a spoof this movie would sound like a ridiculous, unbelievable, unworkable jumble of big ideas that can’t possibly work in concert. Somehow, though, Coscarelli wrings out a clever, entertaining, and impressively emotional film, one of the deepest movies we’ve yet encountered here in Lunatics and Laughter. That’s not the sort of thing I would have expected, and it’s surprises like this one that make this project worth doing.

Mutants, Monsters, and Madmen: the eBook now available!

Reel to Reel - Monsters NO BLEEDLast year, you guys may remember that I spent the entire month of October watching and talking about assorted scary movies, chronologically tracing the evolution of horror films from the 1920s up until the present day. I really enjoyed that little project and I think a lot of you did too. And now, as Halloween approaches again, I’m ready to launch the next stage of that project, my new eBook Reel to Reel: Mutants, Monsters and Madmen.

This eBook collects the 35 essays I wrote last year, plus five brand-new ones written just for this collection. Over the course of this book, I look at how the things that scare us have grown and evolved over the last century, dishing on some of the greatest, most influential and most memorable scary movies ever made. This eBook, available now for a mere $2.99, is hopefully going to be the first in a series, in which I’ll tackle different cinematic topics the same way.

If you read the essays last year, check this one out and enjoy the new ones. If you haven’t read any of them, dive in now for the first time. And tell all of your horror movie-loving friends about it as well! After all, the reason I decided to write this book in the first place is because I wanted to read a book like this one, but I just couldn’t find one. The market is out there, friends. Help us find each other.

(And lest I forget, thanks to Heather Petit Keller for the cover design!)

You can get the book now in the following online stores:

Amazon.com (for your Kindle or Kindle app)
Smashwords.com (for every other eBook reader)

And in case you’re wondering, the movies covered in this book include:

*The Golem (1920)
*Nosferatu (1922)
*The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
*Dracula (1931)
*Frankenstein (1931)
*The Mummy (1932)
*Freaks (1932)
*Cat People (1942)
*The Fly (1958)
*Peeping Tom (1960)
*Psycho (1960)
*Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Terror (1962-New in this edition!)
*Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
*The Haunting (1963)
*The Birds (1963-New in this edition!)
*Wait Until Dark (1967)
*Night of the Living Dead (1968)
*Last House on the Left (1972)
*The Exorcist (1973)
*The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
*Jaws (1975)
*Carrie (1976)
*Suspiria (1977)
*Halloween (1978)
*Alien (1979)
*The Shining (1980)
*Friday the 13th (1980)
*The Evil Dead (1981)
*Poltergeist (1982)
*The Thing (1982)
*A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
*Return of the Living Dead (1985)
*Hellraiser (1987-New to this edition!)
*Child’s Play (1988-New to this edition!)
*Misery (1990)
*Scream (1996)
*Ringu (1998)
*The Blair Witch Project (1999)
*Saw (2004)
*The Cabin in the Woods (2012-New to this edition!)

Mutants, Monsters, and Madmen Day 6: The Mummy (1932)

mummyDirector: Karl Freund
Writer: John L. Balderston
Cast: Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan

Plot: While uncovering an ancient Egyptian tomb, an archeologist accidentally resurrects the priest Imhotep (Boris Karloff). Imhotep flees, and returns ten years later posing as a modern Egyptian and seeking a way to bring back his lover, Princess Ankh-es-en-amon. He meets a woman (Zita Johann) he believes to be the reincarnation of his love, and attempts to reawaken within her the memory of their past, leading to a terrifying final confrontation.

Thoughts: Now this is interesting. I admit, this is my first time watching the original, 1932 version of The Mummy, although I was a fan of Stephen Sommers’ remake in 1999. However, I’d always assumed that the 1999 version was one of those sequels in name only, just an attempt by Universal to jumpstart a long-dead franchise in a modern way. Watching the original, I’m surprised to see just how much of the original film actually made it into Sommers’ version. The mummy, Imhotep, was cursed in both for similar crimes (love of/attempting to resurrect a forbidden princess). Also, in both versions the mummy is resurrected by accident (not really a surprise there, who would do it on purpose?), and finds a woman he believes to be his ancient lover, and thus attempts to bring her back to him.

The difference, of course, is in scale. By 1999, special effects had progressed considerably, so instead of a mummy that basically did his work by walking around and creeping everybody the hell out, we had Arnold Vosloo, who morphed from a wet, gushy corpse into… well… Arnold Vosloo, and at the same time had the power to whip up sandstorms that looked like his face. The remake is far more of an action movie than a horror movie, but I think you can attribute that to the fact that these old Universal Monsters aren’t really considered anything to be afraid of. They’ve become beloved icons of creepiness, but aren’t actually creepy anymore. They’re instantly recognizable Halloween costumes, and cartoons that sell us breakfast cereal.

At least… the iconic image of the mummy has become that. This is what’s interesting to me. When you think of a horror movie mummy in your head, you conjure up that immediate image of a desiccated corpse wrapped up in gauze or, if your parents didn’t make it to the store until 6:30 in the afternoon on October 31st, toilet paper. But Boris Karloff only appears in that particular mummy form for a scant few minutes at the beginning of the film. When he turns up again after the ten-year lapse, he looks more or less human. Old, kind of leathery, like he’s been out in the sun for a hell of a long time, but not the mystical monster he actually is. His power is internalized, and you don’t really get a sense of him being a creature of the undead until his destruction at the end, when the goddess Isis ages him instantly and he drops dead.

David Manners, who I found rather dull and lifeless in Dracula, returns to again be rather dull and lifeless here. I’m not really sure what to make of this, why in all these old-school horror films it seemed like an attempt was made to make the ostensible hero as boring as possible. Manners really does nothing in the film. He’s there to give Zita Johann’s character a love interest, but he doesn’t come to the rescue, he doesn’t get her into the trouble in the first place in any meaningful way… he simply doesn’t need to be there. By the 80s, of course, it wouldn’t matter. You’d have a thousand slasher flicks where the audience no longer really needs to identify with the supposed protagonist, and instead is really pulling for the monster, waiting to see how many kills he can rack up and how creative the filmmakers can be in throwing blood at the screen. The other characters are placeholders until they get killed, except for the final survivor – usually a teenager girl. She may survive with her boyfriend, who will be easily identified as he’ll be the only male in the movie who isn’t a complete douchenozzle.

But in 1932 that wasn’t the case. Karloff was supposed to be the bad guy, Manners was supposed to be the good guy, and the good guy was just plain dull. Karloff steals the show entirely, and while his comeuppance at the end is inevitable, it’s really hard not to wish that he had at least managed to take out David Manners on his way out.

1932 was a big year for horror, as it turned out. Next up will be one of the most controversial films of the time – and honestly, it’s still controversial today. It’s time to get into Freaks.