Obscure Universal Monster Movies That Need a Remake - VRGyani News and Media

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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Obscure Universal Monster Movies That Need a Remake

For the first two decades of the 21st-century, Universal struggled with the concept of relaunching its classic Universal Monsters as big-screen attractions people were dying to see. Titles like Dracula Untold and The Mummy ended up being box office flops rather than franchise-starters while that whole Dark Universe experiment went up in flames. But then a funny thing happened. Universal teamed up with Blumhouse and took characters who originated as stars of low-budget horror movies and placed them into modern-day low-budget horror movies. Suddenly, The Invisible Man suggested there was still a fanbase for these characters. Who knew?

Having finally cracked the code on how to make these characters work, Universal is wasting no time getting other projects connected to the Universal Monsters off the ground, a new The Wolfman starring Ryan Gosling and a Dracula reimagining from director Karyn Kusama(Jennifer's Body). It’s intriguing to imagine what good 21st-century horror directors will do with beloved cinematic ghouls, but what about the lesser-known entries in the Universal Monsters canon? If these characters have finally found their footing in the current cinema landscape, shouldn’t lesser-known figures get a shot at the spotlight?

Below, let’s look at five obscure entries in the Universal Monsters catalog that may not be beloved, but for varying reasons, do have the potential to be something special with modern-day remakes.

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Island of Lost Souls

Though the title may suggest otherwise, Island of Lost Souls is actually a film adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. Grandfathered into the Universal Monsters pantheon (it was originally released by Paramount Pictures), this Erle C. Kenton directorial effort delivers not one big monster but a whole bunch of monsters in the form of human/animal hybrids. Controversial when it was released, Island of Lost Souls has since gone on to be a widely well-liked and influential feature.

While it would normally seem like sacrilege to suggest remaking such a beloved motion picture, there are some advantages to the concept of delivering a 21st-century take on Island of Lost Souls. For one thing, seeing what kind of startling beasts could be rendered through modern-day makeup and other practical effects techniques would be enough alone to justify the project’s existence. Plus, Island of Lost Souls, though positively received, isn’t one of the better-known Universal Monsters titles and later adaptations of this same source material (like that ill-fated 1996 Dr. Moreau film) have been outright despised. There’s less of a legacy to live up to with Island of Lost Souls, which could allow a visionary filmmaker wiggle room to go nuts in adapting the story of The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Dracula's Daughter

Hollywood, even beyond the borders of the Universal Monsters franchise, always has a new take on Dracula up its sleeve. But what about the titular character of the 1936 Universal Monsters movie Dracula’s Daughter? Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) is the name of that monstrous offspring, and the film chronicles her desperation to become a normal human. She’ll go to any lengths to remove her vampirism, including kidnapping the fiancĂ©e of a potentially helpful doctor.

In some respects, Dracula’s Daughter is a routine Universal Monsters entry, including Edward Van Sloan reprising his role from prior entries in the franchise as Van Helsing. What makes Dracula’s Daughter unique, though, is its queer undercurrents, which are especially prominent in any scenes where Zaleska and the character Lili (Nan Grey) are alone together. At times, Dracula’s Daughter has as much lesbian energy as Jamie Babbit directing a biopic on Tig Notaro. A modern version of Dracula’s Daughter that could upon those building blocks and more explicitly deal with queer elements in the story could produce a movie special enough to make Dracula’s offspring as famous as her father.

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Tower of London

Unlike many other Universal Monsters entries, Tower of London is about a specific real-world historical figure. Basil Rathbone plays King Richard the III in this title, with Boris Karloff on hand as Mord, an executioner who carries out the ruler’s sick murderous desires. It’s a spooky film full of murder, but also palace intrigue punctuated by lively performances from a supporting cast that includes reliable genre movie legends like Vincent Price. Though it has certain staples of the Universal Monsters franchise (namely the presence of Karloff), in many respects, Tower of London is a unique beast in this canon.

Since Tower of London was unveiled in 1939, American moviegoers have only become more and more obsessed with anything related to the Royal Family, as seen by the popularity of TV programs like The Crown. Remaking Tower of London in the modern world wouldn’t just be an excuse to take advantage of such increased interest. You could also have fun juxtaposing the visual hallmarks of serious subdued dramas about the Royal Family (like The King’s Speech) with all the grisly violence dished out by Mord. That alone would be enough to justify redoing Tower of London and, as a cherry on top, it would help give it an immediately distinct personality from other modern Universal Monster features.

Murders in the Rue Morgue

Yet another Universal Monsters movie that utilized the title of a piece of writing by Edgar Allan Poe, Murders in the Rue Morgue starred Universal Monsters mainstay Bela Lugosi as a scientist who kidnaps women and injects them full of primate blood so that he can create the perfect romantic partner for a talking ape named Erik. Most of the victims in this film are sex workers, a common fatality in the world of horror films, not just Universal Monsters entries. Since they engage in sexual activity regularly and are thus “sinners,” they’re seen as go-to corpses, people who can show up dead without, in theory, the audience being sad they’re gone.

This dehumanizing approach to sex workers has proven so rampant in horror films and other genres of cinema that modern filmmaking still hasn’t quite evaded the trope (see: The Little Things). One way 21st-century horror films could start to make strides to working against this stereotype is by remaking old movies and pivoting the focus onto the sex workers. Rather than making Lugosi’s scientist the lead, a new take on Murders in the Rue Morgue could focus on the sex workers and establish that the real monster, more than any talking primate, is people who see sex workers as less than human. The promise of upending cinematic norms in that style makes the prospect of updating this forgotten Universal Monsters entry an intriguing one.

The Monster and the Girl

One look at the poster for the 1941 Universal Monsters film The Monster and the Girl and you immediately want to see what’s going on in this movie. Depicting a gorilla standing upright while clutching a fainted human woman, you can’t help but wonder what on Earth could be going on in this movie. Turns out, there’s a lot. The story of a church organist framed for murder, The Monster and the Girl eventually concerns the organist getting executed and then having his brain put inside a gorilla. Now with his mind inside the body of a fierce primate, the organist begins a vicious revenge mission against the gangsters who set him up.

This Stuart Heisler directorial effort is like a fever dream, a mish-mash of an old-school gangster movie, a drive-in monster film, and also a revenge thriller all blended into one bizarre dish. The Monster and the Girl faced some difficulties in scoring wide theatrical distribution in its initial release, which, combined with Universal only inheriting this title from Paramount Pictures rather than distributing it in its initial release, has led to it becoming an obscure entry in this franchise. But a film this outlandish shouldn’t languish in obscurity. A modern remake that used the freedom’s afforded by being made in a post-Hayes Code filmmaking world could go to some truly bizarre places that echo Titane more than The Wolfman. In summation, it’s time to let this gorilla loose and dish out some gangster carnage once again.

KEEP READING: The Strange History of the Universal Monsters Franchise



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