No longer content to simply offer up an endless string of remakes, reboots and reimaginings Hollywood is now in the business of creating universes. Marvel and DC lead the pack, generating big box office with movies that mix-and-match their flagship characters in ongoing and connected stories. Now others are looking to get a piece of that action.
This weekend’s “The Mummy,” a self-described “action-adventure tentpole with horror elements,” is the foundation of Universal Pictures’ Dark Universe. The studio aims to create a cross-pollinated world were their brand name monsters, like Frankenstein and The Invisible Man, are mixed and matched to infinity or at least as long as audiences will pay to see them.
The Mummy reinvents the story of ancient malevolence, presenting a new, female title character and adding Russell Crowe as Henry Jekyll, a doctor with a serum that unleashes his inner demons.
The idea of pairing up monsters is nothing new. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein saw The Wolf Man, Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster cross paths with The Invisible Man and Freddy Krueger battled fellow horror icon Jason Voorhees in a Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street combo pack but another monster movie mash up beats everything that came before it.
The Monster Squad, a fun 1987 teenage horror comedy sees Count Dracula recruit a posse of monsters — Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man and The Creature from the Black Lagoon — to retrieve and destroy an ancient amulet that holds the key to controlling the balance of good and evil in the world. Trouble is, he didn’t count on a band of fifth graders (and one chain-smoking eighth grade greaser) who call themselves the Monster Squad, driving a stake through his plans.
The boys are a geeky group who wear “Stephen King Rules” T-shirts and debating important topics like, ‘Who is the coolest monster?’ and ‘Does The Wolf Man have the biggest nards?’
The Monster Squad, despite the salty language (the boys swear, no doubt courtesy of screenwriter Shane Black who also wrote more adult fare like Lethal Weapon), the refreshing lack of political correctness, the violence and the presence of nightmare-inducing monsters this is, above all, a kid’s film. The youngsters are the heroes and battle the monsters in ways that only kids can. A garlic pizza proves to be Dracula’s undoing, and in one classic scene The Wolf Man is felled by a well-placed kick to “the nards.”
Director Fred Dekker says he set out to make an exciting teen adventure movie, but may have been a bit ahead of his time. In the post–Buffy the Vampire Slayer world we live in the mix of kids, humor and horror seems normal, but in 1987 it didn’t click with audiences.
“I like to think that Monster Squad, in its own small way, says something about what it is to be a kid and to be afraid in the world,” says Dekker, “and discovering the need for heroism.”
“It took several years before the combination of young people in jeopardy in genre-horror situations like Buffy and Goosebumps and Harry Potter really became acceptable. The audience wasn’t ready for it in the ’80s. Sure there was The Lost Boys and The Goonies, but specifically the kind of monster-slayer approach wouldn’t be popular for another ten or fifteen years. So I like to think that we were a little ahead of the curve.”