ReelReviews #132: Universal Horror Trilogy

Standard

OCT 31, 2018: The Wolfman (2010)/Dracula Untold (2014), The Mummy (2017)

 

 

Nothing seemed like a better movie marathon for Halloween than Universal’s three separate attempts in the last decade to revive their iconic “Universal Monsters” heyday from the 30s and 40s. Sadly, this wasn’t much of a treat at all, but it was certainly a trick. I went into the experience knowing all three movies were considered “bad”, but perhaps they could have a “so bad its good” feel and leave me laughing at how silly and campy they were.  Alas, that is not the case. These films are just bad.  The weird thing is it’s not like one director or one creative team worked on remakes of The Wolf Man, Dracula, and The Mummy, and kept proving they suck at it.  Nope, this was three completely different attempts, and all of them sucked for different reasons. So what went wrong? Let’s take a look.

 

The Wolfman (2010)

In some ways, The Wolfman (2010) might actually be the “best” of the three attempts, which is oddly ironic since it was so poorly received at the time and landed with a thud. Looking back on it now (and especially comparing to the later attempts to revive Universal Monsters), there is much that “The Wolfman” gets right: the cast is solid and well selected for their roles (and for those who bash me when I’m criticize casting that changes a character’s ethnicity, let me say proudly that the Hispanic actor Benicio del Toro very convincingly plays the role of Welsh-American character Larry Talbot, which had been originated by Lon Chaney Jr.), the updated makeup by Rick Baker is faithful to the original Wolf Man design while bringing the effects into the 21st century, it is perhaps the ONLY one of the three films to correctly understand and embrace the “gothic atmosphere” that was a central part of the original Universal Horror movies, and it is faithful to the original story. So what went wrong? Basically everything else. The biggest problem is the film is insanely boring (as I started to tune out while watching it originally in 2010, and did so again while trying hard to give it a second look now) and the film is way too predictable and cliché, especially if you’ve seen the 1941 original movie and know what’s going to happen. Considering the film had never been remade before and that nearly 70 years had passed since the original, you’d think they could come up with something more thrilling and provide more twists and excitement into this story.  The film is basically just adequate and “acceptable” and that simply made it forgettable and meant it failed to generate a profit. As such, Universal basically decided to bury any memory of the movie and decided to start over from scratch when it came to reviving iconic horror characters. The end result was….

 

Dracula Untold (2014)

I had never seen “Dracula Untold”, and comments I had heard about it left me really pessimistic about the premise.  “It’s like the true story of Vlad the Impaler, except they change it to make it exciting for teenagers, like inventing the idea he had mystical powers and stuff”. Ugh. I was not looking forward to that.  Surprisingly, the premise of the movie is ACTUALLY the best part! It’s everything else that’s bad.  “Dracula Untold” is not a remake of Dracula, nor is it an attempt to do a biographical film about the real life figure of Vlad the Impaler. It IS an attempt to do a new “origin story” for Dracula, and it is a clever attempt to weave a real life historic setting and people with completely fictional vampire mythology. As a result, it’s basically in the genre of “historic fiction”. In that respect, it actually works and is the kind of movie I would probably write.  The entire film is basically the whole prologue in the 1992 film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, aside from the fact that Francis Ford Coppola told it much better in five minutes than “Dracula Untold” did in two hours.  Of the three movies, I had the most “fun” watching this one, but it is not a good movie, nor does it work well as a springboard for a sequel or a franchise, though it desperately wanted to be one (and even ended on a forced “cliffhanger” that was an obvious setup for a sequel we never got) The climax really hurt this film for me, as the film resorted to ridiculous stuff like dubbing in lion-like growls to portray the characters that had now been turned into vampires, and the film obviously suffered from studio tampering that turned what was meant to be a stand-alone film into a “To be continued” first installment.   I felt this film would have worked great if it hadn’t been so sloppily executed. But since it failed, Universal Studios decided to disavow it and decree another film would be the “start” of their new monster universe, and thus was born…

 

 

 

 

The Mummy (2017)

Why, Universal, Why? This is the first film since the 2005 remake of House of Wax that I put off watching for months (because I knew it would suck, and then decided “eh, they’re not gonna make a sequel anyway, might as well see why it sucks so much”) and instantly regretted subjecting myself to that.  “The Mummy” is the last and certainly the least of the attempts to revive Universal Horror.  The fact they are remaking a movie NOBODY wanted remade AGAIN is oddly enough, perhaps the least the film’s problems.  I was surprised that this film is actually nothing like the story of 1999’s The Mummy (with Brenden Fraiser), nor any previous “Mummy” for that matter – including the 1932 original.   Film studios seem to be very much confusing reboots with remakes these days. (This film is very much a total reboot of The Mummy franchise, whereas a film marketed as a “reboot” like Man of Steel is just a worthless remake/ripoff of Richard Donner’s Superman I & II) The biggest problem with The Mummy is the film is basically made by some Hollywood committee with a laundry list of things to do. Objective no. #1 for them was to copy the “format” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and create a “shared universe” of their own, which basically means we get an over-the-top CGI infested action movie with lighthearted comedic elements, instead of an actual horror film.  There are actually some legitimate “jump” moments and creepy scenes (two effective moments are a scene where The Mummy is attacking them on a speeding jeep, and another where corpses come alive and swim after them in the water), but overall this is NOT a “horror movie”.  People also blamed Tom Cruise for this movie flopping. While it seems he phoned in his performance and basically gave us the “generic Tom Cruise action movie” performance (complete with mugging the camera, giving smart ass dialogue, and doing the charming Tom Cruise grin), I don’t blame him because that’s what he was told to do.  Tom Cruise CAN do legitimate Gothic horror (screen “Interview With The Vampire” for an excellent example, but he wasn’t called upon to do that here.  The other two “lead” actors, (Sofia Boutella as The Mummy and Russell Crowe as “Dr. Jekyll” actually gave good performances as well (Crowe made Mr. Hyde completely different and even changed his accent to a cockney voice), but were neutered by the crappy script they had.  Alex Kurtzman was responsible for this abomination, and has quickly become one of my LEAST favorite Hollywood writes.  If you want to know why I have zero faith in a new “Jean Luc Picard” Star Trek series, look no further than the fact Kurtzman is in charge of it. I was done with “The Mummy” after about 45 minutes into the movie, but it kept on going and annoying me for another unbearable hour or so. This is one you should definitely skip.

 

So, after viewing this trilogy of crap on Halloween night, here’s my final scorecard!

 

 

The Wolfman (2010)

** out of ****

 

Dracula Untold (2014)

*3/4 out of ****

 

The Mummy (2017)

* ½ out of ****

 

Advertisements