Marvel Superheroes vs. the Universal Monsters

While it seems like nerd-vana with all the superhero movies coming out, people who don’t enjoy the genre however are dismayed by all the capes and cowls. But this is Hollywood and all things are circular; we’ve seen this before with the opposite of the superheroes, the Monsters.

MonstersBack in 1931 (and for the next 17 years), the Universal Monsters ruled the silver screen. Frankenstein, Wolf Man and Dracula had their own movies and then eventually began to cross over into each others films and either fought each other or somehow teamed up to fight a common enemy. Sound familiar?

Frankenstein and Dracula both appeared on the silver screen the same year, 1931. In quick succession, (’35 and ’36, respectively) The Bride of Frankenstein and Dracula’s Daughter appeared. Then came their hirsute friend, The Wolf Man in 1941. The Ghost of Frankenstein appeared in 1942 and then the first cross-over in 1943, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. The next three years gave us Son of Dracula, House of  Frankenstein  and House of Dracula.

The crowning achievement and ultimate death knell of the Universal Monsters was when they were forced to “fight” Abbott and Costello, in the Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein classic. Forced to play 2nd, 3rd and 4th banana to the comic duo, all three Founding Monsters met ignoble ends in that movie. As an Abott & Costello fan I love the movie, but it is sad to see Dracula (always my favorite) reduced to such comedy doings (and he loses?!!!)

The Universal Monsters, most of them, were based on a single novel and then the studio just repeated (with some small alterations) the process with each sequel. To their great advantage, the superheroes have some 20, 30, maybe even 50 years of stories to adapt and evolve into their movie adventures.

All of the above Monster movies are just the Universal monsters (not including The Mummy, The Creature of the Black Lagoon and others) and not the other studios who created their own versions and permutations of the monsters.

So that puts us at 12 Universal Monster movies. We’re only at 9 Marvel movies (out so far.)

What are the parallels between now and then? The looming threat of war, actual war, science we cannot control or understand, evil we cannot control or understand. The monsters were able to scare their audiences and leave the theater unscathed, safe in the knowledge that good had won once again. The visceral thrill of adventure and heroes triumphing over villains is something we, Mankind, has craved for as long as there have been cave paintings and tales of the hunt.

G. K. Chesterton wrote, “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

It’s 2014 and we need St. George.  But now we dress him in tights and high-tech armor.


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