I've been thinking about franchise films lately. I don't hate the concept, but I do think that Hollywood is getting carried away trying to turn EVERYTHING into a franchise. It makes sense in some places, particularly when done well (Marvel Studios). Yet a recent article talking of the long rumored “Ghostbusters 3” had Dan Akroyd quoted saying he'd like to turn “Ghostbusters” into a Marvel Universe-esq type film series. I grew up on “Ghostbusters.” My childhood sustenance was based on a steady stream of Ecto Cooler and Slimer toothpaste. The first film I ever saw in a movie theater was “Ghostbusters 2!” Yet, I'm not so sure I want to see an epic “Ghostbusters” saga universe.
Despite it being the be all end of all of Hollywood today, the concept of a long reaching franchise isn't anything new. If anything from Hollywood's past mirrors of the modern conceits we're seeing now, it's Universal's classic Horror and Monster movies that span the early 1930s to the early 1960s. It's a term in the annals of filmdom “Universal Horror,” as even with their worst efforts, every single one Universal's classic monsters and horror films all have a distinctive style and look. The prime period of the franchise would be the 1930s and 1940s, when Universal concentrated all their efforts into making many films with Frankenstein's Monster, The Wolf Man, Dracula, and The Mummy.
Don't underestimate the impact that these films have had on our cultural world. I'd go so far as to say that the Universal Monster Movies are not only the backbone of every modern horror film, but the foundation of modern day Halloween décor as we think of it. Granted, modern eyes might not quite find as much delight in the films as others, but there is clearly a reason why these films have endured for nearly 80 years. Now with Fall fully established and Halloween right around the corner, this is the kinda perfect time to dive head first into a pool of moody black and white images.
One really could see a proto-connection in the Universal Monster films being the archetype for the multi-layered cinematic universes we see today, that Marvel Studios does so well. For Universal, their monster and horror films quickly became their bread and butter. It's not a lie to say that some of these films saved the studio from going bankrupt time and time again. How is this connection established? Simple. Universal maintained a—and I stress the following term—loose continuity throughout the series. They began with establishing each monster in their own solo film, and later would combine the monsters together in a couple of films. Sound familiar?
It might be hard to think about the early 1930s in modern movie terms, but on a success level Universal's original “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” films were the “Star Wars” of their day. They were, pardon the term, monster hits. Their successes spawned the type of sequels and follow ups that are common place today. From “Dracula” came “Dracula's Daughter,” and “Son of Dracula.” “Frankenstein” gave us one of the truly great American films ever made “Bride of Frankenstein,” which in turn birthed “Son of Frankenstein,” then “Ghost of Frankenstein,” and after that “House of Frankenstein.”
Though the Universal brand of horror and monster films would charge right along through the early 1960s, with the 1950s giving us such greats as “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “Tarantula,” and the immortal “Monster on the Campus,” the classic cycle is generally considered to have ended in 1948 with the simply irresistible “Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein.” That is a film that is a Halloween staple in Casa de Ross.
During the golden age of Hollywood studios all had their own identities. MGM was home to the outlandish MGM music, beaming bright with glorious Technicolor. Warner Brothers was home to the gangster film. Universal was simply known as “The House of Horrors.” Universal did all they could to get the most out of their Monster investments. Boris Karloff only played the Frankenstein monster in three films, and was replaced by other actors. How is that familiar to today? How many men have been Batman on the big screen? As much as superheros are a part of the American fabric, the same can be said for the lovely black and white world that Universal gave us decades ago. Worth your time too, if you've never seen any of the great films from America's first “house of horrors.” Delightful films that only the most dead inside could say no to.