Why Rebooting The Universal Monsters Is A Dumb Idea

And why Universal Monsters fans don't really worry about it.

Evan brought you the news that Bob Orci, Antichrist of geek properties, hopes to weave together upcoming Universal Monster reboot films into a shared universe. Cool idea, Bob, one that Universal did about seventy years ago, starting with Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. But hey, it was a cool idea when good filmmakers did it, and it'll still be a cool idea when you do it.

This latest round of reboots isn't the first time Universal has tried to do something with their valuable Universal Monsters IP, and this won't be the first time it doesn't work. And it also won't be the first time that I, as a hardcore fan of the Universal Monsters, won't really care. Why? Simply because what makes the Universal Monsters work is not reboot-able. 

With the exception of The Gill Man, all of the great Universal Monsters are basically public domain. Anybody can make a Dracula movie or a Frankenstein's Monster movie or a werewolf movie (they couldn't have that werewolf be Larry Talbot, but otherwise they could mostly imitate the original movie). What makes those monsters great are not the names or the backstories, but two very special things: the actors and the designs. Universal can't replicate one and I guarantee they will not replicate the other.

The Universal Monsters ARE Jack Pierce's designs (and, in the case of The Gill Man, the design of Millicent Patrick and Bud Westmore). Period. Without those designs - the flat-headed, bolt-necked Frankenstein's Monster, the widow-peaked Dracula, the puppy-faced Wolf Man - the monsters are just generic monsters. It's those designs that have given them their iconic stature. At the same time those designs are so familiar (and on some level homogenized) that Universal will never make a movie using them. They're too 'old fashioned,' and every person approaching the characters will have the megomaniacal need to leave their fingerprints on designs so perfect they have become an intrinsic part of the popular culture. 

Underneath those designs, the Universal Monsters are defined by the actors. Of course multiple actors played The Monster and Dracula, but they were all working from the original templates as defined by Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Glenn Strange and John Carradine weren't radically redefining the role, as most modern actors would seek to do (kudos to Benicio del Toro for trying to get that hangdog Lon Chaney Jr thing in his remake of The Wolf Man... which changed the monster design, of course). With no disrespect intended to the great actors who later wore the make-up, The Monster is always Karloff and Dracula is always Lugosi - if we're talking about the Universal Monsters.

Weirdly this makes The Monster Squad a more fitting follow-up to the original Universal Monsters than anything the current Universal spits out. At least that film toys with the classic designs. 

Let Bob Orci and Universal keep trying to bring back these monsters; until they understand what the true iconic appeal of the Universal Monsters is, everything will be a non-starter.