Why is horror still a bad word?

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“To a new world of gods and monsters!”

- Dr. Pretorius, Bride Of Frankenstein, 1935

Where have all the monsters gone?
The vampires have been de-fanged and transformed into teen heartthrobs. Frankenstein’s monster is now an action hero. The wolfman will warm your heart, rather than rip it out. The Creature from the Black Lagoon got lost somewhere in the shuffle. The Mummy is being re-imagined yet again. And the list goes on…

Universal Studios has long had a name synonymous with the legendary monsters of modern cinema,  beginning in 1923 with Lon Cheney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The studio had great success with it’s long line of monster and horror films in the 1930’s when Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi stepped in and became Dracula, The Mummy, and Frankenstein’s monster. The studio developed many adaptations of the work of Edgar Allan Poe and seemed to thrive in the darker side of the growing medium of film. In the ’40s, Lon Cheney Jr. filled the shoes of the Wolf Man, even as the original Universal monsters were now becoming ripe for comedy and parody films, effectively ending their legacy with Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein. In the ’50s, The Creature from the Black Lagoon was a surprise hit, reviving some of the classic films for theatrical distribution as double features, and the company attempted to keep their monsters relevant  all the way through the 1960’s, when they began to disappear.

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Over the following decades, many homages and attempts to revitalize these now classic characters have appeared to varying receptions. Excepting honest and loving tributes like 1974’s  Young Frankenstein and 1987’s Monster Squad, most of these attempts to bring the monsters back into the spotlight have been spectacular failures. Of course some good can be found in many of the remakes over the years, like Kenneth Branagh’s flawed but fun take on Frankenstein and the recent gothic remake of The Wolf Man, many of the others have been pure embarrassments like Van Helsing and the recently released Dracula Untold.

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Now, Universal Studios has inexplicably announced that they are attempting to re-brand and re-imagine their stable of classic monsters for a new generation, but without all that pesky horror stuff getting in the way. Continuing in the vein they began a few weeks ago with the really rotten new Dracula film, these legendary horror icons will become a new breed of action star, in the hopes that the studio will be able to compete with the likes of the many superhero films crowding the box office lately.

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According to Universal studio head Donna Langley, “We have to mine our resources. We don’t have any capes [in our film library]. But what we do have is an incredible legacy and history with the monster characters. We’ve tried over the years to make monster movies — unsuccessfully, actually. So, we took a good, hard look at it, and we settled upon an idea, which is to take it out of the horror genre, put it more in the action-adventure genre and make it present day, bringing these incredibly rich and complex characters into present day and reimagine them and reintroduce them to a contemporary audience.”

Which, to me, sounds like a horrible idea. And leads to the question “Why is horror still a bad word?”

Horror has consistently proven to be a genre populated with quality work, if you take the time to do your homework and find it. Many of the great directors of our time have deep roots in the horror genre, which has been a springboard for film-makers like Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Jackson, David Cronenberg, Sam Raimi, and most recently, James Gunn. Despite all of this, the horror genre has always been the red-headed stepchild of cinema, for some reason or other.  One reason could be the glut of lower budgeted “B” films that flooded the market throughout the 60s and 70s, giving the genre a bad rap. Even The Exorcist, which should have been a clear best picture winner in 1973, was snubbed because it was an unforgiving horror film. The Silence of the Lambs finally broke the stigma in 1991, but is widely regarded as a thriller. Many horror films are marketed as “psychological thrillers” or other nonsense simply in an attempt to reach a wider audience.

Right now, “horror” is everywhere, especially your television set. One of the most popular shows on TV right now has the word right in the middle of it’s title, but has proven to be more of a musical comedy of late rather than the American Horror Story it promises. Zombies have proven to make great lovers in a few recent laughable romantic comedies like Warm Bodies and Life After Beth. And the less said about the sparkling fresh teenage “vampires” of the Twilight saga, the better.

And now, we are primed to get a series of films featuring our beloved Universal monsters in a modern day setting, all designed to lead up to an action adventure spectacle reminiscent of Marvel’s cinematic universe. A horrible, misguided idea from a bunch of studio heads who are so empty of interesting ideas that they are mining decades-old properties and reshaping them into a package that doesn’t even fit. If Dracula Untold was meant to be a jumping off point for this new series, then the path is already lost, as that film was a jumbled, confused and pointless mess which I wouldn’t have even bothered to see if it weren’t playing a double feature at my local drive-in with the far superior Nightcrawler.

But that is just me, and my opinion as a life-long fan of monsters and all things horror.
Please, Universal, just let our monsters be monsters, or else don’t bother to resurrect them.
Thank you.

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