I‘ve made no secret of my preference for classic monsters. And while I can watch, say, one of the Saw films or the latest remake of something that never needed remaking, my loyalties lie with the old school frights I used to watch on ‘Creature Feature’ when I was a boy. Now, this year I focused on the horror boom of the 70′s and 80′s, with a little bit of the 90′s thrown in, but to wrap up my Halloween 2013 articles, I’m gonna indulge myself with the best of both worlds and talk about monster mashes.
I call them that, of course, because of the novelty song by Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett, but I don’t necessarily mean the classic monsters when I use the term.
The idea of team-ups or crossovers is nothing new: pulp and comics writers have been doing it for almost a century. A recent hit movie version of Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’ is predicated on that very concept – take a bunch of characters who already headline their own stories and put them together. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
In the fear flick, the first major example is ‘Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man’, which I’ve mentioned before. This was made as Universal Horror was on the decline, relegated to their B-list and increasingly less frightening (assuming that ‘increasingly less’ is a term), with more of an emphasis on adventure and humor. We had ‘House of Frankenstein’ and ‘House of Dracula’, which put together Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster, along with the obligatory mad scientists and hunchbacks. The whole thing culminated in ‘Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein’, which also tossed in a cameo by the Invisible Man!
A non-Universal entry worth mentioning is ‘Return of the Vampire’, which starred Bela Lugosi as a vamp who was Dracula in all but name. The evil Armand Tesla had, instead of a Renfield or Igor, a werewolf named Andreas as his servant. So you have kinda Dracula aided by kinda Wolf Man. Okay, I admit it’s not much of a monster mash, but I really like this movie, so I bring it up whenever I can get away with it…
Well, that was the end of the Universal Monsters, but then Hammer Films revived most of them. With Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee front and Center, we got fresh new takes on the Dracula and Frankenstein stories, plus several Mummy movies and one great Werewolf picture. As these series inevitably lost momentum, Hammer tried various tactics to keep them relevant, including updating them to modern times, adding R rated type blood and nudity and even, in one regrettable instance, combining Drac with Kung Fu! But sadly, it never occurred to them to just put the monsters TOGETHER in one movie!
I mean, think about it! With Hammer’s great sets, their license to use Universal characters and their proven formula of blood and bosoms, it seems like a natural. You could have had Cushing as Baron Frankenstein, Lee as the Count and the usual Hammer players rounding out the bill: maybe Dave Prowse as yet another Frankenstein creation, with a Mummy thrown in for no reason other than to add more monsters to the mix. And while Oliver Reed’s Werewolf might have perished in his one outing, surely another lycanthrope could be rounded up SOMEWHERE. That makeup was too good to only use once!
Ahem. Sorry, but I get a little carried away sometimes. My point is that this would have been a guaranteed moneymaker for the studio – and believe me, by the early 70′s, they could have used one!
On TV, ‘The Munsters’ was essentially a monster mash, but you know, whatever. I mean, I like the Munsters, of course, but those characters are so unique and specific to that show that I don’t really perceive them as THE monsters so much as some monsters who resemble them.
Now, I do have to mention a little gem from 1967 that always puts a smile on my face: ‘Mad Monster Party’. (Ed. note – Mad Monster Party is currently available on Netflix Instant!) This stop-motion classic was made by the folks who did pretty much every Christmas special ever made, and it is probably the mashiest mix of monsters anyone could have envisioned. You’ve got Drac, Frankenstein, Invisible Man, Werewolf, ghosts, skeletons, mummies and Gill Man, Dr. Jekyll, plus robots, every undead option available and even a giant gorilla! It also has some vocal talent, with Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller first and foremost. This is a sweet little children’s movie and still fun to watch.
Well, there were two films called ‘Dracula versus Frankenstein’ and they were both terrible. And while two monsters are technically sufficient for a monster mash, the more, the merrier!
There were a lot more monstrous team-ups in kids entertainment than anywhere else, including the Groovie Ghoulies, Drac Pack and suchlike. And there was an attempt to do ‘House of Frankenstein’ as a series in the 1990′s. But in terms of actual, theatrical type releases, the pickings have been slim. But the few we DID get have been absolute doozies!
‘The Monster Squad’ (1987) is one of my all time favorite movies. It’s basically a lower budget takeoff on the Goonies, but the kids have to face Dracula, a Wolfman, Mummy, Gill Man and Frankenstein’s Monster. Special effects genius Stan Winston brought the monsters to life and, frankly, they’ve never looked better.
Certainly, they didn’t look particularly better in ‘Van Helsing’, which was a good popcorn movie that certainly tried to evoke the tone of those old Universal mashes, but suffers from too much CGI and not enough heart.
A straight to video monster mash entitled, appropriately enough, ‘Monster Mash’ starred Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett and was based on his stage play, ‘I’m Sorry, the Bridge Is Out, You’ll Have to Stay the Night’. Enough said. And I’m not even gonna bother with ‘Saturday the 14th’ or ‘Transylvania 6-5000′ because, really, my heart’s not in it.
I also gotta give an honorable mention to Rob Zombie’s animated, ‘The Haunted World of El Superbeasto’, which has cameos from pretty much every horror character from the silent era up to now, although most of them are just there for decoration and don’t really do anything.
Recently, the animated ‘Hotel Transylvania’ was an absolutely wonderful monster mash, with perhaps even more beasties than ‘Mad Monster Party’. It’s certainly a better film and has an all-star cast doing the voices. A sequel is inevitable, and I for one look forward to it!
Now, as far as the more contemporary horror icons, there haven’t been a lot of legitimate team-ups (stuff like ‘Stan Helsing’ and ‘Transylvania Twist’ doesn’t count), and they’ve always focused on just two characters: Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees.
See, at the end of ‘Jason Goes to Hell: the Final Friday’, Jason, well, goes to Hell. So, truth in advertising. But the point is, the last shot shows Freddy’s glove rising from the ground to pull down the hockey mask. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
And then came ‘Freddy Vs. Jason’. Wow. You got the two titans of terror teaming then tussling while terrorizing teens. It’s a good Freddy sequel, a good Jason sequel and a GREAT monster mash! Now, the original idea for this film was to have Pinhead, from the Hellraiser films, show up at the end, when the monsters return to Hell. If only! But it certainly is a great idea.
See, as I’ve touched upon in other articles, most of the slashers got a supernatural upgrade somewhere along the line. Jason is undead, Freddy is a dream demon and Michael Myers is somehow connected to this weird devil cult. Okay, the last one is a tad confused and only pops up in ‘Halloween 6′, but it’s there. Chucky is already a possessed doll, while the lone living human in the bunch is old Leatherface, either the original or the remake version. Well, probably. I mean, they never did explain how he was still alive in his third movie, but we gotta assume he’s not in any way supernatural or inhuman.
I propose that these characters need to team up; ALL OF THEM. Because frankly, their remakes have been hit or miss. So why not squeeze the last drops of milk from these cash cows and just toss them together? Freddy, Jason, Mike Myers, Leatherface, Chucky and, because why not, Pinhead and his Cenobites! Would the movie be any good? Would it even make any sense? Who cares? It would be FUN. How so? Because the classic monsters have been doing it for 80 years!
This is an idea whose time has come. If there was a Kickstarter campaign for this, I’d gladly start tithing to it. If I had an ounce of talent, I’d write it myself and send it off to EVERYONE who might have the ability to get it made. This was an inevitable rite of passage for the monsters back in the day; it’s a new era, with new classics – they deserve their moment together.