From the 1930s through the 1950s, Universal Studios had a run of horror film hits featuring what we now think of as the classic Universal Monsters, including Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, and The Mummy. As immensely popular as these films were (and still are), Universal has yet to really try and capitalize on them via remakes. Sure, there’s The Mummy, which wasn’t bad (though The Mummy Returns was); and then there was the travesty that was Van Helsing. But if we can get an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink remake of King Kong, why not Frankenstein or Dracula?
You might point to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Bram Stoker’s Dracula in answer. Neither of these films was released by Universal, who own the trademark on the titles (for film purposes) but not, obviously, the copyright to the stories. The reason the author’s names were added to the titles of those films was to differentiate them from the Universal trademarks. More importantly, the plots of the Universal films are modified (often significantly) from the storylines of the novels. The Bride of Frankenstein is quite different from Shelley’s novel, yet it’s a classic in its own right.
Of course, one might ask whether these films need remakes, and I’d as often as not say no. I’m just expressing my surprise that Universal hasn’t tried to do so, given the ubiquity of horror film remakes these days. There were rumors recently of a remake of The Wolf Man, starring Benecio Del Toro, but so far nothing’s been announced officially.
Also rumored for a remake is the one Universal Monster I haven’t mentioned yet—the Gillman from Creature from the Black Lagoon. In many ways the Gillman is the most iconic Universal Monster, since he was an original creation by the studio and not taken from any particular novel or well-known folk legend.
Creature from the Black Lagoon was released in 1954, and as such represents the tail end of the Universal Monsters era. Its reputation is built largely on the incredible special effects work on the Gillman and, I suspect, the luscious Julie Adams and her sexy one-piece bathing suit.
The story follows paleontologist David Reed (Richard Carlson), who heads to the Amazon River to investigate the discovery of what seems to be the fossiziled hand of some sort of man/fish hybrid. He takes his fiance Kay (Julie Adams) as well as a few scientific colleagues and charters a boat. While in the Amazon, members of their screw start getting killed by a mysterious creature, and local legends soon lead them to a dark lagoon said to be inhabited by a legendary fish-man.
The film’s most famous scene is probably Kay’s swim in the lagoon, as the Gillman flits back and forth below her, reaching for her several times before pulling away. Adams’s bathing suit, though a one-piece, is surprisingly sexy, and the sight of the Gillman moving beneath the water below her is quite creepy. Also, after watching this scene, I have to believe it at least partially inspired Steven Spielberg’s opening sequence for JAWS; some of the shots look identical, and there’s even an ominous two-note rhythm on the soundtrack as the Creature swims below Kay.
I found Creature from the Black Lagoon a bit disappointing. Though there’s some slight proto-environmentalist themes evident in Reed’s and Williams’s argument over whether the Gillman should be studied or dissected and sold to a museum, the film certainly doesn’t stand up to classics such as The Bride of Frankenstein. But Adams is beautiful and charming, and the creature effects look good even by today’s standards (though I love Stan Winston’s take on it in The Monster Squad).
On a side note, I watched the Universal Legacy Collection DVD of Creature, and I feel obliged to point out that the quality of the film was amazing. The footage was sharp and crisp; it could have been released in theaters last week. Universal has done a great job with its Universal Monsters DVDs.