Guest Blog: Scott Essman's They're Still Alive - The Universal Classic Monsters
Magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland helped keep the Universal monsters alive for new generations in the 1960s and 1970s through publishing detailed accounts of making of the films and rarely seen photographs. The films also lived on through broadcasts on syndicated television stations nationwide in a time before home video, which has now obviously brought the films and characters to a new level for contemporary fans. Veteran actor and monster collector Daniel Roebuck connected such new fans to the ones who first viewed the films in a theatrical setting. “Although not scary to the modern audiences, the pathos and tragic suffering of so many of these characters can't help but touch the viewer,” he observed.
Certainly, the Universal monsters have never truly dipped in their popularity and are still foremost among genre fans despite their notable age in a time of erstwhile short attention spans. Oscar-winning makeup artist William Corso (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) summarized the effect that the films have had on numerous filmmakers working today, including not only makeup people, but visual effects artists, writers, and directors. “Universal’s stable of monsters inspired me and countless generations to enter the fields of art and film,” he said. “Not only can they be counted as some of the most iconic characters in film history, but also as significant works in the history of art, as much as any of the old masters gave us.”
In the end, audiences continually return to the Universal monsters for reasons that cannot often be easily explained. Without question, Hollywood has churned out more visceral, explicit, and even frightening films in most every decade since the originals. So why are the classic monsters a constant presence in merchandise collections, video libraries, and televised and theatrical revivals, both during Halloween season and otherwise? Fred Dekker, co-writer and director of The Monster Squad, the 1987 homage to the original characters, offered one provocative answer. “What's timeless to me about the Universal monsters is that on one level, they're not really monsters at all; they're outcasts,” Dekker said, “and in most cases, not by choice. Dracula has a disease, the Wolf Man an affliction. The Mummy was killed and resurrected against his will, and Frankenstein's Monster never asked to be born. The Gill-Man is out of his time. So on one level, they're these iconic boogey men who scare us—but at the same time, they appeal to that part of us that feels like an outsider, a weirdo, like someone who doesn't quite fit in. I think we relate to them on that level, even if it's subconsciously.”
Scott Essman has written extensively about Jack Pierce and the Universal Classic Monsters since 1996. He can be e-mailed here.
Source: Courtesy of BTL