The Not-So-Versatile Predator: The Wolf Man

If the classic movies covered so far constitute Phase I of the Universal cinematic monster-verse, The Wolf Man kicks off Phase 2. Made in 1941, this film gave Universal a new monster who would go on to unite several of their franchises during subsequent crossover pictures. In true Hollywood fashion, it also relied on at least three distinct horror legacies to bolster its street cred while launching something new.

Pedigree and legacy aside, The Wolf Man’s title character is also a monster unlike any of the characters yet seen in Dracula, The Mummy, or either of the Frankenstein movies. This opens up new opportunities for story-telling, and the movie explores the most obvious ones in ways that future movies would go on to rehash in increasingly less interesting ways.

Without further ado, let’s head to the moors and talk about some spoilers!

[SPOILERS, SUCH AS THEY ARE, FOLLOW]

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Penny Dreadful S02 E04: Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places and S02 E05: Above the Vaulted Sky

Since Episode 3 was a Vanessa Spotlight, it makes sense that the next two episodes would both be Ensemble Hangouts. Of the two, “Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places” does a masterful job of reconnecting us to the ongoing story and being a solid episode. “Above the Vaulted Sky” includes some disappointments, but also some good setup for the future. Both episodes keep the show’s second season decidedly more woman-centric than the first season, which works to this season’s benefit (even as the first season remains one of the best first seasons of a TV show).

This is also a good place to acknowledge the great work of Genevieve Valentine, who recapped the first two seasons of this show for Io9 (with bonus posts on her blog) and is an all-around smart person. I followed along the first time I watched Penny Dreadful, which undoubtedly shaped my perspective. Out of respect for her work, I try to steer my analysis into some of the places hers didn’t have the space to get to, but there’s no question she’s been an influence on my thinking, especially when it comes to the rest of this season.

[SPOILERS FOLLOW]

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Sex, Monsters, and Today’s Frankenstein

Finding a companion film to The Bride of Frankenstein for this blog was a little tricky. While there have been plenty of Dracula, Frankenstein, mummy, and werewolf movies over the years, plus two different Guillermo del Toro takes on Black-Lagoon-esque gill-men, the pickings are slimmer when it comes to Bride.

Sure, there are homages to Elsa Lanchester’s hairstyle in the already-discussed Rocky Horror Picture Show and the to-be-discussed Young Frankenstein, to stick with just movies that are part of this blog’s work. There’s also an upcoming remake planned for Universal’s Dark Universe, assuming those plans are still on track. But the Bride’s story turns out to be rarely revisited in the context of monster movies.

The best place to look was outside of the horror genre. If I hadn’t already taken a trip to pre-Dracula Germany with Nosferatu, I might have written about Fritz Lang’s 1927 science fiction masterpiece Metropolis, which is chock full of tropes that would surface again and again in later horror and sci-fi movies, including that of the woman animated by technology. I considered going to the ‘80s and watching John Hughes’ Weird Science. Ultimately, though, I settled on a more recent movie about two men and the manmade woman in the lab: Alex Garland’s 2014 Ex Machina.

[SPOILERS FOLLOW]

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Penny Dreadful S02 E03: The Nightcomers

As I’ve been making my way through Penny Dreadful, I’ve noticed that my ability to write meaningfully about an episode dips is less connected to the episode’s quality than I’d assumed would be the case. Acknowledging that even the “worst” episodes of this show are still very good, I’ve certainly been able to pull lots of analysis out of episodes that are basically just moving characters around to set up future events.

And then there are truly great episodes like “The Nightcomers,” where I find myself struggling with what to write because they’re operating at a level of quality I find hard to dissect. Still, I shall endeavor to do my best!

[SPOILERS FOLLOW]

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Back to the Slab

Bride of Frankenstein Poster

Four years after Frankenstein was a runaway hit, Universal brought us the first major monster movie sequel. The Bride of Frankenstein is one of those rare sequels that’s better than its original (which was already damn good). It reunited Boris Karloff’s Creature with Colin Clive’s Dr. Henry Frankenstein under the skilled direction of James Whale. We also get a few new characters and some fascinating themes and motifs.

Gods and Devils

Of all the characters in The Bride of Frankenstein, the most monstrous is obvious: Dr. Pretorius. While Dr. Frankenstein regrets his past experiments, Pretorius revels in his. He delights in showing off his homunculi, explaining with glee the role he’s assigned to each. That he’s styled the one that resembles himself as the Devil is not the most subtle foreshadowing.

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Penny Dreadful S02 E01: Fresh Hell and S02 E02: Verbis Diablo

Season 2 kicks off with a couple Ensemble Hangouts setting up our new antagonists for the season. Rather than do a straight up recap, let’s jump straight to talking about witches! (Okay, one quick note: This season has the delightful distinction of having Simon Russel Beale’s Mr. Lyle as a series regular, which more shows should really do.)

[SPOILERS FOLLOW]

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The Art of Resurrection

The 1932 The Mummy is, by most metrics, the weakest of the iconic Universal pantheon of monster movies. There are certainly other Universal monster movies that are worse, but of The Big Ones – Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf-Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon – it’s The Mummy that struggles the most. The structure is in many ways derivative of Dracula, the monster’s memorable appearance gets barely any screen time, and the movie’s strengths aren’t enough to outshine its problematic weaknesses.

In other words, of the core Universal canon, it’s the one most suited to a remake.

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