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‘The Mummy’ vs. ‘The Wolfman’: A Tale Of Two Horror Remakes

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‘The Mummy’ vs. ‘The Wolfman’: A Tale Of Two Horror Remakes

If you’ve ever thought the glut of remakes, reboots, and “reimaginings” of recent years was in your head, rest at ease: the data shows, it’s a real trend. Just how much this bothers you will vary from person to person; some of us embrace the trend, while others would welcome a 15-year moratorium on any title and property that’s already been made into a film or TV show getting another one. And of course, your relationship to the original film can affect how you feel about any remake.

To offer one example: I’ve had quite a strong attachment to the Universal Monsters pictures since childhood. Upon becoming exposed to these movies, I became aware that the 1999 Stephen Sommers film The Mummy was meant to be a remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff vehicle of the same name. Despite my dad and my brothers all having watched and enjoyed The Mummy and its sequel, I managed to avoid seeing it in its entirety. But I did see Van Helsing, and that was enough for me to never want to give Sommers another chance with classic horror again. The unending hokey action-flick one-liners, the over-produced and interminably long action set-pieces, the breakneck pacing, the excess shown in every possible use of unconvincing CGI: everything about Van Helsing was a far cry from the atmospheric, practical, and varied horror films it was meant to celebrate. Nothing I’d seen of The Mummy indicated it would be any more respectful or pleasant a watch. True, I couldn’t know that without giving it a chance; true as well, I only found the Karloff Mummy average at best; but it was the principle that mattered.

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On the other hand, when a remake of The Wolf Man (1941) was due to arrive in theaters in 2010, I was at least mildly happy to go see it. Rick Baker was providing practical werewolf make-up, Anthony Hopkins was taking over as Sir John Talbot (father of the title character) from Claude Rains, and Danny Elfman was set to provide the score. The trailers suggested a suitable Gothic setting and the glimpses of Benicio del Toro in make-up were wonderful. This, I thought, seems like a proper tribute to Universal’s Monsters. There were the news reports that original director Mark Romanek bailed on the project weeks before filming, and a to-do about the score (Elfman was supposed to have been replaced, then had his work restored but rearranged by other composers). Still, compared to that Stephen Sommers guy, this had to be a better approach to reviving the Universal Monsters. Right?


I fought a long battle as a teen and a college kid to maintain that The Mummy was an undignified action flick that did wrong by Boris Karloff. The list of people I knew who loved it grew longer, but I held out. Finally, for reasons that escape me, I gave in and watched it beginning to end. When it was over, my thoughts didn’t shift immediately. But slowly, grudgingly, I conceded that The Mummy was an utter delight of a kind increasingly rare in mainstream action-adventure movies.

2010’s The Wolfman, on the other hand, disappointed in the theater and has done so ever since. Was Universal president Ron Meyer right to call it “one of the worst movies we ever made?” Hardly (and his throwing del Toro and director Joe Johnston under the bus was pretty low too). But it’s not good.


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Neither of these films figures into Universal’s current plans for their horror features, but they’re more fascinating to me as efforts to recreate the horror magic of old. At a first glance, they seemed to take the same approach: respectably budgeted period pieces retelling the stories of the original films, without the ulterior motive of launching a cinematic universe. But there are crucial differences in the details, and those are what make one a success and the other a disappointment.

It’s only a surface-level impression that Sommers’s Mummy is a retelling of Boris Karloff’s. There’s no Rick O’ Connell in the original, no Carnahan family, no Medjai, no comic relief henchman. Karloff’s Imhotep is a tragic lover of limited magical means to try and bridge eons with the reincarnation of his lost love Anck-es-en-Amon, the heart and driving force of his film. The Imhotep of Sommers’s movie (Arnold Vosloo) is a more overtly villainous and megalomaniacal figure, the obstacle for Brendan Fraser as O’ Connell and Rachel Weisz as Evelyn Carnahan to overcome. The 1999 Mummy isn’t a retelling at all, but a remake in a purer sense of the word: individual elements of the original film (the name Imhotep, a 1920s setting, having a romance of some kind) are taken, set in a new context, and used to make a completely different story.


And that different story isn’t a horror film. I’d hesitate to say that the supernatural elements of Sommers’s Mummy even meet the definition of horror; none of them are played for straight menace in the way that, say, the black magic of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was. The Mummy is an adventure film in as classic a sense as you could want: period setting, ancient temples, highly exaggerated and fantasized depictions of mythology and culture, and a steamy romance between the adventurer and adventuress. Such a shift in narrative demanded a certain tone, and Sommers delivered. Instead of the often-brooding mysticism of Karloff’s Mummy, the 1999 film is light, energetic, and loaded with comedy. Much of that comes through the characters, even nominal straight man Fraser and straight woman Weisz.


RELATED: How Gorgeous Visuals and Bodacious Werewolf Violence Save ‘The Wolfman’ From Badness

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Many of the effects have not aged well (and a greater use of practical techniques would have complimented the period setting and granted the film’s visuals more charm). And Sommers’s attempt to replicate the tone of The Mummy in Van Helsing, with more rigidly serious lead characters and a far more bloated Gothic story, still seem a disaster to me. But as much as ten-year-old me would hate to see these words, 1999’s Mummy is a wonderfully fun movie in its own right, distinct from the Karloff film, and I daresay I’d rather watch it over Karloff. (Though if you want a classic horror-film mummy that’s better than either of them, I recommend Hammer’s 1959 The Mummy starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.)

The Wolfman, by contrast, is still a horror film, and a remake in the way we usually think of them, as another version of the same basic story. At times, Andrew Kevin Walker’s screenplay seems to borrow liberally from Sleepy Hollow, which he also penned: protagonist comes to town to investigate murders, protagonist saddled with a dark past he can’t remember, a period setting when the original Wolf Man was contemporary to 1941. Still, the skeleton and some of the flesh of the plot belong to the Lon Chaney, Jr. vehicle. That film is, in my opinion, a much stronger entry in the Universal Monsters canon than Karloff’s Mummy; The Wolf Man is still among, if not the best werewolf movie ever made. This left The Wolfman with big shoes to fill in attempting a traditional remake. Del Toro and Baker, at least, were enthusiastic to try. They provide the film with its best elements. They couldn’t have been helped in their efforts by Baker’s sense (related while promoting his book Metamorphosis) that he, del Toro, and Hopkins were the only ones excited rather than embarrassed about making a movie called The Wolfman.


But the enthusiasm of key players can’t salvage a bad movie. I won’t say The Wolfman went wrong in attempting a straightforward remake of a classic (tempted though I am). Its fatal flaw is one of tone. Like Sommers’s Mummy, The Wolfman shifted its tone and mood compared to the original film. In the case of The Wolfman, the shift was deeper into the horror genre. The way the original Wolf Man opens, you might expect it to be a romantic comedy between Chaney Jr. and Evelyn Ankers, or a light drama about the father-son estrangement between Chaney and Rains with a romantic subplot. Chaney’s Larry Talbot is an affable, amorously clumsy blue-collar guy, while Rains’s Sir John is a respected and respectable English lord. There’s no ambiguity about what sort of movie The Wolfman is; the dark nights, full moons, and high tension hit you from the first frame. Del Toro’s Lawrence Talbot is a brooding, haunted actor with no amorous intent to start, while Hopkins’s Sir John clearly has a few screws loose before the story gets underway.

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The problem with this change is that it leaves The Wolfman with nowhere to go. As the curse of the werewolf enters The Wolf Man, it marks a definite tonal shift. Receiving the werewolf’s bite and inheriting the curse himself gives Larry somewhere to go over the course of the film, from friendly lug to psychologically tormented damned soul. As his behavior becomes more unhinged, it affects Ankers and Rains as they struggle to cope with Larry’s changes when they don’t believe in werewolves. In short, the horror aspects of the film have a happy life to disrupt, and therefore register as horrific. With everyone already miserable and veiled in shadows at the start of The Wolfman, what impact can the werewolf’s curse really have on their lives? Things go from “sad and dangerous” to “slightly more sad and dangerous,” but that’s no great journey for characters – or an audience – to go on.


The lesson against disregarding any levity in a horror film isn’t just offered by The Wolf Man. The Bela Lugosi Dracula and Karloff’s Frankenstein had comic relief and normal human lives to be interrupted by monsters. Linda Blair and Heather Langenkamp have healthy, happy lives before the events of The Exorcist and the original Nightmare on Elm Street. Karloff’s Mummy was more romance than horror and offered its characters some happiness that Imhotep could threaten. Those elements were apparently enough for Stephen Sommers to construct an original story that could shed any overt horror for a whole new tone that worked. The Wolfman, running the opposite direction with the same story, tripped and fell.


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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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