A Fanboy guide to The Universal Horror Movies

Last weekend I finally scored DVDs of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman. These are the digitally remastered Universal 75th Anniversary series from 2004. I have wanted them for a while. I still need to get the Mummy, Invisible Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon to complete the set.
You see this is all part of a grand scheme.
I grew up a huge horror fan and this was a major part of my development into the fanboy I am today. I remember watching old horror movies, sometimes between my fingers or hiding behind the coach. The advantage of growing up before the cable network explosion, I could watch the classic on the old creature feature shows on the local TV stations.
And there was nothing better than the classic Universal Monsters.
So my plan is to start a periodic series of reviews of Classic Universal Horror.
For those not as familiar with what I am talking about, here is a primer.
The Universal Horror era is largely acknowledged to have started in 1923 with the release of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. When it ended is up to some debate, but I say it was 1958.
Universal Studios was a struggling company in the early 20’s. I won’t get into all the details here but one of the things that saved the studio was signing Lon Chaney. The legendary man of a thousand faces became a huge draw for the studio. His performance and make up design for the Hunchback of Notre Dame thrilled audiences who had never seen its like. He followed it up with other great horror films such as The Phantom of the Opera and London after Midnight.
Besides Chaney’s films Universal also had success with The Cat and the Canary and the Man who Laughs. The latter has added fanboy significance as its main character Gwynplaine served as Bill Finger’s chief visual inspiration for the Joker.
One point of interest is that during the silent era none of Universal’s horror films had any actual supernatural elements, in fact no film from Hollywood did. They either featured characters that were disfigured or someone that was employing trickery to appear supernatural.
That all changed in 1931 with the release of two films that changed film history, Dracula and Frankenstein. Now the supernatural and the inhuman were fair game.  Both films launched horror franchises and made stars out of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. The next two years saw the release of the Mummy and the Invisible man.
The next great horror franchise did not come about until 1941 with the release of The Wolf Man Starring Lon Chaney Jr. With this the trinity of Universal horror was complete. To this day Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man are ingrained images as horror icons, forever associated with Karloff, Lugosi, and Chaney.
Throughout the 30’s and 40’s Universal set the standard for the horror genre, creating many of the tropes that have come to be associated with it. Creaking staircases, Cobweb infested castles, fields filled with mists, the secret passage behind the bookcase and mobs with pitchforks and torches, all were introduced, or at least made popular, by Universal.
By the end of the 40’s Universal’s desire to milk every last drop out of their horror franchises seem to have spelled the end of them. The release of so-called Monster Mash movies where Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man all appeared, while still popular, seemed to be the final curtain for the classic monsters. With the release of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein the trinity of horror icons was retired.
But Universal Horror was not done yet.
In 1954 the last great Universal Monster was unleashed, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. A total of three Creature films were made in the 50’s. 
However even the coming of the gill-man could not keep the franchise going and with the release of Monster on Campus in 1958 the Universal Horror era ended.
But the influence did not.
Think about it, when someone says Frankenstein, what image comes to mind. I’ll bet it isn’t the creature design Christopher Lee wore in the Hammer Horror films, or Robert DeNiro’s version.
Our expectations of these iconic characters have been formed by Universal and are the widely accepted version.
And Universal has not forgotten this. They make periodic attempts to revive the Universal Horror franchises.  While none have been the restart the studio hopes for, one cannot help but figure it is just a matter of time.
Add to that the fact that every Halloween Universal Studio’s theme parks host their Halloween Horror Nights event where the parks are turned into massive haunted houses. My wife and I attended the 20th year of the event in Florida. It was one of our best vacations ever and proved why we are the perfect match (I’ll cover that adventure another time.)
Universal is still the name that will forever be associated with classic horror.
Going forward I will start the actual reviews of specific movies. In these reviews I will go over what makes the movie work, what are its flaws, how well they hold up over time, and what influences it has had on pop culture. These will be spaced out as I need time to review the movies and I don’t want them to dominate the blog. Also I need to track down copies of more of the Universal Horror catalog.
But I will leave you with this, first up will be Frankenstein.

The Power of the Geek

“Age of the Geek, baby.”

This is the catch phrase of Alec  Hardison on the TV show Leverage. Hardison is a hacker and self-professed fanboy. His catch phrase is an assertion that the future belongs to geek kind as we have the skills that will prevail in the 21st century.

I of course agree and will take it a few steps further.
There is an underlying power in geek culture that is both awesome and terrifying.
Don’t believe me, well let’s take a look top ten box office movies of all time according to IMDB
1.       Avatar
2.       Titanic
3.       The Dark Knight
4.       Star Wars
5.       Shrek 2
6.       E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
7.       Star Wars: Episode I- The Phantom Menace
8.        Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
9.       Toy Story 3
10.   Spider-Man
Of those I would only exclude Titanic as a geek movie, and I know people who would argue with me on that. And as you continue on the list you have to get down into the hundreds before geek film dominance relents.
Want more proof?
10 years ago FOX broadcasted a short lived TV Series called Firefly. To this day fans hold out hope that it will come back. Enough hope that Firefly merchandise still sells. It’s an example of the idea that once you have the backing of the geek community you have it forever. Firefly star Nathan Fillion acknowledges and embraces these fans and they helped make his new show Castle an initial hit and gave it time to find a broader audience.
And of course there is that other failed TV show. You know the one with the spaceship and the Vulcan. What ever happened to that?
The geek vote can be a powerful thing and its good will can bring great success.
And of course there is the dark side to it.
How could a bunch of geeks cause harm? Let’s ask Paul Chrisoforo about that.
Mr. Chrisoforo runs a company called Ocean Marketing a social media marketing firm that also had an account to distribute a specialty game controller. A man who bought the product for Christmas hadn’t received it and contacted Ocean Marketing to find out why. To say the response he got was rude would be an understatement. You can read the entire exchange here. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Back yet?
As I’m sure you saw, Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade got involved.  That led to the Penny Arcade community getting involved. And that led to the geek community as a whole getting involved.
So it went from Chrisoforo telling Krahulik on Monday night to expect a call from his lawyer to Chrisoforo begging Krahulik on Tuesday morning to make it stop. The internet basically rose up as one and attacked.
Is this an isolated incident? On this scale maybe, but ask anyone taken down by Anonymous or Lulsec if geeks are easily dismissed. 
Just this last week we saw another example when the online protest of SOPA and PIPA took these bills from looking like a sure thing to pass to being on life-support.
The moral of the story?
“Age of the Geek, baby.”

The New “New 52”

From the moment the DC relaunch was announced a question loomed: “How long until the first cancelations?”  Especially since the branding on the relaunch is “The New 52”.
We now have our answer and it shows how DC plans to move forward.
April will see the last issue of six of the relaunch titles: Blackhawks, Hawk and Dove, O.M.A.C, Mr. Terrific, Static Shock, and Men of War.
In May DC will launch 6 new titles: Batman Incorporated, Dial H, Earth 2, World’s Finest, The Ravagers, and G.I Combat.
So it is clear that with the “New 52” branding DC intends to keep the main universe titles at that number, only introducing new books as replacements for canceled books. Much like a TV network schedule really.
So how do I feel about it?
Honestly I like this strategy.
Aside from maintaining the branding, I like that they are keeping their product line lean. Not glutting the market keeps costs under control and makes choices easier for the consumer.
Just looking at sales figures can tell the story. Last month’s estimated sales showed Marvel just beating DC in overall sales, but DC had seven of the Top ten titles. While that looks good for marvel at first, keep in mind that they are publishing more than twice the number titles DC is, so they have a higher overhead. DC’s more targeted approach means a better net gain.
But what about the specific books involved?
Of the six titles going away, I read exactly zero. Of the six titles coming in May, I intend to add two to my pull list and give two others a try out.
Blackhawks, O.M.A.C., and Men of War were so low on my radar I  actually forgot they were being published until this announcement. Mr. Terrific and Static Shock I was aware of, I just wasn’t into either character so I gave them a pass. I was an old fan of Hawk and Dove, but Rob Leifeld’s involvement in the book kept me away. So basically none of these really surprise me.
Of the new books Batman Incorporated is the big one for me. I was enjoying this title prior to its cancelation to make room for the relaunch. My hope is that they pick up the story were they left off or at least bridge to what went before.
Earth 2 is the other sure thing. I love the JSA and if you will forgive me, I think going back to the Earth 2 concept is the best of both worlds.
World’s Finest will get a shot as it ties into Earth 2. I’m happy to see Power Girl back as well as the Huntress. My hope for this title is that it will feature the original Huntress (the alternate earth daughter of Batman and Catwoman). If this is the case we will have a third keeper. 
Dial H is an update of an old series about a mysterious dial that can temporarily turn normal people into superheroes. It is a concept that can work if the right writer is on it. I will give it a look at least to see what they do with it.
The Ravagers is a spinoff from Teen Titians and Superboy, two books I am not collecting so pass.
G.I. Combat is attempting to keep a military book on the schedule. This one is at least revisiting the weird war stories: Haunted Tank, the War time forgot, and the Unknown Soldier.  I really have no more interested in the than I was for Men of War. Pass
What I am really interested in seeing is what else DC has up its sleeve. Are we going to get a new title every time there is a cancelation? If so what does DC have lined up?
When the first anniversary of the New 52 comes in September what will the DCU look like?

My Fanboy New Year’s Resolutions.

I took time off from writing the blog for the holidays. This was needed as it was a crazy time for me and I needed the time.
However I did take time to reflect on where I want to go with this blog in the New Year. Let’s take a moment to look at my Fanboy News Network resolutions for the 2012.
First off my wife and I are rearranging our house. She is dedicated to make her home craft business Twisted Kitten Creations a success and I want to start making video entries. To facilitate this we are rearranging the house to give us more room for our creative activates. This will give her more room for making her products and give me a space to use as a recording studio.
This leads straight to my next resolution. Start making videos for the site. I have a plan now. Once the house is rearranged I will start making them. I may take a couple of tries at it before I release anything, but I will at least start recording. Once I start posting my goal will be a video port every two weeks. I’ve already invested in a more powerful computer to handle the editing.
And now I will make the statement that is sure to come back to haunt me. I vow that there will be a post on the blog every Saturday. This means that every Saturday I miss will bring me the burning shame of missing a deadline. If that doesn’t get me writing more nothing will.
I will do more posts that are reviews of material relevant to geek culture and not just editorials.
I will look at expanding beyond just a blog and work to make this a more legitimate site. I will look for advice from my sister as she is much more successful at this. (Assuming she buys my line about this being what family does for each other.)
I will start promoting the blog more. This is hard because despite doing this I hate going out and promoting myself because I fear that I will come off as an egotistical ass. I need to get over it if I actually plan on ever finding a larger audience. Again I will ask my sister for advice. 
And my wife.
 And Aron from the comic shop.
And my other friends
And those of you reading this.
Where was I?
I will make an honest effort to make a backlog of articles so that if life gets in my way I will still have something to post every Saturday.
I will create a catch phrase to end blog posts. I feel I just sort of end right now.
There it is, my goals
So with that here are some projects I am working on.
1.       An article on the power held by geek culture and that pros and cons that brings.
2.       A series of reviews cover Universal Horror, both written and eventually in video.
3.       A video series on what makes Seattle the Geek capital of the World.
4.       A new Alternate Interpretations.
5.       Tales from my days working at Wizards of the Coast.
6.       Tales from my days as one of the founding members of the Camarilla.
We will check in in on this list in July and see how well I did.
Have a happy New Year.