Classic Movie Monsters vs. Modern Movie Monsters

Published 6 years ago by

Dracula 1931 (Bela Lugosi) vsBraham Stoker’s Dracula 1992 (Gary Oldman)

legosi oldman Classic Movie Monsters vs. Modern Movie Monsters

Vampires have a deep history dating back hundreds of years (although Twilight tweens would swear they’ve only been sparkling in the sunlight for a couple of years now) and they have been featured in more films than I can count. In modern days, vampires are known to fly without becoming bats, have superhuman strength and are very gory with their feeding. Originally though, vampires were nothing more than blood-sucking, neck-biting versions of Wayne Newton; they liked to seduce their prey, focusing mainly on women while they slept, and would only attack men if they were cornered. Somewhere along the way filmmakers forgot about that, because now it’s all about the blood, wherever it flows from.

However, in 1931, Tod Browning, Bela Lugosi and make-up artist Jack Pierce brought the world what is arguably the most famous monster in history, Count Dracula, in their original 1931 version of Dracula. Based on Braham Stoker’s classic 1897 tale, the 1931 film follows a couple visiting the Count in his castle in Romania, as he begins to prey on the woman Mina Harker (Helen Chandler). Focusing more on the gothic and morbid romance between Dracula and Harker, the 1931 movie leaves out all of the gory blood-sucking that audiences have come to expect. Necks are bitten and a slight corniness fills the screen but yet there is something that oddly compels you to continue watching. Maybe it is Dracula’s hypnotic stare? (Bet you forgot that is one of a vampire’s powers.)

In 1992, Francis Ford Coppola, like Branagh, took a more literary adaptation of Braham’s Stoker’s novel and made it more of a horror film (and not just because Keanu Reeves is in it). In Coppola’s adaptation of Braham Stoker’s Dracula, there were times where I was actually scared or creeped out by what Gary Oldman was doing on-screen as Count Dracula. There may not have been any throat ripping or devouring of entrails, but the blood-sucking scenes were just as strong visually and the focus was returned to the seductive lure of the vampire and not the bloodletting – on that front, Coppola succeeded. To date, I still consider it to be Gary Oldman’s best performance.

Even though Bela Lugosi’s name became, and still is, synonymous with Count Dracula, I can’t look past the incredible work Coppola and Oldman did in the remake. For that reason 1992 Braham Stoker’s Dracula and Gary Oldman win this contest.

The Mummy 1932 (Boris Karloff) vs. The Mummy 1999 (Arnold Vosloo)

karloff vosloo Classic Movie Monsters vs. Modern Movie Monsters

Rounding out the quartet of classic movie monsters, we have The Mummy. There were very few novels and stories to go off when director Karl Freund went to make the 1932 Boris Karloff original, so the script was mostly original material. The filmmakers actually used the (then) recent discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb as the source material and did a “what if” based on that real-life discovery. And it worked.

Karloff transformed from the iconic slow moving, bandage covered mummy of Imhotep, into the human archaeologist Ardath Bey, all the while searching for his lost love Ankh-es-en-amon. Many deaths followed in The Mummy’s wake as he discovers a lookalike for his lost love in Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann) and decides that she’ll do just fine. Eventually, the Mummy is dispatched and all is right in the world…that is until the numerous sequels came out. None, however, would ever be as good as the original Mummy.

In 1999, Stephen Sommers decided to give the The Mummy story another try, this time using modern SFX. Even though the sequels The Mummy Returns and The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor were far below adequate, The Mummy remake was – for the most part – a satisfying adventure. The story was kept basically the same as the original, with only the discovery of the mummy being changed. However, Sommers decided to focus more on the hero and heroines, giving them much more screen time and making the mummy’s story more of a secondary sub-plot. Arnold Vosloo was great for his part as Imhotep, but instead of transforming from a rotting mummy into human archaeologist, he just became a sorcerer. I never understood that part. Vosloo isn’t given many lines of actual dialog in the film but his performance is nonetheless great. I do realize that CGI is a big factor in all of Sommers’ movies but I would have preferred to see the original mummy still wrapped in bandages instead of as a rotting, decaying corpse.

So who wins in this showdown? Well, even though the remake had way more action and better SFX, the actual monster in the 1932 original is just too iconic to ignore. Boris Karloff and his Mummy win.

Anyway you look at it, there are plenty of classic horror films from the 30’s and 40’s for you to go out and rent this Halloween season. Expanded your mind and enjoy films from an era when the focus was simply on the monster. One of the (only) good things about Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing is that when you bought the DVD in 2004, you got the original Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man all on one DVD.  I’ve talked my wife into a triple feature this weekend because she has never seen any of them.

What classic monster films do you enjoy and have they been remade? Which do you prefer and why?

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  1. Alas, I must admit I’ve never seen any of the original flicks. (head bows, tears roll) I have seen all of the newer versions you mention and I like them all (including Van Helsing), except the 3rd Mummy movie with Jett Li (they should have just made a movie about the emperor because I felt the beginning of that movie was quite good).

  2. How about the MASTERPIECE “Gojira” vs. The Abomination that was the “Godzilla” remake.

  3. Just couldn’t get enough of those classic Universal monsters. The Wolfman was the best, but Frankenstein and Dracula weren’t far behind. Yet for me, the best movie was Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Today I can share that movie with my youngest daughter and introduce her to those classic monsters without her being too afraid to watch.

    And the best part about A&B Meet Frankenstein is its pretty much remake proof.

    Lastly, to Gigan300, gotta love Godzilla: Final Wars

  4. @StevenL – Don’t be too sure. There is a 3 Stooges movie in the works and they too had movies with Franekenstein. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for them to do a Jay and Silent Bob Meet Frankenstein and end up smoking weed and drinking 40’s with him while they make fun of Bush.

  5. Howard Hawks The Thing vs. John Carpenter’s The Thing.

    Just sayin’.

  6. Final Wars was just a horrible mess.

  7. There has to be Monsters! There has to be! I lioke them all and am impartial on this…can’t pick or choose.
    However Boris Karloff as Frankensteins monster is the greatest of all time.

  8. Gojira VS Clover
    think about it.

    oh and Bela Lugosi is king

  9. I cannot believe this article doesn’t even mention the Hammer horror films.

    They did Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy (as well as many others the article doesn’t cover), and I’d argue their versions of Frank and Drac are at least superior to Branagh’s and Coppola’s.

    Seriously, a debate about who was the best Dracula cannot be complete without mentioning Christopher Lee.

  10. “Cloverfield” was badass, but “Gojira” is a MASTERPIECE.

  11. The old classic monsters were re-created by Hollywood from much older folklore. And because of the innocence of that era, and the present day desensitized generation, the classic monsters will always win.

    The scariest, most intriguing creatures could be made today, and will never be as fearful as the ones of old, simply because our collective conscienceness as a society has seen it all, it takes something like….

    an economic collapse to really scare someone these days.

  12. How about Romero’s zombies?

    The most iconic monster for me would be the Franknstein or his creation, it’s like a cult figure

  13. Now if Hollywood could just do something with Dean Koontz’ Frankenstein book trilogy (the Frankenstein story brought forward to modern-day New Orleans)

  14. Can you imagine the Koontz story done properly in it’s entirety? They’d have to CGI JOCKO definately.

  15. Wow. The author of this article needs to learn about writing. This is so one-sided. As a writer you must never state your opinions as facts yet that’s all that is done here.

  16. Sacrilege! Oldman over Lugosi? Coppola’s film was visually stunning- everything else about it was garbage, from performances to plot to the absurd love story (lifted from Dark Shadows- which lifted it from the Mummy) which DOES NOT EXIST anywhere in Stoker’s novel. “Bram Stoker’s Dracula?” Not by a long shot..

  17. You are so right about the classic Universal monsters being the best. They are. Today’s so-called movie “monsters” just can’t hold a candle to them.