The Monster Mash-Ups - Part 7: the Teens


The United Monster Talent Agency - 2010
Written & Directed by Greg Nictero

So just where DO they get all those monsters to cast in their big Hollywood movies anyway?

Monster High - 2010-ongoing

Oh... no.

Including this kind of makes me want to kick my own ass, but now that I'm aware of it, my sense of fairness demands that I include it.

Monster High is a series of toys from Mattel, with webisodes, TV specials, movies and video games that advertise, er, tell their story.  If you haven't heard of it, it's probably because you're not a tween girl or a parent sentenced to raising one.

Oh yeah... the premise takes a bunch of anorexic teenage prostitutes with vacant gazes and dresses them in monster-themed fetish gear.  So it's like everything bad about monster team-up cartoons, mashed up with the negative-sum standards of the kind of pre-teen girls whose terrible parents have taught them "shopping" as a value system.

Being Human - 2011-2014
Created by Toby Whithouse

A TV series about twenty-somethings sharing a house, who also happen to be a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf.  Based on a British series of the same name.  Why haven't I listed the British series?  Simply to irritate the kind of people who complain about American things based on British things.

I haven't seen it yet, so I really have nothing more to add.

Monster Brawl - 2011
Written & Directed by Jesse Thomas Cook

Featuring: Frankenstein's monster, a mummy, a swamp monster, a werewolf, zombies, a cyclops, a witch and a vampire

Monster Brawl is forcing me to reassess the standards by which I have judged every other monster mash-up.  As bad as many of the movies have been, Monster Brawl is starting to make them look a little better.  Like Gingerdead Man vs Evil Bong, it's trying to cash in on that so-bad-its-good camp value, but unlike the original so-bad-they're good movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space, it just never tries to be good.  It aims as low as it can aim while still getting out of bed, and it still fails.  The premise is simple -- too simple.  It takes 8 monsters and pits them against each other in 5 paired wrestling matches, and that is all.  There is no story whatsoever.  It's presented like televised pro-wrestling, and makes pro-wrestling look better in comparison.  LOCAL pro-wrestling.  Many of the performers are indeed wrestlers, including those in non-combatant roles.  So, you know, you've got all those acting chops on display.  The fights are uninspired.  The entire thing lacks any sort of energy.  To call the directing amateurish would be a slander upon amateurs.  The word "amateur" implies that one does something for the love of it.  Monster Brawl is directed as though Jesse Thomas Cook wants to make monsters look boring and wrestling look stupid.  It's the only logical assumption given the finished product.  Perhaps the saddest element of all is the primary non-wrestler participant; Kids in the Hall's Dave Foley doing a bored impression of Howard Cosell.  Dave, you're better than this.  I hope the money they didn't put on the screen is putting his kids through college or something.  It would be the only positive thing to come out of this drooling tribute to brain death.

Crazy Dracula Spring Break Weekend - 2011
Written & Directed by the Granger Brothers

Dracula's having a hard time with his age...

ParaNorman - 2012
Written by Chris Butler
Directed by Chris Butler & Sam Fell

Featuring: ghosts, a witch, the accursed dead

Norman is a kid with a fixation on zombies.  His room is covered with them.  He pores over old movies and even makes his own.  It might seem a little excessive that he'd be so interested in the undead, except for the fact that Norman also sees ghosts; all around him, almost all the time.  Now, for Norman's parents and pretty much everyone else that doesn't believe him, it seems disturbingly excessive, and Norman finds himself pretty isolated at school.  What was already a difficult situation for him becomes even worse when a local loon takes a particular interest in him, insisting that he is responsible for keeping the town safe from a witch's curse.

While it's a little bit of a stretch to include ParaNorman as a Monster Mash-Up in the crossover sense, that's the nice thing about writing my own articles, I can include my favorite movies if I want to.  ParaNorman is a love letter to horror movies in the way that Hotel Transylvania is a cross between fan-fic and a slam book.  The ghosts, witch and not-exactly-zombies are all part of his world, and all part of a sensitive, mature and hilarious narrative for kids and grown-ups alike.

Read the whole article about ParaNorman (and Frankeweenie) here: Separated at Death?

The Cabin in the Woods - 2012
Written by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon
Directed by Drew Goddard

Featuring: a little bit of everything

Five young people take a weekend trip to a... spa in Fresno -- no wait, that doesn't make sense ... oh right -- a cabin in the woods on an ill-fated trip as they have done since time immemorial (or at least the 70s -- young people have such bad memories).  What's different about this outing is that it's aware of all those other doomed weekends, and it's aware that YOU'RE aware, and aware that you're aware that IT'S aware.  So the first act plays along with the tropes, the second act bends them, and the third act goes meta and all Hell breaks loose.  That's where ALL the monsters are hiding.  If I'm being dodgy, it's because I just want you to see it for yourself.

Frankenweenie - 2012
see link for writing credits
Directed by Tim Burton

Featuring: Frankenstein's dog, Vampire cat, Were-rat, a Gamera-esque giant turtle & more

A kid named Victor Frankenstein loses his dog in an accident and decides to bring it back to life.  He succeeds, and things go well for him for a while.  Eventually, the kids from school find out and they all want their dead pets back too.  This goes... less well, and the results are monstrous.

Frankenweenie was a cute enough film, but it felt to me like it was Tim Burton trying to do Tim Burton, and the whole thing went down a kind of Malkovich rabbit-hole of recycled self-reference.  Obviously it stomps all over Hotel Transylvania like the box turtle turned Gamera, but it can't measure up to the extraordinary ParaNorman.

Check out the fuller-length article at Separated at Death?

Underworld: Awakening - 2012
see link for writing team
Directed by Mans Marlind & Bjorn Stein

Featuring vampires, werewolves, and something new

Following Underworld's flashback episode in Rise of the Lycans, the series goes back to the future, skipping over most of the established mythos and jumping to a time where the vampires and lycans have been exposed to the world and are hunted by humans living in a virtual police state.  Selene escapes from a science lab where she has been kept in hibernation while humans experimented on her.  Once free, she tours the new world while keeping a step ahead of the various interests and agendas of which this new world is comprised.  As it turns out, she has a daughter with her own blend of powers, and it's up to Selene to rescue her from those dirty, rotten scientists.  The narrative is certainly more compelling than in Rise, and new ideas are injected, but it always seems limiting when a series jumps into the future.  I suppose it's assumed that at 40, Beckinsale isn't going to be able to rock the skin-tight dominatrix gear indefinitely.  Rumor is that a fifth film will start to shift the focus to Selene & Michael's daughter.

Monsters Anonymous - 2012
Song by Kevin Hearn

Hotel Transylvania - 2012
Written by Peter Baynham & Robert Smigel
Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

Featuring: a little bit of everything

Curse my sense of fairness!  I have bashed Hotel Transylvania in the past despite the fact that I hadn't seen it, simply because it had Adam Sandler playing the voice of Dracula (and lots of other castings that place celebrity over quality), and I was prepared to do the same again, but my nagging conscience talked me into giving it a chance just in case it wasn't as bad as I had assumed.

Stupid conscience.

To tell you the truth, it wasn't quite as bad as I feared, but in a year that saw THREE undead-themed animated features, it is definitely the one that should have been run out of town with pitchforks and torches.  Adam Sandler is, indeed, as truly awful as I feared.  In fact, since he and I are close in age, I have made a pledge to take better care of my health, simply so that I may one day live in a world that no longer has Adam Sandler in it.  Unfortunately, he's in almost every scene of the movie, so even in the brief moments of respite, the Sandler Brand of stupidity pervades.  Dracula is the same kind of a-hole that Sandler plays in all his films.  He's a selfish, petty and manipulative liar (but still a "good" guy, really!), then "learns" a schmaltzy and hollow "lesson" (as a result of hurting others) which makes him feel bad, so it's totally okay and he promises he'll never be an a-hole again, this time.  So that gets all over the story about a Dracula that's over-protective of his daughter and caught up in a snowball of lies.  There's also a whole element of the story that hinges on the "zing" of love at first sight (which can never happen again), which is just stupidly wrong and irresponsible to be putting in a story that so strongly wears its intention to convey lessons to children.  Worse yet, that "zing" element leads to a musical number with a rapping Dracula.  Yeah, I said "rapping Dracula" in a 2012 movie.  That's what we're dealing with here.

So, Sandler; bad.  Story; stupid and full of lies.  Jokes, barely approach humor, but at least there's a lot of them!  Voice casting; terrrrrbile.  Art & animation; ah, now here we have a truly mixed bag.  The art is pretty basic CGI fare with everything looking like plastic.  It's even lit like a sit-com rather than a monster classic, which just seems like a hugely wasted opportunity.  The animation is energetic and fluid, however.  If Pixar is the modern analogue to classic Disney, and most of the other studios are competing to be the Warner Brothers in the pack, then Hotel Transylvania is the MGM of the later 50s and 60s.  It's uninspired slapstick with nothing much else to offer.  It's a shame, really.  Director Genndy Tartakovsky has been responsible for some truly clever & stylish projects in the past (Star Wars: Clone Wars, Samurai Jack, etc.) but it feels like this one got away from him thanks to producers (including Sandler) who know less about doing his job than he does.  Perhaps I'm being unfair.  Starting with a screenplay by guys behind Borat and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, I suppose there was only so much anyone could have done with it.  Where a truly good movie for children and families (Pixar, Disney, Laika) will deal with universal themes that resonate for kids and adults alike, and pepper it with humor borne out of story and character, Hotel Transylvania is one of those that separates its audience, with the dumb stuff getting a pass because it's for kids (who are assumed to be at least as dumb) and winking/smirking gags thrown in for the adults who got dragged along.

Here's the part where I play fair.  Kevin James as Frankenstein (Frankenstein's Monster, really, but you try and tell 'em) was not one of the worst things about the movie.  Now, Ian McShane or Jonathan Banks would have been brilliant but I'm just working with what's here.  He has a monologue about monsters toward the end which actually has some emotional content and he sells it.  The character designs strike me as lazy, but they're not bad, per se.  They're varied and graphical.  There is a lot of fan service for monster buffs like myself.  One of the biggest heartbreaks occurs during the credits, which use what appears to be concept art in the background  The concept art is GORGEOUS and suggests the potential for a MUCH better movie, which was then strangled in its crib by jealous godparents.

Ninjas vs Monsters - 2013
Written & Directed by Justin Timpane

Ninjas (third in a series) versus a collection of classic monsters.

Yeah, that happened.

Gingerdead Man vs Evil Bong - 2013
Written by Kent Roudebush
Directed by Charles Band

Featuring: a gingerbread cookie possessed by the spirit of Gary Busey's teeth and a... an... evil bong

So, first of all, yes, these are things that actually exist and furthermore, each have 3 movies under their respective belts -- and then they crossed over.  Gingerdead Man was once a serial killer who was electrocuted and cremated, and then his mother scattered his ashes in a wheat field, which I guess is how his spirit made it into a gingerbread cookie.  Then the cookie started stabbing people.  Meanwhile, some college kids ordered a bong on Ebay and it turned out to speak like a stereotypical "sassy black woman" and also, you know, evil.  When people smoke from the Evil Bong (AKA "Eebee") they are sucked into "the Bong World" where their fantasies become real... and then try to kill them.

You want to know how I know all of this without having ever watched either series until the crossover?  Because the crossover spends about half of its running time flashing back to all six of its predecessors.  In fact, it spends so much time with exposition that it runs out of time to actually do anything.  By the time both baddies are on the loose, the protagonists have to quickly smoke their way into the Bong World to escape the Gingerdead Man.  He follows them in.  Then someone tells them how to get out, and they get out.  That's about it, discounting all the weird and unpleasant characters..

It's evident that GMvsEB is trying to tap that low-budget "so bad it's good" market, but it becomes so self-consciously bad that it ends up being so bad it's bad.  Bad.  SO bad.  Even the gratuitous boobs are bad.  It's not only an insult to pot heads, it's a slander upon low budget horror and even to monster mash-ups, which as we've just seen here, is a pretty low bar to slide under.

I, Frankenstein - 2014
Written & Directed by Stuart Beattie
from the Comic Book by Kevin Grevioux

Featuring: Frankenstein's Monster, demons & gargoyles

I. Frankenstein doesn't ask much from us, but what it does ask is that we accept a few conceits that might seem silly.  If we can accept these things, then everything is going to be just fine and the movie will throw a bunch of entertainment at our faces.  If, for some reason, we decide that we're more interested in finding things to complain about, then the movie will hand us that instead.

The premise we're asked to accept is that Frankenstein's Monster lived.  That shouldn't be too hard.  We've been accepting that premise for more than 70 years now.  Then, upon interring his creator's body in the family plot, the monster is attacked by demons intent on his capture.  Okay, that's a new twist.  Before you can take a deep breath and come to peace with this twist, there's another -- gargoyles swoop in and finish off the demons, then reveal themselves in human form.  They are essentially angels in earthbound form, fighting the eternal battle in this mortal realm.  Okay, that's a lot to take in.  You thought this was going to be a Frankenstein movie, and much of it still is, but the machinery that makes it run relies heavily on this good gargoyles vs evil demons premise, and if you can't get with that, you're not going to experience the fun there is to be had.

See, I, Frankenstein comes from a lot of the same people behind the Underworld films, including being adapted from a comic book written by Kevin Grevioux who played a werewolf in at least two of them.  That heritage shows.  I,F bears many similarities to Underworld, with the eternal battle between two armies (neither of which is to be trusted) and a strange creation caught between them.  All of this is terribly stylish, taking place during a seemingly endless night, with lots of moody posturing.  Bill Nighy shows up to seethe and menace, thus completing the family resemblance.

As in the early Universal crossovers, Frankenstein's journal is central to the plot and the reckless pursuit of life beyond death.  After going into hiding for 200 years, the monster, bearing the name Adam, has returned to the civilized world, taking the battle back to the demons who never stopped looking for him.  This also brings him back to the attention of the gargoyles.  Behind the scenes, the demons have been researching the science of reanimation, and the latest pawn in their employ is a supermodel-hot scientist (because movies).  When Adam gets a look at their operation, he discovers racks and racks of dead bodies, just waiting to be reanimated.  So the question becomes, what exactly is the plan with all those bodies, because that just can't be good, and how is Adam going to stop said plan with the armies of Heaven and Hell both riding his ass?  The answer is a whole bunch of blazing action with frequent bouts of slo-mo.

Like many of the monster mash-ups, we can ask if it's silly or if it's fun, and the answer to both (as it often is) is yes.  I am kind of getting the feeling that these producers would score a little more fan appreciation if they didn't take their silliness quite SO seriously.

UPDATE 7-2-2014

Penny Dreadful - 2014-ongoing
Created by John Logan

Featuring: Vampires, Frankenstein's Monsters, Dorian Gray, demon possession and a Werewolf (so far!)

Penny Dreadful is faithful to its namesake inspiration, the penny dreadful pulp fiction leaflets of Victorian England, combining sex, horror and operatic melodrama.  In concept, the series might bring images of Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to mind.  It weaves characters and situations from various Gothic horrors together into a single narrative, but it does so in its own way.  Specifically, we get pieces of Shelley's Frankenstein, Stoker's Dracula and Wilde's Dorian Gray, amongst other nods to the era.

The unifying narrative concerns the efforts of Mina Harker's father, Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) and her childhood best friend, Vanessa (Eva Green) in their efforts to track her down and rescue her from the vampires who have captured her.  Toward this end, they have enlisted the aid of a haunted but ambitious young doctor, Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and a Buffalo Bill-wannabe sharpshooter from a wild west show, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett).  Each of the characters has their own plot-threads to sew, and they often snag upon Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney).  It makes for a pretty full plate, and the producers don't appear to be in any rush to clean it, even going back to the buffet for extra helpings before they've finished what they have.

If things get overwrought, well, they're supposed to.  If some of the sex seems gratuitous, it's part of the show, folks.  Penny Dreadful makes no secret of its Grand Guignol roots.  Quite the opposite, in fact, it brandishes them, making the Grand Guignol theater a major crossroads for story elements.  Where Penny Dreadful could stand to learn a few things from the bloody melodramas, however, is in getting to the point.  There is a tendency to draw things out much longer than is necessary.  I get that this is a Showtime drama, and we're expecting a little more depth of character, but there were many places where redundancy and delayed revelations became irritating.  A bottle episode just before the first season finale had me barking at the TV like a ginned-up groundling, and a major reveal in the finale had been fairly evident (to me, at least) since the first or second episode.  At least I got to chuckle at the allusions along the way.

That's not a big complaint, mind you, but it's a noticeable source of annoyance.  Obviously I wasn't too put-off, given that I binge watched the entire first season in one sitting.  I'm sure to be back for more.  I fully expect a mummy to turn up ere long

So what, if anything, have we learned?

Well, first I learned that watching a bunch of Frankenstein movies will give me really weird dreams.  Then I learned that watching Godzilla movies for a week will make me want to roar at challenges when I get the upper hand.

But about the odd little library of The Monster Mash-Ups, I learned a few things too.  I learned to be careful what we wish for; that a cool idea won't necessary lead to a cool reality unless you take the time, effort and creativity to make it good.  I learned that entertainment products that poach public domain characters that others have made popular most often shows a fundamental misallocation of priorities.  I learned just how little respect there is for the intelligence of children by Hollywood, and even worse, that there are a whole lot of parents who respect it even less, since they willingly throw their kids to these wolves.  Sadder still, I learned that some people will get nostalgic over ANYTHING, no matter how bad, indicating a frightening lack of personal growth.  I learned that the best way to pay homage to the things that one loved as a child is to respect them, but not to overly revere them, and the best results will come from building a new mythology of one's own that taps into what we loved, but repurposes it for the different world we live in now.

Like Dr Frankenstein making his monster, we can choose useful pieces of the past and stitch them together with care, or we can take a haphazard approach, throwing any old brain into the creature.  A beast with a great heart can be a creation of horrible beauty, but one with a discount brain is just going to end badly for everyone.

...especially the children.

That wraps up the movies and TV, but if you continue reading, we'll take a look at video games, children's books and more in The Monster Mash-Ups - Part 8: Choice Cuts!

Or, if you're new here, you can take it from the top with The Monster Mash-Ups - Part 1: the 1940s & 50s!


  1. To be fair, Genndy Tartakovsky took over Hotel Transylvania after a significant portion of the movie was already in development. His best contribution is the 2D animated short that accompanies the DVD about Bigfoot trying to get some sleep.

    1. That tracks. It was clear that his directorial influence had been subverted one way or another.