Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Monster Team-up Reflection #4: Wolfman vs Dracula

I get a kick out of the alternate-history idea of movies and franchises…generally. I guess it comes down to how bad I might feel once I learn I’ve been fooled. Fortunately, I leapt in on the Orson Welles Batman movie-hoax well after it was exposed. On the other hand,  when I once searching for some general King Kong info, I came across what appeared to be a new film on the making of Dino Kong, starring Danny DeVito as De Laurentiis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Rick Backer, I thought--gosh, oh-gee, a monster-movie "Fitzcaraldo! This is going to be mega-cool, only then to be devastatingly disappointed to find it only an affable ploy.
Now we have a series of "altnerate-history" scripts that have emerged (some reportedly early drafts or unfilmed concepts) courtesy of author Phillip J. Riley, with the concensus of one in particular being questionable; though, indeed, "Wolfman vs Dracula" may have truly stemmed from actual Universal Studios consideration, since it appears (based on at least one informative blog I read), the NY Times reported the studio green-lighting such as a Technicolor follow-up to "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman" in early 1944. However, as often happens with such ambitious prospects (e.g., Willis O'Brien's "King Kong vs Frankenstein" and RKO's "Mighty Joe Young Meets Tarzan"), it is only ever the grand premise that seems to have emerged and not a full-fledge script.
What Riley presents (with the common belief being that he composed the manuscript himself) is attributed to scriptwriter Bernard Schubert: something which certainly jives with the NY Times article. Schubert, incidentally, scripted Tod Browning's "London After Midnight" remake, "Mark of the Vampire", with Lugosi, and would go on to script "Frozen Ghost" and "Mummy's Curse", both starring Chaney Jr.
Important note: many have criticized the opening of "Mummy's Curse" for commencing with Kharis and Ananka emerging from a Louisiana bog, whereas the previous entry, "Mummy's Ghost", ends twenty-five years prior, with the two descending into a Massachusetts swamp. That the "Wolf vs Drac" script opens with Talbot's preserved body found in a location other than the collapsed Castle Frankenstein (the site where "Frank Meets Wolf" ends, and rather in a spot closer to Talbot's circumstance at the end of "House of Frank") arguably fits into Schubert's continuity style, and maybe this plot device is contained in "Wolf vs Drac" for this very in-the-know reason. (Also, the script has Dracula enter the story already resurrected; his return from dormancy never remotely explained.)
Despite the missing bridges between events in "Frank Meets Wolf" to "Wolf vs Drac", the latter projects a familiar, Universal story structure, with dialogue that matches Talbot and Dracula perfectly, to the point where I could actually hear Chaney Jr. and Lugosi's voices in my head as I read.
Also, the story brings Talbot and Dracula gradually together via seemingly fated means, with Talbot transmforing after being awakened from suspended animation and trekking to the vicinity of an executioner's home. Since Tablot can only be killed by a silver bullet when in werewolf form, he ultimately requests the hangman to perform the ghastly deed, but the poor man is reluctant, thinking Talbot mad. The hangman's daughter, meanwhile, is being courted by none other than Count Dracula. (Evidently, her father doesn't object to Dracula's suspicious advances, realizing that other male villagers will not entertain marrying his daughter, simply because they hold a superstitious aversion to his morbid occupation.)
In hopes of prompting the father into killing him, Talbot runs off with the young lady, and they return wedded. Dracula naturally takes offense to this brash move, and from there, his adversarial relationship with Talbot mounts, ultimately culminating in an inevitable confrontation, with Talbot gallantly defending his new love, while Dracula adapts full man-bat form.
Indeed, the man-bat concept is reminiscent of Gary Oldman's brief, but memorable transformation in "Bram Stoker's Dracula", as well as Greg Wise's demon-bat persona in "House of Frank '97", and of course, smacks of the infamous Batman villain/monster. (I must wholeheartedly confess that I boldly play upon the idea in my upcoming novel, "Flask of Eyes", with the lead vampire also adapting a similar hybrid look.) 
The latter device does seem rather modern, though, and not so much in synch with Universal's otherwise bat-morphing approach to the vampire king, but if it had been implemented, it would have proven most interesting to see what Jack Pierce's make-up/suit may have looked like for Lugosi (or even his possible stand-in), or if the flying sequences were pulled off, whether animation or puppetry would have been utilized.
Anyway, genuine Schubert or not, I found "Wolf vs Drac" a fun read, though I must confess, the ending, despite its bristling energy, wasn't quite what I expected. Nonetheless, I was able to fashion another Universal, Chaney/Lugosi flick in my head. That, in itself, makes Riley's offering worth a whirl, and for the breezy time in which it took to read, I found my time more than well spent.

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