Revisiting Classic Monsters

King Kong is back. This time he’s on ‘Skull Island’ with a stellar cast (including John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Tom Hiddleston), but I’m not excited about this new, and probably not improved, visit to a classic monster. I’ll see it—eventually—on a plane when I can’t sleep…. You get the picture. It folded quickly in the theaters and now haunts my Netflix queue, hovering with lack of interest.

Sometimes it’s best to leave the old monsters alone.

And then there are times when a re-write or remake or revisit is an inspired leap for monster lovers. I enjoyed Showtime’s ‘Penny Dreadful’—the much lamented, often despised, TV series that created a mash-up of Dracula, Frankenstein, and assorted classics in heightened, and often erudite, stew of craziness. Any series that introduces an alienist (the precursor of a psychoanalyst) played by Patti LuPone has got to be worth seeing. It disappeared after a few enigmatic seasons.

I want to give all monster revisits a try, but I’m often put off by the very hype that is supposed to inspire monster lovers to rush to theaters or to download Kindle copies of new books. I can’t tell you the number of new Dracula-inspired novels that I’ve read—or tried to read. It’s sobering. Is my own Dracula-inspired novella OK? I think so. I also know that I made strategic choices when setting it in contemporary New York and, with one eye on the original and the other on a divergent storyline.

I think that’s where an amazing number of revisits fail to deliver. If the objective is to recreate the language, tension, setting, and characters of a classic book or film, the bar is just too high. Dressing up a classic with a few 21st Century technology details or with the consciousness of contemporary ideas is not enough. The revisit must be original in its own way.

I guess that’s why I’m wary of the periodic rise of Kong. Maybe I’m still recovering from the 1976 incarnation with Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, and another cast of stellar talents?

I can see the top of the Empire State Building from my roof. No Kong, but still a part of Classic Monster History.


  1. As a sci-fi fan and HUGE devotee of the late Frank Herbert, I watched every version of Dune that hit the big screen, or small, and they were all dreadful. And yes I know that if another version came out, I’d probably still watch it, at least once.
    I’m not sure how any screenwriter could put a new, original and enjoyable spin on Dune, but I keep hoping.
    As for your take on Dracula, it’s always been my favourite of all your Monsters, perhaps because it kept me guessing from start to finish. 🙂

    • Candy Korman

      I agree about Dune… a film/video version has yet to become the definitive interpretation.

      It’s weird but some of the most iconic filmed versions of classic horror, adventure, science fiction, mystery, and other genre stories diverge from the original books in fundamental ways and still become the best interpretation, best reflection of the spirit of the original book. The TV series version of Wolf Hall was faithful to the book, had a great cast (including Mark Rylance one of the greatest actors of our time) and yet I felt like I was watching paint dry, very, very, very slooooooowly. The theatrical version (went from the West End to Broadway) with two parts—yes two nights of theater— was amazing! It moved quickly through the machinations of the royal court without losing the intensity of the characters. Sometimes getting it right means leaving things out, focusing on a different aspect of the story, or simply employing a dual story line (my gambit) in which there’s the classic story that is familiar and the original story side-by-side.

      You’ll keep trying with DUNE because maybe the next one will get it right! Perhaps it’ll be less faithful to the book in a page-by-page manner and more faithful to the spirit of the story?