Famous monsters of filmland 

What happens when you remake celebrated monster movies? This week we look at the famous monsters of filmland and some notable follow-ups to their cinematic breakthroughs.

The Wolfman, an R-rated remake of the 1941 Lon Chaney, Jr. creature feature, opens Friday. The sneak preview is after NUVO's deadline, which is why I'm reflecting instead of reviewing. Benicio del Toro stars as Lawrence Talbot/the Wolfman, with Anthony Hopkins as his dad, Emily Blunt as the love interest and Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) as the investigator of the murders.

Impressive cast, even if the notion of Anthony Hopkins being Benico del Toro's pappy seems like a stretch. The good news is that del Toro was determined to maintain the integrity of the Chaney film (which was preceded by a 1924 silent film, but we're only dealing with the well-known productions here). The bad news is that the film was first scheduled for release in 2008, only to be delayed by crew changes, rewrites, reshoots, and several more rescheduled dates before finally landing in the winter of 2010. Can the movie capture the rich, moody atmosphere of the Chaney version and the actor's portrayal of the tortured man/beast? Probably not, but let's hope for the best anyway.

My favorite follow-up to The Wolfman remains 1981's An American Werewolf in London, directed by John Landis and starring David Naughton, Griffin Dunne and Jenny Agutter. The peculiar comedy-drama is far from an official remake, but it manages to be appropriately scary and feral while also pulling off a number of riotously funny scenes. Best line: A recent slaughtered gentleman confronts the young fellow that killed him, crisply stating, "I am a victim of your carnivorous lunar activities."

Another classic that received the comedy homage treatment is James Whale's 1931 adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, his even better 1935 follow-up. Everybody and his brother has done their take on the films, but the most satisfying is Mel Brooks' 1974 comedy Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder as Dr. Frankenstein and Peter Boyle taking over for Boris Karloff as the Monster. The film works so well because in addition to being a genuinely funny parody, it also is a wonderful homage, with gorgeous black and white imagery that does James Whale's proud.

Boris Karloff also played the monster in 1932's The Mummy, which was sluggish, but scary (much like the Mummy himself). Christopher Lee starred in the 1959 Hammer Films take, but the most well-known version isn't really a remake at all. 1999's The Mummy, starring Brendan Fraser, is just an big, noisy knock-off of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film was a massive success, spawning two crappy sequels.

1933's The Invisible Man, directed by James Whale and starring Claude Rains, was a well-done adaptation of H.G. Wells' 1897 novella. 1992's Memoirs of an Invisible Man, starring Chevy Chase, attempted to modernize the story while mixing in humor and action. It didn't work. The most high profile recent take on the character was Paul Verhoeven's 2000 exercise in creepiness, Hollow Man, starring Kevin Bacon as a thoroughly unpleasant scientist who gets homicidal when he turns invisible. The film has its moments, but Verhoeven's lack of subtlety/poetry sinks the production.

The most well-known follow-ups to 1933's groundbreaking King Kong are the godawful 1976 remake starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange (most cringe-inducing line: "You goddamn chauvinist pig ape!") and Peter Jackson's visually stunning, remarkably self-indulgent endurathon 2005 hit.

Noticing a pattern here? It appears that, with few exceptions, it's best to stick with the original. It even holds true for Godzilla. The 1956 American release, which wedged footage of Raymond Burr into the 1954 Japanese original, Gojira, featured a cool monster with a great roar, but the non-Godzilla scenes were dull. Compared to the 1998 remake starring Matthew Broderick, however, it was a masterpiece. I'd offer details of the remake, but just thinking about the movie makes me sad.

The Wolfman opens Friday. The original is widely available.

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