Face-Off: The Mummy 1999 vs. The Wolfman 2010

Universal is undertaking a massive endeavor with the crafting of their Dark Universe, a new shared cinematic universe that will be built out of reboots of their classic monster properties. The monster mash begins with this weekend's release of THE MUMMY. But, of course, this new take on THE MUMMY isn't the first time Universal has put out a monster reboot. In anticipation of the beginning of the Dark Universe, we decided to take a look back at two of Universal's previous monster story re-tellings, the 1999 version of THE MUMMY and the 2010 remake of THE WOLFMAN. Which one did a better job of bringing its monster to a new audience?
Writer/director Stephen Sommers stayed true to the concepts of previous Mummy movies while mixing in Indiana Jones-style adventure. Which makes sense - Indy is an archaeologist, Mummy movies tend to have archaeologists in them, so why not blend the two? Sommers' take on the idea adds a lengthy expedition in front of a story that draws inspiration from THE MUMMY 1932 but is much more action-packed and comedic. It was a clever way to update a classic tale for modern audiences.
THE WOLFMAN is a direct remake of 1941's THE WOLF MAN, but screenwriters Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self expanded Curt Siodmak's original story by digging deeper into the characters, adding layers to them and complicating their relationships with each other. Their story also branches out in some new directions, keeping viewers familiar with THE WOLF MAN '41 interested by throwing in unexpected twists. It's a very respectful rewrite, faithful but still its own thing.
Arnold Vosloo plays the same character Boris Karloff portrayed in 1932 - Imhotep, a High Priest in ancient Egypt whose forbidden love for a woman named Anck-su-namun leads to his demise. When he is resurrected (at first so rotten that he's a CGI creation) in 1926, he seeks to bring Anck-su-namun back as well. Unfortunately, that will mean the death of our heroine. Much more powerful than his predecessor, verging on too powerful, this Imhotep has the ability to control sand and brings with him the ten plagues - blood water, insects, sores, fiery hail, the whole bit. Despite this, he's not very intimidating.
Benicio del Toro takes over for Lon Chaney Jr. in the iconic role of Lawrence Talbot, the unlucky fellow who becomes the titular beast. Chaney made Talbot very easy to sympathize with, and even though del Toro's Talbot goes through more intense ordeals, I never connected with him the way I did with Chaney. His transformation into a wolf creature is somewhat marred by noticeable CGI, but once he's in full wolf mode he is pretty incredible to look at. Rampaging through the countryside, he's also exactly the sort of terrifying wild beast he should be. The way the wolf man is presented in this film is really great.
Here's an issue I have with THE MUMMY '99; it's a very light-hearted and family friendly picture, and at times can get a bit too silly for my taste. There are some moments of darkness, but there's always another attempt at drawing chuckles right around the corner. It's a rather goofy movie, and its sense of humor makes me groan more often than it makes me laugh.
The opposite of THE MUMMY '99, THE WOLFMAN is an extremely dark and somber movie, so much so that it took me a couple attempts at watching it before I could really get into it - it's so downbeat that I found it sort of dull to sit through. It's commendable that the filmmakers took the material so seriously, but I'm not sure it needed to be quite this depressing.
This is a movie that has a walking corpse sucking the life force out of people, flesh-hungry scarabs crawling under people's skin and devouring them to the bone, hordes of mummy-serving zombies going after our heroes, and bandage-wrapped mummies gathering around to witness a human sacrifice... and yet it always feels like a movie that would be just fine for a young child to watch. After all, this film and its sequel were followed by a Mummy animated series. The horror is never too horrific, except for maybe one moment in which it's revealed that the rotten mummy has stolen a man's eyes and tongue so it can see and speak. That scene actually is kind of creepy.
Director Joe Johnston captured a wonderful classic horror atmosphere with the "wolf on the rampage" sequences, shrouding the wilderness in fog and then setting the wolf man loose in it. When the wolf man starts attacking people, the film reaches a level of violence that the classic films never dared to - guts are torn out, limbs are ripped off, heads are detached from shoulders with one swipe of the wolf man's clawed hand. THE WOLFMAN was rated R, and Johnston took advantage of that rating to deliver some impressive, crowd-pleasing gore. The horror here isn't all about the violence, though. The movie also unsettles with a heavy psychological aspect.
THE MUMMY is built on romance, as it all goes back to the undying love Imhotep has for Anck-su-namun. However, they were both evil, murderous people (and Imhotep still is), so that love story isn't all that heart-warming. So in the midst of all the monster action, a more charming romance starts to develop: the opposites attract love story of rogue hero Rick O'Connell and bookish Evie Carnahan. They butt heads at first, but then start to fall for each other, and soon enough Rick is going to great lengths to risk his life so he can save Evie from this supernatural evil.
The rule here, as it was in previous WOLF MAN movies, is that the wolf man can only be killed by someone who loves him. Because of that, a love story is a very necessary part of the film, and the romance we watch bloom happens between Talbot and Gwen Confliffe, his late brother's fiancée (his brother was killed by a different werewolf). That family connection complicates things at first, but Talbot and Gwen gradually bond and fall in love. Gwen tries her best to figure out how to help him, but there's not much that can be done to cure this curse.
This was a tough battle between iconic monsters, and one I would love to see play out on screen. The Wolfman's claws slashing up the Mummy's bandages - think about it, Universal. The toughest category to decide was "Tone". Which do I pick when I have issues with both? One I find too light, the other I find too dour. My indecision there helped THE WOLFMAN pull off the win.

Are you glad THE WOLFMAN won, or do you think THE MUMMY should have won? Share your thoughts on these films, the Universal Monsters in general, and the Dark Universe plans by leaving a comment below. If you have suggestions for future Face-Off articles, you can contact me at [email protected].



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