From magic lantern phantasmagoria to Universal Classic Monsters to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the monster mash has always been a popular subcategory within horror. But what makes a mash-up? The terminology comes from music, but remix horror can be found in film, literature, television, and many other media. In form, mash-ups are the Gothic ‘monsters’ of our age—hybrid creations that lurk at the limits of responsible consumption and acceptable appropriation. Like monsters, mashups offer audiences the thrill of transgression in a relatively safe and familiar format. And like other popular texts, mashups are often read by critics as a sign of the artistic and moral degeneration of contemporary culture.
This talk will focus on three key moments in the history of the monster mash, beginning by briefly exploring Gothic traditions of mashup and intertextuality in 18th-century novels. These texts and techniques are taken up in magic lantern performances and other media. Next we will link these practices to a discussion of Universal Studios, who industrialized and commercialised the monster mashup in films like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), The House of Frankenstein (1944), and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), paving the way for later film franchises to capitalise on remix techniques and shared universes. Universal’s Monsters also prefigure the horror of the more recent literary mashups and ‘Frankenfictions’, our third and final example. From Anno Dracula (1992) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (1999-2019) to Hotel Transylvania (2012) and Penny Dreadful (2014-2016), the monster mashup is everywhere in the twenty-first century, manifesting in new and interesting ways. While we can certainly see similarities between all these examples, each also has its own origins and copyright histories in different media.
What has taken this genre from the margins to the mainstream? For the most part monster mashups remix not to transform, but to highlight a frighteningly unchanging status quo—reminding us that Gothic fears ultimately ‘derive from our inability to convince ourselves that we have really escaped from the tyrannies of the past’ (Baldick 1992, xxii). Despite (or perhaps because of) their derivative natures, there is a lot these texts can teach us about the history of the horror industry. Repetition and recombination can have a critical function, indicating when a particular theme, form, or interpretation has begun to lose its power. Amidst a twenty-first-century resurgence in cerebral, original horror, monster mash-ups may not seem to offer any meaningful commentary on our socio-political reality, but as each of the examples in this talk will show, they can help us to reveal and remix the most fundamental structures of the status quo.
Dr Megen de Bruin-Molé is a Lecturer in Digital Media Practice at the University of Southampton. She writes and speaks about contemporary adaptation, remix culture, and popular identity politics. She is the author of Gothic Remixed (Bloomsbury, 2020), and the editor of Embodying Contagion (UWP, 2021) and the Genealogy of the Posthuman (criticalposthumanism.net). Read more about her work at frankenfiction.com.
About the Miskatonic Institute:
Founded by Film writer/programmer Kier-La Janisse in 2010, The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies offers classes in horror history, theory and production, with branches in London, New York and Los Angeles, as well as hosting special events worldwide.