Do the Monster Mash: Universal’s “Classic Monsters” and the Industrialization of the Gothic Transmedia Franchise

Almost two years after I announced I was writing it, my chapter in Gothic Mash-Ups: Hybridity, Appropriation, and Intertextuality in Gothic Storytelling is now out with Rowman & Littlefield (EU) / Lexington Books (USA)!

My chapter, ‘Do the Monster Mash: Universal’s “Classic Monsters” and the Industrialization of the Gothic Transmedia Franchise’, takes the Universal Monsters as a prime case of early Gothic transmedia and mashup, as well as highlighting the importance of unoriginality to Gothic storytelling more broadly. From the introduction:

When we think of the modern digital mash-up, Universal’s Classic Monsters of the 1930s may at first be far from our minds. In fact, thinking of Universal’s films as monster ‘mashes’ or ‘mash-ups’ at all is something relatively new. It was only in the 2000s, for instance, that the term mash-up became “widely used” not just in reference to music, but “in conjunction with a variety of other media forms made from extant media” (Borschke 2017, 46). These terms have never really been applied to the studio’s horror adaptations of the 1930s, and the studio’s multi-monster films of the 1940s and 50s were originally referred to as “Super-Shocker[s],” or later as “monster rall[ies]” rather than mashes (Scott 1944, 5; Weaver, Brunas, and Brunas 2007, loc 1562). Despite recent attempts to historicize it (see Willis 2016; Freeman 2016; Pearson 2017) transmedia is likewise a relatively new term, and as a concept it is reliant on modern media processes of industrialization, consumer culture, and regulation (Freeman 2016, 44). Yet, if we think about Gothic mash-up as a “propensity […] to make new stories out of older ones” as this edited collection proposes, Universal monsters become a logical touchstone for present-day mash-up and transmedia culture. Not only did most of these films start out as multimedia adaptations or appropriations themselves, they have been reimagined, rebooted, and remixed many times since they first graced the silver screen.

Focusing on Universal Studios’ curation and cultivation of the Classic Monsters brand from the 1930s through to the early twenty-first century, then, this chapter gives an overview of the brand’s evolution from successful standalone horror adaptations to a monster mash comedy franchise, and then to its self-recycling and mash-up in later films, in television, and in off-screen merchandising and entertainment. Through its analysis of this history, the chapter argues that Universal Studios effectively industrialized the monster mash-up. Not only did it set a precedent for how later film franchises would capitalize on mash-up and other recombinant strategies, it offers one of the earliest cinematic examples of configurable or transmedia storytelling in the age of media conglomerates and convergence.

Find the full table of contents, reviews, and more on the publisher’s website.

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