We live in a cinematic age, where big-budget blockbusters are adapted less often from great literature or venerated stage productions than from TV shows, comic books or video games. "Alien Vs. Predator" started off as a 1999 video game that pitted the two '80s horror movie creatures against each other. But it's certainly not the first time a movie studio has mixed monsters to milk money out of fading franchises. If you plunked down good money to watch Alien and Predator go toe-to-toe over the weekend, you might want to rewind through some of these classic clashes (or not, as you'll soon see).
In 1943 two of Universal Studios' famous monsters squared off in "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man," and initially their meeting was as cordial as it sounds. Bela "Dracula" Lugosi took over the role of the Frankenstein monster from Boris Karloff and was not nearly as effective, even against the fanged furball, played again by Lon Chaney. The movie resurrected both dead monsters, then united them in an effort to find a cure for the werewolf's curse (wouldn't just staying dead have worked?). Of course, since the Wolf Man only had an HMO, the effort was half-hearted and the whole thing ends in a big dam-busting mess.
Those two would meet again, but as part of a larger merging of franchises (yep, they had "franchises" back then, even though the marketing guys hadn't coined the term yet) in 1948's "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." Actually, the comedy duo met a whole cadre of Universal monsters, including Dracula, the Invisible Man and the Wolf Man. The entire plot boils down to "Bud doesn't notice the monster behind him, and Lou is scared stiff," but that doesn't keep it from being a hilarious mixture of comedy and chills. Abbott and Costello met other beasties in sequels (including the strangely titled "Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff"), but they weren't as successful as this first entry.
One of the most bizarre battles of the icons took place in the 1959 Mexican film "Santa Claus," wherein jolly old St. Nick takes on ... the devil! Less well known but far stranger than 1964's "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," this movie features a Santa that lives not at the North Pole, but outer space, and must team up with some kids (of course) and his roommate, Merlin the Magician (see? I told you!) to stop Pitch, the acid-reflux-suffering demon, from destroying Christmas. Featuring some disturbing effects, wild overacting and enough surrealism to make you hit the rewind button, this is quintessential "Mystery Science Theater 3000" material (and skewer it they did).
Godzilla pretty much made a career of being "vs." some atomic being or another, but in 1962 he took on the eighth wonder of the world in Toho/Universal's "King Kong Vs. Godzilla." The battle between the fire-breathing atomic lizard and the ... big ... monkey ... is more like a Kaiju Big Battel wrestling match (see "Kaiju Big Battel Mixes Movie Monsters, Wrestling To Conquer Universe" ) than an effects extravaganza, but that's no shock. What is surprising is that Godzilla loses to the American icon, showing a marked lack of cultural pride from the folks at Toho.
In 1966 someone decided to pit the prince of vampires against a gunslinger from the Old West, giving audiences the low-budget head-scratcher "Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula," and five years later a goateed, curly-haired Dracula squared off against a resurrected pile of spare human parts in 1971's "Dracula Vs. Frankenstein," a bizarre mixture of monsters, bikers, sex, drugs, carnies and puppies that defies description. But perhaps the most acclaimed battle movie ever came in 1979 when Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep tangled in "Kramer Vs. Kramer." Sadly, aside from making Hoffman seem of normal height, this movie is sorely lacking in exciting visual effects. Even though the entire film takes place in New York City, no buildings are destroyed, there's not one car chase, and the only excitement comes when a kid falls from a jungle gym on a playground. Pshhht. It's no surprise this franchise didn't last.
Last year's "Freddy Vs. Jason" was a much scarier fightfest, although the movie did disappoint fans of both the "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Friday the 13th" series. Aside from 11 years of development and over a dozen writers, the problem lied in the fear of New Line execs. Presumably afraid of alienating fans of one slasher or the other, the much-anticipated battle between Freddy and Jason ended essentially in a draw. It's surprising they didn't team up for the final reel to take down an Asian drug lord or some such "Lethal Weapon"-style plot.
That fear of declaring one fan fave the winner over another may be one of the reasons that Warner Bros. (crushing the dreams of fanboys everywhere) scuttled the planned "Batman Vs. Superman" movie last year. While common sense would indicate that Superman, the most powerful being on the planet, might have the edge over the non-superpowered Batman, Batman is more popular and hence would have to win. Plus, the only way to make that battle interesting would be for the dark horse (or Dark Knight) to somehow best the Man of Steel (something he's done in the comics numerous times over the years when things went south for the Super Friends).
If "AVP" proves to be a blockbuster, will it lead the way for more big-screen team-ups? Will the real sharks in "Open Water" take on the mechanical Bruce from "Jaws?" Will Hellboy meet the Exorcist? How about "Terminator 4: Meet Michael Moore." Who knows, maybe some studio is currently in negotiations to bring "Hilary Duff Vs. Lindsay Lohan" to a multiplex near you. Now that would be a battle!