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SYFY WIRE Universal Monsters

As Nic Cage takes on Dracula, remembering the most creative riffs on Universal Monsters in cinema

Here's a collection of Universal Monsters-inspired films that go perfectly with Renfield

By Tara Bennett
Nicolas Cage in Renfield (2023)

It's been 92 years since the first live-action cinematic adaptations of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein changed film forever. Not only did the 1931 films establish the Universal Studios Monsters pantheon, but they remain forever classics that just keep giving to this day. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Universal Studios made sequels to Dracula and Frankenstein, and introduced films for The Invisible ManThe Phantom of the OperaThe Wolf Man, and The Mummy. 

RELATED: 'Nosferatu the Vampyre,' now streaming on Peacock, is the perfect film to watch ahead of 'Renfield'

And every one of those creatures has since inspired new generations of filmmakers to add their vision and voices to the classic monsters, ensuring those pinnacle horror icons never become stale or forgotten. The release of Renfield on April 14 — director Chris McKay and writer Ryan Ridley's contemporary take on Dracula and his subservient familiar — represents another opportunity to refresh the vampire mythology. The film frames Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) as a sympathetic figure and redefines 'ole Drac (Nicolas Cage) as a timeless narcissist co-dependent on his lackey.

It's a new spin that's totally working for critics and early audiences, and got SYFY WIRE thinking about other adaptations of the Universal Monsters that gave all those creatures a new burst of life, and in some cases, even rivaled the originals. 

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Writer/director Mel Brooks and co-writer/star Gene Wilder went the parody route with Young Frankenstein. A black and white love letter to the original Universal Studios monster films, this film gloriously reproduces the production values and heightened tone of the classics while also poking a lot of fun at their characters, tropes and logic flaws. Arguably a perfect film, Brooks and his entire cast of sublime comedians made a movie that reached instant classic status upon release.

The Mummy (1999)

Writer/director Stephen Sommers made a totally satisfying throwback homage to classic adventure serials with The Mummy in 1999. By shooting in real exotic locales, going for broke with grand production scale and utilizing excellent contemporary special effects for the time, The Mummy feels like a movie that was somehow magically plucked right from the '30s and plonked into the late '90s. Plus, the acting trio of Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and John Hannah are the definition of perfect cinematic chemistry. Don't curse us, but we stand by our opinion that this is the definitive mummy movie. 

The Invisible Man (2020)

With 2020's The Invisible Man, writer/director Leigh Whannell and actress Elisabeth Moss reframed the Invisible Man character as a monster for contemporary audiences, especially for women. Always a bit of a creeper character, in this take, the Invisible Man (as played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is at his most chilling as an abusive, controlling partner. Jealous and sociopathic, he gaslights Moss' character to become a shell of her former self in order to keep her under his thumb. Having him slink in and out of her life to torture her is the stuff of modern days classics, with a feminist twist that opens the story up for a new generation. 

The Shape of Water (2017)

Director Guillermo del Toro essentially turns the Creature from the Black Lagoon into a romantic hero. Quirky, seductive and just plain weird in the most interesting ways, The Shape of Water makes the monster the hero of his own story. He gets the girl who doesn't find him to be a monster at all. 

The Monster Squad (1987)

This '80s classic put the full stable of Universal Monsters right into suburbia and had a bunch of kids fight them off. Directed by Fred Dekker, and co-written by Dekker and Shane Black, The Monster Squad was the entry movie for so many Gen X kids into the world of the classic Universal monster movies. It remains a beloved classic that made the monsters funny and scary.

Frankenweenie (2012)

Director Tim Burton first tackled this story of a grieving boy who brings his dead dog back to life, Frankenstein-style, as a live-action short in 1984. Twenty-eight years later, he revisited it as a black-and-white stop-animation film that really took its visual and tonal cues from James Whale's Frankenstein and whole Universal Monsters oeuvre. It's entirely weird, very charming and an emotional exploration of letting go of the pets we love. 

Fright Night (1985)

One of the very best contemporary takes on vampire mythology and monster hunter Van Helsing, Fright Night was able to land the scares, the sex appeal and comedy in this mash-up that features Christopher Sarandon playing the seductive vampire next door. Writer/director Tom Holland knocked this one out of the park and ended up inspiring a whole new generation of vampire/Dracula storytellers. 

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Writer/director John Landis made werewolves cool, funny and terrifying all at once with An American Werewolf in London. Usually a tough monster to make work in live-action, Landis hired the very best prosthetics artists in the world to finally make a human-to-werewolf transformation look horrific and real on camera. The effects were so good, they won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Makeup.

Renfield is in theaters Friday and you can get tickets now.

Craving more horror? There are a host of monster flicks streaming on Peacock right now!