Help! Universal Monsters Are Terrorizing My Bookshelves!

Books based on or related directly to Universal Monsters have been appearing for decades.  Many read like lighter versions of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula, bursting with Easter eggs from other sources within the Universal library and beyond.  I’ll discuss a few to show you how writers and publishers have drawn inspiration from these classic films.

The Dark Horse Universal Monsters Series by Various Authors

Dracula: Asylum by Paul Witcover
Frankenstein: The Shadow of Frankenstein by Stefan Petrucha
The Creature from the Black Lagoon: Time’s Black Lagoon by Paul Di Filippo
The Wolfman: Hunter’s Moon by Michael Jan Friedman
The Mummy: Dark Insurrection by Michael Paine
The Bride of Frankenstein: Pandora’s Bride by Elizabeth Hand

Dark Horse Publishing engaged well-known authors to write novels starring the Universal monsters.  In essence, these stand-alone books read like an expanded universe for the Universal Monster franchise.  No one will ever argue whether they’re canon or not, as they do with Star Wars, because who cares?  Not the point!

The series ended after six books, with the most notable contributors being Paul Di Filippo, who wrote The Steampunk Trilogy, and the prolific Elizabeth Hand. We see Count Dracula arise during World War I, trapped beneath Seward’s Sanitorium where he wreaks havoc on staff and patients alike.  The Frankenstein Monster follows his maker to London, where he encounters Jack the Ripper who hopes to obtain immortality through the methods of Henry Frankenstein.  Scientists time travel to the Devonian Age to discover the origin of the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s species.  Lawrence Talbot the Wolf Man meets a group that possibly could cure his lycanthrope . . . or could they?  Michael Paine goes with Imhotep/Ardith Bey, not the later Kharis.  Finally, Elizabeth Hand guides the Bride from laboratories to Weimar Germany, giving the modern Galatea more life than she experienced in The Bride of Frankenstein.

The quality varies from book to book, and readers annoyed with the shaky continuity and sketchy science rampant throughout the films will feel similarly here.  Each author willfully dives into plot irregularities — it’s a Universal Monsters tradition!

Universal Monsters by Larry Mike Garmon

Dracula: Return of Evil
The Wolfman: Blood Moon Rising
Frankenstein: Anatomy of Terror
The Mummy: The Book of the Dead
The Creature from the Black Lagoon: Black Water Horror
The Bride of Frankenstein: Vow of Vengeance

Three teenage interns at Universal Studios Orlando – Nina, Joe, and Bob – play Universal Monster movies on an innovative digital projector that displays three-dimensional holograms. However, a storm hits, the projector breaks, but the teens continue with their lives . . . until much later when they discover that somehow the storm has released the monsters into the real world!  Over six novels, the kids encounter each monster until finally the last story when they face them all.  How will our intrepid teens clean up their mess, and what will happen once Universal discovers that they’d not only used their technology without permission but damaged it too?

Garmon intends these stories for intermediate readers (ages ten to twelve), so the violence is relatively light, and we receive no explanations about how a storm could bring projected holograms to life.  The feeling throughout is like watching Saturday morning cartoons from the 1970s, replete with meddling kids confronting monsters of the week and providing good fun for weirdos of all ages.

The Universal Library by Robin Bailes

The Mummy’s Quest
The Werewolf of Priory Grange
The Vengeance of the Invisible Man
The Immortal Dracula

Each novel in Robin Bailes’s self-published Universal Library stands alone, but he suggests reading them in order, because, I’m hypothesizing, an author has got to eat.  All are set in contemporary times, and while nods toward the original Universal phenomenon abound, the characters are loosely based types only. Bailes identifies his style as “horror/comedy,” quite appropriately given the tone many Universal Monster movies share.

Bailes has written four novels so far, and I imagine upcoming efforts might include the Frankenstein Monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, maybe the Bride of Frankenstein somehow?  I’d even read ones based on Quasimodo and Erik the Phantom, and, yes, Gwynplaine from The Man Who Laughs. If you’re going to have an expanded universe, really expand it by including Universal’s silent era.

Monster Books by Norman Bridwell

How to Care for Your Monster
Monster Jokes and Riddles
Monster Holidays

Recently, I posted on Facebook about a book from my childhood with which I’d reconnected, Moon Man by Tomi Ungerer. A friend commented, mentioning a Scholastic release called How to Care for Your Monster by Norman Bridwell, famous for Clifford the Big Red Dog.  I remembered owning Monster Jokes and Riddles and a little Google magic revealed that Bridwell had produced a third volume as well, Monster Holidays.  I immediately found copies on eBay, nicely rounding out my collection of past favorites along with Elizabeth Starr Hill’s Pardon My Fangs and Fangs Aren’t Everything.

Bridwell doesn’t directly reference the Universal monsters, but he sticks with the classic types: a vampire, a Frankenstein-esque construct, a werewolf, and a mummy. I’m especially impressed that Bridwell depicts his mummy wearing a nemes and uraeus like you’d find on a bust of Tutankhamen.  His vampire’s batwings are a nice touch as well.

As for the text, well, it’s what you’d expect for something aimed at elementary readers. The following are examples, the first being advice from How to Care for Your Monster, the second a joke from Monster Jokes and Riddles, and the last an image from Monster Holidays showing our friends getting into the Yule spirit:

“So don’t bother to fix up the guest room. Your vampire will be happier in a damp corner of the cellar, with his own special bed to lie in when he goes to bed at dawn.”

“Why would a werewolf walking on the beach remind you of Christmas?”
“He would have sandy claws!”

The Return of the Wolf Man by Jeff Rovin

Jeff Rovin begins Return of the Wolf Man by summarizing the denouement of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the last film in a “Monster Mash” cycle featuring Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, and the Wolf Man.  Why is Rovin doing this?  Because his novel’s a sequel to Abbott and Costello, also set in La Mirada, Florida but decades later and packed with references to films from the entire Universal Horror collection.   Of course, all the monsters survived their previous encounter, even if in stasis.  My favorite detail involves Dracula, who through the years has been living on an island “between Key West and Havana,” running a plantation with zombie slaves much like those from White Zombie, another horror classic starring Bela Lugosi.  I see what you did there, Jeff Rovin.

Alas, Abbott and Costello’s characters receive only faint mention, but Rovin’s merciless with McDougal, the abusive bastard who ran the local Chamber of Horrors exhibit and who constantly belittled Wilbur Gray (Lou Costello) throughout Abbott and Costello.  I won’t reveal spoilers, but the word “comeuppance” well describes his fate.  The glorious tropes remain as well.  Lawrence Talbot the Wolf Man continues with his melancholy pronouncements, the Frankenstein Monster shambles erratically, and Dracula schemes about turning others into his slaves, particularly the Monster.

Current prices for this out-of-print volume range between “Really?” and “You must be kidding!”  Although loaded with nostalgic continuity porn, the story’s . . . silly. If you’re interested, I’ll lend you my battered old paperback.  Put your money instead toward classic comic books.