Monster Mash: 'Alien Vs. Predator'

Now that the decrepit Mike Tyson has entered the point in his career where he has to be carried into the ring, bloodthirsty fight fans are left with Alien Vs. Predator and re-engineered Frankensteins battling vampires with dentures.

Pardon me for spoiling the outcome of Alien Vs. Predator, but don't we already know who wins? The victory goes to the filmmakers who squeezed one more sequel out of two moribund film franchises, both of which revolve around killer space aliens.

The one thing you probably won't see is a clear-cut victory. Last year's monster mash, Freddy vs. Jason, brought in $82 million in box office blood, and as long as the monsters bring home the money, they'll never be killed off.

In the final scene, Jason walked away with Freddy's severed head, and Freddy winks, as if to say, "This isn't over yet."

But is it really ever over? A horror movie slugfest might be a sure sign that a film franchise is in trouble, but it's a gimmick that's worked over and over again — and for the likes of Dracula and Godzilla, it's just as sweet as fresh blood. Let's look at a few:

1. Frankenstein vs. The Wolf Man

Bela Lugosi, better known as Dracula, passed on the opportunity to play Frankenstein's Monster, a role that went to Boris Karloff in the landmark 1931 classic. A distinguished stage actor in Hungary, Lugosi had high hopes in Hollywood.

By the time of the 1943 sequel Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, however, Lugosi was well on his way to becoming a tragic Hollywood figure who would take any role he could get. He was eventually buried in his Dracula cape.

"The whole movie started as a joke," says Bob Madison, author of Dracula: The First Hundred Years. "Frankenstein movies were a big hit, but by the mid-1940s, the series was running out of gas. Instead, this movie started the trend for decades of monster battles."

Curt Siodmak, who had written The Wolf Man, was sitting in the Universal Pictures commissary when a studio head asked him what he'd been working on. As a joke, he said, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, thinking that the studio might have had its fill after the likes of Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein.

Universal Studios wasn't kidding, however, and Siodmak suddenly had to pull a script out of thin air. Lon Chaney Jr., the original Wolf Man, was called in to literally revive his most famous role, as grave robbers unearthed Wolfie. Instead of going on another full moon rampage, our troubled furry friend sniffed out Dr. Frankenstein, who apparently was listed under his HMO, for the treatment of infernal canine curses.

Lugosi and Chaney end up in a death battle as the walls of Frankenstein's Castle come tumbling down, saving the studio from declaring a winner and allowing both creatures to return in such monster mashes as House of Frankenstein and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, wherein Dracula seeks to install Costello's brain in the flat-headed fiend for his own ghoulish pleasures.

2. King Kong vs. Godzilla

When Japan's most famous lizard squared off with America's super-sized gorilla it was a true World Series of Monster Slapdowns, but this 1962 slugfest only came into being when no American studio would back Frankenstein vs. King Kong.

Willis O'Brien, who had done the special effects for the original King Kong, wanted to see his monkey go bananas on Mary Shelley's masterpiece. The fact that Frankenstein's Monster is basically an oversized man with secondhand parts and King Kong is bigger than a house didn't seem to matter. So what if the monkey has better reach? The monster has literary gravitas.

A Tokyo film studio finally bought the rights, substituting Godzilla as Kong's sparring partner. Vicious rumors spread that Kong only wins in the U.S. version, and that Godzilla roared victoriously in Japan.

Indeed, there were separate cuts, and the hometown monster does a little better in the Japanese version, but he still loses. Nevertheless, this was the first time either heavyweight appeared in a color film.

In the climactic fight, the two titans tumble down Mount Fuji and Kong shoves a tree down Godzilla's throat — homage to a battle with a T. rex from the original King Kong.

Godzilla fans needn't worry. He's died before, and he lived to die again. One could argue that he's appeared in more movies than Kong and is therefore the real winner. Of course, the 1998 big-budget Godzilla starring Matthew Broderick bombed, and Kong will have another bite at box office glory next year when Peter Jackson's version hits theaters.

Hollywood, in all its wisdom, thought it better to green-light a slew of other films, including 1965's Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, just to prove the old man still had some bite in his bolts. Word has it that Frank is available for Rocky IV, assuming test audiences can distinguish him from Sylvester Stallone.

3. Godzilla vs. Mothra

Godzilla has died many times, but many fans still howl over Godzilla vs. Mothra, in which the monster who regularly snacks in and on Tokyo gets his prehistoric butt kicked by an overgrown moth and her two larval-stage kids.

Of course, in this 1964 battle, Mothra was aided by two 8-inch-tall singing fairies who warn Tokyo, "You must give back the egg! You must give back the egg!" They'll never learn.

In an embarrassing defeat, Godzilla learned the hard way that hell has no fury as a mother moth scorned, and Godzilla loses more than his sweater. But audiences seemed to warm up to the temperamental reptile, who three years later led other Earth-loving beasts in the intergalactic showdown, Destroy All Monsters, saving the planet from Ghidra, a three-headed space beast.

4. Billy the Kid vs. Dracula

John Carradine regarded 1966's Billy the Kid versus Dracula as the worst movie of his career, perhaps that's because he plays a blood-sucking count who's saddle-sore.

When Dracula travels back to the old West, he targets a beautiful ranch owner as his next victim, but her boyfriend happens to be the famed gunslinger. Pardner, this town isn't big enough for the both of them, especially when the Kid's gal ends up with strange bite marks on her neck.

"I haven't met a man yet that a bullet couldn't stop," says Billy, who quickly learns his adversary isn't a man, although he once was, many centuries ago.

This feature ran as a double feature with Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter. Let's just say they weren't fixed up on

5. Dracula vs. Frankenstein

Hippies come under the spell of Dracula in what is widely considered one of the worst monster movies ever made. To get right to the point, Dracula tries to indoctrinate Frankenstein into the brotherhood of the bat but the fangs keep falling from his mouth. Drac wins, but isn't around long enough for the victory party.

Sadly, this 1971 film by Al Adamson marks the final screen appearance of Lon Chaney Jr., the only man to play Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster and the Mummy. Here, he's an ax-wielding henchman for the last of the Frankensteins, although his name is not Igor.

The film's promotional material boosts: "Yesterday they were cold and dead … Today they're hot and bothered!" Tomorrow, you'll be lucky to find them on Netflix.

Predictions for Alien Vs. Predator If you're not prepared for Hollywood's latest monster mash, here's a little background:

Future governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura discovered the otherworldly terror of Predator when they teamed up in the 1987 film as commandos fighting extraterrestrial hunters who stalk humans for their trophy case.

When Schwarzenegger finally wrestles one of these baddies to the ground and tears off its space suit, he finds it's a giant insect-like creature with a mouth surrounded by little pincers to shove in food.

You could almost see the future California governor's anti-girlie man philosophy emerging as the film progressed.

"What's the matter?" he says to one of his disheartened troopers. "The CIA got you pushing too many pencils?"

Compared to that, you might assume a chance meeting with a highly sexual ET would be much more pleasurable. Sigourney Weaver found that wasn't the case in 1979's Alien, when she was part of a space crew that happens upon an unknown creature with two sets of snapping teeth and a penchant for laying eggs in the bodies of its victims.

"Of course, I hope Alien wins," said Weaver last week, while promoting her current film, The Village.

"I wish them well with it, but it certainly wasn't anything I wanted to do."

Here's what some horror film fans had to say about the battle royal, which opens in theaters Friday:

"Predator has the greatest hunting skills in the universe, but I have to give the edge to the Alien because they breed so fast. They're like giant greasy space roaches. You can never kill them all off."

— Bob Madison, author of Dracula: The First Hundred Years

"You have to give speed and agility to the Alien, plus you don't want to cut them because their blood is acid. They have to be lured into a trap and destroyed with fire. The Predators are hunter warriors. They're very aggressive with a broad array of weapons. But there is a lot we don't know about Predators and that's what makes them dangerous to me."

— Gareb Shamus, CEO of Wizard Entertainment Group, a comic book and collectibles convention company.

"I always go with the cooler-looking monster, so I'm putting my money on Alien. It's one of the great F/X creations. And the intimidation factor — the exploding chests — just can't be beat. Predator is a hunter, but Elmer Fudd is a hunter, too."

— Phil Hall, author of The Encyclopedia of Underground Movies, and coordinator of the B-Movie Hall of Fame.

"Good luck trying to destroy any monster that can do damage at the box office. Both monsters really play on contemporary fears. With Alien, it's sexual paranoia. These horrible creatures use us to breed more of their own. Predator is basically social disorder. Humans become hunters. It's almost gang violence played out by ETs."

— Christopher Sharrett, film professor, Seton Hall University

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.