The wolfman is a bit tricky. The original movie isn’t very good, though it has its moments. It also isn’t based on a novel (although there had been a few werewolf novels), nor is it faithful to actual werewolf legends; screenwriter Curt Siodmak just made up all that stuff about magic pentagrams and blooming wolfbane and so on. Technically, Universal might own that stuff.
But they don’t own werewolves.
Thing is, to some extent I think “An American Werewolf in London” [I originally typed “Paris,” but I meant the 1981 film, not the 1997 one] already reinvented the wolfman in much the way I would have. And there have been lots of other good werewolf stories by the likes of Stephen King and Anthony Boucher and Alan Moore and Joss Whedon. I’ve already written a couple of werewolf stories myself.
So what do I do for my version that would make it anything other than a generic werewolf story without infringing on Universal’s rights? About all I can think of is to tie it in with the rest of the universe right from the start by making the werewolf one of the Harker clan, and remembering that Dracula can control wolves.
I dunno; that’s not very satisfactory. I think I may need to let this one stew for awhile.
That leaves two more Universal monsters who are only occasionally included in the set. One is the creature from the Black Lagoon, and that was an original by Universal, not based on previous legends or novels (though allegedly there really were stories about fish-men in the Amazon), so they own it outright and I can’t use it. This was released in 1954, after the other monsters had been retired.
And the other is the Phantom of the Opera, based on Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel; the novel is in the public domain and can therefore be used. The Universal movies were not part of the classic period of the 1930s; the first was in 1925, before “talkies” were invented, and is notable for several cool gimmicks, including Lon Chaney’s grotesque make-up and the use of painted-in red in one scene of the black-&-white film. The second was in 1943, when the Universal monster franchise was in decline, so that associating the new movie with the established series was seen as undesirable. Instead it was treated as a big Technicolor spectacle rather than a horror film. (And SF/fantasy fans, note: Fritz Leiber Sr., the father of the beloved writer, has a role in it.)
I don’t have the details worked out; for one thing, I don’t know enough about the current status of the Paris opera house. I envision a story where the Phantom has control of computer and video tech in the opera house — Brian de Palma’s “Phantom of the Paradise,” where Swan has video cameras everywhere, probably influenced this decision.
I’m tempted to swipe a lot of ideas from “Phantom of the Paradise,” actually. De Palma… well, I’ve read the novelization based on the original shooting script, and either the writer mutilated the story, or most of the good stuff was added by de Palma. The movie is obviously based on “The Phantom of the Opera,” but de Palma (and Paul Williams, who wrote the music and played Swan) added Faust, Frankenstein, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” and anything else they could jam in.
But I don’t have either the wolfman or the phantom developed yet, and I don’t need to, since the first three will keep me busy for years if I ever write any of this stuff at all.