A Resurgence of the Classic Universal Monsters?
Future of Horror
2020 has been an interesting year to say the least. It’s almost surreal to say that a remake of The Invisible Man hit theaters earlier this year. Although I wasn’t looking forward to its release, I was pleasantly surprised by how well made the film turned out to be.
Nowadays the horror genre is dominated by generic ghost movies and slasher movies. Very rarely do we see the iconic classic Universal monsters such as Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the monsters bride, the Wolf Man, the Creature From the Black Lagoon, the Phantom of the Opera, the Mummy, and Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde.
The Invisible Man isn’t a perfect movie by any means, but I will say it’s the best modern attempt at bringing new life to the classic Universal monsters. Director of the film, Leigh Whannel, has also expressed interest in directing a Dracula movie.
"I think I would try to get at the essence of what makes Dracula scary, which is, to me, what makes Dracula scary is his lack of mercy. The fact that he might pretend... Like, he’s not a romantic. He needs to drink blood. What parallels in life can you think of that equate to someone without mercy. It’s a psychopath, right? A psychopath... So to have this conversation with you, I’m spitballing here, I would take the character right back to that and be like, I’m going to make the psychopath version of this. The person who just doesn’t give a f***. Maybe he drinks blood but beyond that, there’s no capes, there’s no lightning, there’s no fog, no wolves. It’s just a psychopath who drinks blood.” - Leigh Whannel
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Blumhouse Studios are set to produce the modern thriller just as they produced The Invisible Man. Not only that, but Universal is scouting directors for a new Wolf Man movie starring Ryan Gosling.
The Invisible Man, Dracula, and now The Wolf Man; are we seeing a modern resurgence of the classic Universal monsters? I hope so.
The Fall of the Dark Universe
It’s clear Universal wants to bring their flagship horror characters back into the mainstream eye. They attempted to do so quite recently with their Dark Universe, placing their horror icons into an action movie landscape.
One might argue that 2014’s Dracula Untold was originally supposed to be the start of the Dark Universe. The ending of that movie definitely sets up a sequel, placing Dracula in a modern setting. Yet, the movie didn’t do well both critically and financially, therefore its place within the Dark Universe seems entirely abandoned.
Officially, the Dark Universe started with 2017’s The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise and Sophia Boutella. The movie introduced Russel Crowe as Dr.Jekyll, who is already cursed with his evil alter ego, Mr.Hyde. He leads a mysterious organization called Prodigium that is tasked with monitoring the supernatural.
During a very forced scene where the characters tour the organization, you see countless easter-eggs hinting at other monsters such as vampires and the Gillman from Creature of the Black Lagoon.
It’s also no secret that the second film slated to release in this universe was Bride of Frankenstein, with Javier Bardem playing Frankenstein’s Monster and Angelina Jolie playing the bride. The film was set to release sometime in 2019, but was put on hold indefinitely. Which means the movie is practically cancelled.
"We were involved, we were prepping, we were deep into it, and I have to say … the simplest way to say it is that I think The Mummy, and not to say anything against the movie, but the fact that that hadn’t worked for them and it was the beginning of this whole reinvention of their monsters gave them cold feet at the end of the day. Because David Koepp was writing the script, I thought it was unbelievably good, and we were on the verge of making a really beautiful movie, I thought. So that was a shame.” - Director Bill Condon (Collider)
Funny enough, Johnny Depp was brought on to play The Invisible Man. Not much is said about Johnny Depp's Invisible Man, except that it was supposed to be a superhero movie.
The contents of that film would ultimately be the groundwork for Elizabeth Moss' Invisible Man; turning the film into a horror movie rather a superhero film. So technically that movie did get made, just with a different creative team behind the stirring wheel.
Universal definitely jumped the gun in announcing and casting these films as The Mummy didn’t do well critically and financially. Once again, putting their Dark Universe on hold after the first film.
How Should Universal Remake These Movies?
I believe a lot of the mistakes Universal made when planning the Dark Universe was that they tried too hard to copy Marvel’s success with The Avengers. As mentioned earlier, they wanted to turn these horror icons into action icons.
Due to this, I think you lose the essence of these monsters. At the core of these stories are layers of tragedy and inevitability. Marvel does so well because they rarely change the characters from their comic counterparts. Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, and so on, all come from horror roots, so why abandon those elements?
2020’s The Invisible Man proved that you can still approach these classic stories in unique and interesting ways through horror. Considering that all of these monsters are all vastly different from one another, there’s potential to tell more unique stories that highlight the specific monster.
How The Classics Did It
If you think about it, the original shared universe was actually the Universal monsters. Before, The Avengers, you had films such as Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, and House of Dracula that crossovered various monsters from various films.
The beauty about remaking something is that you can always pay tribute to the past. So if it worked before, why can’t it work now?
The classic monster movies had little to no connection to one another. Even sequels rarely had proper continuity to the previous films. They just made movies without any planning for the future and that’s how Universal should approach these remakes.
2020’s The Invisible Man didn’t spend time setting up a cinematic universe, whereas a huge portion of The Mummy’s runtime was dedicated to The Dark Universe. One did great and the other was merely forgotten. Re-establishing these monsters for modern audiences should come first and foremost as many people don’t find them scary anymore.
In my opinion, I would rather see a modern day horror classic than another big crossover movie. The Invisible Man was a step in the right direction. Just like the classics, if you make standalone movies establishing these monsters and scaring the crap out of audiences, then a crossover is nothing less than warranted and all the more, iconic.