Universal tried and failed miserably to make a cinematic universe out of their original Universal Monsters. The supposed “Dark Universe” all started with Tom Cruise’s The Mummy. It led to one of the most publicized photos in horror history with this portrait.
Now this portrait was a final gasp from Universal. It was a very clever fake image photoshopped to give the idea that everything was all together. The Mummy was destined for failure because of meddling by it’s star Tom Cruise, and just not being a very good movie. The original plan was for all these Monsters (Dr. Jekyll, The Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Invisible Man, and whatever Tom Cruise does) to come together. It would be the big blowout plan for Universal to get their monsters all together. Except they forgot a couple things. Cinematic universes need incredibly strong movies at the beginning. Go take a look at Marvel. You wouldn’t have the whole shebang of today with Avengers: Endgame without Iron Man.
So Universal ended up blowing up their whole operation before it really started. We never got a look at Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll. The Invisible Man got “remade” by Blumhouse instead of with Johnny Depp. The over 40 male stars brigade never materialized. So what are we left with?
Well we’re left with the original Universal Monsters and the hope for a better tomorrow. That hope comes from watching these original films and realizing how simple, yet masterful, they all are.
The Simplicity Of The Universal Monster Films Is A Strength
From the very first film, Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney, you had a simplistic quality that make these Universal films feel like dreams. That feeling is what gives the Universal Monsters their power. When you take them and add an overflowing budget, gargantuan special effects, and quite frankly, A-list actors, you take a lot away from that. The fact that Boris Karloff was buried under all the Frankenstein makeup is what made that role special. It was a speechless role that he nailed. Same thing with Bela Lugosi and Dracula.
Dracula was a very early “talkie”. So the film runs halfway between a sound picture and a silent picture. There are long stretches of silence with only ambient sound for the audience. The films might seem tame and even unspectacular to today’s audiences, but they add something to horror that’s missing these days. You’re missing simplicity. For so long, your horror film had to go over the top of others. Why do you think that original films in series are always considered the best? They have nothing to prove. The original A Nightmare On Elm Street was just about the idea of a killer being able to get you in your dreams. It’s a simplistic concept that made for a great franchise.
Movies now, have to contend with the fact that in most cases, real-life is scarier than anything you can put on film. While I’m expecting a biblical style flood of “pandemic” movies coming in the very near future, that’s going to be the avenue that they go for. Which “plague” movie is going to be able to top one another. The old adage of “keep it simple, stupid” fits perfectly.
Why Blumhouse Succeeds In Today’s Horror
These movies by Blumhouse that are sweeping the horror-verse are simple. That’s why. They have relatively low budgets and they all seem to have great filmmakers that are getting first-time shots at directing or writing. With success like that means that the bigger fish in the film industry come calling. If you can make a movie on a $10 million budget that grosses $50 million, that’s less of a risk than the bloated budgets of the “Dark Universe” films. I have complete confidence that Blumhouse’s Invisible Man was a better film than a Universal Johnny Depp Invisible Man would have been.
Bringing back the dreamlike, almost silent era might be impossible these days. Movies like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, and The Phantom of the Opera are all time capsules of filmmaking of that era. But any decent horror fan knows that these films deserve a proper respect. And not just a big overbudget action fest like we got with The Mummy.
Look to the youth of today’s filmmakers instead of the old guard and you might just find some horror inspiration.
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