Director John Landis says Universal Pictures’ new Dark Universe isn’t being respectful to the studios classic movie monsters of yesteryear. Landis, of course, has long been a fixture in Hollywood, directing such classic films as Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and An American Werewolf in London – all for Universal.
Also the director of Michael Jackson’s landmark extended music video for the hit ‘Thriller’ – and an author chronicling the history of horror films in Hollywood with the 2011 book Monsters in the Movies – Landis has well-established himself an expert on the subject, and he’s making his feelings known about his former studio home’s direction of its monster-themed Dark Universe.
In an interview with Entertainment ie, Landis is railing on Universal’s new shared monster universe, first by pointing out that“it’s not a new idea.” He adds:
“If you remember with Universal back in the ’40s, once they made all their classics, they started cross-pollinating. House of Dracula, House of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man – you know what they used to call those? Monster rallies! (laugh) And then of course, one of the great ironies is what was considered… OK – it’s over now!… was Abbot & Costello Meets Frankenstein, which is actually a very funny movie and very respectful of the monsters. I think, y’know, maybe that’s one of the problems with Universal’s Dark Universe is that it isn’t respectful of the monsters.”
The Dark Universe, of course, officially kicked off earlier this month with a reboot of The Mummy, which stars Tom Cruise as a soldier of fortune who is cursed by a mummified princess (Sofia Boutella) after her sarcophagus is unearthed after 5,000 years. The film also stars Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, the leader of the Prodigium – a secret organization that’s long been in the business of finding and containing monsters.
Directed by Alex Kurtzman, The Mummy not only takes its inspiration from the 1932 film starring Boris Karloff, it takes advantage of Cruise’s experience as an action movie star, and even mixes in some comedic exchanges between Morton and his explorer colleague, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) in scenes that are reminiscent of the back-and-forth between David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) in An American Werewolf in London.
Landis’ problem with The Mummy seems to be that the film shouldn’t be about name stars making the Dark Universe films, but about the monsters themselves. History seems to support his argument, since Universal monster movies like Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy made stars out of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and not the other way around. He says:
“What’s happening is the studios now will make a film for $150, $200 million but they’re afraid to take risks. You asked me about the Dark Universe, if you’re gonna make a movie of The Mummy, why the fuck do you need Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe?! As soon as you announce that Tom Cruise is in The Mummy, you know you’re not going to see a horror picture! It’s not gonna be The Mummy, it’s going to be the Tom Cruise Show. I don’t know.”
If Landis is suggesting that future Dark Universe entries start respecting its monsters by returning to a period setting with lesser-known stars, then the studio already appears to be in trouble. Since The Mummy was presented in a modern setting and Cruise looks to appear as Morton in future installments, there’s really no going back.
We’ll find out for sure once more information is released on director Bill Condon’s update of The Bride of Frankenstein (starring Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster and the yet-to-be-named actress to play the titular character), which is set for a Feb. 14, 2019, release. It will also be interesting to see the direction of other future Dark Universe entries, which for the time being will include Johnny Depp in the lead as The Invisible Man, as well as The Wolfman and The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Before any of the titles proceed, hopefully someone from Universal will be calling Landis for some guidance.