The Dark Universe is being resurrected, this time to be overseen by Blumhouse Productions with a more tactile, better-suited approach than that of the previous incarnation. The franchise, a contemporary version of the classic Universal Monsters, was launched by Universal as a blockbuster cinematic universe in 2017. However, when the Tom Cruise-fronted first installment The Mummy bombed at the box office, serious doubts were raised over the viability of the property that culminated in the whole idea being shelved.
Enter Blumhouse, the predominantly horror-based production house, who've spent the last decade establishing themselves as a trustworthy, profitable source of horror cinema and franchising. Jason Blum, the studio head, has been vocal about his desire to tackle the Universal Monsters, and now he's been given his chance.
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If anyone can make the Dark Universe a success, it's Blumhouse. From The Purge and Insidious through to Happy Death Day and Get Out and many more, the studio knows how to make and sell a good scare. Their films are well-produced and approachable, and often come from more offbeat filmmakers, much like Leigh Whannell, who'll be making his second directorial turn to launch the universe with The Invisible Man. The Dark Universe was a great idea that was sunk by terrible execution, and Blumhouse is the perfect place to bring it back to life.
- This Page: The Dark Universe Isn't A Bad Idea
- Page 2: Why Blumhouse's Dark Universe Will Work
Why The Mummy & The First Dark Universe Failed
Universal will living down their recent botched attempt to re-do the Universal Monsters for a long time. From the Dark Universe branding, to the over-zealously star-studded first line of movies to the release and subsequent lackluster box office of 2017's The Mummy, the studio made just about every mistake feasible in launching the new universe.
Universal were on the wrong foot with the idea both practically and philosophically. Going by The Mummy, and the hiring of big-name stars like Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and (reportedly) Angelina Jolie, these were intended to be special-effects-driven action blockbusters, the antithesis of the horror genre and indeed the classic movies they're derived from. Gone are the practical effects and psychology of the original epics, the commanding performances from frequent monster-ers Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff and masterful direction from the likes of James Whale, Tod Browning or Karl Freund. In their place was forgettable, meandering, CGI-heavy storytelling that had a very unearned smugness to it.
Certainly there were some interesting ideas, but on the whole The Mummy mostly felt like a supernatural Mission: Impossible knock-off they convinced Cruise to sign onto because it involved a death-defying stunt he'd not yet tried and a lot of running. And the audience response was suitably limp, being un-amused with the shallow franchising and even less enthused with the idea of seeing similar treatment in the Jolie-fronted The Bride of Frankenstein and Depp-starring The Invisible Man, among others. Gradually Universal were forced to close up shop, cutting their losses while they had the chance.
Why The Universal Monsters Can Work (If Done Correctly)
It bears repeating that the problem with the Dark Universe was the execution and not the idea. The Universal Monsters are a timeless, iconic part of cinema history. There is always interest in new riffs on these creations – Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water becoming an Oscar-winning hit shows that - and it's fair to say people have an undying affinity for these stories. Their literary roots are well-ingrained in our cultural psyche. New iterations just need to be well told, in ways that challenge our perception of what makes a “monster” and why we're so fascinated with things that go bump in the night, just like the Universal movies of old.
There's a whole generation of writers, directors and visionaries, like Del Toro, who are capable of making not only a great monster flick but a defining chapter in the legacy of these archetypes. Alex Garland, Jennifer Kent, Jen and Sylvia Soska, Boots Riley, Mike Flanagan – the list of potentially exciting candidates that could join the already-signed-on Leigh Whannell is long. Some have already been in the territory, The Shape of Water being a spiritual successor to The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Garland's Ex Machina channeling Frankenstein through a hard sci-fi lens. The talent and the desire is there, they just need to be filtered through an appropriate creative initiative.