Editorial: What Does a Shared Universe Mean for the Universal Monsters?

ON

universal_monsters_625

I love me some Universal classic monsters. They were my gateway drug to horror. My original boogeymen. My safety blanket growing up. And now they’re reportedly getting the “shared universe” treatment, meaning, we’ll see a string of films go into production that will act separately but sprinkle seeds that they’re part of an interconnected, creature-filled world. Will they build to an event film a la The Avengers? Perhaps, and I have my suspicions as to what that will be.

Let me throw out some thoughts knocking around in my head about this whole venture spearheaded by Alex Kurtzman, Chris Morgan and Universal.

This is all rather exciting stuff for those of us who cherish the classic monsters and films like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and House of Frankenstein, but it’s coming at a rather strange time because those who watch Penny Dreadful know that John Logan is essentially doing a similar monster mash over at Showtime with that series and its menagerie of creatures and madmen culled from cinema’s history and from the pages of classic novels. Still, with Universal…we’re talking about widely-familiar properties here that have survived decades and witnessed multiple resurrections in the form of various re-imaginings. 

The ’90s was a notably significant decade for the monsters we grew up with. Dracula and the Frankenstein monster received lavish adaptations, but those came from Sony…not Universal. The Mummy, a film that was a Universal release, was revamped into a high-adventure film that spawned sequels and spin-off films. While The Creature from the Black Lagoon continued to suffocate in development hell – a slow torture that carried from the ’80s-’00s – Universal produced and released The Wolf Man with Benicio Del Toro in 2010, a film that had its fair share of production woes and didn’t quite take off like The Mummy did.

It’s understandable why Universal might jump at the pitch of a total “classic monster” overhaul that was modeled after “the Marvel way” of doing films. They had a franchise that had run its course, a property that no one was pulling the trigger on, and, another that failed to make audiences howl. But where does that leave the two major terror titans in the studio’s pantheon?

Well, we have Dracula Untold coming out this fall. That film, formerly known as Dracula: Year Zero, was in development well ahead of Kurtzman and Morgan’s shared universe vision. And the Frankenstein monster was always rumored at being at the center of another movie – there were rumblings of a new Bride of Frankenstein and, of course, there’s Victor Frankenstein, but that’s a Fox production coming out in 2015. Guillermo del Toro has repeatedly talked about doing a Frankenstein film, with Doug Jones playing the monster, but that has seemingly become lost in the shuffle of projects Del Toro has on rotation.

Whether Dracula Untold fits into the shared universe is anyone’s guess. If the film does will, it’s possible Universal will ask Kurtzman/Morgan to bring Luke Evans’ incarnation of the famous bloodsucker into the fold. If it doesn’t, then they can start with a clean slate. With Frankenstein, I have a feeling maybe we’ll never see Del Toro’s film if Kurtzman/Moore already have their own take on the character in mind, and especially if all of the films in the shared universe are contemporary tales (Del Toro wanted to do a period piece

The Mummy is the first film to go into development in this shared universe and it’s a modern-day adventure-horror film. It has been interesting to chart the progress of this one, because it was announced in 2012 before Kurtzman and then creative partner Roberto Orci they were working with Universal on the shared monster universe. The Mummy saw directors come and go until it was most recently announced that Kurtzman himself was going to direct and that he had done a pass on the script written by Jon Spaihts. When that morsel of information hit the trades, it was clear Kurtzman took Spaihts’ draft and did a bit of retooling to work the project into the shared universe plan.

Again, I think Kurtzman and Morgan have a clear game plan – one that has some variables depending on how Dracula Untold performs and one that doesn’t make room for Del Toro’s Frankenstein. I could be totally wrong about that, I’m just flinging thoughts out here. Not much of Kurtzman and Morgan’s game plan beyond The Mummy have been brought into the spotlight. Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s monster…I’m sure these big guys will all get new films. Since The Mummy isn’t due to arrive until 2016, enough distance will have been placed between those new incarnations and the releases of Dracula Untold and Victor Frankenstein. But, will Kurzman/Morgan finally pull The Creature from the Black Lagoon out of the muck and onto the screen again? Will the Invisible Man play a part in all of this? Interconnecting the films could lead to some entertaining monster brawls and, for us fans, Easter Eggs to Universal’s less popular but still cherished horror films of the ’30s and ’40.

But the bigger question is, what kind of event film will this be culminating in?

Recently, on Twitter, I joked it would be a remake of The Monster Squad. But I have a legit theory…

If you recall, Kurtzman and Orci first started their dance with Universal a few years back with the prospect of a Tom Cruise-starring Van Helsing project. I think Kurtzman and Universal closely monitored what Marvel was doing and decided to reverse engineer this Van Helsing film. Why lead with that character when there’s a rich source of monsters to explore? So – and this is no stupendous reveal and I’m sure many of you thought of this too – my guess is that we’ll get a string of monster solo films that all lead up to a giant brawl in Van Helsing. Along the way, we’ll see the character pop up here and there in the movies, but he’ll ultimately get a solo outing. That seems like the obvious way to go.

I think a shared universe is all rather promising and exciting as long as Kurtzman and Morgan don’t fumble dragging these monsters into modern day. As previously stated, The Mummy is said to be retaining the “adventure” feel, but that could mean anything honestly. I don’t think they’ll mirror tonally what Stephen Sommers did, also, previously reports said that there would be a focus on making the Mummy scary in modern times as well.

I’m curious. Curious in the positive way because I’d like to see the old school horror team make a comeback. Plus, there’s a wealth of talent to turn to to bring these films to life. I’m really trying to not be cynical about this whole venture, so – for now – I’ll raise a glass to this upcoming new world of Gods and Monsters and hope for the best.