Monstrous Nostalgia and Universal’s Dark Universe
Though the plastic teeth felt awkward in my mouth, and the fake blood tasted like cough syrup, I knew that these were small sacrifices to make in the achieving of my Halloween goal. With my hair slicked back and my cape and cowl on, complete with plastic medallion, I resembled a miniature Bela Lugosi as he appeared in Dracula (1931). Well, Dracula if he wore metallic green parachute pants in place of black trousers. I worked with what I had. That night as my parents took me trick-or-treating through the neighborhood, and then later through my elementary school, I showed off my vampire prowess by hissing and twirling my cape. Instead of yelling trick-or-treat I echoed, “I want to suck your blood,” followed by, “I like your house, what’s this?” I was a curious child. Once I returned back home I dug through my candy bag searching for my favorite sweets and watched an episode of Tales From the Crypt (1991) in which Malcolm McDowell played a vampire working at a blood bank. Looking back now I can admire how fitting that episode was given my costume choice that Halloween night.
At that time of my life I had not seen the famous vampire film, Dracula (1931), yet somehow I intrinsically knew about vampires and the fear they inspired. It is possible that episodes of The Munsters (1964) or pop-culture references from various cartoons had penetrated by subconscious creating this instinctual knowledge. However, regardless of how I had come to know of the vampire, werewolf, and assorted other monsters that existed at that time, I knew that there was something powerful in the fear that they inspired.
Now as an adult I lust after the nostalgic feelings of my youth, hoping upon hope, to brush against that something that inspires the fear, power, and awe that I experienced as a kid. Honestly, I cannot remember the last time I saw a horror film, much less a monster movie, that truly frightened me. This is not to say that some decent monster films have not been produced in the last five years, only that the symbol of the vampire, werewolf, and even Frankenstein’s monster has diminished and faded into pop culture. For example, Afflicted (2013) is a decent modern-day found-footage vampire film, but it did not scare me. I could probably blame films like Twilight (2008) for the current state of monster films, but in truth, the films of the late 90s and early 00s did not help. Looking at you Dracula 2000 (2000). At the same time, the overindulged CGI fest of current monster/action films leaves me wanting. Though I enjoyed Dracula Untold (2014) the film failed in the fear department.
As Universal struggles to hold onto the Dark Universe, an idea that has failed to ignite once again, I fear that my hopes for a new collection of monster films will be dashed against the rocks of Frankenstein’s Castle. If the Dark Universe is to survive then Universal must learn not only from past mistakes, but past successes as well. Fear and horror are key elements of the classic films of old, but so is a great story. At this point, Universal should drop the Dark Universe in favor of a montage of classic monster scenes that plays with the Universal logo at the beginning of every new connected monster film. I would also suggest, that instead of trying to reboot, retool, or otherwise re- the a new monster franchise that the new slew of monster films should be connected to their black and white counterparts.
These films would offer a foundation for all new stories along with showing how concepts of fear and horror have changed over the years. Keeping this idea in mind, I recommend that Universal revive, at least in the case of The Mummy, the Brendan Fraser Mummy franchise. However, instead of sticking to the action/adventure aspects of The Mummy franchise, I suggest embracing the horror elements of those films. As for Brendan Fraser, I think it is possible that his character was cursed and left as an immortal wondering the modern day world alone and without his family. The new slew of monster films would inspire his character to once again embrace life. Even if Fraser did not return to this type of franchise, a descendant of his character from the Mummy films could be the main and/or joining protagonist of the films.
Regardless of how the Dark Universe, or at least a new batch of monster movies, are brought to the big screen, Universal should throw caution to the wind and learn from past successes. There are many ways that modern fears can be adapted into classic monster cinema. Universal’s goal should not be to create another Avengers-style universe, but to reignite a desire in fans everywhere for another great monster flick. When the time is right and the pieces finally come together then Universal should make a new House of Frankenstein.
Sound off below with your favorite monster films, and how you think the Dark Universe should be revived.
Guest Article By Joseph Fridley (@brother_fridley)