Why Universal’s Monster Universe is Deeply Concerning

Universal’s Monster Universe makes sense on a surface level. As intellectual properties go the way of Marvel, creating shared universes and tying films in with one another, the idea of bringing Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and The Creature from The Black Lagoon together in an expansive world all their own is compelling. At least it is to me, someone who grew up loving the Universal monsters and their entire catalogue.

Having these iconic characters cross over in each other’s films was popular when they were dominating Hollywood in the 40s and 50. From House of Dracula to my personal favorite crossover, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, the monsters spent time in each other’s worlds on occasion, making this new shared universe a sensible, almost foregone conclusion for anyone paying attention. Universal’s Monster Universe was announced prior to the release of Dracula Untold (more on that in a moment) last year, and the mere thought of an updated world of these characters I so admired as a youth was a thrilling prospect. Then, Dracula Untold came out, and turned out to be a soggy peg to kickstart this universe.

Dracula Untold

Dracula Untold starred Game of Thrones alum Charles Dance, and was more concerned with action and CGI than telling any sort of relevant, compelling origin story. It came and went without so much as a whimper at the box office, almost singlehandedly killing all momentum Universal’s Monster Universe had gained by merely being announced. Following the dreary Dracula Untold origin story, news filtered out that maybe the origin story was not the genesis of the new universe, that The Mummy in 2017 would kick things off instead. It is still unclear, because reshoots on Dracula Untold were said to be added to include it in the universe. Everything sounds like a mess right now, but let’s say for the sake of clarity that Dracula Untold, and the upcoming Victor Frankenstein, are simply one-off films, and the shared universe begins with The Mummy in March of 2017.

What is the tonal direction of Universal’s Monster Universe? Reports claimed that action would be the status quo this time around, not horror. Huge mistake, so huge in fact that Alex Kurtzman, head screenwriter, recently clarified that these films will, in fact, focus more on the horror side of things in an attempt to quell fan concerns:

“Yeah, I think it’s a fair response and it’s actually not — I think there was some lost in translation quality to the way it was received, because I promise you there will be horror in these movies. It is our life goal to make a horror movie. The tricky part is actually how you combine horror with either adventure or suspense or action and be true to all the genres together. In some way, Mummy, dating all the way back to the Karloff movie, was the first to do that. It was the first to combine horror with — I wouldn’t say action, but certainly a lot of suspense. So it’s more about how you blend the different elements and stay true to each one, but there will definitely be horror in the monster movies…We will hopefully serve it up good and plenty.”

That’s all well and good, but let’s back up a moment. Alex Kurtzman is the man in charge, along with Chris Morgan. Kurtzman’s most notable screenwriting credit includes Michael Bay’s Transformers, and Morgan is a child of the Fast and Furious franchise; both heavy action franchises. And while I don’t mean to dismiss Kurtzman as a writer, or Morgan – The Furious movies are great in their own right – these don’t feel like the right men to tell a story focusing on horror instead of “epic action adventure” storytelling. It is an odd fit, and doesn’t ease my concerns in the slightest.

Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man

These characters in Universal’s monster catalogue are tragic creations, full of pathos and desperation. From Frankenstein’s Monster, to the troubled plight of Lawrence Tablot in The Wolf Man, to the misunderstood Gill Man, these monsters work to speak on certain emotions and situations. The Invisible Man deals with madness and power, The Mummy tells a love story; then there is Dracula, the oldest story of them all, immortalized by Bela Lugosi’s romanticized portrayal of the Prince of Darkness. These are rich characters who belong in macabre, gotcha tales, not action adventure films. We already had our Van Helsing, and we know how that turned out.

Everything feels like an absolute mess in Universal’s Monster Universe, at least at this point. From the false start of Dracula Untold, to the delayed Mummy film, to the strange direction initially set forth by Kurtzman, hope is fleeting now, and fading fast.


Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry is the managing editor for Monkeys Fighting Robots. The Dalai Lama once told him when he dies he will receive total consciousness. So he's got that going for him... Which is nice.