With the end of Summer coming close, we as movie goers have seen the passing of what is hoped to be a start of a new shared cinematic universe geared towards horror fans; The Dark Universe from Universal Pictures. The series of films will focus on the classic monsters in Universal Studios’ arsenal (Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Invisible Man, etc.), introducing them into the modern cinema and a modern movie-going audience. To fans of the horror genre, there were equal amounts excitement and uncertainty.
The Mummy‘s Introduction
The Mummy (2017) came to fans and horror aficionados alike with a proposal to build a big world filled to the brink with hidden terrors. Lead by Tom Cruise as our main protagonist, we are asked to tag along for the first installment of the Dark Universe.
The film follows mercenary for hire/treasure hunter Nick Morton (Cruise) as he and a small group of researchers, while in the Middle East, unearth an ancient tomb containing a centuries old sarcophagus. As they are on route back to London the flight goes down- causing Nick to come back from certain death, but now connected to the resurrected mummy within the sarcophagus. Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), the Mummy, unleashes her wrath throughout London as Nick encounters a secret organization led by the ominous Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). Here is where the film moves beyond the titular monster and brings in a much larger world.
Beyond the meetings of the monster and man of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, there are nods to a lot of other monsters within the proposed Dark Universe. This begs the question just might be picking at your horror loving mind: is it necessary to have horror be in a share universe? The Mummy definitely tries hard to do this. Introducing multiple elements and characters that bring much more than the Mummy itself into play. Does this hurt the film? I think so. There’s too much here that takes away from the film we came to see on the big screen.
Defining the Monster
The film begins by focusing on the history and the wrath of the Mummy itself, but ditches this in the latter half to take focus away from the title villain and onto Dr. Jekyll and his world of ‘monsters among men‘. Ahmanet almost comes across as a side character in her own movie. The focus shifts from her to following Dr. Jekyll and his own demon, Mr. Hyde, and the grand scope of his organization. In one example, we glance a severed claw from the amphibious Creature form the Black Lagoon (1954) in the lab. Jekyll’s office is also home to a display of vampire skulls hinting at the existence of the creatures in this universe and possibly Dracula (1931) himself.
The ending leaves us wanting more of The Mummy that was promised on our ticket stubs. Instead, it leaves us with too many elements begging to be either cut down or left out entirely. There is one element, however, fans of the previous iteration of The Mummy (1991) might have found some interest. While Mr. Hyde tosses Nick around, Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) circles through a library. In the struggle, a bookcase is knocked over. Moviegoers are given a brief glimpse at the Book of Life that was used in frequent during The 1991 Mummy and its sequel. A connection to a much beloved franchise is what could make this concept of a shared universe far more intriguing, but is touched on so lightly that it’s almost unnecessary.
So, can a stand-alone horror movie competently exist in its own shared cinematic universe? Not in the modern sense. Modern cinema has evolved to a point where we want more of what we love, bur more so in a continuation of what we saw rather than increments of it. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, for example, found their niche in making the grand adventures continue endlessly. Why does it work for something like this but not The Mummy? The answer is comic books. The Marvel universe stems from an already existing concept and complex, fully developed characters. Horror is a much different beast; one that is focused on singular instances: the scares.
Controlling the Beast
Flashback to the original incarnations of the Universal Monsters; each of them had their own stories told on the silver screen. Much like the earlier years of the Marvel films, these focused on their own characters- without the necessity of connecting them together. Modern cinema evolved past this and found that more money could be made by having the characters from one franchise interact with another. The films would focus on the main character at hand but lightly hint at other elements, resulting in the majority of the film showing how small their characters were. This switches the focus from telling a complete picture to creating puzzle pieces, finding ways to bring characters together.
This worked for horror in its earlier years, and worked well. In Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) we see these two creatures of the night come head to head, but only for a controlled occasion. Much like their individual films, the focus is on them alone. Audiences experience a much more honed in film, and are not dragged toward a bigger event (and another ticket sale).
That is why the classic iterations of the monsters were able to work in meeting on screen. These singular instances were to bring them together on camera. The stakes were simply, which of these creatures would leave the victor? or how would they share the stage? Viewers knew the natures of these monsters, but only their imaginations could conjure the outcome. The Dark Universe that is proposed might still achieve this, but The Mummy does not start us off on the right foot. There has already been discussion on the continuation of the universe with the upcoming Bride of Frankenstein and further films involving other reiterations of classics monsters.
The Future of the Horror Universe
The film has made it clear that the ground is shaky for the chance of a shared universe to exist in horror. Films like The Conjuring (2013) and Annabelle (2014) were able to focus on the horror in front of them rather than all the links between them. Hints are laid out for horror junkies to pick up on and connect the dots, but the films are still very much focused inward. If the Dark Universe is able to realign itself after the first film in the series, maybe there is still hope for a chance to see Dracula, Invisible Man, Wolf Man, etc. all in the same room. The last time that we have seen all of the classics on the same screen is in The Monster Squad (1987).
In short, a shared universe is almost expected in modern cinema and that poses a problem for horror. Modern viewers want more connections; we want our experience to be ongoing rather than singular. The Mummy aims to provide that horror universe to audiences but stumbles in the process. Is a shared universe necessary for horror to survive in modern cinema? Not at all. There is potential for horror to use the shared universe in providing fans deeper stories, but in the case of the Dark Universe, less is more.
The Mummy will be hitting stores on Blu Ray and DVD September 12th.
Have a different opinion? Tell us what you think about a shared universe in horror. Can it work? Continue the conversation online and in the comments.