Universal Studios is bringing back all the classic horror movies like The Mummy and Frankenstein for a new generation. Here’s what they can learn from the originals.
Earlier this year, Universal Studios released The Mummy starring Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella. It didn’t do great. There’s plenty the studio could learn from this first outing, but only time will tell if they’re paying attention.
Regardless, the franchise train refuses to slow down, so we can expect plenty of other reboots of the classic films in this Dark Universe. Here’s everything we know so far.
I recently watched the original Universal Monsters films (Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and The Wolf Man (1941)) thanks to a cool new streaming service called Shudder, which delivers all your favorite horror movies in one convenient place.
They’ve got curated selections and a host of old and new movies to choose from. At the very least, it’s a great place to watch all six of the original Universal Monsters movies before the rest of the reboots come out.
While watching and doing a little bit of research on the production and reception of the original films, I noticed a few reasons why these movies became so iconic. Universal Studios could learn a few lessons going forward if only they took the time to go back.
1. Bigger isn’t always better
Dracula was, in many ways, a transitional movie between silent film and the “talkies.” As such, the movie can, at times, seem languid. There are many instances where Bela Lagosi, as Count Dracula, takes his time in speaking and moving.
Those iconic shots of his face, half hidden by shadow, are not blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. Instead, the camera relishes in giving the audience an intimate look at this monster’s face so you can read every thought crossing his mind.
The Mummy (2017), by comparison, is an action movie through and through. It is big and loud and fast-paced. While this might suit modern audiences better (our attention spans are, admittedly, much shorter), there’s something to be said about slowing the action down and allowing the monster time in the spotlight
The closer we feel to the monster, the more dangerous they seem.
2. People are afraid of what they cannot see
That leads me into the next point, which is that much of what makes the original films so terrifying is that you do not see the movie’s titular monster right away. In Bride of Frankenstein, she only appears at the end for a few moments before she and her husband-to-be are destroyed.
The anticipation that builds toward the reveal is often nearly as scary as the actual unveiling.
This won’t work for every incarnation — we meet Dracula fairly early on in his film — but something can be said for pumping the brakes and luxuriating in that feeling of apprehension.
Our imaginations are often more inventive than reality, so once we meet the monster for the first time, it’s no longer quite as frightening. We can put a face to our fear, and that automatically gives us something to fight (unless you’re talking about The Invisible Man, of course).
3. Be inventive
This is the big one. I hope you’re paying attention, Universal. The original films are now iconic in more ways than one.
When you picture Frankenstein, you’re imagining the look of the creature that originated with Boris Karloff’s monster. When you cite that only silver can kill a werewolf, you’re talking about a legend that was created specifically for The Wolf Man. The Bride of Frankenstein’s hairstyle and Dracula’s classic cadence all come from these original films.
Of course, it’s difficult to be iconic now. How can you top what has withstood the tests of time? But there are ways to pay homage which could feel both humbling and original. The Bride of Frankenstein was a better received movie than its predecessor, so it stands to reason that these reboots could become the horror movies of a generation for our time.
But there’s a long way to go if we’re starting off with Tom Cruise’s The Mummy. It did not give us anything we hadn’t seen before. Part of the reason why the original Universal Monsters movies were so impactful was because they had given audiences something new, whether it be makeup techniques or wire work or camera processes.
I know my dream of practical effects once again outshining CGI will never come true, but if Universal wants to wow its audiences, it’ll have to step up their game.
Theatergoers reportedly passed out in their seats when they first saw Dracula on the silver screen, yet I can watch it now and not blink an eye. Our tolerance for horror has grown exponentially, and if the studio wants to recreate what made these classic films work so well to begin with, they’ll have to find a way to bring something new to the table.