5 Ways Universal Can Reboot The Dark Universe

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Everyone wants their own Cinematic Universe. With the unbridled success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, all the studios are rushing to create a massive interconnected franchise of solo movies interspersed with team up movies. Universal Studios has been attempting to launch a shared universe consisting of their classic monsters including Dracula and Frankenstein for a few years now. But in their rush to simultaneously emulate Marvel, and catch up with their offerings and popularity, things have not gone smoothly.

As anyone who follows these things knows, Universal originally reworked their film Dracula Untold to work as the launching pad for a series of films that would have seen Vlad team up with his fellow monsters to defeat an ancient evil. But when the film starring Luke Evans (Highrise, Beauty and the Beast) flopped at the box office and failed to woo critics, they decided it wouldn’t be included and instead placed their hopes on The Mummy.

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Where as Dracula Untold focused almost exclusively on building up it’s take on Dracula and the vampire mythos, The Mummy tries to jam not only it’s take on undead Egyptian royalty, but lay extensive groundwork for a shared universe that consists of a single film. A large part of Marvel’s success with it’s films has been keeping the focus on the titular character while giving just enough connective tissue to pay off after several very loosely connected films. Instead of trying to give the world solid solo outings for it’s stable of Monsters, they just wanna launch directly into the kind of shared universe that it took Marvel years and 6 films to achieve.

Universal had already given it’s new franchise a name, Dark Universe, and a cast of stars for films that don’t even have directors yet. In addition to Cruise’s  adventurer and Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyl, Universal has also cast Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s Monster and in an incredibly questionable casting choice Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man. With Bill Condon (Beauty and the Beast, Gods and Monsters) set to direct the next instalment, Bride of Frankenstein which will focus on the titular Bride who has yet to be cast. They’ve also got plans for Dracula, The Creature from the Black Lagoon (rumoured to star Scarlet Johanson), Phantom of the Opera, The Wolf Man and yes even The Hunchback of Notre Dame (despite the story not being horror or part of the original group of Universal’s horror pictures).

Suffice to say that Universal is counting it’s monsters before they hatch. Given that their second attempt to start the shared universe has failed, let’s take a look at some ways they can restart this shared universe the right way.

Go R-Rated

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These are monster movies, why not give the audience something actually scary! The PG-13 rating that most big budget movies go with means that they inevitably end up as action adventure movies dressed up in horror trappings. Why not give the audience some gore and ultra violence? While the budgets would be smaller, movies like Blade, Deadpool and Bram Stoker’s Dracula have proven that R rated films can make money and get critical acclaim. Universal had done an R-Rated Wolfman film with Benicio Del Toro but it failed to find success. Maybe it’s time they revisit the concept.

Lean Into Comedy

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While not everyone realises it, we have already gotten cross overs featuring our favorite monsters. Universal had Abbott and Costello meeting Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolfman over 50 years ago. In the 80s, the world was gifted with The Monster Squad. Directed by Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps), the film is a comedy focusing on a group of misfit kids who are obsessed with classic horror monsters. When Dracula brings together The Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster to help him plunge the world into darkness, making him nigh unstoppable. So it’s up to the group of spunky kids with assists from a Holocaust survivor and one of the boy’s older sisters to stop Dracula before it’s too late.

The film, which has a massive cult following shows how comedy can be the perfect genre for these monsters to meet. While the stakes are high, so is the camp. Perhaps instead of trying to sprinkle just the right amount of humor, Universal should instead lean into it wholeheartedly.

Make Them Period Pieces

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Trying to modernise these stories is quite the tall order. It’s hard to find a balance of “grounded” and fantastical. By setting the films in the past, there isn’t as much need to make them grounded. Francis Ford Coppolla had great success with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Tim Burton’s take on Sleepy Hollow is sumptuous and spooky. Even lesser films like Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Joe Johnson’s Wolf Man gave the audience gore and violence mixed with atmosphere and old world charm.

More recently, Penny Dreadful showed audiences that these stories can work best when recontextualised within the past, instead of being modernised. One of Dracula Untold’s strong points was that it was set during the historical period during with Vlad Tempes was in power. A series of solo movies could set up the heroes from each film to become something along the lines of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Go Young Adult

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Some of the most successful franchises in the last decade have been based on young adult novels. Instead of going for casts whose median age is 45, why not lean into the younger demographic and cast young up and commers for a youthful approach. Dracula becomes a story about a young Mina Harker who becomes enthralled by a handsome prince with a dark and violent secret who Mina must stop with the help of her professor Van Helsing. The Wolfman tells the story of a young man cursed by the full moon. A younger cast could bring in a younger audience which means better longevity.

Go Full Freddy vs Jason

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Rather than spend a ton of time reinventing the monsters, creating secret societies that are obviously rip offs of SHIELD and the Telemasca, just go full tilt Monsters vs Monsters. Good monsters (The Bride, Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Van Helsing) vs bad monsters (Doctor Frankenstein, Dracula, The Invisible Man, The Mummy). At the end of the day, people just wanna see a monster brawl, so why not just give it to them? Stop trying to make things high art and just lean into the pulpiness of it all. I mean who doesn’t want to see The Bride of Frankenstein kill her maker, or the Creature from the Black Lagoon tearing The Mummy in half?

Whatever Universal does, the most important thing is that they examine what makes people love these stories and characters. Instead of producers working on making sure they have everything on their check lists, they need to hire people who are passionate about making quality films, not hollow blockbusters. Gone are the days where soulless garbage still breaks even. In this new age of Gods and Monsters, the audience is discerning about not to fall for sloppy attempts at cashing in. They want to see movies made with passion and creativity and a true love for the source material. With Bill Condon directing Bride of Frankenstein, based on his favorite film, there may just be hope yet for The Dark Universe. But if the big wigs decide to start over a third time, perhaps they will take a different approach. Lordy knows as a fan I want these films to be a success. But if they thought The Mummy was the right way to start things off, I’m not very hopeful for the success either critical or financial for this shared Monster-verse.

 

 

 

 

 

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Penny Dreadful Series I [REVIEW]

70081c84jw1ei5cbuephaj20ll0vkdmoWe all have our curses don’t we? – Vanessa

When word first got out that Showtime would be bringing us a psycho-sexual horror show over flowing with characters plucked from the pages of classic horror lit; most horror fans either frantically searched for a fresh pair of panties after messing themselves, or got super butt hurt about it. The show was either going to be the first season of American Horror Story, or the fifth season of True Blood.

What we got was quite possibly one of the most consistent and well done horror shows in history. Within 8 episodes Penny Dreadful took us on a journey that managed to be as thrilling as it was unique. They some how managed to take what on paper sounds like a sexier version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and bring us atmosphere and character but the butt load. Be warned that I am going to get into some spoiler territory so ya, you’ve been warned or whatever.

The basic plot of the show is this: Sir Malcom Murray (Timothy Dalton) is searching for his daughter Mina who has been taken by dark and evil forces. He is joined by Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), the gorgeous, likely insane and definitely touched by dark forces herself. Vanessa feels compelled to use her connection with the darkness to help Sir Malcom find Mina. But this isn’t just a standard save the girl plot. As the show unfolds it reveals the incredibly troubled and complicated past that Vanessa and Mina’s families have shared through the years.

Joining them are Sembene (Danny Sapani), Sir Malcom’s hulking African man servant/body guard; who despite the fewest lines of any of the core cast remains a powerful presence. Sexy American sharp shooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) joins them as a hired gun trying to run from a bloody past.

In their quest to find out more about the monsters that have taken Mina, they come to Victor Frankenstein. A sad eyed poet who dissects bodies and pontificates about science as if it is equal parts prose and alchemy. Victor’s own dark past complicates his work for Sir Malcom to say the least. But I suppose that’s what happens when you have slightly homoerotic over tones with reanimated corpses.

Penny Dreadful manages to take all the elements so loved within the various works it draws from and manages to make them feel fresh and exciting. The show manages to include references to just about every important element of Dracula without it feeling ham fisted or as if they have a check list of easter eggs to get through.

The acting is fantastic throughout. It is a true testament to Eva Green’s talent that she is able to go from Victorian lady blushing while Dorian Gray flirts to an unhinged mess channeling the dead loved ones of her friends and revealing the other character’s darkest fears and secrets. Josh Hartnett gives a career best performance as Ethan, whether he is getting his drunken homo love on, or praying for his consumption riddled girlfriend. Timothy Dalton is in turns heart breaking and enraging as a man determined to do anything to save the last shred of his soul as represented by Mina.

The show manages to be one of the queerest on TV. While American Horror Story gave us Lana Banana, Hannibal gives us more gay subtext than cannibal puns and True Blood gives us beefcake galore and a few throw away gay day dreams, Penny Dreadful is like one giant queer melting pot. Dorian Gray is a proper bisexual, Mina’s brother is definitely friends with Dorothy, Mina and Vanessa have some strong Hammer Horror lesbian under tones, Victor might be a little too obsessed with building the perfect man and don’t even get me started on that kiss!

In addition to a riveting take on it’s source material, fantastic acting and a masterful plot, Penny Dreadful is gorgeously shot. Everything in frame is perfectly art directed, lit and filmed. By treating the costumes and sets as if this were a Merchant Ivory period piece and the practical effects and gore like something out of your favorite horror film, they manage a show that manages to be as delightfully pulpy as the titular horror stories and as exquisite as the worlds found in the novels by Shelley, Stoker and Wilde.

At just 8 hour long episodes which have finished airing, Penny Dreadful is the kind of show made for binge watching. And since it’s been renewed for a 10 episode second season, you can rest assured that the various plot points left unresolved by the first series end will be explored. If you are a fan of Hannibal, American Horror Story, you will fall in love with Penny Dreadful.

 

Penny Dreadful’s Queer Bent [TELEVISION]

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WARNING THE FOLLOWING POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR PENNY DREADFUL EPISODES 1-5

Showtime’s Victorian Horror series Penny Dreadful is joined the ranks as not only one of the best horror shows, but shows period. It’s takes on classic characters from Dracula, Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and various horror tropes has been fantastic thus far. Along with magnificent performances by pretty much every actor (except perhaps Billy Piper).

But I had hoped for all that. What I didn’t expect was that the show would address queer content with such a delicious nonchalance. Victor’s obsession with building a man. His meek poetic nature and close relationship to his mother provide the audience with a character with a hint of gay subtext. And we have Dorian Gray as a proper bisexual.

But what really shocked me was when macho Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) ditches Vanessa (Eva Green) to go drinking with Dorian. And I nearly died of a stroke when after some absinthe, Ethan hauled off and kissed Dorian and they proceeded to strip. And the queerness kept coming after that with Vanessa’s flash back episode in which she had some heavy lesbian subtext with bosom buddy Mina, ruined her wedding and tried to molest Mina’s sissy brother (who proceeded to die in the wilds of Africa). The irony of a show so rooted in Victorian England would be so fluid and modern with it’s approach to sexuality is one of it’s strongest points.

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Penny Dreadful airs Sundays at 10PM EST on Showtime

Penny Dreadful [TELEVISION]

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Showtime has finally released a full trailer for their new show Penny Dreadful, and I have to say I am impressed. The show will revolve around iconic literary characters from classic horror stories including Dorian Gray, Doctor Frankenstein and his creation as well as what appears to be possibly a Mummy and characters from Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

What really impresses me about the trailer is the high quality production values the show has. They seem to have perfectly captured the essence of the era and the mood of horror in Victorian London. Not to mention the incredibly talented cast which features Eva Green (Cracks) and Josh Hartnett (30 Days Of Night) along with Billie Piper and Helen McCroy (aka Rose from Doctor Who and Narcissa Malfoy from Harry Potter).

Horror on TV is currently the big thing, but it’s been a mixed bag. The Walking Dead continues to not live up to it’s true potential, NBC’s Dracula is destined to be left at a single season, and don’t even get me started on the hot mess that has become many of the soapy likes of True Blood or Vampire Diaries. But this looks like it has the perfect combination of star power, production value and a fresh new take on classic characters. We won’t know until May, but this actually looks like it could be on par with shows like American Horror Story and Hannibal.