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I cannot say in confidence if Universal’s Dark Universe will ever see the light of day, but I am confident that Blumhouse, whose films are often distributed by Universal, knows how to make a damn good monster movie. Leigh Whannell’s masterful update of The Invisible Man proves that the classic Universal monsters do still have the potential to serve up fresh scares.
In fact, I was so impressed with The Invisible Man that I find myself asking a question I never imagined myself ever speaking out loud: “What is Blumhouse’s next remake?” Honestly, if we are destined to see more updates of the horror films of yesteryear that can be as uniquely inventive, I say keep them coming.
However, I am not sure if we necessarily need to hear the cautionary tale of Dr. Frankenstein’s defiance of death, or a man plagued by his animalistic instincts following a wolf bite, or Dracula’s latest resurrection again. Therefore, I decided to dig a little deeper into Universal’s vault of frights to see what other classics could use a touch up from Blumhouse.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Yes, I know that a live-action update of this tale about a disfigured recluse pining for a gypsy woman’s affection in 15th-century Paris is already in development by Disney. However, like their 1996 animated musical, it is probably not going to follow the much darker vision that author Victor Hugo intended. In fact, Universal’s 1923 silent adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring horror icon Lon Chaney as the titular Quasimodo, does not even end the same way as the original novel, but Blumhouse could make the first faithful adaptation.
If put in the right hands, Blumhouse could produce The Hunchback of Notre Dame as a unique character study of a man whose physical flaws prevent him from acquiring his deepest desires. The trick would be to depict Quasimodo as physically unsettling, but internally empathetic, challenging the audience to question who they are rooting for when the lovesick loner goes on a murderous rampage. A horror-centric take on this tragic legend demands a gothic vision with emotional complexity.
The Invisible Ray
Despite what the title suggests, this 1936 Universal production actually has nothing to do with The Invisible Man. However, The Invisible Ray does revolve around a scientist (played by Frankenstein’s Monster himself, Boris Karloff) suffering from an irreversible condition that he takes advantage of for murderous intent, but in this case, it is a -- sort of -- fatal Midas touch: whomever he comes into contact with suffers instant death. I am surprised a remake to this has not been attempted already.
For one, I think Blumhouse could freshen up the material by changing the cause of the protagonist’s condition from a radioactive meteorite to something more plausible, and sinister even, such as the result of a ruthless colleague’s experiment, but I really believe The Invisible Ray has potential to be a story of great tragedy. Imagine being transformed into a reluctant murderer, unable to defend your innocence or touch your loved ones and forced into a life on the run and in isolation from others. Focusing on the character’s internal suffering from the consequences of his problem would make for one horrifying nightmare.
Tower of London
Blumhouse has produced a few films inspired by true stories, such as BlacKkKlansman and The Normal Heart for HBO, but the studio is does not have many fact-based movies in the horror genre. I think that a retelling of Universal’s 1939 thriller Tower of London, a dramatized account of Richard III’s (Basil Rathbone) rumored rise to power by murdering those ahead of him to inherit the English throne with help from his servant (Boris Karloff, as another Frankenstein’s Monster-esque, hulking threat), has great potential for the company’s first historical slasher.
Rarely have the Middle Ages been used as a setting for a horror film in recent years and if anyone can nail it, Blumhouse can with a new take on Tower of London. A tale of one man who has no qualms about leaving a trail of blood on his path to supreme rule, enveloped in an aesthetic and overtone that is both bleak and accurate to the time period while also throwing in some brutal gore for dramatic effect, this could be the most thrilling history lesson to come to the screen in ages. My choice for director: The Witch and The Lighthouse helmer Robert Eggers.
In this suspenseful 1940 crime drama from Universal, Dr. Ernest Sovac (Boris Karloff, as the good guy this time) saves the life of his friend, Prof. George Kingsley (Stanley Ridges), by giving him a new brain, causing him to take on the persona of the donor: a dead gangster. Black Friday is an interesting tale that fuses elements of Frankenstein with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that I personally believe would be a better fit for Blumhouse to remake than either of those two classics.
Like The Invisible Man, there is potential to update the scientific element of the story, such as, instead of a brain transplant, how about setting it in a near future in which digital consciousness can be transferred between hosts and the main character’s evil side is the result of a downloading error. I also think the key to keeping Black Friday fresh would be to not make the split personality obvious at first, but subtly hint at in a way that keeps the audience questioning his innocence. I would also figure out a title that is not associated with holiday shopping.
Captive Wild Woman
In another tale of scientific breakthroughs gone wrong, Universal’s 1943 feature Captive Wild Woman stars John Carradine as a mad scientist who ends up creating a more monstrous enemy when he turns a female gorilla into a human woman (Golden Age scream queen Acquanetta). For starters, I agree: this concept is not only pure lunacy but seems to have a overtly misogynistic undertone. That is exactly why it could use the Blumhouse treatment.
To once again reference The Invisible Man, Leigh Whannell’s update follows a recent trend of horror films that shed light on real-world issues, such as Jordan Peele’s Get Out or The Purge franchise, and putting Captive Wild Woman’s plot involving a woman held prisoner by a man through a modern lens has potential to do the same by reinterpreting it into a tale of female empowerment and making it clear that the scientist is the true antagonist.
House Of Frankenstein
Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man has not only proven, to me at least, that Blumhouse may be the rightful successor to Universal’s long sought after Dark Universe, but that a shared cinematic universe might not even be necessary to revive the studio’s classic movie monsters. However, that does not mean that an update of House of Frankenstein, Universal’s 1944 crossover event that puts the likes of the Mummy, the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, and more all in the same place, is totally out of the question. Just don’t call it a crossover.
Instead of a film that references these horror icons by name, why not invent original variations of the characters (or even an entirely new of distinguishable creatures and menacing personalities) that collectively prove to be a terrifying threat to a group of people who take refuge at a desolate mansion on a stormy night, or something like that? Blumhouse could even go as far as making it a comedy reminiscent of the crap that the Deadites put Bruce Campbell through in Evil Dead II. I think a reinvention of House of Frankenstein such as this could be this generations next great man vs. monster nightmare.
Whichever of Universal’s monster movies the studio chooses to revive and however they choose to execute them, I am convinced that if Blumhouse is involved, we might be in for a good scare. Be sure to check back for more updates on the fate of the Dark Universe and other news in the horror genre here on CinemaBlend.