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The Dreadful Ten: Top 10 Suggestions To Improve The Upcoming Universal Monster Universe!

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With 2016 almost at our doorstep and the last major horror release of the years currently in theaters, the eyes of fright fans are now geared towards the future. And if you’ve been keeping your eyes on the trades as of late, you may have noticed that the gears are swiftly turning on Universal’s connected Monster Universe, in which the studio’s classic monsters will reunite and interact in theatrical ventures akin to the Marvel and DC model of superhero films. While horror hounds won’t get their eyes on these creature features until 2017, FANGORIA has decided to pen some open suggestions to Universal in the hopes that the studio will give fans the Universal Monster reboots they deserve. So without further ado…

  1. Remember That Not All Monsters Are Created Equal

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So what exactly do we mean by this statement? Well, just because the Universal Monster reboots will be connected doesn’t necessarily mean every monster deserves equal standing. Characters like Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and The Wolfman are inherently more sympathetic than the likes of The Mummy or The Invisible Man, and are even more human in nature than The Gill-Man. And in the latter’s case, if there’s anything the Marvel Universe has proven about the more monstrous creations of their universe, it’s that they’re better stealing the spotlight in other vehicles rather than awkwardly steering their own.

 

  1. Fill Out The Roster

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While not everything has been brought to light about the upcoming Universal Monster Universe, fright fans do know we should expect the likes of The Wolf Man, Dracula, Frankenstein & His Bride, and The Mummy among the ranks. However, Universal should not forget how important Marvel’s impressive supporting characters have been, especially the duo of Black Widow and Hawkeye. That said, perhaps characters like The Invisible Man, Dr. Pretorius, Renfield, The Phantom of the Opera, Igor, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and The Man Who Laughs could be incredibly useful in building the Universe so that the crisis is not quite so “Us vs. Them” in nature while preventing our monstrous characters from appearing all-powerful.

 

  1. Be Scary!

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No matter what Universal has in mind, they’re never going to capture the dramatic tension and gruesome heights of PENNY DREADFUL, especially if they truly are going for a PG-13 adventure film vibe. That said, the Universal Monsters Universe doesn’t necessary have to be R-rated to be terrifying; after all, the originals never went to depraved depths and these characters were chilling enough on the written page. However, if adventure is what Universal wants, they should also make sure to show the other side of the horror coin: allow the monsters to be scary, and give the audience a believable reason why our heroes should fear them.

 

  1. Know Your Anti-Heroes and Your Villains

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While it’s important to make sure the Universal Monster Universe has a fair share of sympathy and tragedy on display, it’s equally important to keep these films from feeling homogenous and unengaging. Therefore, perhaps it would be better if the eventual Universal Monster team-up would be a mix between Heroes, Anti-Heroes and Villains. Hell, if the uneasy alliance of THE AVENGERS works with an almost full foster of “Lawful Good” characters, just imagine the tension if the team mixed in some “Chaotic Evil.” Besides, there’s a good reason why THE DIRTY DOZEN and THE WILD BUNCH remain more relevant today than THE A-TEAM.

 

  1. Don’t Be Afraid of Humor

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As Universal has made very clear in their announcements thus far, the Universal Monster Universe is largely going to take place in present day. While some fright fans may find that apprehensive, they also might want to remember that one of the most beloved horror properties, THE MONSTER SQUAD, took that very same route. Yet the secret to THE MONSTER SQUAD’s longevity remains in its pitch-perfect script from Shane Black and Fred Dekker, which is quotable and hilarious even to this day. Universal would be wise to take Black and Dekker’s lead and make sure there’s enough humor and character behind their scripts as there is horror and action.

 

  1. We Don’t Need Origin Stories

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Most of the stories behind the Universal Monsters are so old, they’re in the public domain, hence why so many mockbusters featuring these characters arise from the independent world every year. In that case, unless history is being rewritten to the extent that these characters are virtually unrecognizable, this writer doesn’t see much reason to spend an entire new film re-establishing what is now common knowledge in pop culture. And even if an origin is necessary, Universal can surely find a better way to share these Monsters’ backstories more inventively and fun than a linear origin story that will undoubtedly drag the story down and frustrate audiences without the proper pay-offs.

 

  1. Connect The Dots Thoughtfully

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Outside of the characters that appear from one film to the next, the one thing Marvel does fantastically with their cinematic universe is the continuity between films. Whether it’s the appearance of minor characters, the synchronicity of the timelines or the presence of certain groups or corporations throughout their properties, Marvel makes their films feel like organic extensions of one another without overt force or stubbornness. Universal should keep that in mind: rather than connecting every property through a single character, perhaps something as small as an artifact or as large as a shared global event can carry the same effect. After all, this writer knows he wouldn’t be the only one rolling his eyes if “the Van Helsing Corporation” kept popping up in every Universal Monster reboot.

 

  1. Modernize Van Helsing

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For the longest time, Abraham Van Helsing has been the crutch of the Universal Monster Universe, inhabiting the role of mankind’s strongest tool in fighting the supernatural and otherworldly. However, who would Van Helsing be in the modern world? As much fun as a deep cover monster hunter might be, it’s been done to underwhelming effect, and will be even more out-of-place if Universal intends to make their Monsters heroic or sympathetic to an extent. So why not roll the dice with Van Helsing? After all, he might fit into contemporary society much easier as a fanatical, rabble-rousing villain than a lone gunman aiming to take down creatures of the night.

 

  1. Be As Practical As Possible

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This should be a no-brainer. While it might be easier to drop $100 million on a Universal Monster Movie where the bulk of the FX work can be done in post-production, the fact is Universal could knock off tens of millions by using more practical FX and old school optical illusions. And while that may cost more in time (and time is money in Hollywood), the fact is that pretty much everything is expensive in the studio system nowadays and yet they still compromise on being the best in order to be the shiniest. Perhaps the execs at Universal can pick up Coppola’s DRACULA on its gorgeous new 4K remaster and see exactly how effective practical FX and optical illusions can be as opposed to, say, the digitized Gothic bullshit of I, FRANKENSTEIN.

 

  1. Get Weird

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By choosing to go modern with their Universal Monster Universe, these classic horror franchises are going to have to find a modern context in which to exist (beyond just basic fear). However, perhaps unintentionally so, this might be the most complimentary time for these characters to exist within a universe, as people are obsessed with real life supernatural events and places. Between the countless books, reality shows, excursion packages and new media on display, the real life places in which these monsters can reside are exponentially greater. And rather than fill these reboots with myriad teeth-grating callbacks, familiar set piece reprisals and “too cool” reconfigurations, perhaps the best plan of action is to embrace the inherent weirdness of a world of monsters, from the quirks to the eeriness to the real life circumstances in which one might find themselves at their mercy. Take a lesson from KRAMPUS, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, KINGSMAN and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, Universal: sometimes, weird is better.

About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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