During a recent roundtable interview to promote his new buddy drama The Nice Guys co-starring Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe confirmed that he would be playing Dr. Jekyll in director Alex Kurtzman's upcoming reboot of The Mummy, and furthermore claimed that the big-budget film is — contrary to perceptions in the industry — “designed to scare the shit out of you.” Sounds great! So why don't I believe it?
Anyone who has been paying attention over the last couple of years knows that Universal is planning a Marvel Cinematic Universe-style crossover film series centering on the studio's classic monsters (Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and the Bride of Frankenstein, et al.), with The Mummy set to be first out of the gate next summer.
As Drew and I agreed on last week's episode of my weekly horror chat series Nightmare Fuel (embedded above and below), this approach is troubling, not least because it seems to miss the point of the characters entirely. I also wonder how much “horror” will make it to the screen given the amount of money at stake (no pun intended). With A-listers like Crowe and Tom Cruise already in the mix and many more big names sure to come, I'm expecting the budgets on these things to be massive — and the bigger the budget, the less creative risk the studio is likely to take.
This actually ties in with what I wrote earlier today regarding Shane Black's forthcoming Predator reboot/sequel, which is being billed as the first “event-sized” film in that long-running horror/sci-fi/action series. As I already noted, it's a pretty bold risk by Black and 20th Century Fox given the “genre” bent of that franchise up to this point, and I'm skeptical whether the material can survive the transition to tentpole filmmaking given that horror films inherently appeal to a smaller fan base than action-adventure movies do.
And yet as I write this, I realize that perhaps the best example of that transition working came in the form of Stephen Sommers' 1999 Mummy remake, which brought Indiana Jones-style adventure and a summer popcorn-movie budget to bear in its reinvention of the 1932 horror classic. “Think Night of the Living Dead stripped of genuine horror and restaged as an Egyptian-theme Halloween pageant,” snarked New York Times critic Stephen Holden at the time, and indeed, while the film was a popular success, it stripped the story of the low-key eeriness that made The Mummy such a beloved horror property in the first place. Sommers' film (not to mention its 2001 and 2008 sequels) was a four-quadrant, PG-13 tentpole movie through and through, designed to appeal to absolutely everyone except those young or skittish enough to be frightened by hokey CGI sandstorms.
Here's the thing: I doubt that Universal, Kurtzman, Cruise, Crowe and screenwriter Jon Spaihts are interested in making anything as light-hearted as those movies, and they've already made at least one inspired choice by casting a woman — Kingsman star Sofia Boutella — as the eponymous ghoul. These are all smart people who understand that treading the same ground as those last three films would be a recipe for failure. That said, I also doubt that The Mummy 2017 will be truly “designed to scare the shit out of” anyone. If that was the goal, they wouldn't have hired Kurtzman — the A-list screenwriter of Transformers and J.J. Abrams' Star Trek whose sole directorial outing prior to this was the Chris Pine-Elizabeth Banks drama People Like Us — to take the helm; they would have hired a director who has already proven they can terrify people.
Particularly for a diehard horror aficionado like myself, it's a disappointment that Universal has chosen to shoehorn their classic Monsters into the MCU template, which unfortunately seems to be the wave of the future for tentpole franchises even when it doesn't make sense. It's doubly disappointing given that we know the horror-centric approach can work, with Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version of Dracula (which was made not at Universal but Sony's Columbia Pictures) proving that Hollywood could effectively bring the ghouls of old into the modern age without sacrificing their macabre origins.
Look, I could be wrong. Perhaps Universal truly is planning a full-bore, big-budget Monsters franchise that will adhere to the spirit and tone of their '30s and '40s progenitors. Then again, maybe I'm not. After all, no less a decision maker than Universal chairman Donna Langley has gone on record as saying the series will take the classic monsters “out of the horror genre, [and] put it more in the action-adventure genre” — and with this much money at stake, I'm inclined to believe her.