John Landis Says Universal’s Dark Universe Disrespects Its Monsters


Legendary writer-director John Landis can be a divisive figure, but when it comes to ‘monster movies,’ his expertise is beyond reproach. Not only is he a world authority on the subject, but he also has a long-standing professional association with Universal, which is currently building its Dark Universe around monster movie remakes and re-imaginings. So, when John Landis says these films are disrespectful to their monsters, it’s time to sit up and take notice.

In his younger days, Landis worked his way up from the 20th Century Fox mailroom to become a director in his own right – making his debut in 1973 with Schlock, which was an homage to ‘monster movies.’ His long association with Universal began in 1978, with National Lampoon’s Animal House, and went on to include titles such as The Blues Brothers, Into The Night, Amazon Women On The Moon, Blues Brothers 2000 and An American Werewolf In London. He even directed the Universal Studios Florida fireworks show – titled Universal 360: A Cinesphere Spectacular – which ran at the resort from 2006 to 2011.

His fascination with, and depth of knowledge of, ‘monster movies’ is such that he literally wrote the book – 2011’s Monsters In The Movies. So, when Landis recently visited Dublin to promote the Elmer Bernstein: 50 Years Of Film Music concert, was keen to ask for his thoughts on The Mummy – Universal’s Dark Universe opener – which appears to be underperforming in both critical and commercial terms.

Here’s what he had to say:

“[The Dark Universe is] not a new idea. If you remember with Universal back in the ’40s, once they made all their classics, they started cross-pollinating. House of Dracula, House of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf-Man – you know what they used to call those? Monster rallies! (laugh) And then of course, one of the great ironies is what was considered… OK – it’s over now!… was Abbot & Costello Meets Frankenstein, which is actually a very funny movie and very respectful of the monsters. I think, y’know, maybe that’s one of the problems with Universal’s Dark Universe is that it isn’t respectful of the monsters.

“What’s happening is the studios now will make a film for $150, $200 million but they’re afraid to take risks. You asked me about the Dark Universe, if you’re gonna make a movie of The Mummy, why the fuck do you need Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe?! As soon as you announce that Tom Cruise is in The Mummy, you know you’re not going to see a horror picture! It’s not gonna be The Mummy, it’s going to be the Tom Cruise Show. I don’t know.”

It’s interesting to hear this informed perspective on the Dark Universe, in light of recent news stories suggesting that Tom Cruise had his own part in The Mummy expanded, as the script originally had equal screen time devoted to his character, and that of the titular monster, according to reports. As Landis makes plain, the point of a ‘monster movie’ is that the monster is the star.

Going forward, the studio has clearly indicated that big names are attached to the monster roles – with Russell Crowe as Dr Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s Monster and Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man – but this fact in itself makes The Mummy debacle even more problematic. The rest of the films so far announced feature male monsters, and big male stars have been cast in those roles. The Mummy therefore stands out for the fact that its monster is female, but whose performer has been purposefully upstaged by a male actor in the human role.

So, it’ll be fascinating to watch this Dark Universe unfold, and see whether it’ll continue to buck Hollywood tradition by disrespecting its monsters, or continue to comply with that other Hollywood tradition of disrespecting the need for decent female characters. One way or another, all eyes will be on the next instalment – Bride Of Frankenstein, starring Javier Bardem – which is set for release on February 14th, 2019, and for which the titular wife has yet to be cast.

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