It's no secret that Universal Studios made critical errors with their efforts to do a "Dark Universe" with their stable of classic monsters, a la the Monsterverse, MCU, or DCEU. They have screwed the pooch by going too big too soon, by trying to blow up their monsters and find some sort of bizarre, "fresh," "new" approach to these monsters, and in the process, losing everything that made them beloved in the first place.
Now, to be fair, beginning with Dracula Untold was not a horrible idea. It's not a bad "origin story" for Dracula as a vampire, but here's the problem with that: we don't need an origin story for Dracula. He was Vlad the Impaler. He did horrible things in defense of his country. For whatever reason, be it his sins or a deal with dark powers, he became a vampire after death. It didn't need to be shown on screen and showing it wasn't clever. It was pointless.
Tom Cruise's Mummy...what can we say about that? Just bad in general, though slotting in Dr. Jeckyll played by Russell Crowe was the sole stroke of genius in that flick. Again, however, it was just some weird effort to force things that did not need to be forced. But the basic story in that was stupid. It was using the name for name recognition's sake, and ignoring everything about the Mummy franchise that came before it. Why? Just so they could make a woman the Mummy.
Look, I get the desire for diversity in films, but let's be fair: co-opting Egyptian mythology and culture is problematic to begin with. This film is just problems from top to bottom.
So how can we do a Dark Universe properly? Here's the secret: there is no secret. It's freaking easy, if Universal would just wake up and use what they have. Here's the outline, and surprise! It's already been done.
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The biggest change to this film is that it's set in the modern era. We begin with Jonathan Harker, a real estate broker on his way to broker a deal with Count Vlad Dracula, supposedly a distant descendant of the original Carpathian voivode. Harker is distressed upon arriving at Dracula's manse, a fictional, vast, castle-like abode in the Carpathian mountains, that he has no cellular service. This will become a running theme: monsters tend to live on the edges of civilization where modern media cannot easily track them. The series is as much about the modern day catching up with the ancient world as it is retelling the stories.
Harker meets Dracula, who welcomes him and wishes Harker to stay for several weeks while preparations are made, his legal team reviews documents, and whatnot. He allows Harker free rein of his house except where doors are locked, and informs Harker that he suffers from Polymorphous Light Eruption (PMLE), a sun allergy that forces him to do most of his business indoors or at night.
Harker has his encounter with the female vampires. Dracula intervenes, just as in the book, but Harker is left drained, weakened, and enslaved while Dracula departs for England. Harker escapes.
Dracula arrives in England to take control of Carfax Abbey, which is just next to a major medical centre where, of course, Dr. Seward works. Dracula enslaves an inmate, Renfield.
The rest of the story plays out exactly as in the book, just substituting a modern setting, complete with Dracula dying by Quincey Morris' hand and killing Quncey in the process.
In a mid-credit scene, the Harkers, Holmwood, and Seward are recruited by Van Helsing into a clandestine organization of monster hunters. In a post-credit scene, a mysterious figure approaches Dracula's body, removing the knife from his heart or perhaps performing a ritual (possibly even bathing Dracula's body in blood), and Dracula's eyes pop open.
In a mid-credit scene, Frankenstein is revived by base doctors, and finds Van Helsing standing over him, stating, "We have much to talk about." In a post-credits scene, we see the monster, still alive, and wandering back into the south, perhaps finding his way to Svalbard, Greenland, or Finland. He is approached by the same mysterious figure, who in a dark mirror of Van Helsing, says, "We have much to talk about."
Yet again, the story proceeds as the original but in modern settings. The existing remake with Benicio Del Toro is a fantastic model for this (ignoring the werewolf-on-werewolf fight with his father and modernizing the setting). In this one, Talbot dies in the end and is buried. Perhaps in a post-credit scene we see the same mysterious figure that revived Dracula...doing something mysterious.
The Bride of Frankenstein
Again, this is a fairly straight remake of the original film, only modernized and we can do away with the weird little people in glass jars. Frankenstein is living with his new wife Elsa and his daughter Julia and doing research for the monster hunting agency, trying to atone for his past sins, when he is approached by the mysterious figure, now revealed to be Doctor Septimus Pretorius. Pretorius is obsessed with the secrets of life and death, and the mysterious things that man was not meant to know. He is also a former professor of Victor's from his college days, which enables him to worm his way into the doctor's trust.
Before long, he brings with him the monster, who terrorizes Frankenstein and Pretorius reveals that they have taken Frankenstein's new wife Elsa and his daughter Julia hostage. The two will only be returned if Victor creates a female companion for the monster. Pretorius' goal of course is to learn the secrets of creating life. The monster's is exactly what he demands: a companion.
In the end of this one, the Bride and monster do not perish hating one another. As the film progresses, we find Frankenstein able to get word to the Van Helsing group, who gather to render aid, but they arrive too late. The castle is destroyed but the monster and Pretorius escape, while the Bride rescues Victor with the help of Jonathan Harker and Arthur Holmwood. Van Helsing reveals that Pretorius is an old associate of his, once a partner who turned dark.
In a mid-credits scene, the monster parts ways with Pretorius, having realized he was being used. It's also established that the monster does not know where Pretorius is hiding Elsa and Julia (and indeed never knew that they were taken hostage to begin with). The monster will become a wild card as the series goes on, playing his own schemes. In a post-credits scene, Pretorius and Dracula visit Elsa and Julia. Dracula is clearly smitten with Elsa.
The Blood Countess
This is a new entry, unrelated (for the most part) to original films. It does, however, draw from the legend of Erszebet Bathory, from the Dracula's Daughter film, and from the story of Carmilla. In it, we establish a family line between Dracula and Erszebet. The film begins with the countess, eager to free herself of the curse of vampirism, visiting Dracula's manse in Transylvania and destroying his brides with the help of her servant Szandor. The Countess and Szandor then head to England, where she becomes enmeshed in the aftermath of the events of Dracula. She takes the alias of Countess Carmilla Karnstein and makes the acquaintence of Dr. Pretorius, who promises her that he can cure her condition if she cooperates.
Meanwhile, she begins to fall prey to her own bloodlust, which she has held in check for too long. She becomes enamored of a young prostitute named Laura, whom Szandor brings to her after finding Laura on the brink of suicide and under the pretense that his mistress seeks a model for her art. This mimicks the scene in Dracula's Daughter with Lili. As Bathory first sees, then stalks, then paints Laura, she has flashbacks revealing another Laura in ages gone by, a young girl whom she loved dearly - these depict the story of Carmilla. It all leads to Bathory losing control, viciously attacking Lili to drain her.
Szandor dumps Lili's body in a dumpster, but somehow she is barely alive and ends up brought to Dr. Seward, who calls in the Van Helsing group upon seeing the marks on her neck. She dies of heart failure under hypnosis just as in Dracula's Daughter. More hijinks follow during which the Van Helsing Group realizes that Karnstein is Erszebet Bathory.
Bathory gives into her urges and when she finds out Pretorius is in league with Dracula, she flies into a rage. Pretorius barely survives. Bathory then manages to subdue the Van Helsing group and kidnap Harker, and Mina, now a seasoned demon hunter, must rescue him and have a showdown with Bathory. Possibly Mina calls in some help for the climax: the Bride, now a member of the Van Helsing group.
The mid- and post-credits scenes involve Bathory's re-awakening by Dracula, who reveals that as her sire he has always known how to find Bathory and that a great day will soon dawn. He has someone he wants her to meet.
Frankenstein vs. the Wolf Man
This film closes "Book One" of the Dark Universe. Larry Talbot is awakened when grave robbers disturb his grave, removing the wolfsbane with which he was buried and exposing him to the light of the full moon. Talbot transforms and savages both grave robbers. It is revealed that Pretorius was behind the grave robbing to begin with as he watches the werewolf lope off into the night.
He is found the next morning, his clothes tattered, delirious and confused, and taken to the hospital, where he is tended to by none other than Dr. Henry Jekyll. Much of his experience in the hospital mirrors the original Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, save that Jekyll actually realizes Talbot is indeed a werewolf, and takes a sample of his blood. Jekyll recommends that he and Talbot travel to Switzerland to visit his acquaintence Victor Frankenstein, who may be able to help Talbot with his condition. It becomes clear that Jekyll, however, has plans of his own in mind as he secrets away the blood sample he took from Talbot.
As they arrive in Switzerland, something happens that causes Talbot to shift into his wolfen form outside of the full moon (something orchestrated by Pretorius, perhaps, or by an unethical experiment secretly performed by Jekyll). He is hunted through the streets by a vengeful mob after murdering a young boy. He escapes and finds himself in the countryside. When he awakens in his human form again, he discovers that he has been rescued by the Romani woman Maleva, who he knows from the beginning of his story. Maleva has brought him to the remote home of a friend of hers, a massive, deformed man - Frankenstein's monster.
Upon revealing to the monster his story, the monster first acts with rage, then softens and declares that it might be time for a final reckoning with his creator after all, and vows to take Talbot to Frankenstein's estate. Jekyll is already there and is pleased to see that Talbot survived the night. The monster and Frankenstein have a violent reunion at first, until Maleva, Talbot, and Jekyll manage to smooth things over.
It is revealed that Frankenstein has spent months searching for his wife and daughter, who are still, he presumes, being held by Pretorius as future leverage over him. Neither he nor the Van Helsing group have made any progress. The creature, wracked with remorse, vows to help Frankenstein however he can.
The group discusses the issues and between Maleva's occult knowledge and the intellect of the monster, Jekyll, and Frankenstein, they come up with the idea that the monster is immune to all diseases, including lycanthropy, so that if the unnatural antibodies within the monster's blood could be transfused to Talbot, it would be possible to remove the lycanthropy from Talbot using the monster as a sort of biological filter for the disease. The danger, however, is that it must be done during Talbot's transformation while the disease is resurgent and Talbot regenerates; otherwise the monster's blood, which is infused with unnatural chemicals, would kill him. Some clearly magical "occult science" might be brought into the picture since the explanation is not strictly biologically sound.
In the end, the experiment goes awry when Jekyll tries to steal a combined serum of Talbot's and the monster's blood, plus the filtering chemicals for his own research into the betterment of humanity. The wolf man breaks loose, forcing the creature to also break loose and try to protect the humans.
In the end, Jekyll, Maleva, and Victor escape as the manse burns to the ground, leaving the fate of the monster and Talbot uncertain.
In a post-credits scene, we see Dracula, Bathory, and Dr. Pretorius on a hill, watching the mansion burn. Dracula congratulates Pretorius on a job well done and says everything is proceeding according to plan. They are then joined by a fourth figure, who is gradually revealed to be Elsa Frankenstein, now a vampire bride of Dracula.
Coming Soon: Book Two
I'll do "Book Two" later. Off the top of my head it will incorporate:
- The Mummy (With Imhotep renamed Kharis)
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
- The Lair of the White Worm
- The Mummy's Tomb (reworked to maintain Kharis' intellect)
- The Invisible Man
- The Jewel of the Seven Stars (based on Stoker's novel, but with Kharis trying to revive Tara)
- House of Frankenstein
- House of Dracula
Meanwhile, why not grab yourself a copy of the RPG that lets you do all these stories yourself? That's right, I'm talking about Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars! Grab your copy today, and don't forget to stop down to Apis Mead & Winery on October 8, 2022, to try out Twilight Queen, the official Night Shift: VSW mead, or order yourself a bottle on Vinoshipper starting that same day!