Back in the halcyon days of 2017, Universal Pictures set a release date for a Bride of Frankenstein reboot, to hit theaters Feb. 2019 as part of the studio’s “Dark Universe.” Remember the Dark Universe? It was meant to be Universal’s way of killing two birds with one stone: Reviving the beloved Universal Monsters roster of characters (Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s monster, etc) while also building their own “shared universe” of blockbusters that could rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe in both audience appeal and eye-popping grosses.
Except … yeah, none of that came to pass. When The Mummy hit box offices like a lead balloon in the summer of 2017—actually the second attempt to launch the series, after Dracula Untold—it called a halt to Dark Universe planning, only months after reports that the studio was courting Angelina Jolie of all people to play the title character. Dark Universe architects Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan were gone quickly thereafter, and the whole series faded into the collective unconsciousness, until The Invisible Man reemerged this year as a low-budget but stunningly effective horror-thriller from Blumhouse.
As it turns out, though, Bride of Frankenstein never really died—it just went into extended hibernation. The additional time, and the COVID-19 quarantine, allowed screenwriter David Koepp, he of everything from Jurassic Park to the upcoming Indiana Jones 5, to return to his script and completely overhaul it. As he said in a new interview with Collider, the script is now in a place where both he and the studio are happy with it, bearing little resemblance to the Dark Universe project it was before.
“That was one thing I did during quarantine—I brought back Bride of Frankenstein into a place where I kind of always wanted it to be,” he said in the interview. “Universal was very gracious to let me try again. Because they had geared up and shut down famously in the Dark Universe fiasco. Well, not fiasco, but disappointment. So I have a version now and they have a version that we all really like. I think they’re talking to directors now. It’s not the great big, $150 million extravaganza with giant movie stars. It’s not as scaled down as Invisible Man but much more reasonable, doable thing, with, I think, a really cool idea and it’s all present day.”
All of this certainly makes sense to us, as Invisible Man established a new precedent that really should have been obvious: These movies don’t really need massive budgets and star wattage. Rather, they need timely, well-written stories, scares and suspense, all of which helped Invisible Man become a hugely profitable hit.
As for how you modernize Bride of Frankenstein in a similar way, that’s the puzzle that Koepp is presumably hoping to have figured out. But we’ll be very curious to see what Universal wants to do with Frankenstein’s monster, rightfully considered the crown jewel of the original Universal horror cycle. Also of note: Blumhouse is working on a new Dracula as well, from The Invitation and Jennifer’s Body director Karyn Kusama. Koepp, meanwhile, thinks Universal deserves some credit for knowing when to quit with the Dark Universe. His latest film, low-budget horror thriller You Should Have Left, stars Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried, and hits VOD next week on June 18, 2020.
“Not all ideas work out,” Koepp said. “To their credit, what I really admired about Universal is they threw their hands up and went, ‘Hold on. This isn’t working out. Let’s stop and think for a year or two.’ I thought that was really smart. And big corporations don’t often do that. There aren’t a lot of New Coke moments where they go, ‘This is not as we hoped. We’re going to stop and go off on this other direction.’”