Imagination has always been the main word when thinking of cinema. The creation of this beloved art is all about dreams coming true through pure magic. Cinema is where the impossible becomes possible. And that was the case during its more than one hundred years of history. However, with the weight of this baggage, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell original stories or even approach them in an unprecedented way. What we have today in cinema intended for the general public is a wave of recycling themes and genres.
It is precisely for this reason that innovative ideas are welcome in commercial cinema. The problem is when they don’t work, after all creativity doesn’t always go hand in hand with quality and acceptance by the viewer or critic. A different concept may not translate in the best way from the pages to the screen, and often what the fan wants to see is the familiarity of their object of affection. To do this, there is no point in trying to reinvent the wheel.
Thinking about it, we decided to salvage a few great ideas from cinema, made with the best intentions to please audiences, but which ended up being canceled early on, with little chance of revenge. Come and see.
The ‘dark universe’
With the concept of order in Hollywood today, the “shared universe” in mind, every major studio sees the trend as the way of the future. So that you can focus on just one franchise, when you can mix it up with others, stitching together interconnected cinematic universes. The Marvel movies have shown the possibility and executives are mouth watering. Thus, the studios began to make these real encounters of titans possible within their properties. And one of the most striking recent announcements was made by Universal in its dark universe. What would it be? A revitalization in some of its oldest properties – its classic monsters: Dracula, Werewolf, Frankenstein, etc.
The feat wouldn’t be new, as the creatures evolved together through in-house productions in the 1940s. Take this wonder! In other words, what was created in the past can be replicated today – at a time when audiences yearn for the concept. The eyes of the producers were shining with dollar signs. Without wasting any time, those involved announced Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster, Angelina Jolie was targeted for her bride, and Johnny Depp as the invisible man. The kick-off would be provided by mega star Tom Cruise and his version of the Mummy – this time a woman, embodied by the exotic Sofia Boutella. Yes, it is about wanting to run before walking, but what an ambitious project is not? In the cinema, this structure ends up depending a lot on the success of a single production to set up, and it can waste everything. With A Múmia (2017), failed review and owner of a below-expected box office, the destination was just this. The work caused the collapse of the dark universe, making the proposal an inconceivable project.
The idea was partly saved by the name of Leigh Whannell, screenwriter and director who saved the Invisible Man film project from Limbo. Whannell, alongside Blumhouse, reimagined the concept of Universal, which went from a megalomaniacal production to a much more intimate work – following the ‘social terror’ libretto. The focus is now on domestic violence, women’s liberation and empowerment. To play, an actress chosen on the theme: Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale). And the same team is already working to do the same with the werewolf story – which will now take on the forms of Ryan Gosling.
Chronicles of the night
Many may not remember it, but as ambitious and interesting as the Dark Universe was a project by Indian director M. Night Shyamalan called The Night Chronicles. By the time of his conception, Shyamalan had already seen ups and downs in his career. In fact, the second point was where the filmmaker ended up after consecutive failures of works like The Lady in the Water and, primarily, End of Times. A great supporter and passionate about terror, Shyamalan attempted to make the Night Chronicles label, which would be a producer used by him to give voice to new filmmakers in works of the genre.
So the plan for Shyamalan, who would produce all of the label’s films (and who knows how to direct any if it worked), was to first launch a trilogy on the theme of urban myths mixed with the supernatural. The first example to be released was Demon, which in 2020 completed ten years of release. And he was also the last with the seal. The premise of Shyamalan (who developed the story) was interesting, with a group of strangers in an elevator, among them the devil himself. However, the outcome of the film with critics and fans was not the best, which ended the project from the start. That same year, Shyamalan unsuccessfully adapted the design beloved by Avatar fans in The Last Airbender, and only accepted success six years later with Fragmentado.
It is wrong to think that the ideas of franchises and shared universes that occur with donkeys in the water belong today. Going back to the beloved 80s, we have one of the Hollywood industry’s most notorious cases of great ideas that went wrong. The subject here is the hit Halloween slasher series, created in 1978 by John Carpenter. At that time, the film was just an independent production that lived to become a shattering phenomenon and immortalize maniac Michael Myers in the hearts of fans. Halloween has become one of the most influential films of the genre, spawning countless imitators, the most famous being Friday the 13th, released two years later. It was even the fame of this film that shook producer Moustapha Akkad, showing what the genre could become – and the appeal it had with young audiences (translated into a good box office).
So John Carpenter and Debra Hill were forced to make a sequel – albeit somewhat reluctantly on their part. Friday the 13th had made a lot of money in 1980, and was already setting off its pursuit the following year. In the same 1981, Carpenter and Hill pulled out the Halloween Hat 2 – The Nightmare Continues, with a plot that followed the original on the exact same night it left off, moving the action now to a hospital. Ultimately, the creators made sure the story of Michael Myers, Doctor Loomis, and Laurie was over. The success of the film, however, made those involved revert to that lucrative “Halloween”, but here the cat’s leap was made.
Carpenter, the producer and screenwriter of the third film as well, had the unusual idea of putting the characters everyone had grown to love and telling every new Halloween movie a whole new story. The franchise would become an anthology, dealing with a spooky Halloween-themed tale each year. The idea seemed good enough and the production got the nod, resulting in Halloween 3 – Witches Night (1982), the off-curve point of the franchise and today an item of worship by fans. Imagine a Friday the 13th movie without Jason (that is, not counting the first and fifth) or Nightmare on Elm Street without Freddy Krueger. That’s exactly what we got in Halloween 3, which even left its slasher roots behind to become a fantasy terror, about a demonic enterprise with grisly plans involving technology and dark magic. No one bought the idea at the time, the movie was bitter and it would take six years for Halloween to get back to what it was with the returns of Myers and Doctor Loomis in Halloween 4 (1988). Could be worse. At least it wasn’t Hubie’s Halloween.
In 2007, two big names in cinema decided to honor the 1970s in style. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are longtime friends – they started around the same time and exploded with their fame right away. The collaboration between the two in cinema was also instantaneous, with Tarantino leading the way in A Balada do Pistoleiro (1995), the two production segments of the Grande Hotel collection (1995) and Rodriguez directing a horror script of their colleague in Um Drink no Inferno (1996). In other words, the chemistry on the outside and inside of the screens.
During a night of movies and narcotics at Quentin’s – the director usually invites friends to sessions in his private cinema – the duo decided to carry out a project that was born on this occasion. The conversation that shaped it all was about the grindhouse, small cinemas that presented double sessions of B-movie productions, usually on exploitation themes, such as martial arts or horror movies. In the midst of those 1970s double sessions, audiences were “presented” with trailers for upcoming attractions. Thus was born the Gridnhouse of Tarantino and Rodriguez.
What was agreed between them was that each would make a medium-length film, of around 1 hour of projection, and in the middle of the sharing of the films, fake trailers of productions that would never come would be inserted, directed by colleagues. In this way Rodriguez created his zombie story with Planet Terror, Tarantino told his story about a maniac who used his mighty car as a weapon to kill unsuspecting youth titled Death Proof, and among people like Rob Zombie, Eli Roth and Edgar Wright had fun with their dummy trailers. But Grindhouse didn’t make the noise the duo intended, and fans weren’t kidding. The poor performance of the project even caused Rodriguez and Tarantino’s averages to split and sell as their own features (adding scenes that had been left out to complete the time needed) in markets outside of the United States, like in Brazil where Planeta Horror and Death Proof are each unique films. In these cases, the idea ended up losing out, becoming another proposition.
If he was successful, Grindhouse would certainly encourage the duo to play new matches in this group, and the fans would win. One curiosity is that two “fake” trailers actually turned into movies, showing the strong appeal they had. The first was Machete, directed by Rodriguez himself, which was more successful than Grindhouse himself and spawned two films – released in 2010 and 2013. The other was Hobo With a Shotgun, whose fake trailer Grindhouse’s only aired in Canada, though making a feature film in 2011 with the late Rutger Hauer. Sadly, Wright, Zombie, and Roth haven’t encouraged each other, until today, to turn their teases into feature films.
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