I just watched Georg Rockall-Schmidt‘s excellent video on the Mummy (2017). Georg is a commentator on film, rather than a critic. I think he gets the reasons for the Mummy’s lack of success largely right. I will add a few comments of my own after the video.
It’s interesting that out of Dracula, Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde, and the Mummy, only the Mummy is not based on a classic novel. In fact, I can’t think of many other iconic monsters who are drawn from classic fiction, with the exception of Mephistopheles, who is arguably not a monster, and Polyphemus, who falls firmly in the world of fantasy rather than horror.
In Steven King’s “Danse Macabre”, he talks about four archetypal monsters: the vampire, the zombie, the werewolf, and the ghost. What examples does he give of the first three? Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and Mr. Hyde. He does not provide an example of a classic ghost. The classic ghost story is The Turn of the Screw. In literary circles, many argue that the ghosts in that book exist only in the protagonist’s mind. They certainly aren’t iconic characters.
Who is the ghost in Universal’s Dark Universe? Can’t say I remember there being one. The Mummy certainly isn’t a ghost. It is far closer to a zombie, but Frankenstein’s monster does a much better job at capturing the horror of a person who has returned from the dead and turned evil. As well, the Mummy, at least in recent incarnations, is evil before death, and is much more akin to a demon like the one released in “The Evil Dead”.
If you look at the other Universal monsters, most of the others are equally unsuitable to lead the charge. The Wolfman duplicates Mr. Hyde without the compelling character of Dr. Jekyll as his better half. The Invisible Man is not a monster, nor is The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Phantom of the Opera, nor The Creeper. And the Creature from the Black Lagoon is nearly as mindless a monster as Jaws.
Dracula is the obvious lead, having both a charismatic villain and an iconic hero in Van Helsing. Yet I understand why Universal didn’t go with Dracula, having had a recent remake with Gary Oldman in the title role and Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, and then a more recent comic book take with Hugh Jackman as the monster hunter going up against a whole horde of monsters. A film featuring another character to distance any new incarnation of the iconic vampire from these previous iterations makes sense.
Frankenstein at least has a reasonable protagonist in Victor to go with it’s monster. But one could argue that Frankenstein’s monster is equally overexposed, having appeared both in “Van Helsing” and the stand alone “I, Frankenstein”, which some see as an earlier failed attempt to bootstrap the Dark Universe.
The question is, why not lead with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? The story is ripe for being recast in the modern age. The creators of the latest Mummy film even had the insight to realize that Henry Jekyll could be the right character to tie the its films together. While there may still be hope for the Dark Universe–after all, Wonder Woman has revitalized the stuttering DC film series–I think leading with Jekyll and Hyde was a huge missed opportunity.
For anyone unfamiliar with the novel, check out my modern English adaptation, available on Amazon: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The story is unchanged, but I’ve simplified and modernized the grammar and updated the vocabulary throughout to make the book easy to read, unlike the many editions that are mere copies of RLS’s original.