In “The Invisible Man”, an update of the 1933 universal classic, director Leigh Whannell arouses fears that accelerate impulses from shots of a random jogger, an empty room (where is it?), a guy who hits a car window and a dog bowl. None of these were particularly expensive to shoot, nor was the film itself, which was shot in Australia in 40 days at a relatively modest cost of $ 8 million. “It’s a low-budget movie by Hollywood standards, and certainly by universal standards,” said Whannell.
The filmmakers have managed to cut costs in part by minimizing visual effects. It’s a departure from the original from 1933, which boasted state-of-the-art shows (by standards then), including the now classic Claude Rains sequence unrolling the bandages of his face to reveal a cackling spectrum . “If you think of the film compared to the movies in the post, there are hardly any special effects,” said Jason Blum, whose Blumhouse Productions made the film.
Opening on February 28, “The Invisible Man” marks the first time that Blumhouse, the horror empire behind “Get Out” and the series “Paranormal Activity”, has partnered with Universal to create a film based on the one of the venerable classic monster studios. The film is also the first episode of the latest reboot of this monster franchise, which includes some of the most beloved horror beasts, such as Frankenstein and Dracula, the Wolf Man and the creature from the Black Lagoon.
The move is a dramatic change from the last time Universal tried to restart his family of movie monsters just three years ago. At the time, the studio had the idea of an interconnected universe filled with stars like those of Marvel (think “The Avengers”) and DC (“Justice League”). Nicknamed the Dark Universe, the franchise promised big stars (Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem) and sumptuous budgets. The pilot was “The Mummy”, an action-packed action movie starring Tom Cruise who featured many glasses: a C-130 torn into the air by crows squadrons, underwater zombies in cruising, armies of CGI spiders, all on a declared budget of $ 345 million. Russell Crowe appeared as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, foreshadowing the Universe to come. But when “The Mummy” only earned $ 80.2 million nationally, he took the dark universe with him.
Wheeler Winston Dixon, professor of film studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and author of “A History of Horror” was not surprised that the film performed poorly. “It’s not Marvel,” he said. “These are horror films. They are stripped, they face violent emotions and violent themes, and they are designed to horrify, not to inspire fear. And that requires economy. “
This time around, said Peter Cramer, president of Universal Pictures, the studio is focusing on individual projects led by filmmakers on major world-building projects. “We told the filmmakers, tell us what you are connecting with these characters,” he said. “We listen to all ideas, rather than trying to create a vast, interconnected universe.”
Universal also seems to be abandoning the gigantic budgets of past monster movies by making Blumhouse lead the charge for this reboot. The production company has made microbudgets and excessive profits that they can generate, a point of pride. Her very first horror film, “Paranormal Activity” in 2009, grossed $ 193.4 million and launched a lucrative franchise with a budget of $ 11,000. (The film cut costs by skipping a crew, actor names or script.) In 2017, “Get Out”, directed by Jordan Peele, won four Oscar nominations and won reported more than $ 250 million on a budget of $ 4.5 million. “I see small budgets as an advantage,” said Blum. “That’s about all we do.”
The pitch flow at Universal has been both constant and eclectic, with ideas from filmmakers who aren’t usually associated with the genre of horror. “I wouldn’t say we issued an open invitation, but we certainly talked to filmmakers we admire,” said Cramer. “And once we got the word out to a few producers, people started to come and tell us, hey, I got this idea.”
In the works is “Dark Army”, directed by Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”) and featuring a mixture of classic Universal monsters and new characters. “It’s hard to describe the tone of that one,” said Cramer.
Elizabeth Banks (“Pitch Perfect 2”) is scheduled to direct and act in “The Invisible Woman”, based on original ground that she took from Universal. And Dexter Fletcher, who comes from the success of the biopic Elton John “Rocketman”, will direct “Renfield”, based on a minor character from the legend of Dracula, a mad spider eater who doubles as the count’s henchman. “He’s the guy who has to work for Dracula, who’s the worst job ever,” said Cramer.
There are projects in the works based on almost all of the classic universal monsters, said Cramer, including Frankenstein (“there is a cool filmmaker involved, but it’s too early to talk about this too much”) and the bride’s Frankenstein.
For “The Invisible Man,” Whannell moved far from the original source, both the 1897 science fiction novel by H.G. Wells and the classic by Claude Rains. In this film, the invisible man is a chemist who went mad after ingesting a mysterious substance called a monocane in England in the 1930s; in Whannell’s position, he is an abusive technician who finds a new way to use his powers of invisibility to continue to terrorize his wife, played by Elisabeth Moss, after he has probably simulated his own suicide. “I didn’t want to do anything gothic or retro,” said Whannell.
Furthermore, the invisible man is not the star of the “invisible man”; his wife is. Rightly, we almost never see the guy (British actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen), bandages or not. “The original represented it as visible,” said Whannell. “One of the first things I thought was, what if you took the hat, the coat, the glasses, the bandages off and made it really invisible?”
Perhaps the biggest difference from the original is that the version of Whannell is a real horror from start to finish. While the 1933 film has its scary moments (in one scene, the invisible man derails a train, sending hundreds of passengers off a cliff), there is also a constantly screaming owner, an awkward police inspector, an amorous fiancee and comical fools. Much of the charm of the film comes from its visual magic (books floating in the air! Strange footprints in the snow!), Not from his fears.
The remake is a completely different perspective. Whannell’s writing credits include the “Saw” and “Insidious” franchises, so the film is a horror film by Blumhouse, rated R for “violence and bloody language”.
“I wanted to put my foot on your throat and not take it off before the credits,” he said.
It remains to be seen how the reboot of this latest franchise will unfold, but given Hollywood’s thirst for established intellectual property, Universal will likely continue to revert to its classic monsters for years to come, whether through glasses filled with budget effects or thrillers.
“These creatures are timeless,” said Professor Dixon. “There will be movies about Dracula, Frankenstein, the werewolf, the mummy, long after we leave. They will continue to exploit these things. But the ones that will be effective will be made by people who are genuinely committed to the material and treat these creatures with deadly seriousness. “