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A monster calls: why the ‘horror universe’ is an idea whose time has come

Two innovative production houses are reinvigorating horror films. Is this the beginning of a Marvel-style expansion of the genre?

Horror has been a staple of the movie business since its inception. People love to be scared, and Hollywood studios have wisely capitalised on this. There are many companies that have built their business, and their reputation, on horror films: cool-kid studio A24 are the newest in the game, with Ti West’s trilogy of sweaty slashers X, Pearl and MaXXXine, the upcoming third film.

Horror universes may seem like a new phenomenon – but in fact horror films kicked the whole “universe” concept off, decades before superhero-led multi-platform series and films. Specifically, they started with Universal and its classic monsters series. Universal was associated with horror from the early days, when they accidentally hit the jackpot in 1931 with their versions of two literary properties, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The now classic adaptations by Tod Browning and James Whale, respectively, were cash cows that helped keep Universal afloat during the depression. They were joined by The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933) and The Wolf Man (1941). Subsequent films were an interchangeable pick’n’mix of ghouls; from the moment Frankenstein’s monster met the Wolfman in 1943’s imaginatively titled Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Universal mixed and matched their creatures to maximise box-office potential.