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What You Should be Watching this Halloween

by Maggie McAteer

You collapse down on your couch and open a streaming service. Maybe Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, or one of the dozens of other services out there. What are you putting on? That new “Hocus Pocus” movie, or maybe Guillermo Del Toro’s new Netflix horror show? Perhaps something more classic, like “Halloween” or “Scream.” Whatever it is, this Halloween, there’s something better out there. A piece of history, something that helped shape our ideas of horror and monsters. Coincidentally, these movies also happen to be part of the first ever cinematic universe.

When someone says “Cinematic Universe,” Marvel’s connected movie franchise is probably what most people’s minds jump to, a perfect example of different films taking place in one interconnected and self-referential world. However, others may think of the DC Extended Universe, or even the Star Wars movies and TV shows.

What makes a cinematic universe? According to Wikipedia, a cinematic, or, more generally, a shared universe is a set of works (movies, books, or otherwise) that take place in a given world. Most of the works are individual stories about particular characters, but sometimes characters crossover into shared movies/books, like the 2019 Marvel movie "Avengers: Endgame.”

The “Universal Classic Monster” movies were a series of movies released between 1931 and 1956, and are generally considered the first cinematic universe. In 1931, the first of these classic horror movies, “Dracula,” came out, followed by “Frankenstein.” These were some of the first monster movies and helped forge the genre. These filmmakers took monsters from books and folk tales and brought them to life, making them classics and part of the spooky and scary traditions forever. In the following years, many more joined their ranks, with the likes of “The Invisible Man,” “The Wolf Man,” “The Mummy,” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.''

However, the fact that Universal produced several movies related by their genre didn’t necessarily make it a shared universe. Cementing its place as the first cinematic universe were the crossover movies. The first such film was 1943’s “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man,” which later kicked off a series of “monster rallies,” movies that put different monsters together in all new plots. The other monster rallies were “House of Frankenstein,” “House of Dracula,” and “House of Horrors,” which came out in consecutive years starting in 1944.

After this, Universal decided to take their cinematic universe a step further with a series of horror-comedies starring the famous comedy duo Lou Abbott and Bud Costello. Together, Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, and all sorts of monsters. They proved to be funny and entertaining, while still containing the creepy edge of the classic monster movie.

More recently, after the success of the Marvel movies, Universal took a stab at updating these classics with a more modern style in “The Dark Universe.” According to Screen Rant, after 2017’s “The Mummy” flopped at the box office, they were forced to reconsider their plans for it. Universal decided to ditch the conventional formula for shared universes and instead focus on making good, individual movies, like 2020’s “Invisible Man.” That’s why Marvel was so successful: they focused on making good movies before doing big crossover events.

When you sit down to watch something this Halloween season, you may want to scroll past whatever new show Netflix put out this week and take a walk through the still charming Universal archives of the 1930’s, and take the opportunity to watch a movie from one of the first cinematic universes.


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