There was once a time when the most basic effects and simplest gore could get a rise out of the most die-hard horror fanatic. At the time, the hefty amounts of corn syrup, well-orchestrated stunts, and poorly mastered spooky soundtracks were enough to make even the most iron-willed moviegoer squeal. Alas, now that you’ve seen the wonders of modern CGI, the ever-advancing artistry of prosthetic makeup, and the millions of dollars of production value behind Hollywood blockbusters, the quaint little slasher flicks of yesteryear look more campy than scary. Yet even with the most modern technologies that money can buy, you still crave one constant: the perfect villain.
Enter the Dark Universe. With the goal of rivalling the action-packed and enormously successful Marvel franchise, Universal has thrown its hat into the ring of beloved print-media-turned-wildly-marketable-blockbuster-movies. Though it’s arguably tougher to convert classic literary horror buffs into mainstream movie lovers than the superhero-loving comic book nerds, Universal does have an incredibly wide selection of horror stories to choose from to flesh out the monsters of this new dawn of horror. And these aren’t your B-rate villains, either. The Dark Universe is rumored to be populated with monsters born of the works that have shaped and dominated the deepest fears of the human psyche since the Victorian era: Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man – all the classics that have haunted the world of horror since before the dawn of cinema. These are the monsters that get returned to again and again because every advance that technology is able to offer provides new and better opportunities for these creatures to scare the absolute living daylights out of you.
When Gaston Leroux first wrote The Phantom of the Opera in 1911, he was able to capture within its pages the lurking fear of the supernatural and spirit worlds that permeated 19th-century France. More than 100 years later, his short novel has blossomed into a plethora of adaptations, from a world-famous musical, to multiple film versions, to featuring in entertainments ranging from mobile search and find games to virtual slot machines. This is probably something that Leroux would quite like, since he was reportedly quite the gambler – though his partiality was apparently to poker, perhaps he would be tempted by a few free spins if he was able to play a slot machine featuring the pièce de résistance of his literary career. Though not substantiated, it’s believed that Leroux was able to see the first cinematic debut of The Phantom by Universal in 1926. Surely he would be quite tickled to know that almost a century later, his character is slated to star in the new era of horror that the Dark Universe hopes to deliver.
Though the characters seem to remain the same, horror today is a far departure from the pages of Leroux’s novel. With simulations and reality becoming more intertwined with each technological advance, the same monstrosities that used to haunt the confines of your imagination have now begun to find forms more tangible than you ever could have dreamed. Platforms such as virtual reality becoming more affordable and ergo more popular as time goes on bring the already pervasive world of horror gaming to a whole new level by submerging you wholly into the twisted darkness. The new wave of horror goes beyond enthralling the viewer so thoroughly that they forget that they are merely a witness – the future of “smart” horror dawns with you as an active participant, so entrenched in the story that it infringes upon your very reality.
These landmarks in gaming have pushed the boundaries of horror so far that their counterparts in the world of film have had no choice but to adapt. Great horror delivers emotion that stirs your heart into frantic pitter-patter, building anticipation sky high, stringing you out with both the desire to know the monster and the palpable dread of revealing that thing that inspires so much fear. As the technological means to deliver horror marches forward, it seems that the actualization of your deepest fear is made more and more vivid – yet the true secret to the future of horror is to deliver your worst fears, but not quite completely so as to leave you always wanting more.