Wouldn’t it be awesome if Universal Studios filled their Dark Universe with smaller horror films, rather than mega budget action movies? Ever since the Brendan Fraser-starring The Mummy franchise came onto the scene in 1999, Universal has seemed way more interested in spectacles than scares (aside from the standout 2010 version of The Wolfman, which unfortunately flopped at the box office); but their plan wasn’t always to bring their legendary monsters into the action arena.
Back in the early 1990s, Universal actually had their sights set on making a new version of The Mummy that would be both scary and low-budget, which would’ve made the film a far cry from what we got in 1999 and what we’re getting here in 2017. According to producer James Jacks, Universal wanted to turn The Mummy into a low-budget horror franchise, intent on keeping the budget around $10 million for a remake of the original classic.
The original choice to direct? Clive Barker, fresh off making Hellraiser!
Barker’s vision for The Mummy, which he fleshed out with fellow master of horror Mick Garris, was to make it scary, violent and sexually charged. The story revolved around the head of a contemporary art museum who turns out to be a cultist trying to reanimate mummies, but the concept got way weirder than that. As Barker relayed to Fangoria back in 2015, the overall idea was so outside the box that Universal rejected it outright. In fact, they said it was just too “perverted” to ever make!
“Looking back, our version of The Mummy was precisely what the powers that were at Universal did not want,” Barker told Fango. “It made the Mummy story over for the late 20th century, not in terms of its effects—this was before CGI brought its dubious gifts to the process of horror filmmaking—but in terms of content. We had one particular narrative hook that we were very proud of. In the first scene, a strange boy-child is born, under circumstances—high howling winds and a ferocious thunderstorm—that suggest something unnatural is afoot. The narrative then jumps ahead 20 years or so, and we pick up the story of how sacred Egyptian artifacts are being brought to America for an exhibition that would put the Tutankhamen exhibit to shame.”
He continued, “An uncommonly beautiful woman is threaded into the action, a seducer and murderer of mysterious origin. Of the boy-child, now presumably grown to adulthood, we get no sight. Meanwhile, our antiheroine is seducing her way through the male character, only to be revealed in the third act as the boy-child, now turned via surgery and hormones into a woman.”
“We loved the idea, so much so that we put the mystery surrounding this ambiguous creature and her extraordinary secret at the heart of our story. Our creation was not welcomed at Universal, needless to say. The script, which Mick had labored hard over, working in a diminutive hotel room in London, which I visited daily for story conferences, was eviscerated by the script readers and our producers. How could we expect to get away with something so weird? Nobody in America, we were told, would accept such a ridiculous premise.”
With Barker out, Joe Dante (Gremlins) stepped in. Working with writers Alan Ormsby and later John Sayles, Dante imagined a bigger-budget version of The Mummy with Daniel Day Lewis in the lead. Dante described the script to A.V. Club way back in 2000 as being “contemporary, satirical and romantic,” adding that “it was more like the Karloff picture, where [the title character] is the mummy at the beginning and then he has this alter ego.”
Though Steven Spielberg read and apparently loved Sayles’ script, Universal ultimately rejected Dante’s take on the grounds that it would’ve required a budget much higher than they were looking to spend at the time. Ironically, the studio ended up spending a considerable amount more on the Stephen Sommers version, released in 1999.
Who else took a crack at The Mummy back in the early 1990s? Zombie master George Romero completed a draft of his own in 1994, at a time when he couldn’t seem to get any of his projects off the ground. Described by Romero as being “creepier and more romantic” than the Sommers-directed film, Wikipedia lays out the general storyline…
“[Romero’s script] revolved around female archaeologist Helen Grover and her discovery in Abydos of the tomb of Imhotep, an Egyptian general who lived in the time of Ramesses II. Unfolding in a nameless American city in modern times, events are set into motion when Imhotep inadvertently awakens as a result of his preserved cadaver having been exposed to rays from an MRI scan in a high-tech forensic archaeology lab. The script then progresses to a fish-out-of-water story when Imhotep, having regained his youthful appearance, recognizes the need to adapt to a contemporary society that is three thousand years removed from the one he came from. Assuming at first that he is a representative from the Bureau of Antiquities, Helen finds herself drawn into a tentative relationship with Imhotep while also experiencing clairvoyant flashbacks to a previous life in Nineteenth Dynasty Egypt as a priestess of Isis.”
“Summoning mystical powers through incantation, Imhotep later resurrects the mummy of Karis, a loyal slave whose body had been resting alongside his master’s in the same tomb but is now held in the local museum. After escaping into the city sewer system, Karis embarks on a vengeful rampage against the various criminal fences and high society antiquarians who had acquired stolen relics from his tomb.”
Like Barker and Dante before him, Romero was met with opposition from Universal. The studio felt that Romero’s vision was just too dark, so they pulled the plug on the project. Subsequently, Wes Craven was approached but turned the film down. Mick Garris was also at one point attached to direct, but ultimately departed.
Enter Stephen Sommers. The rest, as they say, is history.
To recap, Clive Barker, Mick Garris, Joe Dante, George Romero and Wes Craven were all at one point in time considered to direct remakes of The Mummy that would’ve kept the franchise within the realm of horror, and we can’t help but be a little bit bummed that none of those projects ever came to be. At this point, there seems to be little hope of the Universal Monsters ever being truly scary again.
The Mummy opens on June 9th.