Can Disney Craft Horror for Superheroes?

"I'm not ready."

Now that San Diego Comic-Con news has settled into the media bloodstream, many of us are hyped for what comes next in comic culture at large. Although my heart lies with DC Comics, and do feel like no comic flick can compare to the impact of that 10 x 6 panel leaving you in awe, we’re living in the reign of the superhero film thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The magic of Robert Downey Jr’s real life syncing with the first Iron Man film elevated the genre to modern blockbuster status. The news that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be a horror film left me reluctant. Can Disney, who shirks controversy at every turn, sticking to wholesome characterization more often than not, pull off a horror movie? How many horror heroes have we seen on the big screen, and successful ones to boot?

Let’s discuss a brief lineage of horror heroes to see what Marvel is up against, and whether they have what it takes to incorporate horror into the landscape of the MCU.

 

Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing

One of the most memorable heroes of horror is The Avatar of the Green himself, Dr. Alec Holland, better known as The Swamp Thing. One of Wes Craven’s earliest films, co-written with one of Swamp Thing’s co-creators, Len Wein, is a cult classic of the highest order.

The origin story of a scientist who falls victim to his own experiment, to forge a man/plant hybrid to help our species survive, is an excellent example of the synthesis between horror and superheroes. But Swamp Thing, especially part 2, rides the line between camp and suspense in a way no Marvel film has yet.

Thor: Ragnarok was campy brilliance with color contrast set to kill, and a plot tempo to match. Can Doc Strange 2 director Scott Derrickson unveil a darker side of the MCU without disrupting the Disney aesthetic?

 

Army Of Darkness

Sam Raimi’s beloved classic, and the legendary status of Bruce Campbell’s Ash, speak for themselves. This is a horror hero if there ever was one. He is enthroned in our imaginations with a chainsaw rev, a pathway to his kingdom carved in blood and bone. Although there is no bloodshed quota every horror film must meet to pass inspection, and the relentlessness of Ash is worlds apart from the cerebral pull of Benedict Cumberbatch, this movie makes me wonder how horrifying a vision Marvel is willing to cast.

Can the shadows of the multiverse unfurled before our Master of the Mystic Arts match the anxiety of a man fighting his way through a haunted army in 1300 A.D.? Stephen Strange is definitely going to need weapons sharper than a cape if he’s up against the likes of Nightmare, Mephisto and Shuma-Gorath.

 

Constantine

I’ve written before about my love-hate relationship with the hard-boiled occult detective John Constantine, and his film adaptation is a polarizing event. On one hand, the movie does a great job of seating us in a world where dark forces could lash out at any moment. But on the other hand, it has a hard time seating that tension inside our title character.

The stakes are set fairly high for Constantine as a paranormal PI dying of lung cancer, so you have to wonder if Doctor Strange may have gone a bridge too far by revealing the odds of success to Tony Stark in Infinity Wars? Did he infuriate the forces of entropy who are thirsty for destruction? Constantine’s execution will not be hard to top, but its mood should be drawn from to create a believable atmosphere of uncertainty for the Sorcerer Supreme.

 

Darkman

Now here is an example of, for lack of a better word, a horrible horror hero. Nearly impossible to rewatch in full, this movie is proof that we were so starved for heroes on screen that this abomination of a movie somehow became a trilogy — Darkman plays like a cool idea thrown around between friends greenlit by a studio fresh out of editors. With all of its flaws, it somehow includes the wonderful Frances McDormand and Liam Neeson in full swing in his early career.

I doubt that Marvel will ever release a movie this dishevelled, or include a haircut as despicable as Durant’s (Darkman’s primary villain and the most memorable feature of the movie in every way) but they would do well to remember that Thor: The Dark World happened. Horror fans do tend to love the right combination of cheesiness and violence, but that ratio is delicate to balance, so the Doctor had better check the math on that. I’m sure The Ancient One is an incredible homework helper.

Although this list is nowhere near complete, it does show how precarious it can be to blend the adventurousness of a superhero film while getting under one’s skin like a true horror should. Betting against Disney, though, is just as difficult a gamble.

Avengers: Endgame finally lapped Avatar at the box office. They have made mostly ancillary comic book characters like Shuri and Ant-Man nearly household names. The world is about to add yet another subscription service to its growing list of streaming options when Disney+ eventually drops. And I would never count out the talents of Benedict Cumberbatch, a truly powerhouse cast, and an unlimited budget to make something great out of Doctor Strange 2. Would I be more satisfied with a new season of Sherlock, or the inclusion of Moriarity in this sequel? That is a question too terrifying to answer. But should we be in theaters that weekend in May, when The Madness is slated to arrive? If you have the cash to spare on a potential surprise then I will see you there.

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