The Universal Monsters stable continues to grow in weird and wonderful ways, as Nomadland director Chloe Zhao jumps aboard.

As multiverses are all the rage these days, let’s begin by examining an alternate reality where Universal’s Dark Universe hadn’t collapsed. Imagine a world where 2017’s The Mummy received a warmer critical response to sit alongside its not inconsiderable $400m box-office haul. In that reality, right now, we could be watching Tom Cruise punch Dracula in the face whilst Javier Bardem hams it up as Frankenstein’s Monster, the whole thing giving off a vaguely Marvel-type identikit whiff.

Interesting? It could be, but if you’ve ever wondered if living in an alternate reality might prove to be more interesting than this one, the news that Chloe Zhao has signed up to direct a Dracula project that is part science-fiction film, part western (and we’d hope, part horror,) should be enough to convince you that we reside in the greatest reality of all.

The project joins a line of promisingly different monster films green-lit by Universal in the wake of the Dark Universe’s failure, following tepid reviews and lukewarm fan response to The Mummy. Instead of one shared cinematic universe, we are being treated to a range of wildly different films by filmmakers free to explore their tastes and experiment with tone, rather than having to unify their projects with the style and narrative of an overarching grand vision. As such, we’ve already enjoyed a dark thriller focusing on the psychological traumas of gaslighting, in Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man. 

We’re also slated to get an Invisible Woman film, a Wolfman movie with Ryan Gosling, also directed by Whannell, as well as a James Wan-produced monster film too. Then there’s’ Miller & Lord’s planned lighter-hearted take on what is rumoured to be Frankenstein, to which Channing Tatum is attached, not to mention Paul Feig’s ambitious Dark Army project (although that has yet to be greenlit).

To add to that varied slate though, we now have possibly the most creative and exciting project to date. Chloe Zhao, director of the critically-adored Nomadland and helmer of the upcoming Marvel film, The Eternals, has signed with Universal to tackle the biggest monster of them all, the vampiric Count Dracula, according to Deadline.

Even better, Zhao’s take promises to be as fresh as they come, combining science-fiction and western elements.

Zhao had this to say about the project: “I’ve always been fascinated by vampires and the concept of the Other they embody,” Zhao said in a release. “I’m very excited to work with Donna [Langley], Peter [Cramer] and the team at Universal to reimagine such a beloved character.”

Zhao’s project joins several other Dracula films in development at Universal, with Dexter Fletcher working on a film that focuses on his assistant, currently titled Renfield, whilst Destroyer director Karyn Kusama is working on a separate project with Blumhouse.

It’s certainly an exciting time to be a Universal Monsters fan, and Zhao’s recruitment into the fold represents a coup for the studio given her current profile. As soon as we hear more details on any of the projects mentioned above, we’ll let you know.

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