During such prosperity, though, these folk tales must reflect a different mood of dread, such as fear of violence, confusion about our identities and anger over the prevailing spiritual abyss.
Then again, when you're making an event picture with a lot of special effects, you can't afford to be too disturbing. "I could've made 'The Mummy' a lot scarier," says writer-director Stephen Sommers. "But we would've gotten an R rating and grossed $15 million. You need that PG-13 to be profitable. We did so well because expectations were so low. Everyone expected some guy wrapped in bandages. We gave them something different: the exotic, the adventurous and the romantic."
That's not to say that Sommers is immune to the changing marketplace. So look for a few new wrinkles in "The Mummy II," including new monsters, scarier thrills, less silliness and different locales such as London.
Meanwhile, as Sommers completes the first draft of his sequel, he's busy rewriting "Frankenstein," providing a creative face lift inspired by "The Mummy."
Which means more action-adventure. "The original script was very dark and creepy--it was no kiddie movie," Sommers says. "We're opening it up. The look is unlike anything you've ever seen--hyper-real, gothic horror."
But that doesn't mean "Frankenstein" is being eviscerated. "The monster is bigger, badder, meaner and stronger," Sommers contends.
The remake actually melds "Bride of Frankenstein" with "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man." It involves the efforts of Dr. Praetorius, the weird scientist from "Bride," to revive the monster with the aid of the Wolf Man, who can't resist battling the big guy, as well as a gnome called Novo, who has evolved over the course of the project from repulsive to Disney-like. But he won't be cuddly.
At least the filmmakers plan on retaining the frightening introduction to the monster from the script's first draft. After Praetorius locks Novo in a box with him, we suddenly see a hand move from this mud-encrusted, reanimated corpse. But we don't glimpse his face.
And that most famous of all monster faces continues to be a secret. Yet one thing is certain: It won't resemble the immortal Boris Karloff, since Universal was unable to reach a financial agreement with the late actor's daughter, Sara Karloff Sparkman.
It shouldn't be too much of a shock--the monster will still contain those familiar scars, electrodes and flat head. "It's actually turned out for the better, creatively, now that we're not confined to Karloff's likeness," Snider says.
Universal is also being secretive about the precise look of the film. Swallow likens it to "bringing an Andrew Wyeth painting to life. It's not grotesque, but it's very stylized, with a Jules Verne-like lab that's futuristic and retro."
There's no such worry about "The Hollow Man" being too scary, although with Verhoeven, there's always the fear of the dreaded NC-17 stigma. However, the Dutch director of "RoboCop" and "Basic Instinct" has shown surprising restraint midway through production, no doubt a further influence from this past summer.
For instance, a rape involving the invisible intruder and a voluptuous neighbor has been toned down considerably from the script. Verhoeven hopes the implied terror will be more effective, with the tilting of a mirror while the neighbor is undressing for bed replacing the more explicit and somewhatbizarre struggle on a bed.
"It's straight horror; very cold and contained and claustrophobic--what I would call modern gothic--but you can only go so far with an invisible man. You don't want it to look silly," Verhoeven says.
He says it's all about the hubris of invisibility, a theme that goes as far back as Plato's "The Republic": "You start out with an arrogant scientist and you turn him into a maniac. It becomes a haunted-house story. I like the extreme unity of space, time and plotting."
Which forces Universal and Imagine Entertainment to go in the opposite direction with their "Invisible Man," a "Men in Black"-like comedy about a government researcher who accidentally uncovers an old network of invisible spies.
"We started out with a character-driven comedy, but this sci-fi spirit really needs size and scope where the whole world is involved," says Imagine chairman Brian Grazer.
There won't be anything funny or campy about the new "Bride of Frankenstein." Universal and Imagine are planning straight horror with this remake. She'll be a sexy and scary monster (designed by makeup whiz Rick Baker) who's reanimated in the early 21st century with the latest biotechnology. And she'll be full of post-feminist rage about her contradictory emotions, caught in a love triangle with her maker and his girlfriend.
"This is not a post-apocalyptic future, but one we will recognize as being slightly accelerated," explains Imagine Films co-chairwoman Karen Kehela. "She'll be a fresh monster. She won't have that stitched look. She won't have scars and bolts. She'll be a sympathetic monster like King Kong, but one that must be destroyed."
Co-producer Jim Jacks (who also worked on "The Mummy") admits the pressure is greater with this remake. "On 'The Mummy,' we were tinkering with a classic character, not a classic movie. This is different. This is a great movie, so the creative choices are more complicated."
Bill Desowitz is a regular contributor to Calendar.