Adventure Movies

‘The Mummy’, ‘The Last Of Us’, And Why We Need More Adventure Horror

February 20, 20236 Mins Read

I sat in a movie theater with my two brothers and older cousin in 1999. We were there to watch the Brendan Fraser vehicle, The Mummy. Despite being ten years old, I had seen my share of horror films. My mother loved Halloween, The Shining, and Freaks, so I saw all of those by age seven. Still, The Mummy was not at all what I expected. It was scary but also thrilling. There were monsters but also elaborate action scenes, huge set pieces, and journeys to exotic locals. It was an Adventure Horror film, and we deserve more like it! 

Let me stop here and say something that is unfortunately necessary: I’m not saying that Adventure Horror is better than other kinds of horror. Horror is a genre that contains a litany of subgenres, and they all support each other. 

I don’t need adventure movies to be overrun with Horror either. While I had seen plenty of Horror movies at a young age, I viewed my fair share of Adventure flicks too. Watching all three of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films is how I’ve celebrated Christmas Eve for the last 15 years. Seeing Stand By Me made me want to explore the woods behind my house (maybe not the best lesson to take from that film). Hell, I watched Raiders of the Lost Arc so much that it primed me to love Brendan Fraser’s Rick O’Connell years before I’d lay eyes on him!

While critics didn’t love The Mummy as much as ten-year-old me, audiences did. A sequel was assured. Its arrival exposed the biggest problem facing the proliferation of Adventure Horror. To make a good Adventure Horror film, you need equal parts adventure and horror. The Mummy Returns cast aside its more horrific aspects (or hid them behind shadows) and leaned into the family-friendly characteristics instead.

To be fair, it’s a difficult balance to strike. More often than not, you’ll see adventure movies that feature a few horrific or scary details or characters. The Balrog of Moria is terrifying. Blix in Legend gave me nightmares as a child. Also, to give credit where it is due, the CGI Scorpion monster that’s supposed to be Dwayne Johnson in The Mummy Returns is pretty terrifying (albeit unintentionally so). 

There are also plenty of horror movies with adventurous elements. I was thrilled when 2018’s The Nun introduced a dungeon crawl in the third act. Nope featured a thrilling score highlighting one of the most exciting chase scenes I have ever seen. I will also argue until I die that Andy Muschietti’s IT: Chapter 2 is a hell of an Adventure Horror flick. The characters travel great distances, seak out totems, and, yes, more dungeon crawling. It’s all there! 

Why aren’t we getting a regular stream of Adventure Horror films if they are so great? There are a few answers. The easiest to go to is budget. Horror movies are often attractive to studios because they are low risk (small budgeted) with the possibility of a steep return. Once you start inflating budgets to add big set pieces (or even more than one set piece), the bagholders begin to balk. 

When a movie studio sees something succeed, they want to recreate that success or even build upon it. That’s understandable. What’s not understandable is attempting to reproduce or bolster that success by making something appeal to more people. The Mummy Returns is a perfect example of how this doesn’t work. 

There’s also the fact that the Adventure/Horror mix is hard to market. The Mummy has some startlingly horrific moments, but you wouldn’t know that watching the trailer. It focuses more on being an adventure you can take the whole family to. How terrifying something is will also affect the rating, making it harder to get butts in seats. Let’s not forget the parents who were outraged to see heads explode in a Doctor Strange movie last year. 

But there is hope. 

A stellar Adventure Horror is currently capturing countless hearts and minds. The Last Of Us hasn’t even wrapped up its first season, and the reaction could not be more distinct. It makes sense. The Last Of Us doesn’t have to deal with any of the problems that plague (nailed it) other Horror/Adventures. Chiefly, the budget is enormous. Episodes are rumored to cost $10 to $15 million a piece. For one episode of The Last Of Us, you could make several movies. 

It doesn’t have to deal with the problems of being miss-marketed. No one is turning to HBO Max for family-friendly entertainment. Any adult who sits their child down to watch The Last of Us should be prepared to deal with the consequences and conversations that follow. I could make the same argument for Multiverse of Madness

There is also considerable talent at play in each episode. Actors that have little to no lines deliver engaging performances. Each episode is written with deft hands. The camerawork fills the desolated world with rich beauty. It is quality, no matter how you slice it. It is also Adventure Horror at its core. 

There is an inescapable sense of dread baked into every episode. The zombies (or Clickers) are menacing and ferocious. Corrupted human beings are more monster than (hu)man. Leading the way are Joel and Ellie, on an adventure to get her where she needs to go (no spoilers here). That story drives the narrative (literally and figuratively), and the horror raises the stakes. It is a perfect marriage. 

With The Last Of Us being as triumphant as it is, there is hope for the industry to react as it usually does. They see something successful and attempt to clone it. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Hopefully, studios will see that what makes The Last of Us work is fully embracing what it is. What it is is damn good Adventure Horror. 

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