Spencer’s Soapbox: When Will Marvel Tap Into Their Horror Characters?

(Author’s note: Spencer’s Soapbox is a weekly column here on SHH where yours truly tries to spur a conversation on specific topics. Dive in to the latest installment below and check out the previous ones by clicking here.)

Of all the “Phase Two” Marvel Studios movies, the lowest-grossing is Thor: The Dark World with $644 million worldwide. This is a total, however, that many movies would kill for. Every other release they’ve had over the past three years has cleared $700 million, and some even double that. Clearly what Marvel is doing is working and connecting with audiences on a massive scale. They have built a brand that creates four-quadrant blockbusters that appeal to everyone. With that in mind, I humbly come to you Marvel to ask for something a little niche: explore your horror roots and characters.

With the likes of Spider-Man and Iron Man out there, it’s easy to not see the scrubs of the Marvel Universe, as they’re seldom in the limelight. There are some popular ones, Ghost Rider and Blade for instance, but some others like Elsa Bloodstone, Morbius, Frank Drake, Damien Hellstrom and even other versions of Ghost Rider are floating around out there. There’s a whole other world of characters waiting to be taped into here, with storytelling possibilities that expand the horizons of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in new and exciting ways that some of their roster simply cannot do. They even have their own team, the Midnight Sons, which have gone up against the kinds of threats that you cannot possibly imagine Captain America fight, like demonic texts and Lilith, Mother of Demons.

There are two very good reasons that Marvel has ventured into this territory,: Ghost Rider (2007) and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Though neither of these were Marvel Studios productions (though “Spirit of Vengeance” did carry the “Marvel Knights” title card), their less than stellar reception, both critically and box office-wise, made them as desirable as a rotten apple. Marvel also isn’t in the “modest return” business, another reason they haven’t broken up the crypt of horror titans. If it’s not going to break records, then it’s not something they’re entirely interested in.

Our best shot at seeing this sort of thing come to life is in 2016’s Doctor Strange. Out of all the films that Marvel has on the docket, it’s the only one that seems like it’s headed for horror’s grounds, particularly because of director Scott Derrickson’s background. Derrickson has four major directing gigs under his belt, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil, and his only real blockbuster experience, The Day the Earth Stood Still. Even further, a fourth horror title can be added to his resume if you count the direct-to-video Hellraiser: Inferno. All that to say, Derrickson has horror chops, and Marvel wouldn’t have hired him if they didn’t have a reason. Is that reason that they want to get a little scary with Doctor Strange? Perhaps explore the alternate realms with some spookiness?

I am not optimistic about a Doctor Strange movie that is heavy on the scariness, however, so there’s only one real outlet for Marvel to tell these stories: Netflix. They’re already kicking butt with Daredevil and their plans for the remaining shows are just as interesting, so maybe once we get settled into the grim-n-gritty hero shows ,they can expand the horizons. We don’t necessarily need 13-episode shows for Blade, Ghost Rider, and others leading into a Midnight Sons. The plan for “The Defenders” shows was a surprise when they first announced them, so maybe shorter seasons or even original movies would be a better fit for something riskier like these characters. Whatever happens, there is very fertile ground ripe for sowing.

It could be argued that Blade is the entire reason that comic book and superhero movies have become what they are now, so where is he? In a world where continued diversity in both comics and their various adaptations continues to be an important demand from fans, Blade seems like a total no-brainer. One of the great things about what Marvel is doing with their films is making them their own genre beyond simply “superhero action.” Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a political thriller, Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera, the upcoming Ant-Man is a heist film, so maybe it’s time to dip your toes into the horror waters, Marvel. Do it for me, please.