Home » Dark Universe Rises: A Glimpse Into Epic Universe’s Horror-Inspired Land of Classic Universal Monsters

Dark Universe Rises: A Glimpse Into Epic Universe’s Horror-Inspired Land of Classic Universal Monsters

Dracula poster

It’s hard to believe that in just two years time, Universal Orlando will power on the portals to the fantastic worlds that wait in Universal Epic Universe – their third major theme park in Orlando. Even though Universal still hasn’t officially confirmed what rides, lands, or even IPs we should expect in this celestial third gate, our friends at Orlando Park Stop have years of accumulated rumors that are being proven true through trademarks and construction…

Already, we’ve looked through the portals and dug deep into both the park’s headlining, dueling-and-dancing mega-coaster – Starfall Racers – and into the Viking dragon-riding contraptions we’ll soon find in How To Train Your Dragon: Isle of Berk, including an incredibly unique starring flat ride.

Today, though, Park Stop’s hard work allows us to take a pre-opening peek into the land of Epic Universe that has classic horror fans salivating like the Wolf Man on a full moon… It seems that Universal’s classic, black-and-white movie monsters that put the studio on the map will be reborn in Dark Universe – a multiversal 1930s European hamlet where villagers cower and creatures rule the night…


Dracula poster

It all started with Dracula. In fact, Universal’s 1931 black-and-white pre-code film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel didn’t just kick off Universal’s monster movie marathon; it also created the popular image of Dracula we know today. It’s hard to believe that the very same year saw the studio release Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff as the definitive version of the iconic, misunderstood creature cobbled together from corpses and reanimated by electricity, let lose in a Bavarian village. 

1932 added Karloff as the risen priest Imhotep in The Mummy; in 1933 came The Invisible Man. Then, in 1935, Bride of Frankenstein, and 1941’s The Wolf Man; 1943’s Phantom of the Opera; countless spin-offs, sequels, and crossovers bridge the gap to then 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon, and by the time Universal’s two-decade streak of creature features came to an end, they’d accidentally assembled a portfolio of characters that became known as Universal’s Classic Monsters.

Naturally, those Monsters have been a part of Universal’s theme parks since the earliest days. At Universal Studios Florida alone, that’s been by way of the Horror Make-Up Show and the Monsters Café (now, the Minions Cafe), plus numerous Halloween Horror Nights houses and scare zones. But even though the definitive, classic monsters have maintained a place of reverence and pride in Universal’s archives, the studio has made several high profile attempts to recreate their creature streak of the 1930s through ’50s… 

On the more successful end, 1999’s The Mummy reboot turned the story into a swashbuckling ’30s pulp adventure to rival Indiana Jones, inspiring a franchise of its own and of course, the Modern Marvel: Revenge of the Mummy thrill ride. (Its 2004 “spiritual sequel” film Van Helsing starring Hugh Jackman could’ve launched a whole “Monsterverse” – and might’ve if the Marvel Cinematic Universe model had existed! – but its lower-than-expected box office cancelled plans for more.) 

The less successful end also centers around The Mummy by way of a 2017 Tom Cruise reboot. Universal got a little hasty in announcing that the action-oriented reimagining would serve as the launch of a Marvel-sized cinematic universe they called the “Dark Universe,” even announcing starring actors for forthcoming adaptations of The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein that would crossover Avengers-style with The Mummy‘s cast.

Of course, the Dark Universe infamously sputtered out of gas right out the gate when Cruise’s Mummy failed to land with critics or audiences, canceling plans altogether. (Complaints around the 2017 Mummy are the same that follow any film that sets out with the explicit purpose to launch a franchise: that in service of trying to set-up a bigger universe, it forgot to tell a good story on its own.) 

But now, Universal seems be reclaiming the “Dark Universe” trademark not with a splashy new reboot of the franchise, but a throwback ode to the monsters who started it all…

A World of Monsters

When Epic Universe opens, the idea is that the park will use portals to instantaneously transport guests into immersive “Living Lands.” In the style prototyped by the Wizarding World (and since made industry-standard across everything from Cars Land to Pandora; Super Nintendo World to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge), each of Epic Universe’s lands will be fully immersive offering not just rides, but in-universe retail and dining opportunities…

So what will the world of Dark Universe look like? Well that’s easy – just look back at the classic movies its monsters are drawn from…

Though Universal went out of its way to obscure details or IP-specific markings in the lone piece of Epic Universe concept art it has made available, it’s easy to get the gist of Dark Universe… Likely inspired by the quaint, pan-European villages often featured in the classic films, it looks like Epic Universe will transport guests to a small town terrorized by these cinematic creatures. 

After passing through a portal encased in the grisly growing roots of an ancient tree, guests will emerge in the dreary, morose cobblestone streets of a village living in fear. Roots spread throughout the town will reportedly have snared the buildings, holding them in a fearful grip as residents gird against the return of creatures that are only whispered about…

Park Stop believes that one of the village’s main offerings will be a substantial restaurant that – like the Three Broomsticks or Leaky Cauldron in the Wizarding World – will allow guests to take a seat in the soaring wooden interior of a tavern. In this case, it’ll all be built around a gnarled tree carved with the iconography of the classic monsters. No doubt while diners nosh on skewered meats and hearty fare within, surrounded in hanging weaponry and ornate gothic chandeliers. 

No doubt among Darkmoor’s alleys, you’ll find evidence of the townfolk’s constant war against the darkness – crossbows at the ready on rooftops; cages and torture devices tuned; bartenders in dark taverns who whisper about the monsters’ imminent return; maybe even shops to assemble your own weapons to fight against the darkness… And you’ll need ’em, because looming over the village is the old remnants of a castle where untold horrors await…

Read on…

What we know about Epic Universe’s land of monsters is thanks to Orlando Park Stop, whose illustrated map (above) helps paint the picture of what to expect… 

We know that looming just beyond the village of Darkmoor will be an incredibly impressive sight: a long-abandoned manor house serving as the entry of the park’s anchoring E-Ticket experience…

Based on current construction, it’s believed that the soaring facade beyond the village will be that of Belgium’s Château Miranda – an iconic (and recently demolished) gothic structure that does look directly pulled from the classic horror films of the ’30s. It’s an appropriately-imposing structure for what resides within: the mega E-Ticket that Universal’s monsters have been waiting nearly a century for. 

Reportedly set to be called Monsters Unchained: The Frankenstein Experiment, it’s believed that Dark Universe’s anchor attraction will use a familiar ride system in a new way. In fact, the idea is that this ride will place guests on a KUKA Robo Arm – the same revolutionary ride system used on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey back in 2010. 

However, this new take on the technology will be presented very differently. Riders will strap into a mechanical creation straight out of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, boarded via a massive rotating platform. Rather than the enclosed shell that limits your view on Forbidden Journey, patents uncovered by Park Stop suggest that this version of the vehicle will have a more open view. It could also mean that this ride will not feature the screen-based, projection dome scenes (which are the reason why the Potter ride limits your side-to-side view).

Given that this is the land’s major E-Ticket, it’s expected that it’ll feature appearances by all of the classic monsters, perhaps having been unleashed when “something goes horribly wrong” in Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. In any case, it’ll be quite a landmark to see all of these characters honored with a technologically advanced dark ride! 

Further out into the forests beyond the village, initial plans called for a theater. We can’t know what exactly Universal planned for the space – be it a year-round haunted walkthrough, a stage show, or a musical like the long-lost Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue. Ultimately, Universal made a late-in-development swap for this space anyway, replacing the theater with what’s expected to be a multi-launch roller coaster. 

Aerial construction photography captured by the always-incredible @bioreconstruct shows the completed layout of the coaster, which looks like it’ll launch guests through the woods, twisting and turning until reaching a broken down shack in the forest. From there, the ride will likely pause for a show scene before launching forward, backward, and forward again, gaining enough speed to race through the swirling second half of the ride, tearing through the forest at top speed. 

Like Starfall Racers, insiders believe that this is a creation of Mack Rides, and that it’ll use the same free-spinning launched-and-inverting coaster ride system as Time Traveler at Silver Dollar City, adding chaos to the ride. Given that it’s reportedly set to be called The Curse of the Werewolf, the ride system seems perfect for embodying the Wolf Man’s moonlit transformation.

Deep in the forests outside of the village will reside another eatery – this one themed to an old, run-down windmill. Reportedly, this location is planned to be a bar-type eatery, with visitors sitting inside the mechanical inner workings of the windmill, which is inspired by a windmill famously burned down by angry villagers in the original 1931 Frankenstein.

And that windmill will serve as the dead end of the land… for now. But the Dark Universe space comes with a built-in, multi-acre expansion pad that can be activated in further phases and build-outs of Epic Universe!

Rumors have long suggested that the short-list for Dark Universe’s expansion is a boat ride themed to Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s easy to see that concept applied to the return of the Lost Legend: JAWS, or as an indoor, moonlit boat ride like Pirates of the Caribbean… But as the park opens and expansions are green-lit, those plans could change.

Between its village, E-Ticket dark ride, and spinning family coaster, we’d say that the “Dark Universe” is shaping up to be a very strong zone in a park that’s looking like it’ll have a whole lot of winners. Really, it’s long past time that Universal pays homage to its classic monsters in a permanent, built-out way – even if we’re pleasantly surprised that such a “throwback” IP made the cut! 

What do you think? Can Universal’s home-grown, black-and-white monsters hold their own against Mario & Luigi, Harry, Ron, & Hermione, and Hiccup & Toothless? Or are you left scratching your head as to why Universal went retro with one of the anchors of Epic Universe? Will you make a bee-line for Dark Universe when Epic Universe opens in 2025? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!