Universal Monsters

universal monsters collection dvd bluray boxset cover.jpg

Last October I listed my ten favorite Halloween movies, so this time I decided to write about some Halloweeny films I’ve seen since then.

 

Earlier this year, my girlfriend bought a blu-ray box set collection of old Universal Studios monster movies.

I enjoyed all of these film on some level, but a few of them did fall short compared to the others.

 

One thing I will not be mentioning too much is how these films look, but they have all been graphically restored, so you can just keep in mind that they all look amazing!

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Dracula (1931)

dracula 1931

Directed by Tod Browning, this classic based on Bram Stoker’s novel is probably the best film out of all of these.

 

The vampire Count Dracula, played by Bella Lugosi, moves to England and sets up residence next to an insane asylum.

There he feeds on the daughter of Dr. John Seward, an action which garners the attention of Professor Abraham Van Helsing, who then attempts to defeat the bat!

But the count has many abilities, and the aid of his insane brainwashed slave Renfield.

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Frankenstein (1931)

frankenstein 1931

The first out of three films directed by James Whale, this is sadly the one I like the least of these movies.

Much of my dissatisfaction with the film is due to how the story and presentation does not depict ‘Frankenstein’ as how I understand the book was meant to be read.

 

Dr. Frankenstein is depicted as a likable guy with an obsession with science, but by the end of the film he leaves that life to go get married, and gets a happy ending.

While Boris Karloff does an admirable job in portraying him, the monster is just a crazed confused beast stumbling into murder and mayhem, instead of an introspective individual.

By the end of the film, the monster is slain by an angry mob of villagers as retaliation for him accidentally killing a little girl. And it feels like we are meant to cheer on the crowd.

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The Mummy (1932)

the mummy 1932

This film by director Karl Freund seems very much like an Egyptian retread of ‘Dracula’, and I am fine with that.

The setting and flavor adds enough to this to place this on the top half out of these films, in terms of my enjoyment.

 

This time it is Boris Karloff who gets to play a calm, intelligent and hyper-powerful being who controls people with hypnosis.

The plot centers around the mummy of an ancient Egyptian high priest named Imhotep, who believes that a woman played by Zita Johann, named Helen Grosvenor, is the reincarnation of his long since dead lover, forbidden lover, the Princess Ankh-es-en-amon.

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The Invisible Man (1933)

the invisible man 1933

While ‘Dracula’ is probably the best film on this list, this one is my favorite. I’m a sucker for comedy, and this is a really funny movie.

The fact that this was also directed by James Whale makes me think that some of the silliness I did not enjoy in ‘Frankenstein’ might have been silly on purpose.

 

Claude Rains stars as the titular character, and it is clear that he is having a blast in the role, hooting and hollering his way into our hearts!

When Dr. Jack Griffin invents and consumes a formula for gaining invisibility, he soon turns mad from the effects it had on his mind.

Now he is menacing the English countryside, and the police are powerless to stop him!

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The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)

The Bride of Frankenstein 1935

James Whale’s second shot at directing Frankenstein hits the bullseye, and this film has everything the first one lacked.

In the sequel, Boris Karloff’s monster is an intelligent and lonely creature, rather than a bumbling oaf.

 

The best scene in the entire film, and probably in the entire box-set, is when the monster makes friends with a blind hermit. When I was watching it, I was honestly wishing that the movie could just end there and then, but I knew there would be some tragic outcome that would ruin their rare and sweet friendship.

I may go back to just see that part again, and then turn it off, to pretend that is where it ended.

 

Just don’t get to exited about The Bride’s appearance, she is barely in this.

She is good when she gets there, but I suspect they just wanted a catchy title.

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The Wolf Man (1941)

The Wolf Man 1941

Larry Talbot, played by Lon Chaney Jr., returns to his father, played by Claude Rains.

(While I first thought that these actors were the same age, or that Lon Chaney could even be slightly older, Claude Rains is in fact 17 years his senior.)

 

Larry tries out his fathers new telescope by looking into the windows of homes in the town nearby.

When he sees a lady getting dressed in her bedroom, he naturally visits the antique store she works in, on the ground floor of the same house.

When she tries to sell him some antiquities, he tells her that he would rather have the earrings on her bedside table.

Despite her being visibly unnerved by the situation, and continually saying no, he insists on them going on a date together.

When he shows up later, despite being explicitly told not to come, she has brought a friend for protection.

Even when learning that she was engaged to be married, Larry did not stop his pursuit.

 

And all of this is played as romantic, with whimsical music in the background!

The only person playing it as creepy is Evelyn Ankers as Gwen Conliffe, and that may have just been due to her and Lon Chaney Jr. reportedly not getting along due to some dressing room drama.

 

Oh yeah, and Larry also turns into a werewolf when a gypsy Bella Lugosi bites him.

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Phantom Of The Opera (1943)

phantom of the opera 1943

This film directed by Arthur Lubin sticks out like a sore thumb in this lineup, as it is filled with color, lightheartedness, melancholy and music!

It seems like only a select few scenes are meant to convey fright, and the mood quickly reverts back to either joyful or sad.

 

Claude Rains really is a half-forgotten treasure, and should be remembered as well as Bella Lugosi and Boris Karloff have been remembered.

Here he plays a violinist who gets his face (slightly) disfigured by acid, and has to hide out in passages under the opera he used to work at, after killing a music publisher for wrongly assuming that he was trying to steal his own original music.

 

Even before becoming the phantom, this man was obsessed with a singer, played by Susanna Foster.

From clues in the film, you can work out that he is actually her estranged father, but an overt reveal of this were removed from the final film, as censors for some reason felt the whole thing was very incesty.

I have to say that this is something that the censors must have brought to the table themself, not something that would have crossed the mind of most people.

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The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)

The Creature From The Black Lagoon 1954

Despite coming out over ten years later than Phantom, this film directed by Jack Arnold feels much more of kind to the other movies I’ve written about here than that one did.

 

A crew of scientists’ search for the remains of a fossil instead leads them to a descendant of the fossilised beast.

The Gill-Man now stalks them from the water, and the crew has to use whatever they have at hand on their boat to defend themselves.

But remember, it was they who disturbed him in his natural habitat.

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Happy Halloween! 🎃

12 thoughts on “Universal Monsters

  1. Since you seem to enjoy classic films, see if you can locate Arsenic and Old Lace. While it stars Cary Grant it is Peter Loree and Raymond Massey who steal the show. I don’t think you will be sorry.

  2. Thank you. So much! I am in my fifties and was never really able to watch horror movies because they always scared me way too much. As I have overcome some old fears, I have recently been able to watch SOME horror movies and I do appreciate the ones done well. Believe it or not, I haven’t seen ONE of the movies you reviewed, but thanks to you, they are now on my radar. Think I’ll go shopping for that box set…😊

    • Wow, glad I could help 😀

      I was like that before my girlfriend introduced me to her favorite horror films, so I know how you feel 🙂

  3. What a marvelous list…..
    Lagoon in particular brings me back to summer rainy afternoon when with my friends used to watch horror movie and eating biscuits soaked in milk😁
    P.s
    Of course I’m not saying my childhood goes back to the thirties 🙄

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