In an attempt to battle the “world-building” box-office prowess of mega-franchises like the Marvel Universe and Star Wars, Universal Pictures recently announced a full reboot of their classic monster series slated to begin in 2017. This new series, featuring the studio’s all-star supernatural lineup – consisting of Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Phantom of the Opera – is going to be spearheaded by action impresario Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek, Transformers) and is said to feature a team-based tone closer to The Avengers than previous monster mashes. Before you catch the newest blockbuster iteration of these frightfests, why not check out the golden-age films that inspired them all, with Universal’s new DVD set release of Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection.
Though the films vary drastically in quality, they are all united in a Gothic, nouveau-Guignol tone which always makes for fun matinee potboilers with an elevated sense of dark morality. Standouts from the set include James Whale’s bonafide masterpiece Bride of Frankenstein, Curt Siodmak’s moving The Wolf Man and Karl Freund’s genuinely creepy The Mummy, but despite these being above the pack, each movie has its own special “something,” no matter how corny the later installments may have gotten.
Indeed, the heart of the Universal Monsters was always the soul imbued into the creatures themselves, brought to life via a combination of brilliant prosthetic makeup and the talents of some of the finest actors ever known to grace the silver screen. Even if the stories may be hokey, the sets flimsy and the dialogue leaden, the performances of players like Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Sr., Bela Lugosi and Claude Rains elevate these pictures from high camp to legitimate art.
Though the Universal films themselves were often adapted from classic novels, the particular populist spin the studio and its talented craftsmen were able to put on the tales made them resonate eternally through our pop-culture zeitgeist. Whether you’re a fan of the horror genre or not, these films are worth checking out for their sheer impact on the modern idea of blockbuster cinema. In a world where superheroes are taken seriously, the film industry owes a great debt to the Universal franchises for inspiring an entire generation of filmmakers to add humanity to horror and wed the fragile to the fantastical. Aside from producing endless sequels and spinoffs to this day and beyond, the Universal Monsters endure because they tap into something at the heart of all of us: a fear of the unknown and a hope for something familiar out there in the darkness.
This fantastic new set contains a host of special features, including 13 expert commentaries, archival footage, four actor featurettes and theatrical trailers, on top of these 30 unique films: Dracula (1931); Frankenstein (1931); The Mummy (1932); The Invisible Man (1933); The Bride of Frankenstein (1935); Werewolf of London (1935); Dracula’s Daughter (1936); Son of Frankenstein (1939); The Invisible Man Returns (1940); The Invisible Woman (1940); The Mummy’s Hand (1940); The Wolf Man (1941); The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942); The Mummy’s Ghost (1942); The Mummy’s Tomb (1942); Invisible Agent (1942); Phantom of the Opera (1943); Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943); Son of Dracula (1943); House of Frankenstein (1944); The Mummy’s Curse (1944); The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944); House of Dracula (1945); She-Wolf of London (1946); Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948); Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951); Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954); Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955); Revenge of the Creature (1955); The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)