If you’re like us, you love the classic Universal Monsters movies. A smile comes to your face when you hear Frankenstein, Dracula or The Mummy. However, you may be thinking to yourself, “Where I will be able to find these movies in one place?” Well, we’re here to tell you all about one amazing collector’s set.
The Universal Monsters Essential Collection is an 8-disc Blu-ray set containing, in order of release, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera (1943) and The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Each movie is its own disc complete with special features. The special feature about Jack Pierce repeats as he worked on Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. Otherwise, the features are fantastic and provide viewers with new perspectives on the movies and the characters. Without further ado, let’s sink our fangs into Dracula.
Dracula is an all-time classic starring Bela Lugosi, David Manners and Helen Chandler and directed by Tod Browning. It is beautifully restored with crystal clear picture and sound. In fact, one of the special features shows viewers how this process was done using original bits of the film and modern day technology. The disc also includes the Spanish-language version of the movie which was filmed at the same time as the Lugosi version. Both versions used the same sets and props. While the Spanish version is praised for its cinematography and Mexican actress Lupita Tovar, Lugosi’s acting is what propels the English-language version to its classic status. There is also a great featurette on Lugosi himself and his post-Dracula career which included many films with Boris Karloff.
Following the success of Dracula, Universal released Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff, Colin Clive and Mae Clarke and directed by James Whale. Who can forget the moment the monster comes to life or that poignant scene with the little girl by the lake? In a story told during a featurette about Karloff, the crew was worried about whether Marilyn Harris (the little girl by the lake) would be scared of Karloff so they had him meet her in full costume before shooting. When Marilyn met him, she ran up to him and asked, “May I drive with you?” to which Karloff replied, “Would you, darling?” That is just a sample of the many endearing stories told about Boris Karloff.
Speaking of Karloff, he returned in 1932 as Ardath Bey in The Mummy alongside Zita Johann and David Manners. Karl Freund returned to the director’s chair and Karloff reunited with Frankenstein make-up artist Jack Pierce. Karloff’s deep voice and piercing eyes struck fear into the hearts of Helen Grovesnor and moviegoers alike. There is a featurette on Jack Pierce along with a featurette on how The Mummy‘s legacy has grown since 1932 with such films as The Mummy’s Hand and the 1999 version starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz.
In 1933, Universal went back to classic literature as a source for its next film, The Invisible Man. James Whale was brought back to direct the film inspired by H.G. Wells’s novel which starred Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart and W.M. Harrington. Claude Rains, mostly through voice overs, did an amazing job as Jack Griffin while John P. Fulton used traveling mattes and optical printing to create groundbreaking special effects and make Claude Rains look as if he was invisible on set. Unfortunately, this movie’s only special feature is the making of the movie.
Boris Karloff, Colin Clive and James Whale reunited in 1935 to bring The Bride of Frankenstein to life. Elsa Lanchester donned the famous beehive hair, which was done by combing her hair over a wire mesh cage. The film almost did not make it to release. Boris Karloff injured his hip, which meant Whale had to use a stunt double and Colin Clive broke his leg, requiring many of his scenes to be filmed sitting down. There were censorship issues as well as many questioned the film’s morals. As with The Invisible Man, this film falls short on special features.
On December 12, 1941, just five days after the attack on Pearl Harbor plunged America into World War II, Universal released The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Evelyn Ankers, Claude Rains and Bela Lugosi and directed by George Waggner. It is because of screenwriter Curt Siodmak we get the myths of silver bullets and changing during a full moon. Jack Pierce’s work is once again on display as he turns Chaney into the Wolf Man. The special features on this disc are great as they explore the werewolf mythos and offer a great biography on Lon Chaney, Jr.
In 1943, Claude Rains added to his Universal Monsters resume once again when he took on the role of The Phantom of the Opera, directed by Arthur Lubin. It’s not as grotesque as the original 1925 silent version starring Lon Chaney, Sr. so it does not really fit into this set the way the 1925 version would. This was in technicolor and had more song and pageantry than horror. However, Universal did use the same set for both movies. Susanna Foster was brilliant as Christine and showed off a magnificent voice. Aside from a making of featurette, there’s nothing much to this disc other than the movie.
Last but not least is The Creature From The Black Lagoon starring Julie Adams, Richard Carlson, Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning and directed by Jack Arnold. This is a great movie with a subtle message about ecological preservation. It can be said this was the precursor to Jaws. The special features are limited but worth it. There’s “Back to the Black Lagoon,” which is the making of featurette and, if you have a 3D Blu-Ray player, you can–wait for it–watch the 3D version which is included on the disc!
There you have it, folks. The set, as found on Amazon, is region free so it can be played in any country which makes it that much better than it already is. There is a fantastic full-color booklet included that is loaded with information about these classic films. It has biographies, background information and pictures about the Universal Monsters movies. Each disc has special features on Universal Studios itself including the restoration process, 100 years of Universal and the Carl Laemmle era. If you are a Universal Monsters fan, this is the set to own!
(Joe Grodensky – @JoeGrodensky)