Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s monster, the Invisible Man and the Mummy are all here. And, they are all together for the first time in this monstrously good box set, “Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection.”
Oh, and don’t forget the Phantom of the Opera and the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Universal Studios Home Entertainment has put all of its ghouls in one basket for horror fans who fondly remember these classics. Oh, we weren’t really scared like audiences were in the 1930’s and 1940’s, but watching these films on television over the decades has given the creatures an endearing quality like that old pair of comfortable blue jeans. They feel good. We look back at these classic horror tales and imagine what long-dead moviegoers must have felt when they saw these creature features on the big screen for the very first time. Okay, it’s nostalgia.
Now, a very important message to those thinking about getting this magnificent collection. If you’ve collected Universal’s individual monster sets over the past dozen years or so, be cautioned. These are the very SAME DVDs, only packaged now in a single collector’s box.
So, what should you do, if you want the entire collection all-in-one? Well, You might consider selling your titles and go for the big daddy box. There’s a 48-page booklet with old movie posters and behind-the-scenes photographs. That’s about the only thing unique to this collection.
Despite being a few years old, the bonus features are good and incredibly informative. The trivia alone from the featurettes could make you the hit of Halloween parties everywhere. So much fun information and interviews with the relatives and friends of horror icons Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, James Whale and many more.
One complaint is that most of the featurettes seem repetitive. The same interview clips show up repeatedly. I would have preferred each bonus to be unique.
Below, you will find a list of the 30 horror titles in this collection with some very brief notes. I watched every film from start-to-finish, or this review would have been out sooner. The collection was released on September 2, 2014. Oh, and a 31st film, the Spanish version of “Dracula” is a bonus feature worth watching. It was also made in 1931 alongside James Whale’s “Dracula” and starred Spanish-language actors. Some experts argue the Spanish version of “Dracula” is even better than Whale’s film. You can make up your own mind.
If you decide to buy this DVD collection, then here are the movies you would get:
1. “Dracula” (1931) Bela Lugosi gives his greatest performance as the mesmerizing menace from Transylvania. Dracula chilled audiences in the 1930’s, and it still gives me goosebumps. Masterful direction and skilled actors, including Dwight Frye as Renfield. So much to love in this pic, including unprecedented camera movements supervised by Todd Browning.This is the granddaddy of the classic Hollywood horror genre. Grade: A
2. “Frankenstein” (1931) Boris Karloff had worked in Hollywood for years, but this classic horror film made him a star. Karloff’s facial expressions and arm movements created empathy for his tragic character. Oh, yes, he was frightening. But, he didn’t ask to be brought to life. Another undisputed classic from the mind of James Whale. Grade: A
3. “The Mummy” (1932) Basically the Dracula story set in Egypt. Karloff plays a very wrinkly mummy-come-to-life who like Dracula casts his spell on a beautiful woman, who may be the reincarnation of a long-dead Egyptian princess. Classic horror. Grade: A-
4. “The Invisible Man” (1933) One of my favorites, Claude Rains, in the title role. He’s only visible at the end, so gaining the audience’s favor must have been a challenge using only his voice and plenty of bandages. The invisibility formula drives him insane. Excellent film. Grade: A
5. “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) Another act of genius, many say outdoes the original. The monster returns and demands a mate. Elsa Lanchester is the apple of Karloff’s eye. Can they live happily ever after? Not a chance. Outstanding. Grade: A
6. “Werewolf of London” (1935) Six years before Lon Chaney, Jr.’s definitive role as the Wolf Man, werewolves were very much alive in both the literary and movie worlds. Warner Oland (Fox’s Charlie Chan) is the mysterious Dr. Yogami. He craves the special flower brought from Tibet by an English botanist. The plant blooms only under the full moon and it has the power to keep a lycanthrope from “werewolfery.” That’s a word that’s actually used in the film. Love it. Grade: B+
7. “Dracula’s Daughter” (1936) Bit of a bore with Count Dracula nowhere in sight. His daughter reluctantly bares her fangs. Can vampires even have children? Grade: C
8. “Son of Frankenstein” (1939) Basil Rathbone plays the title role in this average horror flick about reviving the creature for a second time. Grade: C+
9. “The Invisible Man Returns” (1940) Mostly forgettable story that employs a relative of the original transparent dude. Yes, taking the potion can make you insane. Been there, done that. Grade: C-
10. “The Mummy’s Hand” (1940) Now, this is more like your typical Mummy movie. It features the monster roaming about killing people. Not one of my favorites. Grade: C-
11. “The Invisible Woman” (1940) A better-than-average comedy about a woman who turned invisible by a harmless, eccentric old scientist. She has plenty of fun getting even with her boss and dodging incompetent mobsters, including Shemp Howard. Grade: B
12. “The Wolf Man” (1941) The original and only entry in the Wolf Man series that I truly like. Lon Chaney, Jr. was born to play the troubled Larry Talbot, a guy who gets bitten by a werewolf (Bela Lugosi) and openly laments his future as the hairiest man in Europe. Claude Rains is Talbot’s father. Nicely done. Grade: B+
13. “The Ghost of Frankenstein” (1942) A true waste of time. Enough said. Grade: D+
14. “Invisible Agent” (1942) True greatness. The invisible man was perfect as a behind-the-enemy-lines spy during World War II. Plenty of humor and thrills in this action film, featuring a very recognizable supporting cast, including Keye Luke and Peter Lorre. Grade: A-
15. “The Mummy’s Tomb” (1942) A rather dull affair with many scenes directly lifted from earlier Mummy films. Absolutely nothing to recommend here. Grade: D-
16. “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” (1943) As a kid, I enjoyed this movie much more than I do as an adult. ALL those great Universal monsters in a single film. Even Dracula shows up. But, these days, FMWM seems contrived and dull. Grade: C-
17. “Phantom of the Opera (1943) A true wonder. Claude Rains is the disfigured ghost of the Paris Opera House in a remake of the 1925 classic starring Lon Chaney. Rains is a former violinist disfigured by acid in a tragic misunderstanding. Like in earlier and later versions of “Phantom,” he’s hopelessly in love with Christine, a young soprano at the Opera. Rains, one of my favorite actors, gives a superb interpretation of the mysterious recluse. “Phantom” was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for art direction and cinematography. Grade: A
18. “Son of Dracula” (1943) A tedious tale with perhaps the worst performance ever in a film by Lon Chaney, Jr. A fencepost has more charisma than Chaney as Count Alucard. Painfully slow and awkward. Grade: D
19. “The Invisible Man’s Revenge” (1944) John Carradine gives a sympathetic performance as Doctor Peter Drury, a likable scientist who tests his invisibility formula on an escaped convict. Well, he didn’t know the fugitive (Jon Hall) was a bad egg. Just one of those things. It’s very hard to like Hall’s character, who decides being invisible is the best way to dispense justice to those who cheated him. Not one of my favorites. Grade: C
20. “The Mummy’s Ghost” (1944) Another effort in laziness with scenes lifted directly from earlier Mummy films. Not fun. Grade: D
21. “House of Frankenstein” (1944) Calling all monsters! Universal trots most of them out for this sequel to “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.” And, the results were slightly better than the 1943 effort. Boris Karloff plays a mad scientist bent on revenge. J. Carroll Naish is memorable as a hunchback hoping to get a new body, Frankenstein’s body. The Wolf Man and Dracula also join the proceedings. Grade: C+
22.”The Mummy’s Curse” (1944) These Mummy films are getting progressively worse. Ten to fifteen minutes of earlier Mummy films are used in this dog. Grade: D-
23. “House of Dracula” (1945) Another monsterpalooza. But, this time, a major bore. Grade: D-
24. “She-Wolf of London” (1946) A frustratingly long film about a woman who thinks she’s a werewolf. The name of the film is most deceptive. Grade: C-
25. “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948) The first of three films to pair the comedy team with Universal’s monsters. Moderately amusing. Grade: C
26. “Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man” (1951) My favorite of the three Abbott and Costello vs. Universal monsters films. There are jokes in this movie that are actually laugh-out loud funny, even by today’s standards. Adults will enjoy the humor. Kids like the slapstick. It’s a pleasant combination. Grade: B
27. “Creature From the Black Lagoon” (1954) Okay, it’s just a guy in a rubber suit. Even people in the 1950’s weren’t afraid of this so-called monster. But, there’s some camp value to this on-the-water and under-the-water adventure. Grade: B-
28. “Revenge of the Creature” (1955) If I ever watch this film again, I will time the sequences showing the creature swim underwater. Swim, swim, swim, swim, swim. Very repetitive and definitely not scary. Grade: D
29. “Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy” (1955) They don’t even make the monster look believable. I think you can see his underwear. It’s a comedy, not a cartoon. Grade: C-
30. “The Creature Walks Among Us” (1956) A terrible horror flick that I liked anyway. Scientists speed up evolution to turn the gill monster human. The manfish is almost likable. Ultimately, the film is not. Grade: C+
Street Date: September 2, 2014
Format: DVD only
Released by Universal Studios Home Entertainment