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The Creature

A Tribute To Universal Studios

My Opinion

There was a time when Universal and Horror Films were almost synonymous. They had the market cornered for years and made a lot of truly cutting edge films. They also weren’t above throwing out subpar sequels and milking an idea for all it was worth. People complain today of a lack of originality and the constant sequel syndrome but believe me, that’s nothing new. And when censorship and WWII combined to make horror less palatable they allowed their stock of great characters to slide into camp crap and it would take England's Hammer to put them back where they belong. But make no mistake, if you are a fan of horror it is a must that you spend some time with Universal's output from the 30s! Golden Age indeed.

Info

from: Wikipedia.org/

Universal Monsters or Universal Horror is the name given to the distinctive series of horror films, suspense films, and science fiction films made by Universal Studios in California from 1923 to 1960. The approach began with the 1923 film version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and continued to encompass such movies as The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, Bride of Frankenstein, Werewolf of London, Son of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. With their iconic gallery of monsters, Universal would create a lasting impression on generations of avid moviegoers around the world.

1920s (Silent Era)

Universal's earliest success in the horror genre was the costume picture The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923. Starring Lon Chaney as the title role, the lavish production rebuilt 15th-century Paris on an epic scale, even re-creating the famed Notre Dame de Paris cathedral.

A runaway success at the box-office, Hunchback of Notre Dame inspired Universal to film their first true horror film, The Phantom of the Opera, based on the mystery novel by Gaston Leroux. Released in 1925, Chaney designed and endured a torturous make-up that exceed even the gruesomeness of the Hunchback character. As with Hunchback, the sets played an important part of the film. The interior of the Opéra Garnier was recreated on an epic scale for the film, and remains the longest-standing film set to this day. It was used for the 1943 remake with Claude Rains, as well as numerous non-horror pictures. The set is contained on Stage 28 at Universal, which was constructed specifically for the film and dubbed "The Phantom Stage."

Chaney, who was a free-lance player at the time of Phantom of the Opera's production, signed a contract at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and could no longer produce character roles for Universal. His death in 1930 ended any possibility of his leaving MGM for another studio, and Universal turned their attentions to other actors such as German character actor Conrad Veidt, who was a success in 1928's The Man Who Laughs.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The Cat and the Canary (1927)
The Man Who Laughs (1928)
The Last Warning (1929)
The Last Performance (1929)

1930s (Golden Age)

In spite of the depression, executive Carl Laemmle Jr produced massive successes for the studio with Dracula (directed by Tod Browning) and Frankenstein (directed by James Whale), both in 1931.

The success of these two movies not only launched the careers of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, but also ushered in a whole new genre of American cinema. With Universal at the forefront, they would continue to build on their box office returns with an entire series of monster movies. These films would also provide steady work for a number of other genre actors including Lionel Atwill, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, and John Carradine. Other regular talents involved were make-up artists Jack Pierce and Bud Westmore, and composers Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner. Many of the horror genre's most well-known conventions -- the creaking staircase, the cobwebs, the swirling mist and the mobs of peasants pursuing monsters with torches -- originated from these films and those that followed.

Next up was The Mummy (1932), followed by a trilogy of films based on the tales of Edgar Allan Poe: Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), The Black Cat (1934) and The Raven (1935), the latter two of which teamed up Lugosi with Karloff. Also released was The Invisible Man (1933) which proved to be another phenomenal hit and would spawn several sequels. However, of all the Universal monsters, the most successful and sequelized was undoubtedly the Frankenstein series, which continued with Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Dracula too had its share of sequels, beginning with Dracula's Daughter in 1936, although none would feature its original leading man, Bela Lugosi.

1936 also marked the end of Universal’s first run of horror films as the Laemmle’s were forced out of the studio after financial difficulties and a series of box office flops. The monsters were dropped from the production schedule altogether and wouldn’t re-emerge for another three years. In the meantime the original movies were re-released to surprising success, forcing the new executives to green light Son of Frankenstein (1939) starring Basil Rathbone as heir to the Frankenstein legacy.

The Cat Creeps (1930)
Dracula (1931)
Dracula (Spanish Version) (1931)
Frankenstein (1931)
The Mummy (1932)
Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)
The Old Dark House (1932)
The Invisible Man (1933)
The Black Cat (1934)
The Raven (1935)
Werewolf of London (1935)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Dracula's Daughter (1936)
The Invisible Ray (1936)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Tower of London (1939)

1940s

During the forties, the most successful of the new series of Universal Horror movies was The Wolf Man (1941), which also established Lon Chaney, Jr., as the new leading horror actor for the studio.

In 1943, the "Phantom stage" was employed again for a remake of Phantom of the Opera, this time starring Nelson Eddy and Susanna Foster in a film that was as much musical as horror. Claude Rains played the Phantom.

The Frankenstein and Dracula series continued with The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) while Son of Dracula (1943) featured Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Count. The Mummy too continued to rise from the grave in The Mummy's Hand (1940) and The Mummy's Tomb (1942). Eventually all of Universal's monsters, except the Mummy and Invisible Man, would be brought together in: House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945), where Dracula was played by John Carradine. As the decade drew to a close the knockabout comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) proved an instant hit for the studio, with the original Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi starring alongside Lon Chaney, Jr. as Larry Talbot (AKA The Wolf Man), and Glenn Strange, as Frankenstein's monster.

Black Friday (1940)
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
The Invisible Woman (1940)
The Mummy's Hand (1940)
The Wolf Man (1941)
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Invisible Agent (1942)
The Mummy's Tomb (1942)
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Phantom of the Opera (1943)
Son of Dracula (1943)
The Mad Ghoul (1943)
The Climax (1944)
House of Frankenstein (1944)
The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944)
The Mummy's Ghost (1944)
The Mummy's Curse (1944)
House of Dracula (1945)
She-Wolf of London (1946)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

1950s (Monster Revival)

For many, the series had lost much of its impetus towards the end of the 1940s, but with the success of Creature from the Black Lagoon (directed by Jack Arnold in 1954) the revived "Universal Horror" franchise would gain a whole new generation of fans. The original movies such as Dracula and Frankenstein were again re-released as double features in many theatres, before eventually premiering on syndicated American television in 1957 (as part of the famous "Shock" run of Universal Monster Movies). Soon dedicated magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland would help propel these movies into lasting infamy. By the early 60s the monsters were merchandised in the form of toys and model kits, the most famous of which were from the now-defunct Aurora company.

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953)
Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Revenge of the Creature (1955)
The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)

Later influences & homages

In 1957, the legendary Hammer Studios began producing their own series of monster movies in glorious Eastmancolor; Starting with The Curse of Frankenstein and followed by the Horror of Dracula (1958). Latterly, Universal was also the distributor for several of the films, enabling Hammer to replicate many features of the original Universal horrors for the first time. Most notable was The Evil of Frankenstein (1963), in which sets, effects, plot and make-up all borrowed heavily from the Universal Frankenstein series.

From 1964 to 1966, the CBS sitcom The Munsters featured a ghoulish family based on several of the Universal characters, including Karloff's Frankenstein and Lugosi's Dracula.

In 1969, the animated stop-motion movie Mad Monster Party was released. It proved popular amongst children and featured the voice talents of Boris Karloff.

Mel Brooks's 1974 parody Young Frankenstein paid brilliant homage to the films' style. Gerald Hirschfield's black-and-white photography particularly evoked the expressionistic style of the Universal horrors.

Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) featured the character Magenta (played by Patricia Quinn whose shock hair was modelled on that of the Bride of Frankenstein. The film (and stage play) is a parody of B-movies and the title song "Science Fiction/Double Feature" itself references Universal's own The Invisible Man.

The long running Children's TV favourite Sesame Street became an unlikely platform for one of Universal's key figures; Bela Lugosi's Dracula (unofficially) became a Muppet in the guise of Count von Count.

The Monster Squad, a 1987 film released by Tri-Star Pictures and directed by Fred Dekker, featured Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Ironically, while the character designs were changed slightly so as not to infringe on Universal's copyright, the movie itself was filmed on the Universal backlot.

In 1998, filmmaker Kevin Brownlow made the documentary Universal Horror. It was narrated by Kenneth Branagh, and featured interviews with many of the original stars.

In 2004, Stephen Sommers directed Van Helsing featuring the characters of Dracula, His Brides, a Wolf-Man, and the Frankenstein Monster (deleted scenes reveal a Gill-Man like creature dwelling in Dracula's castle). The film was a homage to the classic Universal monster mash up movies of the 1940s, such as the "Frankenstein Meets..." and "The House of..." series, and proved popular at the box office despite mixed reviews. Stephen Sommers had also directed both the remake of The Mummy and its sequel, The Mummy Returns.

Land of the Dead, a George Romero zombie film, used the original black and white Universal logo as a tip of the hat to the classic Universal Monsters, as did the movie Dead Silence.

In Mahou Sentai Magiranger, the main villains in the series each parodied and paid homage to many of the Universal Monsters.

Some of the characters in the video game Darkstalkers are inspired in the Universal Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon)

Japanese tokusatsu has also referenced the Universal Monsters, Mahou Sentai Magiranger (which would later become Power Rangers Mystic Force) and Kamen Rider Kiva.

Castlevania based on the video game franchise of the same name, was slated for a 2009 release date until its reported cancellation and would have utilizez motifs of the Universal Monsters.

Notable Universal Monsters

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Quasimodo)
The Phantom of the Opera (Erik)
Dracula
Brides of Dracula
Frankenstein's Monster
The Mummy (Imhotep/Kharis)
The Invisible Man (Dr. Jack Griffin)
Bride of Frankenstein
Werewolf of London (Dr. Wilfred Glendon)
Ygor
The Wolf Man (Lawrence Talbot)
Creature
The Metaluna Mutant
The Mole Man

Merchandising

Such is the popularity of the series that merchandising has been collected by fans around the world for decades. The complete list of merchandising for these characters is exhausting, with too many to mention. However, when the films were originally released there was little in the way of merchandising other than lobby cards and posters. The 1931 Frankenstein 6-sheet movie poster is considered to be the most valuable poster in the world. There is only one copy of this poster known to exist.

It would be many years later, when the films had become popular once again after being regularly shown on American TV, when toys and model kits began to appear for sale with the features of these characters on them. Universal particularly held to the copyrighting of their depiction of Frankenstein's monster.

Out of the first wave of collectables, the most notable and significant was the 1961 plastic model kit of Frankenstein's monster by the now-defunct Aurora company. In the next few years there followed models of Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon before the series switched to generic or characters from other firms, though there was a Bride of Frankenstein model in 1965. These hollow statues were quite popular among American boys, it being well before there were any "action figures" at all.

After the popular Aurora series, other companies eventually began using licenced caricatures of the Universal Monsters. Over the decades a seemingly endless variety of collectables have appeared in one form or another; from Halloween masks and action figures, to coffee mugs, miniature die-cast cars, jigsaw puzzles, pez dispensers, lunch boxes, postal stamps, and so on.

Other notable popular memorabilia include the extensive range from Sideshow Collectibles with very accurate 12 inch (1/6th scale) "action figures" of many of the Universal Monsters, as well as museum quality 1/4th scale "Premium Format" figures usually cast from polystone with screen accurate cloth costumes and decoration.

In video and computer games, the Universal Monsters have also made appearances, in titles such as Monsterville and Darkstalkers.

The films themselves have seldom been out of print and have been widely collected in numerous formats, originally in Super 8mm, then VHS and laserdisc. In 1999, the movies first became available on DVD, since then they have been re-mastered, re-released and re-packaged twice more; in 2004, as part of the Legacy Series and also under the 75th Anniversary banner in 2006.

In 2006 NECA Toys began releasing a series of bobble head caricatures of all the main universal monsters, including: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman, Bride of Frankenstein, The Phantom and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

More Recent Remakes

In 1979, Universal released Dracula, starring Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier. In 1999 and 2001 respectively, the films The Mummy and The Mummy Returns were both box office success and made a third sequel, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor which was released in August 2008. These films were a re-imagining of the original franchise that ran in cinemas in the 1930s and 40s. The Wolfman is due for release on February 12, 2010, and stars Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving. The film will basically follow the plot line of the original The Wolf Man, and is already receiving praise for the director's choice to not film Talbot's (del Toro) transformation with CGI, but rather traditional make-up. (Edit: It sounds as if after 6-weeks of re-shooting, the transformation scences will be heavily CGI'ed now, and he will no longer walk on his back legs, but instead, all fours.) Breck Eisner is attached to remake The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

From Wikipedia

My Reviews

Hunchback of Notre Dame, The (1923)- This was one of the first ‘big budget’ flicks and you can tell, for its time, it was quite an extravaganza, with impressive sets and costumes. You know the story, hunchback lives in the church as a servant, is held in contempt by the town’s folk, is used for nefarious deeds by the brother of the deacon of the church, is punished, and treated nicely by Esmeralda, then comes to Esmeralda’s rescue when she is framed as all Hell brakes loose. I see why people rate this one really high but I have to admit I had problems getting into it. It was a little too long and tedious at times, although Chaney was brilliant as the hunchback. For completists only. B-

Phantom of the Opera (1925)- You know the story. Man is horribly scared, falls for beautiful woman, must have beautiful woman. A silent classic, maybe more thriller then horror but it proved such movies could be successful on a large scale. Lon Cheney plays the part with old school gusto and his makeup during the Masque Ball and at the unmasking are maybe second only to the original Frankenstein makeup. The tinting during different scenes and the color during the ball are also great so if you can, try and catch the original tinted version. A+

Dracula (1931)- Back in the day I really hated this flick. Old school acting style, very staged feeling. After another recent viewing I have to say maybe I was too quick to judge. Yeah it does suffer from some lack of creativity as far as direction goes and was based too much on the stage play which bogs it down in the middle some, but over-all it is an effective horror movie and telling of the story (Dracula wants to move to England, buys some property from Renfeld, Renfeld sees too much, Dracula moves to England, falls for Lucy, Dr. Van Helsing pursues). The opening sequences are superbly done and it's not until we're in England at Lucy's house do things start slowing down. It's a shame that the creative directing style of the intro for some reason didn't carry over to the body of the movie and we end up with just a filmed stage play. Lugosi is great at the part. People rip on him for being too hammy and staged but when you think of Dracula who comes to mind? That's right, Christopher Lee who copied Lugosi. And Dwight Frye, the ultimate horror sidekick, perfects Renfeld also. B+.

Dracula (Spanish Version) (1931)- I’d heard a lot of things about how much better the Spanish production of "Dracula" was supposed to be. It was filmed at the same time, on the same sets and same schedule (but at night) as the English version, using different actors and a different director. Much of the atmosphere remains in the first act, as does the ‘staginess’ of the second act. Johnathon, Mina, and Lucy’s parts are actually a little better, but I was disappointed in both Van Helsing, and Dracula, which are, needless to say, some important parts! Dracula, played by , was probably more campy and ‘staged’ than Lugosi, which is the main complaint against his performance. And Van Helsing’s cool demeanor and Dutch accent (which goes without saying) are not present in this one. I liked the English version a little better, but this is a good interpretation and actually tells the story a little more coherently. B-.

Frankenstein (1931)- This movie has the expected flaws for one so old. The bad old school acting, the silly 'chase scene' near the end. The story sort of follows Shelley's book, but leaves massive gaps. For instance, it seems the monster 'just happens' to find Dr. Frankenstein's fiancé's room, but we know from the book the monster was smart and planned it all along. But despite its flaws I feel it is the strongest of the original Universal monster movies. The sets are great, especially the lab scenes, which are second to none, and the makeup job on Boris Karloff is probably the best of all time. Plus, despite all the makeup, you realize what a tragedy this is for the Monster. The scenes with Fritz teasing him with the torch and the scene near the lake with the little girl were way ahead of their time, and still very effective. Dr. Frankenstein calling out "Now I know what it feels like to be God" was ahead of its time too. Though it all seems very tame now, this was a controversial flick back in the day. A.

The Mummy (1932)- Karloff again becomes a monster, but this time a much less sympathetic, yet more human looking monster. Ironic. Great makeup and sets and a very well acted and directed movie. Influenced by German Expressionism the look is great and Karloff plays his character with great evil restraint. The story is basically the same one used later by Hammer and still again later by Universal in their big budget remake. An ancient Egyptian priest is busted trying to resurrect his princess lover from the dead and is cursed to spend eternity guarding her tomb. Jump ahead to the 20th Century and Egyptian exploration and oops, the Mummy is back. As luck would have it, his lover from way back in the day has been reincarnated again and he must again have her, this time for eternity. Yeah, it's basically Dracula from Egypt rather than Transylvania, but it still works really well. A+.

Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)- I've read some good things about this movie and some bad things about it so I was stoked to finally see it to decide for myself. What did I decide? First the good: There were some nice use of camera angles and 'points of view'. That always interests me, especially in these old movies when the approach was often just filming a play because the cameras were about the size of a small car so it was hard to do much with them. The lab experiment scene was good and obviously pre-code. The use of light and shadow was also pretty effective as were the outdoor backdrop sets that were obviously influenced by German Expressionism of the silent era. Welp, that about does it for the good. The bad, Bela's character is over the top in a bad way with the crazy uni-brow and big hat. The plot? Bela is a (mad) scientist out to prove Evolution (Darwin is never mentioned but I guess the film was supposed to be taking place around the time Darwin made his discoveries or just before). How will he prove it? By mixing the blood of beautiful young women with that of his trained ape. Uh, yeah, that should do it. Too bad the women usually have impure blood and die from the experiments. Don't ask me. The acting and directing (other than the above mentioned positives) also bit. D-.

Old Dark House, The (1932)- James Whale's character study about different people all trapped in an 'old dark house' while a storm rages outside. This movie has a lot of talk and little action, which is OK sometimes and works here sometimes, but not all the time. There was some cutting edge frank (for the times) sex talk and talk of atheism and then a lot of mumbo jumbo and by the time we rolled around to the climax I didn't care much anymore. Not a bad flick and pretty far ahead of it's time in the way it is done but not much in the 'horror' department. C+.

The Invisible Man (1933)- Claude Rains rants and raves about taking over the world and such because the serum he invented that made him invisible also drives men mad. James Whale directed this old school Universal Monster movie too. The FX are impressive for the times and the direction is more fluid and less 'staged' than many of the Universal Monster movies. Never the less much of the acting is really bad and the plot mirrors Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde very closely. The characters are flat and you never find yourself sympathizing with anyone in the movie. This may have been the first movie where the makers just assumed the FX would carry the show, they were as wrong then as they are now. C-.

The Black Cat (1934)- This was originally supposed to be an adaptation of the Poe story "The Black Cat" but was totally rewritten save the name and ends up with next to nothing to do with Poe. I believe this is the best of the old-school Universal horror movies. Except for an occasional bit of camp this movie takes itself very seriously and it has none of the outrages characters, over the top plot lines, or over acting many of its contemporary horror movies have (not that those are bad things). The acting is brilliant and the directing is cutting edge for the times. It makes you wonder what could've been if Universal's horror hadn't fallen into B movie status with too much camp and too much fear of the censors. This was the first, and by far the best, pairing of the two greatest horror movie actors of all time. Bela Lugosi plays a doctor who has been in a Prisoner of War camp for fifteen years and is returning to the man who betrayed him during the war and then stole his wife and daughter, Boris Karloff. Karloff is apparently into taxidermy with interesting results and also a practitioner of the Black Arts. So many classic moments in this film but the best is right after Lugosi arrives and he is explaining to Karloff where he has been. Karloff sits quietly in his black robe with his white face, following Lugosi only with his darkened eyes. It's a brilliant combination of direction and acting. The Bauhaus architecture comes to life in the stark black and white film, complete with great lighting and long shadows. Lugosi is brilliant as the good doctor and Karloff plays his character with great restraint and believability. The censors were none too happy with this movie at the time and the boundaries it pushed led to problems for many years for horror movies (it was inspired by a true account of a couple's meeting famous English Satanist Aleister Crowley). My only complaint is the music which plays almost throughout the entire film is at times over-bearing and pulls the movie down. Still, this is a must see for students of horror or just film in general. A+.

The Raven (1935)- Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff's second teaming has mixed results. Lugosi plays a plastic surgeon whose ego is second only to God's. He's a big E. Poe fan and keeps a nice collection of Poe torture implements and other macabre memorabilia on hand. A rich and powerful man's daughter is in an accident and begs Lugosi to come out of retirement to fix her face. The appeal that he is the only Dr. good enough works and, after the recovered daughter does an interpretive dance of Poe's "The Raven" (don't ask) to thank Lugosi, Lugosi falls for her and must have her. When he realizes he can't have her then everyone, including a black mailed crook played by Karloff, must pay. Lugosi gives his usual over the top performance but only later, after it is realized he has gone insane. For the first part of the movie he is very restrained yet edgy. A lot of folks hate this movie but I really liked it. Maybe it's no "Black Cat" but it still works. There are some silly plot devices (entire rooms that act as an elevators and such) and some typical rotten 30's camp but get beyond the weak points and this isn't a bad film. B.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)- I've read a lot of reviews that say this film is superior to the first. I think those reviews might be right. Great atmosphere that you expect from these old black and white Universal movies (they had a great way of lighting that took full effect of the huge sets and the dark shadows they cast), great lab scenes, and a good, well directed story. A doctor who has been doing similar experiments as Dr. Frankenstein wants to create a mate for the monster, who survived the fire at the end of the first film. Aside from some silly, dated 'scientific' mumbo-jumbo and some very silly creations made by this other scientist, the movie is very good. (The campy old maid is a little over the top though.) I think the Monster's looks might have been softened a little to make him more sympathetic, but it still works. Colin Clive gets to work in his famous "It's alive... alive!" line again too. Look for a lot of Christ-figure imagery associated with the Monster in this one, amplifying Dr. Frankenstein's roll of God. A+.

Werewolf of London (1935)- Very dated werewolf flick. The main character is a botanist looking for a flower that only blooms at night. It so happens this rare flower is also an antidote (but not a cure) for "werewolfery, the scientific name is lycanthrophobia." Putting the good doctor in the wrong place at the wrong time. This movie has a more Jeckyll and Hyde plot than an actual were-wolf plot. At one point, when realizing he must kill his wife ("a were-wolf must always kill that which it loves the most"), the were-wolf promptly puts on his coat and hat. A far cry from the modern interpretation, but not necessarily wrong. Still, this movie was slow and the acting wasn't too good. Also, no one seemed too surprised about were-wolves being around. I can see how it was more or less 'forgotten' (other than by Warren Zevon). C-.

Invisible Ray, The (1936): Not bad not great early sci-fi flick about a loner scientist (Boris Karloff) who discovers how to 'view' past events by looking at 'rays' that have been traveling at light speed across space. With this evidence he pinpoints where to find a rare element from a meteorite that crashed into the earth "thousands of millions" of years ago. He finds the element but becomes contaminated. He glows in the dark and kills anything he touches. Luckily Bela Lugosi is the greatest astro chemist in the world and quickly finds an antidote. Boris must take it daily though and it may just drive him insane and make him want to kill those who stole his ideas and his wife. The acting is pretty good for such silly material. Nothing cool about the directing. It moves well for the most part but slows down during some of the 'love' sequences. Just your basic predictable old school sci-fi flick, middle C.

Dracula's Daughter (1936)- This movie picks up right where "Dracula" left off, with Dracula being killed. We then learn Dracula had a daughter and she's hoping that with the death of her father she may be free from the curse of being a vampire. She ceremonially burns Dracula's body and looks forward to being free while a love triangle (or maybe love square) develops. Plot-wise it is an interesting approach but I have to admit I hated this one. Dracula's Daughter's assistant is nice and creepy but the rest of the movie pretty much plods along in an uninteresting, slow way. D-.

Tower of London, The (1939)- Not really horror material but horrible material as we watch the lengths Richard III would go to to become King of England. Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff return for Universal after making "Son of Frankenstein" with Rathbone as Richard III and Karloff as his executioner ally. Karloff and Rathbone are excellent in their sinister roles and it is one of Karloff's great moments (much of the other acting is dated though). Despite a low budget this one offers some great set pieces and is a great story (loosely based on Shakespeare). A young Vincent Price turns up in his first 'horror' role and he would go on to play Richard III in Corman's 60s remake. B-.

Son of Frankenstein (1939)- Dr. Frankenstein's son returns to his father's old house, much to the chagrin of the local villagers. He soon finds out that his father's monster is still alive, but not doing so well. Does he destroy the monster and move on, or does he help him and make him a man? Mankind's ego and refusal to accept nature's roll and control are, as always, the theme here. Still, the atmosphere works, the sets are impressive, the acting very good (even a nice performance by the Monster's 'friend' Ygor, played with uncharacteristic restraint by Bela Lugosi). Nice revenge subplot too. Look for the police chief, which seems to me to be where Peter Sellers got his Dr. Strangelove character. Plus, they do a little play on the "It's alive" line made famous in the first two Frankenstein movies. This is the last time Boris Karloff would play the Monster he helped create. A+.

The Mummy's Hand (1940)- Everything that was wrong with a lot of old horror movies is crammed into one movie. And that movie is "The Mummy's Hand". Rotten acting, rotten, 'comedy' relief, silly plot, terrible sets, and "Just mail me my paycheck" directing. Some guys need money, one likes a girl, somebody raises a mummy, attempts at people acting scared, mummy gets girl, guy saves girl, and all is well. All ain't well as Universal was in a tailspin after creating such great horror flicks in the 30s. F.

Invisible Woman, The (1940)- There are probably many movies on my 'Horror' list that many think don't belong. They are too Sci-Fi, too 'Suspense', or not enough 'Horror' and I will debate that. But this movie is indefensible. It simply does not belong here and I apologize. I am a completist and I decided I wanted to see all the 'Big 6' Universal monster movies from back in the day and all the sequels (the 'Big 6' being Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, and The Creature From The Black Lagoon). So here it is, one of the sequels to "The Invisible Man". This movie however is a comedy. It is about a rich playboy who is now broke from chasing too many women and supporting a quack absent minded professor type. However the professor has just invented a machine that temporarily makes people invisible so everyone's money problems have been solved. But first he must test it on a volunteer. Enter a woman who is tired of her job and overbearing boss and has plans for when she becomes invisible (not really diabolical plans, just sort of Dickens "A Christmas Carol" type plans). Then mobsters find out about the machine and want to steal it. You can pretty much tell it was 1940 because the head mobster is German and has a Hitler haircut. Shemp Howard shows up as a mobster too. So we have invisible dress model, playboy, absent minded professor, playboy's slapstick butler, a Hitler mobster, and the 4th stooge. I like old school horror, gangster, drama, and suspense movies but I don't like old school comedies, unless they have Laurel and Hardy or WC Fields and this one has neither. It was watchable but barely. D-.

The Invisible Man Returns (1940)- A lot of reviews I've read talk about how great 'The Invisible Man' was. James Whale was a great director by that point, his exploration of megalomania was good, etc. I didn't like it though for reasons stated above. This movie more or less follows the first, but with a better storyline (the first really didn't have much of a story line). The original Invisible Man's brother gives his invisible-making serum to a friend who has been falsely accused of murder and is up for execution, he then easily escapes from prison. A young Vincent Price is the invisible man this time and plays the part with great restraint as he looks for evidence to clear his name and courts his fiancé all while invisible and trying to avoid that slipping into madness the serum eventually causes. Some of the acting is over the top and the camp works sometimes and doesn't at other times but over-all I thought this was a much more thought out story than the first one. A point to note, Price hadn't yet developed his 'horror movie persona' yet so don't expect to recognize his voice right off. B+.

Black Friday (1940): Another Lugosi Karloff vehicle, even though Lugosi is only in it briefly. Karloff is a doctor whose best friend is injured in a car accident caused by bank robbers. Karloff saves his friend by implanting part of a gangster's brain. You can guess the rest. Yeah it's silly but it is nicely paced and contains some decent enough suspenseful moments. It's a nice genre jumping gangster, horror, sci-fi piece. C+.

The Wolf Man (1941)- Lon Cheney Jr. was a big ol' boy and probably the right man to play the werewolf, if only he could act. I guess acting isn't in the genes. It doesn't have the staged feeling of the earlier Universal Monster Movies so in that sense it holds up better by modern standards. Cheney returns home after his brother dies, falls for a local girl, and after a date at the carnival, battles it out when a woman is attacked by a wolf, or by Bela Lugosi. Then he either goes crazy or turns into a wolfman. (Why was Bela an actual wolf and Lon a wolfman?) Anyway, this is a good telling of the basic tale and moves along nicely despite some not so great acting. The old gypsy woman is great. B+.

Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)- Like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees of today, you can't keep a good monster down (and you get to see where many of Jason's resurrections were stolen from). Maybe they should stay down though. Not nearly as strong as the first three Frankenstein movies, Lon Chaney Jr. takes the roll of the monster, and while he's impressive, he lacks the character and tragedy Karloff was able to bring to the role. The plot? Well, Frankenstein's other son finds out that his father's monster is still alive, but not doing so well. Does he destroy the monster and move on, or does he help him and make him a man? Mankind's ego and refusal to accept nature's roll and control are, as always, the theme here. Sound familiar? Too much silly 'scientific explanations' and things like brain transplants for this to really work. Lugosi returns as Ygor though and saves the picture from being total train wreck. C.

Invisible Agent, The (1942)- Universal had an amazing stock of great characters, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, The Wolfman, and later The Creature from the Black Lagoon, yet, with a couple exceptions, they had no idea what to do with them and this is a perfect example, which, not coincidentally came out the same year as the first bad Frankenstein movie "The Ghost of Frankenstein" and a pretty bad Mummy movie "The Mummy's Tomb". Some German and Japanese agents ask the grandson of the inventor of the 'formula' what his price for the formula is and we're off to a really good start. He refuses to sell and then tells the US government who nicely ask him if he'd give them the formula. He says "No" he'd like to forget about it and the nice government man says "OK". Then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and the man changes his mind, as long as he is the only one that will be made invisible. So does he get injected and slowly loose his mind? Does he become evil like his grandfather and decide to try and take over the world himself? No, he does his job, falls in love with a double agent, and PLOT SPOILER (well not really) after a very successful mission with no side effects and a bright future with the German double agent, all is well, and a German attack has been diverted (imagine if they would've had the character go insane with megalomania and try and take over the world, splitting the WWII backdrop with a crazy invisible man, that could've been great). Pretty dumb stuff. Peter Lorre was good though, but they put glasses on him and made him play a "Jap". D.

Mummy's Tomb, The (1942)- For the first ten minutes or so we are subjected to a flash back to the events from "The Mummy's Hand". I'm not sure when that movie was supposed to have taken place but this one is supposed to be 30 years later which would put it at the very least sometime in the 50s. But Universal, while trying to keep some continuity to their Monster Movies didn't care about much else. The Mummy is just too hard to come up with an original story I guess so they keep telling the same one, which is just a variant of the Dracula story, over and over. Here an Egyptian priest moves the mummy to New England to exact his revenge on those who disturbed the tomb in "The Mummy's Hand". Lon Chaney Jr. takes his turn as the mummy after playing The Wolfman, Dracula, and Frankenstein already. He sucked as the mummy too. Still it was better than "The Mummy's Hand". D-

Son of Dracula (1943)- Lon Chaney Jr. plays Dracula this time out. Lon Chaney Jr. shouldn't play Dracula. I think the director knew that because he's not in the film much at all. Dracula moves to America at the request of a woman who is into the occult. It starts out slow and then slows down more, but if you hang in there we find out why she invited the good Count to begin with and the plot turns out to be pretty good. The effects are pretty good in this one too, considering the age of course, and some scenes have that elusive atmosphere. C+.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)- I know what you're thinking; why the Hell would I even watch a movie called "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man"? Wouldn't it be everything that I hate about modern horror movie sequels? Bad acting, bad effects, silly plot, rehashed original story in a watered down sequel? Well yes and no. I have a weakness for those old horror flicks, especially the Universal Monsters, which is what this is. This time Bela Lugosi is Frankenstein's monster (he played a were-wolf in The Wolf Man and of course Dracula so he's done the Big Three) and Lon Cheney Jr. returns as the Wolf-Man. He needs to visit Dr. Frankenstein to help him with his little full moon problem; instead of finding the Dr. he finds the castle in ruins and the monster stuck in the basement. Yeah it's silly, but it's also good stuff for those that like this sort of thing. The acting is actually pretty good (Lugosi is an over-the-top Monster, as should be expected though) and the effects, especially the lab scenes are great (of course the wolf transformation leaves a lot to be desired after seeing An American Werewolf In London and The Howling, but hey, it was the 40s). If you like the genre you'll like this, if not you probably won't. I give it a D+.

Mummy's Ghost, The (1944)- Same movie different title. Egyptian priest wants mummy, mummy rises, finds reincarnated princes, kidnaps her etc. Over, and sometimes under acted this movie pretty much sucks. These mummy movies are just plain bad. It is amazing how quickly they dropped off too. The first one is great but the rest were all bad. I will give this one a slightly higher mark as it didn't end the way I expected. C-.

Mummy's Curse, The (1944)- OK, this movie is a direct sequel to "The Mummy Ghost" and supposedly takes place 25 years later, which I figure would put it at the very least in 1975. They didn't even bother to try and make it look like it was in the future but that's probably a good thing. They would've had people flying around with jet packs and a colony on the moon if they would've. Nope, it's 25 years after the last movie, which was a sequel to "The Mummy's Tomb" which supposedly took place 30 years after "The Mummy's Hand". Anyway, some government engineers decide to drain the swamp the mummy disappeared into at the end of the last movie and that brings around an archeologist and his Egyptian assistant. They want to find the body of the mummy, but alas, the Egyptian really wants to wake the mummy and let him wreak a little havoc while looking for his princess, who has already risen sans tana leaves. Another weak and barely coherent entry into the mummy saga, thankfully it is the last. I'll give it a D+ since I'm feeling generous today.

Invisible Man's Revenge, The (1944)- Well now, if he wants revenge then maybe we're getting back to some edgier stuff like the "The Invisible Man" and "The Invisible Man Returns" and unlike the two pieces of crap that followed. And that's sort of what we get except the guy is crazy before becoming invisible. A guy has had amnesia for several years and when he remembers his past he realizes he was about to find a diamond mine in Africa when he became ill. He breaks out of a mental institution to get his part of the take from the diamond mine and believes that his partners at the time were responsible for his illness. They may have been and may still be willing to do what it takes to keep their money, what's left of it, or maybe not, that part of the plot is never really resolved. The effects in this movie are good for the times with the invisible man sometimes just being transparent rather than invisible and sometimes putting things like flour on his face so he can be seen. Still this movie pretty much sucks with a lame plot and it doesn't tie in with any of the other movies despite the main character's name being Griffon, but it was better than the previous two invisible movies. Now I can say I have seen all of Universal's big six monsters and the sequels too though. D+

House of Frankenstein (1944)- Universal Horror was fast becoming a caricature of itself by this point. Formula plots, silly excuses to bring the monsters back, and working in characters from the other franchises. And yet, at least for fans of the studios horror films, it works on some level. Boris Karloff returns not as the Monster, but as a mad scientist bent on continuing Dr. Frankenstein's work, and of course getting in some revenge along the way. A nice idea having Karloff resurrect the monster and some nice irony at the end. The actors took the material serious enough to make it work and the plot moves along nicely. The lab scenes were a little disappointing after the great lab scene from "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman." Another thing about these Universal Monster movies is the attention to continuity they observe. All the details from the previous movies are there and worked in (except one example, at the end of "The Ghost of Frankenstein", the monster becomes blind, and he's blind in "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman", however here he isn't). Other than that, for the most part each movie picks right up where the last one left off. Glenn Strange plays the Monster in this film and, although I'm not sure, it seems Herman Munster may have been fashioned from his version. It deserves a D+ but I'll give this one a C+ because I liked Karloff's character.

House of Dracula (1945)- Let's see. Genius doctor thinks he can help all the Monsters (Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein's Monster). He comes up with a plan, implements said plan, and things go awry. So much for Universal's continuity. I was wondering how they'd get around some of the events from "House of Frankenstein", they must have wondered to because they didn't bother trying. Having said all that, this flick was actually fairly strong. John Carradine returns as Dracula and has a good performance, Lon Chaney Jr. is again the Wolfman and is his usual 'not bad not great' self. Glenn Strange returns as the Monster. He must not have been good because the two times he plays the Monster he only shows up in the last 2 or 3 minutes to reek a little havoc. Still, over all not a bad ending for the classic Universal Monsters (although they would later appear in the lamentable "Abbott and Costello Meet..." series). C+.

She-Wolf of London (1946)- Not really a horror film, more of a "family curse" mystery. Interesting and well acted but nothing special. People are winding up dead in a Not a sequel to Werewolf of London at all. More of a strange little "Mystery Play House" type of film. People are dying at night in a London park. Is an animal attacking them? Is it an old family curse on the wealthy family that lives nearby? Nice plot twists and surprises, some of that "foggy old England" atmosphere too. Not strictly horror though, and some dated acting. Still, I'll give it a B-.

Creature from The Black Lagoon (1954)- Some bad acting, dated, crazy music, and silly plot lines almost doom this one. Almost. The underwater scenes are brilliantly filmed and the "Creature Suit" is very impressive considering the times. On an expedition in the Amazon Jungle an archeologist finds a fossilized hand of some sort of amphibian. With the help of a greedy scientist (which in the 50s replaced the 'Mad Scientist') the archeologist puts together an expedition into the jungle to find the rest of the fossilized remains. Of course what they find is no fossil. The female role in this one starts out like she might be as smart as the men but then winds up being eye candy that just screams a lot. Why did women scream a lot back in the day? Instead of saying "Hey look! He's over here quick!!" She'd just cover her mouth and say "AHaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!" She also goes for a dip in the Amazon, you know, with the piranha, alligators, electric eels, water snakes, etc. One shot across the boat shows each man with a gun, and the physically weakest of the crew, the woman, without one. Ah sexism back in the day. It don't get no better'n that. All flaws aside this is a classic. B.

Revenge of the Creature (1955)- Some scientists hope that maybe The Creature wasn't the only Creature in the Amazon. They turn out to be right and bring a Creature back to Florida for study. Then we are subjected to the study which consists of jabbing The Creature with a cattle prod while in the water (is that a good idea?) this goes on for about 6 or 7 hours then the Creature finally breaks lose. He finds the girl he loves, who the main scientist also loves (of course) and then they follow the Creature into the Everglades (which are a lot deeper than one would think) and along the Florida coast for another 8 or 10 hours (yes, this is a 17 hour movie, or so it seemed). No cool underwater photography to look at in this one. Just greedy scientists, "Shoot first, ask questions later" cops, and eye-candy-Creature-attractors. D-.

The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)- After "Revenge of the Creature" I was ready to give up on the franchise but since there was only one more made I thought I'd give it a chance. It turned out to be much better than the sequel and maybe even better than the first. To make a long story short another Creature, or maybe it's the same immortal Creature, I don't know, is captured and experimented on. A scientist wants to make the Creature human and proves the Creature almost is human and can be changed. Silly non-scientific explanations as to why this could work are held to a minimum, and there is a little actual character development. The scientist is older than his eye candy wife and is jealous of her and over protective of her. This whole plot works nicely and kept me interested (is it actually a racist statement being made here?). In the end all Hell beaks loose. Good directing, acting, and actually well written. B+.


The Classics