Universal Monster Movies: The Best of the (Hunch) Bunch

 

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There’s probably a chance that most of you have heard of the Universal Horror/Monsters films.  Even if you’ve never seen them, chances are you may know of them by sight.

So here we have a list of my top five favorite Universal Monster Movies.


Before I begin my list, here exactly is defined as the Universal Monster genre from the Wikipedia page.

Universal Classic Monsters is a phrase used to describe the horror, suspense and science fiction films made by Universal Pictures during the decades of the 1920s through the 1950s. They began with The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, both silent films starring Lon Chaney. Universal continued with talkiesincluding monster franchises DraculaFrankensteinThe MummyThe Invisible ManThe Wolf Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon. The films often featured Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr.

All right, now that we’ve got that out of the way, here is the list.


5. Frankenstein Bride of Frankenstein

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, why are these two in the same category, you crazy writer?!”

I know that’s what you’re thinking, but let me explain.

I put these two together in the same number because for the most part, much of the same team from the first film came and worked on the second: James Whale the director, Jack Pierce the makeup artist who created the iconic monster makeup, and of course two actors–Colin Clive who plays the mad doctor and Boris Karloff the creature.

By the way, the Monster himself isn’t called Frankenstein, that’s Dr. Frankenstein. But I guess they decided not to argue with that. I’m not going to go into the films (you can read the Wikipedia articles here and here )

Now, I really the first film because in a way this is a brilliant use of techniques that were already perfected in films like Phantom Dracula, and then the second film works well because Whale decided to use a few more comedic elements in the film.

But for me, it’s the performance of Karloff as the Monster. He does such a magnificent job in both films that you can’t help but pity him. Add Jack Pierce’s groundbreaking makeup and you’ve got a pop culture icon.

4. The Invisible Man

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James Whale returns as the director for this adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel, which by many has been called “a nearly perfect translation of the spirit of the book.” This would also be Claude Rains’ first American screen appearance as the titular scientist who’s, well, invisible (check out the article here).

I really like this film because having read the book, it’s like it almost down to the wire. But’s there’s a comedic element to it just like Bride, with some of Britains best character actors such as Una O’Connor, Forrester Harvey, and E.E. Clive. Not only that, the effect of the Invisible Man is amazing, and this was all done before computer special effects, ladies and gentlemen.

Rains’ performance is wonderful, as he slowly goes mad and generally has fun being invisible, as seen in this here:

I don’t know about you, but I’d have a blast doing that.

3. The Wolf Man

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Ah, The Wolf Man. Perhaps one of the most underappreciated of the Universal Monster films. Why do I say that? Well, maybe it’s due to the fact that Lon Chaney Jr is, uh, how do I say this?

Okay, I’ll say it like this: most people hate his performance in this movie, and I can understand why. At some points, his acting is terribly wooden, almost stiff. It’s only when he’s turned into the werewolf that we really get emotion from him.

I’d like to offer this explanation as to why. When he’s Larry Talbot, he really isn’t showing much of anything, even as he worries about going insane; he sticks to his rational, logical Apollonian side. And then when he’s the Wolf Man, he gives in to his primal side, his crazy Dionysian side (for more on Apollonian and Dionysian, check this out). And that’s when we really see him as an actual character instead of a stiff (I think that was a pun, sorry).

Chaney Jr made a succession of sequels as the Wolf Man before leaving Universal, He did have a very successful career as a supporting actor and villain; he played The Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Dracula as well as many roles in comedies, westerns, and drama. He even became a TV host in the 1950s before his death in 1973.

In this film, Jack Pierce once again does his magic for the makeup as we see Talbot transform from man to wolf. Rick Baker, the noted makeup maestro of films such as An American Werewolf in London and Men in Black 3 has said that the makeup was a great influence to him. This film added to the Hollywood werewolf mythology as we know it–however (a little spoiler), in the film the victim doesn’t transform into a werewolf via the full moon, but when a plant known as wolfsbane is in bloom; if you remember from Harry Potter, this is the plant also known as aconite.

2. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

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Chances are some of you have seen this movie or least you’ve seen this scene:

The story goes is that when this happened in the movie theaters, people screamed or fainted dead away.

Can you blame them, I mean, Jesus, he’s scary!

But that’s the genius of Lon Chaney, who apparently took a while to do it according to Wikipedia.

Chaney painted his eye sockets black, giving a skull-like impression to them. He also pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned it in place with wire, enlarged his nostrils with black paint, and put a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the ghastly, deformed look of the Phantom.

Phew, that’s intense.

This film is considered by many, myself included, as to what launched the Universal Horror franchise. You’ve got the basic building blocks: the evil, disfigured villain (the Phantom’s just a straight-up bad guy in this film), a troubled ingenue, a dashing hero, and a fantastic climax. Without this film, I wouldn’t even be sitting here talking about these movies.


Now before we go to number one, here are some that I put in my Honorable Mentions category:


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  1. Dracula

Now while I said that Phantom had the building blocks, it was Dracula that really got the blood flowing (so to speak). This was an adaptation of the stage play by Hamilton Deane & John L. Balderston and included two of the original actors from the New York show: Edward Sloan as Abraham Van Helsing and Bela Lugosi as the career-defining Count Dracula:

The film was directed by Todd Browning, a previous silent film director and produced by Carl Lammele, Jr. Additionally, a second Spanish-language version was filmed simultaneously with Carlos Villarias as Drac and Lupita Tovar as his victim.

But for me, this film is the one that does it. Yeah, there’s a lot of hammy close-ups of Lugosi and there are odd moments such as armadillos (what?) and possums in Dracula’s castle. Yet it’s brilliant in those odd moments.

And of course who can forget Dwight Frye as Renfield? That laugh still scares the s*** out of me:


And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed looking at this list as much I did writing it. I encourage you to watch all of these films…

But make sure you’ve got all the lights on, first. If you don’t, well, I warned you.

Happy viewing.


If there are any you think I may have missed, or what your favorite films are, drop a line in the comments or send me an email. You can also look me up at my social media links. Good night!

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