Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Universal Home Entertainment
Various writers and directors
1931-1956, 2879 minutes, Not rated
Blu-ray released on August 28th, 2018
Bela Lugosi as Dracula
Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster
Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman
Claude Rains as the Invisible Man
Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein
Ben Chapman as the Creature from the Black Lagoon
Claude Rains as the Phantom of the Opera
Dwight Frye as Renfield
Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein
Abbott & Costello as various
Like most horror kids, I grew up on the Universal Monsters through frequent late-night television broadcasts. Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Invisible Man and the Phantom of the Opera became old friends. I would stop whatever I was doing in order to spend time with these guys, who always seemed to be getting into new adventures. The “villains” were almost universally victims themselves and were therefore sympathetic creatures.
My favorites were always The Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man. Dracula is the only real villain in the bunch and Lugosi owned that role (on both stage and screen) despite playing the part on film only twice. Karloff's Frankenstein monster was always the most endearing and while the movie suffered at the hands of censors - it would be decades before these cuts were restored - he filled the creature with such sadness that his rage is completely understandable. Lon Chaney Jr. has the distinct honor of having played all of the Universal Monsters (usually in shoddy sequels), but the Wolf Man is exclusively his own. His portrayal of the cursed Larry Talbot is the most tragic of the lot.
Universal Pictures (later Universal International) discovered a winning recipe with audiences looking to escape the daily grind of the Great Depression and started cranking out one picture after another. Once they had a stable of characters, they began unleashing sequels that quickly declined in quality, particularly in The Mummy series. When the studio feared the formula was growing stale, they began teaming the monsters up for crazy fights, but the magic really was wearing thin. America's favorite comedy duo Abbott and Costello were enlisted to face the creeps in a series of kid-friendly adventures that replaced horror with comedy--because genre fans always respond favorably to their old favorites being turned into punchlines. Although financially successful, this move pushed the final nail into the coffin of these loyal icons of fright.
These films continue to be a cash cow for Universal, who re-releases them every time they attempt to reboot the legends. Allow me to provide an overview of the numerous releases these titles have received over the last fifteen years. In 1999, Steven Sommers' film The Mummy hit theaters and coincidentally the “Classic Monster Collection” DVD box was released, featuring the monsters in their original self-titled films, without sequels. Sommers returned in 2004 with Van Helsing, and this time the studio issued “The Legacy Collection” that offered each individual monster's complete franchise in separate DVD collections. The release was plagued with problematic DVD-18 discs that reportedly suffered playback issues. A gift box was released at the same time that included the collections of Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, complete with miniature character busts.
A Blu-ray release was inevitable, and in 2009 “The Essential Collection” arrived with stunning new transfers of the debut efforts from the gang, in essentially an HD reissue of the original 1999 DVD box set. More DVD releases followed in 2012 and 2014 in celebration of Universal Studios' 100th anniversary. Now in 2018, the latest incarnation expands the DVD trilogy box to include all of the “Legacy Collections” in individual keep-case packaging and gathered within one impressive box set. It includes all of the monsters, and all their sequels: 30 films spread across 24 discs. So, the question is: Is this the release I need for my library?
If you are a casual fan of the genre and have fond memories of these movies, but have never gotten around to purchasing them before, then YES! this is the box for you. There have been many upgrades made to this release, correcting the earlier problems where possible, but creating new ones in the process (more on that in a moment). Sticking with the positives, we get all of the films in the franchises in chronological order, including the crossover appearances in films like House of Dracula or Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. While previous DVD releases suffered compression issues, these Blu-ray editions look fantastic. All titles have received a full HD remaster and have never looked better.
The biggest insult to genre fans when it comes to the Universal Monsters in general is the fact that Lon Chaney Sr. is always omitted from the classic line-up, despite being “The Man of a Thousand Faces” who gave Universal big wins with both The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). I don't know if these are left out for issues with copyright, but since the studio keeps a firm grip on the other titles, it would seem that the problem could have been rectified over the last ninety years! The Phantom is represented only by the 1943 version starring Claude Rains, a good film, but the legendary Chaney deserves a space in this pantheon.
I believe these characters to be “gateway monsters” that opened the door and introduced me to a wonderful world of horror cinema. Over the years, my tastes expanded to include a variety of different subgenres, but if I see any of these classic faces I still stop long enough to pay my respects to these giants. It took ten years for all of the “Legacy Collection” titles to be available in one box and this new Blu-ray edition rectifies all the previous shortcomings of earlier editions.
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 (3D) (1954)
Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
Revenge of the Creature (3D) (1955)
The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)
Video and Audio:
Presented here in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the films are all in really nice condition given their age. The Creature from the Black Lagoon series is in the 1:85 aspect ratio. Each film in the collection has been restored in HD and could not look any better. There are signs of age, but given their vintage they look surprisingly spry. The black and white photography has beautiful contrast levels and rich detail, especially in films like Dracula. The Phantom of the Opera is in gorgeous Technicolor with impressive levels of saturation.
The default English mono track preserves the original audio recordings. Nothing too fancy here, but this is exactly as it should be for films of this era.
English subtitles are offered for anyone in need.
Holy smokes there's a lot of great content here. Universal has really outdone itself with this box set and fans are in for a real treat. As previously mentioned, the titular monster's first outing is given its own Blu-ray, and it is here that the majority of the special features are found.
The Wolf Man series receives three audio commentaries, multiple documentaries that focus on the history of the films and a pair of specific pieces saluting the work of star Lon Chaney Jr. and legendary make-up artist Jack Pierce.
The Frankenstein films get four audio commentaries and a handful of documentaries, including one that showcases the legend of Boris Karloff. There is a piece on Abbott and Costello's time with the monsters and the short film Boo is also included here.
The Inivisible Man receives only a single audio commentary, a documentary, production stills and a trailer.
The Phantom of the Opera is a stand-alone feature with fewer extras, but these include a documentary, an audio commentary and marketing materials.
The Mummy collection has two audio commentaries, a pair of documentaries and the same piece celebrating Jack Pierce that appears on the Wolf Man collection.
Dracula has the unique history of having a second film crew coming in at night and creating a totally different version of the story. The Spanish version of Dracula is included on this Blu-ray. Many claim this version superior to Browning's and I tend to agree, but Lugosi owns this role from start to finish. Composer Philip Glass contributed an original score for the domestic version and it is included on an alternate audio track. Additional special features for this franchise include three audio commentaries, two documentaries, plus a special featurette on the awesomeness of Lugosi. The Abbott and Costello segment from the Frankenstein collection returns here as well.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon gets three audio commentaries and a documentary. It is worth noting that both the original film and Revenge of the Creature were shot in 3D and are presented in both 2D and 3D here. The Creature Walks Among Us was filmed in traditional 2D.
All of the films receive trailers, galleries of production photographs and other marketing materials.