DVD Reviews

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection – Blu-ray Review

By Patrick Luce Nov 7, 2012, 20:49 GMT

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection – Blu-ray Review

From the era of silent movies through present day, Universal Pictures has been regarded as the home of the monsters. Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection showcases 8 of the most iconic monsters in motion picture history including Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera and Creature From the Black Lagoon. Starring Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., ...more

With a lush transfer and a wealth of special features on each title, Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection is a MUST OWN for any fan of the classic monster films or fans of classic horror movies.

The films are housed in a beautiful book style case with great poster art images and a 48-page book with production stills and information on each of the films.

The Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection includes Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera and Creature from the Black Lagoon. All of the films have been digitally restored from high resolution film elements in perfect high-definition picture and perfect high-definition sound and are on Blu-ray for the first time.

The sound and picture make the films feel fresh and new with very little grain (in some cases none at all). I was extremely impressed with the picture quality on films like The Invisible Man (which is so clean the “invisible” effects are even more impressive for the time) and the Creature from the Black Lagoon – which is also restored to a Blu-ray 3D version. The Dracula Blu-ray features the 1931 Spanish version of the movie – which some film historians argue was a better film than the Bela Lugosi version.

Dracula (1931) – Although many actors have brought the king of all vampires to the screen, it was Bela Lugosi’s performance that set the standard for all to follow. Moving at a slow and deliberate pace in both his actions and his line delivery, Lugosi had the ability to be both charming and completely evil on the screen. While it may not hold up to more modern adaptions and may not be completely faithful to Bram Stoker’s classic novel, the 1931 film is a cornerstone of the horror genre and is still a great film to enjoy on a dark night.

The Blu-ray presentation of the film is incredible bringing out subtle images to the picture (such as Lugosi’s tuxedo) and a deep black making his cape seem even darker as he creeps around the screen.

The film has a huge amount of bonus features that take fans on a journey of the making of the film, its star, and its legacy.

Bonus features include Dracula, the 1931 Spanish version, with Introduction by Lupita Tovar Kohner; The Road to Dracula; Lugosi: The Dark Prince (an extremely interesting look at the actor and his career beyond Dracula); Dracula: The Restoration (which takes a look at the love that went into making this film look great again); Monster Tracks: Interactive Pop-Up Facts About the Making of Dracula; Dracula Archives; Score by Philip Glass performed by the Kronos Quartet; Feature Commentary by Film Historian David J. Skal and Steve Haberman (screenwriter of Dracula: Dead and Loving It); and trailers

Frankenstein (1931) - Bela Lugosi may have set the standard for Dracula, but Boris Karloff IS the face of Frankenstein’s monster. Since he first came to life on the big screen in 1931, the make-up created by Jack Pierce is still the most iconic face in horror and the best design for the monster. Without saying a word, Karloff made the monster matter to the audience and be more than simply terrifying.

Karloff’s performance is a perfect foil to Colin Clive’s over-the-top cries of “It’s alive!” Director James Whale makes the most of Mary Shelley’s classic novel and it is really impressive how he brought a huge scope to the film thanks to his use of giant sets and lots of electricity to help bring the monster to life.

Like Dracula, the Blu-ray presentation of this film is simply incredible. The rich format brought into the black and white picture make Pierce’s make-up work even more impressive – not to mention Karloff’s pain tolerance as the special features detail how that iconic face was brought to the screen.

Bonus features include The Frankenstein Files:  How Hollywood Made a Monster; Karloff: The Gentle Monster (a great feature for any fan of the horror icon); Monster Tracks: Interactive Pop-Up Facts About The Making of Frankenstein; Universal Horror; Frankenstein Archives; Boo!: A Short Film; Feature Commentary with Film Historian Rudy Behlmer; Feature Commentary with Historian Sir Christopher Frayling; 100 Years Of Universal: Restoring the Classics; and trailers.

The Mummy (1932) – Already the face of Frankenstein, Karloff, under the talents of Pierce, also became the face of the original Imhotep – before that CGI bloated mess hit the big screen in 1999. Coming to the screen after the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922, The Mummy is a great film that straddles the line of horror and adventure. It opens with a British archaeologist (who goes quite mad) accidentally rattling off a spell that brings Imhotep back from his 3,700 year dirt nap.

It then jumps ten years, Imhotep has returned to bring his love Princess Anck-es-en-Amon (an overly dramatic Zita Johann) back from the dead, but his plans are forced to change as he discovers she has been reincarnated in the body of Helen Grosvenor - who falls in love with Frank Whemple (David Manners) minutes after meeting him. Things move at a predictable pace as Imhotep attempts to see his love brought back to life – even if it means the death of Helen.

The Mummy may not be as great as Frankenstein and Dracula, but it features another great performance from Karloff – who brings yet another “villain” to the screen who is a tad evil, but also extremely human in his reasons for being evil.

Bonus features include Mummy Dearest:  A Horror Tradition Unearthed (a fun and interesting look at The Mummy and its influence); He Who Made Monsters:  The Life and Art Of Jack Pierce (a must watch for any horror fan); Unraveling the Legacy of The Mummy; The Mummy Archives; Feature Commentary by Rick Baker (who is a wealth of knowledge on all things Pierce), Scott Essman, Steve Haberman, Bob Burns, Brent Armstrong, film historian Paul M. Jensen; 100 Years Of Universal: The Carl Laemmle Era; and trailers.

The Invisible Man (1933) – Although you don’t see his face until the end of the film, Claude Rains is incredible and completely bonkers as The Invisible Man. The H.G. Welles’ novel gets the Universal monsters treatment and some incredible special effects for the time (and they hold up extremely well on Blu-ray’s crystal clear picture). The film leans more science fiction than Universal Monster Horror, but features an unhinged Rains willing to kill and tease as he torments the people he feels have wronged him and are trying to stop him from ruling the world.

Covered by bandages and dark glasses, Rains’ makes the most of his character from the second he is on the screen and creates possibly the second greatest mad scientist (sorry he is still no Dr. Frankenstein) the screen has ever seen.

The film has the standard plot trappings (such as a love interest trying to win him back from his obsession or a colleague who wants to replace him at his job), but Rains creates a character who isn’t very sympathetic. He is invisible and quite mad as a result of his experiments, but seems quite happy to not be very likeable to the audience (despite having some of Whale’s odd humor).

Bonus features include Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed (which takes a look at how impressive the effects are in the film and how they pulled it off); Production Photographs; Feature Commentary with Film Historian Rudy Behlmer; and 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – A sequel that is even better than the original, Whale (in his last horror film for Universal), Karloff and Clive return to get the monster a wife (Elsa Lanchester). The movie takes everything that made Frankenstein great and cranks it up to capture lightening a second time – including Karloff continuing to bring more human qualities to his monster.

The movie is so great (made even better by Blu-ray’s picture and sound) it is now impossible to watch Frankenstein without including Bride of Frankenstein too. I would also recommend Son of Frankenstein - although it wasn’t included in the box set.

Bonus Features include She’s Alive! Creating The Bride Of Frankenstein; The Bride Of Frankenstein Archive; Feature Commentary with Scott MacQueen, 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics; and trailers.

The Wolf Man (1941) – It is hard to believe that it took 10 years for the Wolf Man to howl and establish his place as an icon of horror and a cornerstone of the Universal Monster franchise. Like Karloff did with Frankenstein’s monster, Lon Chaney Jr. brings a sympathetic monster to the screen that is more than just an animal hungry to kill.

The talented actor established his place as an icon of horror with an incredible performance and fully developed the look (again thanks to the talents of Pierce) and feel of the character in a way that hasn’t been accomplished since – despite the abilities of CGI effects today. It also features a great performance from Lugosi!

Bonus features include Monster by Moonlight; The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth; Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney, Jr., He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce, The Wolf Man Archives; Feature Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver; 100 Years of Universal: The Lot and trailers.

Phantom of the Opera (1943) – Rains returns as the masked phantom in a retelling of Gaston Leroux's classic horror tale of the haunting of a Paris Opera House. The house and its company are tormented by a crazed composer who is madly in love with the beautiful and talented Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster).

Although he is driven by love, the Phantom is also fueled by a need for revenge on those he holds responsible for stealing his music. Things build at predictable pace for this classic story as the Phantom is forced to deal with a challenger to his love for Christine and is undone by his own evil.

While Phantom of the Opera is enjoyable, I preferred Rains’ performance as the Invisible Man. The actor is a joy to watch on the screen in both films, but lacked some of the sense of humor that made his performance in Invisible Man great.

Bonus features include The Opera Ghost: A Phantom Unmasked; Production Photographs; Feature Commentary with Film Historian Scott MacQueen; 100 Years of Universal: The Lot; and trailers.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – The last film in the set earned its place as an icon of horror thanks to its epic underwater scope, incredible creature design by makeup artist Bud Westmore; and sci-fi/adventure feeling – this time the scientist isn’t mad and is actually the good guy. The film also sees yet another sympathetic monster as the creature is basically just defending its home.
 
Captured by scientist on the Amazon, the creature falls for the beautiful research assistant (Julie Adams) – in a classic Beauty and the Beast style storyline. Acting on his love, the creature takes the woman and it is up to the scientist to save the day.

The plot is extremely basic, but the film is a classic thanks to its underwater filming and effects – not to mention it was released in 3D. It has all the needed ingredients of an epic and is entertaining no matter how many times you see it.

On Blu-ray the film looks incredible with the format bringing out lots of details to the creatures’ design and costume. It is also available in 3D for those who have a 3D Blu-ray player and 3D televisions.

Bonus Features include The Creature From The Black Lagoon in 3D; Back to The Black Lagoon (a in depth look at the making of the movie); Production Photographs; Feature Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver; 100 Years of Universal: The Lot; and trailers.

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection is simply a must own for any fan of classic movies or classic horror. The Blu-ray transfer of each film make them feel like you are watching them for the first time and the wealth of features more than make the purchase price worth every penny. This is a set that is easy to recommend.

Visit the DVD database for more information.

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