You may know how in my October reviews I will emulate the man standing in front of the curtain, the figure gives a slight introduction but also warns about the content. It was the movie Frankenstein that had this man appear, he had been used in many other works, not just my own. So today I’m going to talk to you about the horror movies this man appeared in (even if it’s just that one). The movies going all the way back to the 30s and perhaps earlier.
The Universal Horror series is not just important to those interested in Horror, but it’s also an important part of Film History itself. What constitutes Universal Horror can be debated. Films like the Phantom of the Opera can be included as could other films that are sadly lost to time, quite tragic as there are some great images we have from many lost films.
Several years ago, a friend and me, on Halloween started to watch a bunch of classic horror movies. While I would every year get a movie by Ray Harryhausen (also how I would watch to review them). My friend started a sort of collection of Universal Horror movies. The first two were films you know the plot without seeing, Frankenstein and Dracula are both so well-known you can quote it without watching, mind you there are often details you only find when you see them yourself, the full line of “it’s alive” includes lines showing just how mad the doctor was at that point about how he now knew what it felt like to be God.
With Dracula it’s another issue. While many will argue the superiority of the Spanish version with all but one element. Bella Lugosi truly showed his skill here and elevates the film, that under all other factors should be the weaker film, into the superior.
But it was not just these two I saw; we were doing every year and that meant plenty of films.
We saw the original Mummy, very different than all that came after in that Boris Karloff was only the bandaged-up mummy for a few minutes at the start and barely seen before he shows his skill while wearing impressive make up work for the rest of the film being a sort of twisted romance.
The Invisible Man is one of the most surprisingly violent but also a somewhat chilling level of comedy and tragedy, and some more truly impressive special effects. Something that is shown through these and is continued with the Wolfman and Creature of the Black Lagoon. In these days of CGI fests, it’s truly impressive watching these films and knowing what is on screen is there. These images have lasted for a reason. It has always been something that draws me back to horror. The level of imagination and skill to bring the stories to life. These days I don’t see that as much. The demand for success with as much profit as possible means fewer pushing the boundaries in horror. That, or it’s just another slasher villain, not a fan of those. It shows how important these films have been when you say Dracula or Frankenstein, let alone any of the others. These films are the so important and well done that modern attempts to redo them just seem flat and soulless. Perhaps that’s due to the passion you can feel when you watch these. I said these were important to film history, and seeing the effects work, the camera work and more you can see how inventive they were pushing even by the time of the Black Lagoon with underwater work as the monster swims out while in costume.
Sadly the tale of Universal Horror is not a happy one in the long term. While memorable and ground breaking it is shown, as sequels were made more and more just to keep them afloat as they became increasingly cheaply made and Lon Chaney jnr often made to do every role. Still, I prefer to not watch those later sequels. The Son of Frankenstein is about as far as I will go. If I want more modern versions of the classic monsters, I’ll probably go to Hammer films for those. Of which my friend and I will probably move onto those in the coming years.