Welcome back to Mr. Movies October Marathon, and to properly celebrate this Halloween season we need to take a look back at the most famous movie monsters of all time, the eight classic universal movie monsters. Dracula, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and The Creature from the Black Lagoon are Universals most celebrated, marketed and memorable movie monsters, all of whom have had countless adaptions in film and media. Rather than giving my thoughts on every individual creature or go through every sequel, remake and spin-off, I’m just going to keep it simple and rank every monster’s first classic film in my own personal order of least favorite to favorite. So here we go, time to sink our fangs into some classic horror flicks.
#8 The Phantom of the Opera (1943)
Of cores there was the 1925 classic silent film version (which was pretty good, as far as silent films go) but this was the first Universal classic of “The Phantom of the Opera”. The reason this one stands as my least favorite of the bunch is due to many things. First of all, I’d seen so many renditions of this film beforehand including the 1925 silent film, the 2005 musical by Joel Schumacher and even the Hammer remake from 1962, so this film just felt very run of the mil by comparison. Even if this film had been my introduction, it would have still been a mediocre note. Most of the characters, you could care less for, there’s some really annoying hummer, a sub-plot involving a pointless lovers triangle and a villain who doesn’t get enough attention. There’s also a notable lack of mystery, as the Phantoms story is told from the ground up. This film is also the only movie of the 8 universal Monster films to be shot in color, which makes it feel distant from all the others, but it’s at least a terrific looking film. Even though this is my least favorite of the bunch, it certainly isn’t a terrible film, the sets and interiors are true spectacles to look at, and Claude Rains is fantastic as the phantom. Overall, it’s not horrible, there’s just better versions of “The Phantom of the Opera” that I would recommend over this.
#7 Dracula (1931)
This was the first spoken horror movie, a true classic in every sense of the word, but for me personally, it doesn’t hold up as well for repeated viewings like most of the others. Bela Lugosi’s performance as Dracula is still one of the greatest villain performances of all time, and I highly recommend the Dracula special edition because of the added score by Philip Glass, which is one of the most atmospheric and haunting musical scores I’ve ever heard. Never the less, I still find this a rather sluggish and dull film, with an anticlimactic ending that always leaves me feeling empty. I won’t deny that this film is a classic, but if you want a really good Dracula movie I’d personally recommend the 1958 classic “Horror of Dracula” starring Christopher Lee instead. That to me is about as great as vampire movies get.
#6 Frankenstein (1931)
This one has definitely aged better than “Dracula”, but I still don’t think it’s quit on par with some of the others. It certainly holds your interest while watching it, and everything from the opening in the cemetery, to Frankenstein’s lab, to the angry villagers are all very memorable. Most unforgettable of all is Boris Karloff’s performance as the monster. His image under that makeup is just so iconic, and he just lights up the screen. Overall, it’s not a huge re-watch film, but it’s certainly worth watching if you haven’t seen it.
#5 The Mummy (1932)
Surprisingly, this film is far more sophisticated then a movie about a cliched, bandaged mummy killing people. It’s all about an evil spirit that simply wants to bring back its long-lost love, and for an older 1930’s film, it boasts a spooky atmosphere and creates an eerie mood. Boris Karloff once again shines as the mummy, and in my opinion is even better here than he was as Frankenstein’s monster. He has such a hypnotic and creepy feel whenever he’s on screen, especially with him staring at you half the time with those lifeless eyes of his. The rest of the characters do a great job holding your interest, most notably the lead female named Helen, who’s easily the most attractive lead from any of these early monster films. This is all around a very unique horror movie that doesn’t rely on common horror movie conventions and instead treats the audience to a competently constructed film. Its only real weakness for me is that it looms in the shadows of one of the greatest movie remakes ever, and personally one of my favorite movies, the 1999 remake of The Mummy staring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. That was the film that originally introduced me to the character, and it’s been a personal favorite ever sense.
#4 The Wolf Man (1941)
Now, things are starting to get really good. Unlike Dracula or The Mummy who were purely evil, The Wolf Man is an innocent civilian that has an uncontrollable monster living inside of him. You couldn’t ask for a better actor to play both the werewolf and the victim than Lon Chaney Jr. This is a character that’s very menacing, but at the same time we feel so much sympathy for him. All the characters are great, the emotional levels are high, there are plenty memorable lines of dialog and you really just want a good outcome for this pore soul. The film does lack a cool transformation, as well as a good shot of the full moon, but it makes up for that with its chilling atmosphere, foggy streets, foreboding cemeteries, forests and the music is awesome. This film also features one of my favorite moments from any of the classic Universal monster movies, and it’s when our lead has a chilling nightmare, which leads into a spooky montage featuring nightmarish imagery. The Wolf Man is a first-rate Horror classic and highly recommendable.
#3 The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
This movie is often regarded as one of the greatest movie sequels of all time and stands on its own as a classic, perhaps even more so then the first film. There’s no denial there, this really is a sequel that totally out dose the original. Despite what the title may lead you to think, the actual bride (played fairly well by Elsa Lanchester) doesn’t come tile the very end of the film and is only seen for a few minutes, yet she still has a big fan base. Well, it doesn’t matter, because the main attraction of this film is the actual Frankenstein monster. Boris Karloff is back in the role and turning on a far more effective and emotional performance. The creature can now talk and it exposes both his monstrous side and a rather tragic and sympathetic side. There’s a pivotal moment in which the monster makes friends with a blind man who brings out a good side to the creature. It might just be the most touching moment between man and monster to be viewed on screen. There’s also an awesome new evil doctor, a terrific score, some very impressive special effects, and some genuine chills. This is one old monster movie that has aged remarkably well, so I say check it out if you haven’t seen it.
#2 The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Of cores I’m a huge fan of 50’s sci-fi films, so naturally “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” stands as one of my personal favorites. The cast is great, in that campy and traditional kind of way. The creature (or Gill Man) on land is played by Ben Chapman, but the real star is Richard O' Brown who played the creature under water. Not only did he Incorporate some very unearthly swimming moves to the creature, but also while warring that heavy monster costume and holding his breath between takes (because he couldn’t get breathing equipment under that costume). In others words, this guy deserves a freaking metal, because that’s very impressive. The creepy swamp scenery is great and the underwater cinematography is brilliant. It might be the most innovative camera work for its time. The buildup is equally strong, the characters are good and the payoff is exactly what you’d expect. This is a fun, fun monster movie that to date hasn’t been remade (not including the creature seen in “The Monster Squad”).
#1 The Invisible Man (1933)
Anyone who decides to sit down and watch “The Invisible Man” is in for a really fun time. The visual effects are amazing, the tension is great, and its hands down the funniest of the classic monster movies. For my money, of all the talented actors who’ve brought these classic monsters to life, no one excites me as much as Claude Rains in the roll of the Invisible Man (the same talent who played The Phantom of the Opera). Not only is his voice perfect, but his personality is outstanding. He perfectly balances the line between being intimidating and hilarious. Just like The Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s monster, he’s both sympathetic and ruthless, which is always an awesome combination. This film is just great entertainment, complete with plenty of thrills, laughs and the unforgettable screen debut of Claude Rains. Personally, it’s the most recommendable of all of the classic Universal monster movies, and one of my all-time favorite horror films.