Now, this week’s focus arrived last month, but we have been savoring/ saving it until October. Universal Studios has finally released all 30 of their Classic Monster films on Blu-ray. This means Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera and every single one of their sequels, crossovers, and comedic spin-offs are included. Yes, this is the mother load for all fans of the Universal Classic Monsters.
Already, I know the first two things that come to your mind. A: Didn’t they do this few years ago? B: Wait, aren't they on Blu-ray already? The answer to the first question is yes, they did release all these films in a Legacy Edition (on DVD). This means if you picked up The Wolf Man, you got every single Wolf Man film, spin-off, and crossover. These are known by collectors as the green discs, by the color of the box. They did release Legacy Series Special Editions, but they only focused on the main title, so The Wolf Man was all you got and was known as the bronze disc. As for your second question, the original films and The Bride of Frankenstein were all released in 2012 in a special Blu-ray collection. They include all the films mentioned above, a ton of special features and the Spanish Version of Dracula. Yet, any true fan felt that these missing sequels, warts and all, belong side by side with their big brothers. Now that day has, finally, come. Currently, the Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection on Blu-ray is retailing for $159.99 on sale (at Best Buy).
I, for one, had a few of the Legacy Edition green discs. Though after watching all the sequels and spin-offs, you become amazed at the leaps in logic and ingenuity that studio devised to keep these cash cow monsters going. You want to see more, just to see if there are any diamonds in the rough. Oh, and there are!
This 30 film collection is a total of 47 hrs 59 mins. So where does one begin? Sure, you could jump right in and watch Dwight Frye’s riveting performance as Renfield (in Dracula) or marvel at Boris Karloff’s wounded and misunderstood creature (first three Frankenstein films). Since you have already done that, numerous times, I want to reach out and point out some of those diamonds that are scattered throughout this 30 piece collection.
You simply have to start with the Spanish Version of Dracula. If there is a language barrier, you will quickly get over it and marvel at the same sets, costumes, and completely different camera angles. The camera is the key here and it moves. Yes, actually moves. Tod Browning’s original film is a masterpiece, but the camera, for the majority of the time, is stationary. The film has been restored and you’ll love looking at the tale you’ve seen a thousand times with different eyes.
The Mummy’s commentary track is your next stop. The feature-length commentary by Rick Baker, Scott Essman, Steven Haberman, Bob Burns, and Brent Armstrong gives great insight into the film. We also get an overall perspective of Universal’s history of movie monsters, Karloff, and where the horror genre has faulted since. Besides pointing out the occasional bad wig and pre-code amount of skin on screen, they make an effort to mention director Karl Freund’s moving camera (unheard of at the time), along with an early instance of deep focus, something Orson Welles would later use in Citizen Kane. Historically, they put into perspective that the economy of the time was the worst ever in the United States, but the cinema would produce films that will stand the test of time. It is a testament to all those involved that The Mummy still exists today and is a celebrated classic in a genre that, at the time, was looked down upon.
Off to The Wolf Man discs. Catch “Monster by Moonlight”, a documentary about the film hosted by John Landis (director of An America Werewolf in London). What really allows Chaney to stand out amongst his peers is that he was the only actor to ever play the Wolf Man. Yet, as it is with any film documentary, there are always additional films highlighted that make you wish Universal would give them this kind of treatment (Island of Lost Souls, fear not Criterion Collection did). Rick Baker, again, is on hand and participates in the documentary regaling us with stories both legend and fact about the incredible make-up process and how it changed for the sequel, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943).
The Wolf Man (or better yet, Lon Chaney Jr.) is our biggest diamond in the rough. Yes, his original film is one for the ages and establishes many of the Wolf Man legends we have come to know. However, it is Chaney’s performance over 5 different films as Lawrence Talbot that is the thing to watch. Yes, he is the creature, but next to Karloff, he is the only monster in the whole collection that brings a real sense of sorrow and humanity to each picture. Having all these films, in this particular collection, allows you to follow that journey.
My last big push for the 30 piece set (believe me, I could go on for pages on why you must possess this) is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Whether this film is a part of the Universal Horror Cannon is up to the individual fan to decide. Why you will love it is Bela Lugosi return to Dracula. It is a treat to hear Lugosi say different lines as his legendary character and see him work those mesmerizing eyes on yet another unsuspecting victim. This film also features the only time, EVER, that the original Dracula squared off against the original Wolf Man. That alone made it worth the watch.
Oddball gems in this set are Dracula’s Daughter (1936), The Invisible Man’s Returns (1940) with Vincent Price, House of Dracula (1945) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) just for its insanity.
Note: Throughout the month of October AFJ will be several of the box set's films. Look for those reviews to appear soon as well as our Facebook Live where we will give a full box set away!
The Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection includes Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), 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 (1954, and includes a 3D version), Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955), Revenge of the Creature (1955 and includes a 3D version) and The Creature Walks Among Us(1956).
· Behind-the-Scenes Documentaries
· 3D Versions of Creature from the Black Lagoon and Revenge of the Creature
· 1931 Spanish Version of Dracula
· Featurettes on Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., and Jack Pierce
· 13 Expert Feature Commentaries
· Archival Footage
· Production Photographs
· Theatrical Trailers