When Monsters Walked the Earth
We thought that you would like this feature, which takes a look back at the classic Universal Monsters of yesterday. You now, before the slashers such as: Jason, Freddy and the rest of the slasher gang. Read on:
You think you’re a horror fan? Well, guess again. There’s more to the genre than the old cut-up-the-coeds game that modern horror films tend to serve us. So what better time to look back at the true classics than at Halloween? Herein, then, is a guide to the high points, and some of the low points, of the cycle of Universal monster movies that first gave us the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man, way back when. Consider it IGN’s Halloween gift to you — almost as good as an apple with razor blades stuck in it. Almost.
Role Call: Starring Bela Lugosi (Count Dracula), Dwight Frye (Renfield), Edward Van Sloan (Prof. Abraham Van Helsing), David Manners (John Harker), Helen Chandler (Mina Harker); directed by Tod Browning
The Lowdown: The first of Universal’s sound era horror films, Dracula’s success at the box office legitimized the genre at a time when movies stood at the threshold of a new age. Bela Lugosi’s Count became an icon, as would the many other Universal monsters, and even if the Hungarian actor has since gone on to be the ultimate typecasting cautionary tale, there’s no denying his creepiness in this film.
Did You Know? Lugosi would only play Dracula one more time for Universal, 17 years later in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Monster Mash: Dracula is pretty dastardly here, with little of the pathos applied to later versions of the character, while Renfield is an ordinary man turned into an unsympathetic fiend. Drac’s brides are, of course, monstrous too (and hot, in that 1930s kind of way). Lesser-known sequels would follow, in 1936 with the underappreciated Dracula’s Daughter and 1943 with the unsatisfying Son of Dracula, before the character would join his gruesome brethren in the Universal monster mashes beginning with 1944’s House of Frankenstein.
Modern Matters: Many subsequent films featuring the character would attempt to tie the Count more closely to his supposed real-life inspiration Vlad the Impaler as well as to the original Bram Stoker novel that made Drac famous, most notably Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).
Role Call: Starring Boris Karloff (the Monster), Colin Clive (Dr. Henry Frankenstein), Dwight Frye (Fritz), Mae Clarke (Elizabeth), Edward Van Sloan (Dr. Waldman); directed by James Whale
The Lowdown: With the success of Dracula less than a year earlier, Universal chose to follow up with another famous novel that, like Stoker’s work, had already proven successful on the stage. Mary Shelley’s tale of a mad scientist with delusions of godhood, and the pitiful creature that results from his experiments, would become — through director James Whale’s film — one of the most famous stories ever told.
Did You Know? Boris Karloff wasn’t even invited to the premiere of the film, though he would soon become a big star as a result of playing the Monster — being billed simply as “Karloff.” That’s one-name stardom the likes of which only Madonna, Britney, John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and very few others, have known.
Monster Mash: Blame all of Dr. Frankenstein’s problems on his not doing a background check on his assistant Fritz, the perverted hunchback who first provides the doctor with an “abnormal” brain for the Monster, and then torments the creature until it becomes a murdering brute. Frankenstein himself can be considered “temporarily monstrous,” for he eventually sees the error of his ways by the end of the film, at which point it’s a case of too little too late, as he is heading face-down from the top of a burning windmill.
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- Bride of Frankenstein 1935-Film Cell
- Dracula-Bela Lugosi (1931)- Film Cell
- Frankenstein-Boris Karloff (1931)-Film Cell
More Universal Monsters Film Cells