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The 10 Best Universal Monster Movies

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Marvel is largely credited with developing the cinematic universe concept that dominates modern cinema. Through meticulous planning and creative film making, Marvel has established a titan of the box office that has spanned over a decade, dating all the way back to 2008 with the introduction of “IronMan.” However, if we are truly being honest with ourselves, the true original cinematic universe was developed long ago during Hollywood’s Golden Age of Horror, the Universal Classic Monsters.

Establishing iconic characters such as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man, and The Wolfman, the Universal Monsters where the original cinematic universe and these are the ten best Universal Monster films to watch this Halloween season.

10.) “Werewolf of London”

Preceding the more famous “The Wolfman” with Lon Chaney Jr. by six years, this film, while not anywhere near the quality of it’s predecessor, is still an enjoyable watch. Following the story of English botanist Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull), Glendon is bitten by a werewolf while on an expedition in Tibet. The journey to Tibet was to discover a rare plant called Mariphasa. The Mariphasa plant offers a temporary cure for Glendon’s eventual curse. Glendon must race to find a cure to his lycanthropy before innocent people and his closest loved ones are hurt. Hull’s werewolf makeup, designed by legendary costume artist Jack Pierce, is noticeably less complicated then Chaney’s. Hull wanted his werewolf to look more human and display more manlike features. The “Werewolf of London” was the first Hollywood mainstream werewolf film.

9.) “Son of Frankenstein”

The third film in the Frankenstein series, “Son of Frankenstein” would be the last time Boris Karloff would play the character that made him a star. The film also starred Bela Lugosi in his greatest performance outside of his cape as the crippled Ygor. The film follows Baron Wolf Von Frankenstein who attempts to restore his fathers tarnished legacy. Unfortunately for him, Ygor has his own plans in mind for the infamous monster.

8.) “The Mummy”

Directly off the success of “Frankenstein”, Boris Karloff would don the iconic garbs of another famous monster, Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian priest. Accidentally revived by an archeological team, Imhotep begins the search for his lost princess Ankh-es-en-amon, eventually meeting Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), whom he believes is her reincarnation. The film is another example of extraordinary costume design by the legendary makeup artists Jack Pierce.

7.) “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein”

The Universal Monsters may not only be the original cinematic universe, but also one of the greatest examples of the early crossover’s as well. With creative ideas running stagnant, Universal decided to pair two of it’s most iconic staples together, the Universal Monsters and legendary comedy duo Abbott and Costello. Although highly successful and considered one of the greatest horror comedies ever, the film is notorious to some hardcore monster buffs due to the film wiping away any of the previous storylines of previous monster films from Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolfman. This made the film stuck in a paradox, story-wise. The film is also generally accepted as the last appearances of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman, with their storylines coming to a rather disappointing conclusion.

6.) “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”

This film, like “Godzilla”, is a prime example of nuclear anxious fifties “man vs. nature” storytelling. The film follows an expedition into the Amazon as a team discovers fossilized evidence of a humanoid like creature that could link land and sea animals. The film follows Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson) and Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams). The Creature, while not the last film in the Universal Monster franchise, is considered to be the final addition to the list of Universal Monsters.

5.) “The Invisible Man”

With brilliant direction from James Whale and a fantastic performance by Claude Rains, “The Invisible Man” is one of the greatest examples of horror and wit. A maniacal laugh, quirky sense of humor, and downright absurdity, the film balances the horror and humor brilliantly. Alongside its brilliant performances from Claude Rains and Una O’Connor, “The Invisible Man” became a prime example of excellent special effects in an age when the kind of special effects needed wasn’t available.

4.) “The Wolfman”

The film that made Lon Chaney Jr. a household name. “The Wolfman” exceeds on many levels. With incredible makeup through Jack Pierce, equally incredible special effects demonstrating the time lapse as Chaney morphs in the Wolfman, and Chaney’s performance as a whole, “The Wolfman” is one of the greatest Universal Monster films. The film follows Lawrence Talbot (Chaney) as he returns home and is ultimately bitten by a werewolf (Lugosi). Chaney’s performance is impeccable. His face, saddened and depressed, he creates a character that is impossible not to feel empathy towards. Fantastic performances by Evelyn Ankers, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Claude Rains round out this dramatic tale of a man becoming a beast.

3.) “Frankenstein”

A classic, plain and simple. In the role that defined Boris Karloff and cemented him in history. The tall, lanky, withered, and horrifying monster shocked audiences and became a smash hit. Adapted from Mary Shelley’s novel, Karloff gives the performance of a lifetime as the once lifeless pile of remains is brought to life. The film also excels through the fantastic performances of Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein, where he delivered the famous “Its alive” line and Dwight Frye as the hunchback Fritz.

2.) “Dracula”

The film that started it all. Bela Lugosi’s iconic performance as Dracula is the tent pole of the Universal Monster franchise. The addition of Phillip Glass’s score creates an even more spine-tingling tension. Lugosi is hypnotic in his performance, and the complete lack of a score in several scenes leave an unnerving feeling in its viewers. Hearing nothing but low static while Lugosi stares deep into your soul with his pitch black hair, and needle-like arch in his brow as he gazes through you is something to be held. Dwight Frye provides another excellent addition to this film with his iconic Renfield.

1.) “The Bride of Frankenstein”

It is rare that a sequel ends up better than the original, “The Bride of Frankenstein” is one of those films. It has easily distinguished itself as the greatest Universal Monster film. The psychological layers to the film are unprecedented for a horror film. With another iconic performance by Karloff as the monster, all the depressing realities about the monster’s existence that might not be apparent in the first film are overtly obvious in this film. Directed by the great James Whale, and excellent performances from Colin Clive (In one of his last appearances before his untimely death), Boris Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, and Elsa Lancaster, “The Bride of Frankenstein” is not merely a great horror film, it is a great film.

About the Writer
Michael Dunnings, Associate Editor

Michael Dunnings, otherwise known by the Hungarian equivalent "Miska", is a native of Dobbs Ferry and a senior studying Journalism at Mercy College. Michael...

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