Now that Universal Studios has decided to go the Marvel route and create its own cinematic universe built around its classic monsters like Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, we thought it might be a good time to reach back into the archives and re-watch the originals.
As the new Universal monster movies will likely be more action-adventure-oriented, it’s good to look back to see what made the original features so great, and which of the old oeuvre were just stinky cash-grabs meant to pad the studio’s bottom line.
With that, let’s get into the best and worst of the genre.
The Wolf Man (1941)
Oh, Lon Chaney Jr., you are so scary in this one. This is the iconic role that influenced decades of werewolf depictions in film and television, with a supporting cast that also includes Universal monster film favorites Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy and Bela Lugosi.
The originals are usually the best, in my opinion, and this Mary Shelley-inspired tale of science gone morally wrong is still one of my favorites. Tons of classic tropes were created in this very film, from angry mobs of torch-bearing villagers to the mad-scientist lair and electricity as the power of choice when creating a new monster from dead person pieces.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The trailer (above) alone gives you a sense of how wacky the world was back in the ’30s, as the most obvious thing in the world that a monster created from corpses would want is a bride. Yes, the creature with the brain of a criminal and body parts from various graves really wants to settle down and get married.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The only silent film in this bunch, this creepfest stars Lon Chaney, the father of the guy who played the Wolf Man. You can see the influence of the stage on this early moving picture, and it’s all the better for it. Man, that Phantom’s face is creepy.
The Invisible Man (1933)
I still find this film — an exploration of a man going slowly insane when he no longer has the mirror of society to give him a reason to be morally upright — rather fantastic. Director James Whale brings the story, based on H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name, to life with star Claude Rains playing the titular hero.
The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
I still love the creature in this sci-fi-infused monster flick from 1954, but it really doesn’t hold up over time. The dialogue is awful, the acting affected, and the 3-D used in the 1975 re-release was horrible. Still, it’s not the worst film in the list, and has a certain campy charm.
House of Dracula (1945)
A direct sequel to the previous year’s House of Frankenstein, this commercially successful yet artistically stale film continued Universal’s plan to slam all the famous movie monsters in its stable into one film. Plus, we barely see the Wolf Man and the monster never moves till the end of the film. Lame.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
While many will tell you that these Universal mashups of comedy duo Abbott and Costello with the famous movie monsters are classics of the genre, I find them to be trite, dull and pandering. Sure, there’s some fun in seeing the funnymen mug at the supposedly creepy monsters, but I could never get into any of them. This one may be the worst of the bunch.
The Mummy’s Curse (1944)
This is the least of all of the Mummy films from the Universal heyday; by this point, the formula is getting tired and it shows. We’re really not caring much about Kharis rising from the swamp yet again in this fifth Mummy film, though there are some good bits with Princess Ananka. Much better to watch The Mummy’s Tomb or The Mummy’s Hand if you want some ancient dead-Egyptian action.