Guest Blog: Scott Essman's They're Still Alive - The Universal Classic Monsters
Alas, with the Laemmles out, regime change dictated a shift in philosophy at the studio in the late 1930s, and for a time, it seemed that the Universal monster film had indeed died. But audience demand necessitated a quickly-arranged sequel, and at the end of the decade, Son of Frankenstein debuted. Featuring Karloff in his final turn as the Monster and Lugosi, in one of his best performances as the wretch, Ygor, the third Frankenstein film might not have had the facility for fascinating audiences as the first two films, but it ushered in a slew of additional Universal genre films – albeit many sequels – in the early-to-mid 1940s.
Among the horde of genre films at Universal during a time of rotating studio heads, only 1941’s The Wolf Man featured a monster that resonated as strongly for as long a period of time as the characters in the films of the 1930s. Played to perfection by Lon Chaney Jr., the Wolf Man character was not the first lycanthrope on screen and might not have amazed audiences as significantly as the many elaborate werewolves to come, but the film and character continue to fascinate genre fans. Creature creator John Rosengrant (Jurassic Park) explained the longevity of the singular project. “The basic story is timeless as it parallels the storylines of the Greek tragedies,” he said. “A person is suffering by the whim of the Gods through no fault of his own.”
When Universal merged with International Pictures just after World War II ended, directions were again altered, seemingly for good, which might have relegated House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, the two so-called “monster rallies,” as the final Universal horrors in 1944 and 1945, respectively. Yet, there was life still twitching as several characters were brought back – without Jack Pierce, Vera West, or special visual effects expert John P. Fulton – for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948. Though that monster-comedy film was an unqualified hit, it did not spurn a return to heavy genre output at Universal-International.
Instead, the 1950s ushered in a slate of science-fiction-based films, with one last monster picture coming to fruition when it debuted in 1954. The Creature From the Black Lagoon was considered in as high regard as its big brothers and sisters from some 20+ years beforehand though decidedly in a modernized technological vein. However, the amphibious Gill-Man shared the tragic path of the earlier Universal monsters, and represented yet another instantly iconic visage as denoted by veteran creature designer and performer Tom Woodruff, Jr.. “There is a blankness to its expression, fitting for its primeval aquatic origins,” he said. “And there is a simplicity to the execution of the build of the suit that resonates the ‘less is more’ school of design.” When the third Creature film unspooled in 1958, it was widely accepted as the last breath of the Universal cycle.
Source: Courtesy of BTL