Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection (Blu-Ray)

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Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection (Blu-Ray)Starring Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains, Elsa Lanchester, and others

Directed by Tod Browning, James Whale, and others

Just in time for Halloween, Universal Pictures has taken the horror movie-watching experience to the next level with its release of Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection. For true horror movie aficionados, this digitally-re-mastered collection of the eight most revered classic horror movies in history, appearing together for the first time in a Blu-ray box set, is a must-have.

Even more than three quarters of a century after the release of the first movie in the set, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Phantom of the Opera (1943 version) and The Creature from the Black Lagoon all prove that, when it comes to capturing our terror-loving hearts, our grandparents’ monsters have what it takes to compete against the computer-generated modern nightmares of today.

Love and Horror
One element of storytelling that really sets the above-mentioned horror movies of yore apart from the cinematic terror experiences of the current generation is that of character development. Dracula, Frankenstein and their other counterparts from Universal all had feelings and were all driven by a desire for something they could not have. We could empathize with them. They may have sucked your blood, strangled you with their massive hands or mauled you in the woods, but they were led to do so via an agonizing internal pain and deprivation that you could relate to.

Furthermore, they all experienced the strongest motivational force of all: love. Each of these creatures fell in love and acted accordingly. The result was an undeniable magic that results whenever horror and love are woven together on the big screen. Nowadays, horror films are so overpowered by computer-generated imagery that it is refreshing to take a step back and appreciate a movie for its deeper meaning and the genuine artistry that went into it.

Another important aspect of these movies, and one which any fan would be remiss not to mention, is the astounding makeup artistry that transformed these movies from simple stories about monsters to gripping, fear-inducing, edge-of-your-seat horror flicks. We have pioneering makeup genius Jack Pierce to thank for that, especially when you consider that, during this time, the makeup artist had to bear all the weight of transforming an ordinary human into a believable, mythical villain, without the aid of computers and sophisticated special effects.

The stars of these movies, Béla Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains and Elsa Lanchester, had an on-screen magnetism and lovability that has never been replicated by horror movie actors that succeeded them.

How it all Started
We have all seen at least one variation of Dracula or the many other vampire movies it has influenced, but the one that started it all is Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931). This horror classic is the first of many to recreate Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel on-screen.

Brought astoundingly back to life in this set, this movie, originally released on Valentine’s Day 1931, is as much romance as it is horror. The love Dracula has for Mina, played by actress Helen Chandler, is the lifeblood of this vampire phenomenon. The storyline can be confusing and tough to follow at times, but the acting is engrossing, the cinematography is intense and the set designs, all filmed on stages at Universal City, bring a sense of realism to the movie.

Other versions of Dracula that came later, most notably the 1992 version directed by Francis Ford Coppola, have been remarkable in their own right, but they all lack something that the Browning version has in abundance: the talent of Béla Lugosi. While Lugosi’s Dracula was forced to walk instead of glide, due to the technology restraints of the era in which he lived, and even though we don’t get to see smatterings of bright red blood color the black-and-white screen, the use of lighting in the original movie, combined with Lugosi’s film-defining facial expressions, make him the only true Dracula. Of note, the Spanish Language Dracula was filmed on the same sets during nights through the production of the English-Language version.

Everyone’s Favorite Science Experiment Gone Wrong
James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) has to be the most visceral monster of them all. Makeup artist Pierce took his skills to a whole new level with Frankenstein. Combine that with Boris Karloff’s top-notch horror acting, and the two men truly created a monster. The film is terrifying, not only due to the cryptic presence of the monster himself, but because of the dark and gloomy sets, most of which were on stages at Universal, plus a few key locations in Southern California. The Blu-ray version really allows you to experience the laboratory in all its horrific glory and the overall cinematography creates a very urgent viewing experience.

Another Boris Karloff Role
Boris Karloff really shows his range when it comes to playing monsters by switching from a terrifying creature made out of the body parts of dead people in Frankenstein to a dead man come to life the very next year in The Mummy (1932). This movie has a very similar storyline to Dracula, in that both men come back from the dead, fall in love and are, sadly, defeated in the end. It also compares to Dracula in that it is, by far, the first and best of its kind. No other mummy movie has surpassed the achievements of this engrossing film.

Im Ho Tep, the mummy, uses his ancient powers to put a spell on Helen Grosvenor, played by Zita Johann. Once again, Karloff’s facial expressions and the way he acts with his eyes make the monster come to life, so to speak. The way love is portrayed in this movie brings a sense of heartfelt drama to The Mummy, just as in Dracula.

The Mummy has a certain richness to it that sets it apart from the previous two movies in the collection. The production design is spectacular and really brings Egypt to life. Although the movie has aged into grainy black-and-white, the Blu-ray enhancements make it essential viewing once again. Everything from picture quality to sound is at its best – as it should be for this classic film.

Enter Visual Effects
One of the first Universal horror films to use visual effects is The Invisible Man and, to this day, it is a great example of how to not let special effects overtake your movie. This is one of the most comical, yet suspenseful horror films ever created; and the Blu-ray disc really brings out the genius in story plot, use of John P. Fulton’s visual effects and acting, with no flaws.

The genius in this movie, which is really exacerbated in the Blu-ray version, is the way you couldn’t see where Dr. Jack Griffin, the doctor who discovered how to become invisible, was going to be next, but you could hear the extreme anger in Claude Rains’ voice. We are in constant fear of what is going to happen next due to Rains’ indelible performance.

Every Monster Needs a Bride
This classic horror film box set would not be complete without The Bride of Frankenstein or, shall we say, Frankenstein’s better half. This movie, far from being just a sequel to Frankenstein, is a brilliant, heartwarming masterpiece in its own right. Few viewers thought Frankenstein could get any better, but James Whale and Boris Karloff take the monster to a whole new level in The Bride of Frankenstein.

If you don’t think a horror movie can melt your heart, watch the scene in which the monster and the blind hermit become friends. That is the scene that many feel officially brought Frankenstein’s monster to life. At this moment he learns to speak, love, and think for himself. Having this classic digitally restored for Blu-ray leaves no room for distracting bad quality images or bad sound typical of older films, resting the experience instead on the strength of the movie and its characters.

As if it Couldn’t Get Any Better
Just when we think Jack Pierce’s makeup artistry can’t get any better, he surprises us in The Wolf Man (1941), where he is at the very top of his game. Remakes and re-imaginings of this movie have the man turn into a werewolf onscreen using animatronic effects and computer-generated images. One of our favorite things about this classic version is how The Wolf Man is just what his name implies: half man and half wolf. Lon Chaney still works as the tormented Larry Talbot who slowly accepts his accursed state. Pierce hits another home run with the character, one of his last truly great originals during his 19 years as makeup department head (1928-1947).

The Phantom of the Box Set
The only movie in this entire collection that doesn’t seem to add something valuable to the set is Phantom of the Opera (1943). While not discrediting its worth as a movie, it does not fit in with the rest of these classic horror films. Though the color film contains a beautiful image quality and powerful music, it is somewhat of a lesser imitation of the superior 1925 version starring Lon Chaney. That film, now in the public domain, featured the stunning makeup created and applied by Chaney himself. Jack Pierce was admonished to tone down his Phantom using the canvas of Claude Rains; this surely disappointed Pierce and fans alike, relegating the film to more opera and less Phantom.

If the 1925 Phantom was unavailable for this Blu-ray set, it might have been nice to see Dracula’s Daughter, Man Made Monster or even Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein included instead.

Last but Not Least
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) is another example of a monster who falls in love, dramatically, with a beautiful girl and will do anything to have her. The detail from his face and suit, created by a renowned team including Chris Mueller, Milicent Patrick and Jack Kevan, all working in Bud Westmore’s department, is so vivid and evident due to the rich quality of this film on Blu-ray. We get to see this monster in a way we never have before, especially in the underwater sequences filmed in Florida whose footage looks better and clearer than ever.

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection (Blu-Ray)

Bonus Features
One of the best reasons to buy this box set is the bonus features, which almost challenge the movies themselves as the highlight of the set. The best bonus is the amazing collectible color book that is exclusive to this set.

If you truly want to learn more about this groundbreaking time in movie history, including how each of these monster roles made stars of their lead actors and how the films’ pioneering makeup artistry, cinematography and effects set the course of horror movie history, the 12 hours of bonus features really open your eyes and allow you to view these horror films like you’ve never seen them before.

An absolute must buy!

Special Features

Dracula (1931)
• Dracula, the 1931 Spanish version, with Introduction by Lupita Tovar Kohner
• The Road to Dracula
• Lugosi: The Dark Prince
• Dracula: The Restoration – New Featurette Available for The First Time!
• Monster Tracks: Interactive Pop-Up Facts About the Making of Dracula
• Dracula Archives
• Score by Philip Glass performed by the Kronos Quartet
• Feature Commentary by Film Historian David J. Skal
• Feature Commentary by Steve Haberman, Screenwriter of Dracula: Dead and Loving It
• Trailer Gallery

Frankenstein (1931)
• The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster
• Karloff: The Gentle Monster
• Monster Tracks: Interactive Pop-Up Facts About The Making of Frankenstein
• Universal Horror
• Frankenstein Archives
• Boo!: A Short Film
• Feature Commentary with Film Historian Rudy Behlmer
• Feature Commentary with Historian Sir Christopher Frayling
• 100 Years Of Universal: Restoring the Classics
• Trailer Gallery

The Mummy (1932)
• Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed
• He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art Of Jack Pierce
• Unraveling the Legacy of The Mummy
• The Mummy Archives
• Feature Commentary by Rick Baker, Scott Essman, Steve Haberman, Bob Burns and Brent Armstrong
• Feature Commentary by Film Historian Paul M. Jensen
• 100 Years Of Universal: The Carl Laemmle Era
• Trailer Gallery

The Invisible Man (1933)
• Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed
• Production Photographs
• Feature Commentary with Film Historian Rudy Behlmer
• 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
• She’s Alive! Creating The Bride Of Frankenstein
• The Bride Of Frankenstein Archive
• Feature Commentary with Scott MacQueen
• 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics
• Trailer Gallery

The Wolf Man (1941)
• Monster by Moonlight
• The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth
• Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney, Jr.
• He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce
• The Wolf Man Archives
• Feature Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver
• 100 Years of Universal: The Lot
• Trailer Gallery

Phantom of the Opera (1943)
• The Opera Ghost: A Phantom Unmasked
• Production Photographs
• Feature Commentary with Film Historian Scott MacQueen
• 100 Years of Universal: The Lot
• Theatrical Trailer

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
• The Creature From The Black Lagoon in 3D
• Back to The Black Lagoon
• Production Photographs
• Feature Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver
• 100 Years of Universal: The Lot
• Trailer Gallery


5 out of 5

Special Features:

5 out of 5

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