Universal Monsters

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Lon Chaney, Universal's most prominent horror star, as seen in The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Universal Monsters or Universal Horror is the name given to a series of distinctive horror, suspense and science fiction films made by Universal Studios from 1923 to 1960. The series began with The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, both silent films starring Lon Chaney. Universal continued with talkies including monster franchises Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. The studio's leading horror actors during this post-Chaney period were Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney, Jr..

1920s – Lon Chaney[edit]

Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

Universal's earliest success in the horror genre was the 1923 historical drama The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which starred Lon Chaney as Quasimodo. The lavish production sets rebuilt 15th-century Paris on an epic scale, even re-creating the famed Notre Dame de Paris cathedral.

A runaway success at the box office, Hunchback of Notre Dame inspired Universal to produce their first true horror film, The Phantom of the Opera, based on the mystery novel by Gaston Leroux. The film was released in 1925. Chaney designed and endured torturous make-up that exceeded the demands of his previous role as the Hunchback. As with the film Hunchback, the sets played an important part in the film. The interior of the Opéra Garnier was recreated to scale. It was used for the 1943 remake with Claude Rains, as well as numerous other pictures.

With Chaney's death in 1930 Universal turned their attentions to other actors. These included German character actor Conrad Veidt, who had appeared in the 1920 German expressionist horror masterpiece, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), and starred in 1928's Universal horror film The Man Who Laughs.

1930s – Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi[edit]

In spite of the Great Depression, executive Carl Laemmle, Jr. produced massive successes for the studio with Dracula (directed by Tod Browning) and Frankenstein (directed by James Whale), both in 1931.

The success of these two movies launched the careers of Bela Lugosi (Dracula) and Boris Karloff (Frankenstein), and ushered in a whole new genre of American cinema. With Universal at the forefront, filmmakers would continue to build on their success with an entire series of monster movies. These films also provided steady work for a number of genre actors including Lionel Atwill, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, and John Carradine. Other regular talents involved were make-up artists Jack Pierce and Bud Westmore, and composers Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner. Many of the horror genre's most well-known conventions—the creaking staircase, the cobwebs, the swirling mist and the mobs of peasants pursuing monsters with torches—originated from these films and those that followed.

The Mummy, starring Karloff, was produced in 1932. This was followed by a trilogy of films based on the tales of Edgar Allan Poe: Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) starring Lugosi, The Black Cat (1934), and The Raven (1935), the latter two of which teamed Lugosi with Karloff. The Invisible Man, released in 1933, was a phenomenal hit and would spawn several sequels. Of all the Universal monsters, the most successful and sequelized was undoubtedly the Frankenstein series, which continued with the critically acclaimed Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Dracula too had its share of sequels, beginning with Dracula's Daughter in 1936, although only Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the 1948 comedy that was the beginning of the end for the Universal monster cycle, would feature Lugosi himself recreating his signature role; the studio replaced him with Lon Chaney, Jr. or John Carradine in the earlier 1940s sequels.

The end of Universal’s first run of horror films came in 1936 as the Laemmles were forced out of the studio after financial difficulties and a series of box office flops, partly due to a temporary ban on American horror films in Britain in the wake of MGM's Mad Love and The Raven (both 1935). The monster movies were dropped from the production schedule altogether and would not re-emerge for another three years. In the meantime, a theatre owner revived Dracula and Frankenstein as a double feature, resulting in an immediate smash hit and leading to the original movies being re-released by the studio to surprising success. This forced the new executives to give the go-ahead to Son of Frankenstein (1939) starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Thirteen of the seventeen 1930s Universal horror films listed below star either Lugosi or Karloff or both:

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in The Black Cat
  • Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi
  • Dracula (Spanish version) (1931)
  • Frankenstein (1931) with Boris Karloff
  • The Mummy (1932) with Boris Karloff
  • Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) with Bela Lugosi
  • The Old Dark House (1932) with Boris Karloff
  • The Invisible Man (1933) with Claude Rains
  • The Black Cat (1934) with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi
  • The Raven (1935) with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi
  • Werewolf of London (1935) with Henry Hull
  • Bride of Frankenstein (1935) with Boris Karloff
  • Dracula's Daughter (1936) with Gloria Holden
  • The Invisible Ray (1936) with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi
  • Night Key (1937) with Boris Karloff
  • Son of Frankenstein (1939) with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi
  • Tower of London (1939) with Boris Karloff

1940s – Lon Chaney, Jr.[edit]

Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's monster with Boris Karloff in House of Frankenstein

During the 1940s, the most successful of the new series of Universal Horror movies was The Wolf Man (1941), which also established Lon Chaney, Jr. as the new leading horror actor for the studio, following in his father Lon Chaney's footsteps.

In 1943, the studio created a remake of Phantom of the Opera, this time starring Nelson Eddy and Susanna Foster in a film that was as much musical as horror. Claude Rains played the Phantom.

The Frankenstein and Wolf Man series, abruptly descending in quality to the realm of B movies, continued with The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), in which Lon Chaney, Jr. played Frankenstein's monster, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) with Bela Lugosi as the Frankenstein monster and Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man. Son of Dracula (1943) featured Chaney, Jr. in Lugosi's original role as the Count. The Mummy series was also continued with The Mummy's Hand (1940) and The Mummy's Tomb (1942). Eventually, all of Universal's monsters, except the Mummy and Invisible Man, were be brought together in House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945), in which Dracula was played by John Carradine. As the decade drew to a close, the comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) proved an instant hit for the studio, with Lugosi in his second movie as Dracula, starring alongside Chaney, Jr. as Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man), and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's monster. Lon Chaney, Jr. played the lead in seventeen of the thirty-five 1940s Universal horror films listed below:

House of Frankenstein poster

1950s[edit]

By the 1950s, Universal had stopped filming most of its original line of horror characters, with Frankenstein's monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man having been retired with the Abbott & Costello film in 1948. It was left to Abbott & Costello to keep alive public interest in characters such as the Mummy and the Invisible Man, but in 1954 Universal's horror films returned to popularity.

With the success of Creature from the Black Lagoon (directed by Jack Arnold in 1954) the revived Universal Horror franchise gained a new generation of fans. The original movies such as Dracula and Frankenstein were re-released as double features in many theatres, before eventually premiering on syndicated American television in 1957 as part of the famous Shock Theater package of Universal Monster Movies.[1] The Hammer versions were also popular and, in turn, sparked renewed interest in the "originals". Soon dedicated magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland would help propel these movies into lasting infamy. Universal spent the last half of the decade issuing a number of one-shot monster films.

1960–present[edit]

In 1979, Universal released Dracula, starring Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier.

In 1999 and 2001 respectively, the films The Mummy and The Mummy Returns were both box office successes directed by Stephen Sommers. Another sequel was made, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which was released in August 2008. Another movie, The Scorpion King, was made as a spin-off prequel to the second movie.

In 2004, Stephen Sommers directed Van Helsing starring Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale. The film featured the characters of Dracula, his Brides, a Wolf Man, and the Frankenstein Monster. The film was a homage to the classic Universal monster mash up movies of the 1940s, such as the Frankenstein Meets and The House of series and proved popular at the box office despite mixed reviews.

The Wolfman was released on February 12, 2010 starring Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving. The film basically follows the plot line of the original The Wolf Man, albeit with various changes.

The original films have seldom been out of print and have been widely collected in numerous formats, first as short excerpts on 8 mm, Super 8 and 16 mm film for showing with home movie projectors, then complete in the Beta, VHS and LaserDisc video formats. In 1999, the movies first became available on DVD. Since then they have been remastered, re-released and re-packaged twice more: In 2004, as part of the Legacy Series and also under the 75th Anniversary banner in 2006.

The Legacy Series included The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon.

To celebrate Universal Studios 100th anniversary, some films were remastered in high-definition and released on Blu-ray Disc on October 2, 2012 in the set "Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection". The set included Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera, and Creature from the Black Lagoon, as well as the 1931 Spanish version of Dracula, included as a bonus feature on the Dracula disc.[2]

On July 16, 2014, Universal announced that they had tapped Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan to develop all new films based on their classic monsters which include Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Mummy to create a shared monsters cinematic universe.[3] The first film they will develop together will be The Mummy.[3] On July 30, Kurtzman was set to direct the film.[4] The film will be released on June 24, 2016.[5] Producer Alissa Phillips confirmed at the UK Premiere of Dracula Untold that the film was a part of the new monsters cinematic universe. She hoped that Luke Evans' character might have a cameo in a future The Mummy film and also spoke of a potential sequel.[6] In an interview with IGN, director Gary Shore stated "It's optional for them if they want to use it as that launching pad."[7] On October 15, THR reported that the ending scenes of the film hinted that the film Dracula Untold could be included into the monsters universe.[8]

Later influences and homages[edit]

In 1957, Hammer Film Productions began producing their own series of monster movies in Eastmancolor, starting with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958). Universal was also the distributor for several of the films, enabling Hammer to replicate several features of the original Universal horrors in The Evil of Frankenstein (1963).

In 1962 the television show Route 66 had an episode, "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing", written by Stirling Silliphant, which was a homage to the Universal monsters, starring Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Peter Lorre playing themselves, and with Karloff and Chaney donning, for the last time, their original Frankenstein's monster and Wolf-Man make-ups.

From 1964 to 1966, the CBS sitcom The Munsters featured a ghoulish family based on several of the Universal characters, including Frankenstein and Dracula.

Mel Brooks's 1974 parody Young Frankenstein paid homage to the films' style.

Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) featured the character Magenta (played by Patricia Quinn), whose shock hair was modelled on that of the Bride of Frankenstein. The film is a parody of B-movies; the title song "Science Fiction/Double Feature" references Universal's film The Invisible Man.

The release of movies featuring the Universal Monsters in the Shock Theater television packages of the late 1950s and early 1960s made them available to a new audience[1] developing a keen interest in these films and is largely responsible for the Monster Boom of the early 1960s.

The long running children's TV favorite Sesame Street became a platform for one of Universal's key figures: Bela Lugosi's Dracula became a Muppet in the guise of Count von Count.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives opening scene was a homage to the opening scene of Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man. Two men open up Lawrence Talbot's coffin and resurrect him by mistake. Jason Voorhees is resurrected in a similar fashion to Frankenstein's monster with lightning.

In 1986, the first entry in the Castlevania series was released in Japan. It featured several homages to the Universal and Hammer horror films, notably the inclusion of a Universal-style Frankenstein's monster as a boss. Later Castlevania games would continue to pay tribute to the classic horror films, while at the same time forging their own identity as a more dramatic and story-driven series.

The Monster Squad, a 1987 film released by Tri-Star Pictures and directed by Fred Dekker, featured Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

In 1998, filmmaker Kevin Brownlow made the documentary Universal Horror. It was narrated by Kenneth Branagh, and featured interviews with some original stars.

Some of the characters in the video game Darkstalkers are inspired in the Universal Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon)

The 2005 feature film Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove directed by William Winckler is an homage to the classic Universal Monsters, shot in black and white, featuring a Frankenstein Monster, the monster's Bride, a werewolf, and a half-man, half-fish creature. Swan Lake, composed by Tchaikovsky, was used as the film's title theme, just as it was used in Universal's Dracula and Mummy films.

The 2009 film House of the Wolf Man is an homage to the 1940s monster films House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. Unlike Dekker's Monster Squad or Sommers' Van Helsing, Eben McGarr's film is intended to look and feel like a Universal film of the 1940s. Ron Chaney, grandson of Lon Chaney, Jr., stars in the film.[9][10]

In 2012 films Hotel Transylvania and Frankenweenie contains many references to the Universal Monsters, such as Frankenstein's Monster, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolf Man and Dracula.

Merchandising[edit]

Werewolf of London wax figure

Merchandising of the Universal Monsters films has been collected by fans around the world for decades. However, when the films were originally released there was little in the way of merchandising other than lobby cards and posters.

Many years later, when the films regained popularity after being regularly shown on American TV, toys and model kits began to be sold. Universal particularly held to the copyrighting of their depiction of Frankenstein's monster.

Out of the first wave of collectables, the most notable was the 1961 plastic model kit of Frankenstein's monster by the now-defunct Aurora Plastics. In the next few years there followed models of Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon before the series switched to generic or characters from other firms, though there was a Bride of Frankenstein model in 1965. These hollow statues were quite popular among American boys.

After the popularity of the Aurora series, other companies eventually began using licensed caricatures of the Universal Monsters. Over the decades many collectables have appeared in one form or another; from Halloween masks and action figures to coffee mugs, miniature die-cast cars, jigsaw puzzles, Pez dispensers, lunch boxes, postal stamps, and so on.

Other memorabilia include the products from Sideshow Collectibles with very accurate 12 inch (1/6 scale) "action figures" of many of the Universal Monsters, as well as museum quality 1/4 scale "Premium Format" figures usually cast from polystone with accurate cloth costumes and decoration.

NECA Toys released a series of bobble head caricatures of all the main Universal Monsters in 2006, including Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman, Bride of Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Diamond Select Toys is the current license holder for action figures, including 7-inch figures, 8-inch retro-styled figures and 2-inch Minimates. Diamond Select also makes vinyl banks based on the films, and their products are often issued in both color and black-and-white. Diamond Select is also a licensee for The Munsters, and has made figures of all of the show's Universal-inspired family members.

Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe[edit]

List indicator(s)'
  • This table only includes characters which have appeared in multiple films within the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe.
  • A dark grey cell indicates the character was not in the film.
Character Films
Dracula Frankenstein Bride of Frankenstein Dracula's Daughter Son of Frankenstein The Wolf Man The Ghost of Frankenstein Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man Son of Dracula House of Frankenstein House of Dracula Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
The Frankenstein Monster Boris Karloff Boris Karloff Lon Chaney, Jr. Bela Lugosi Glenn Strange
Count Dracula Bela Lugosi Lon Chaney, Jr. John Carradine Bela Lugosi
The Wolf Man
Larry Talbot
Lon Chaney, Jr. Lon Chaney, Jr. Lon Chaney, Jr.
Van Helsing Edward Van Sloan Edward Van Sloan
Henry Frankenstein Colin Clive
Elizabeth Mae Clarke Valerie Hobson
Ygor Bela Lugosi Bela Lugosi
Maleva Maria Ouspenskaya   Maria Ouspenskaya
Elsa Frankenstein Evelyn Ankers Ilona Massey

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Okuda, Ted; Yurkiw, Mark (2007). Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows: From Shock Theatre to Svengoolie. Lake Claremont Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-1893121133. "The 'Shock!' package was sold in 142 markets. As a result, stations across the country aired a late-night Shock Theatre series to showcase these pictures." 
  2. ^ "Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Blu-ray Collection Announced". Daily Dead. 2012-06-28. Retrieved 2013-10-19. 
  3. ^ a b Fleming Jr, Mike (16 July 2014). "Universal Taps Alex Kurtzman, Chris Morgan To Relaunch Classic Movie Monster Franchises". deadline.com. Retrieved 31 July 2014. 
  4. ^ Kit, Borys (30 July 2014). "Alex Kurtzman to Direct 'The Mummy' Reboot". hollywoodreporter.com. Retrieved 31 July 2014. 
  5. ^ Perlman, Jake (July 31, 2014). "Universal to release 'The Huntsman' in 2016, pushes back 'The Mummy'". ew.com. Retrieved August 1, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Producer Confirms that Dracula Untold is the First Part of the Universal Monsters Reboot". heyuguys.com. October 2, 2014. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  7. ^ KRUPA, DANIEL (October 2, 2014). "Is Dracula Untold a Part of the Shared Monsters Universe?". ign.com. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  8. ^ Ford, Rebecca; Kit, Borys (October 15, 2014). "How 'Dracula Untold's' New Ending Could Tie Into Universal's Monster Universe". hollywoodreporter.com. Retrieved October 16, 2014. 
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ [2][dead link]

External links[edit]