Universal Monsters or Universal Horror is a phrase used to describe the series of horror, suspense and science fiction films made by Universal Studios during the decades of the 1920s through the 1950s. 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 films often featured Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney, Jr.
In 1923 Universal produced the drama The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which starred Lon Chaney as Quasimodo. The production sets were built to evoke 15th-century Paris, including a re-creation of the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral.
Chaney starred as The Phantom in 1925's horror film, The Phantom of the Opera, based on the mystery novel by Gaston Leroux. The interior of the Opéra Garnier was recreated to scale which was used again in the 1943 remake with Claude Rains.
|Film||U.S. release date||Director(s)||Cast|
|The Hunchback of Notre Dame||September 2, 1923||Wallace Worsley||Lon Chaney|
|The Phantom of the Opera||November 25, 1925||Rupert Julian||Lon Chaney|
|The Cat and the Canary||September 9, 1927||Paul Leni||Laura LaPlante|
|The Man Who Laughs||April 27, 1928||Paul Leni||Mary Philbin and Conrad Veidt|
|The Last Warning||January 6, 1929||Paul Leni||Laura LaPlante|
|The Last Performance||November 1929||Paul Fejos||Mary Philbin and Conrad Veidt|
In 1931 Bela Lugosi starred in Universal's Dracula and Boris Karloff in Frankenstein. Actors Dwight Frye and Edward Van Sloan made several film appearances in this decade. Make-up artist Jack Pierce created several monsters' make-up starting in the 1930s.
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. Universal began releasing sequels including Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Dracula's Daughter (1936) and sequels for The Invisible Man (1933).
The end of Universal’s first run of horror films came in 1936. 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, prompting the studio to re-release the original movies. Son of Frankenstein (1939) starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi was released.
During the 1940s, Universal released The Wolf Man (1941), with Lon Chaney, Jr. Chaney became the studio's leading monster movie actor in the 1940s, just as his father had been two decades earlier, supplanting the 1930s' Karloff and Lugosi by a wide margin in terms of the number of leading roles that he played.
The Frankenstein and Wolf Man series continued with The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), in which Chaney, Jr. played Frankenstein's monster, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) with 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), The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Ghost and The Mummy's Curse (both 1944). House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945), featured many of the monsters from the studio's previous films. As the decade drew to a close, the comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), 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.
Abbott and Costello appeared in films featuring characters such as the Mummy and the Invisible Man.
Creature from the Black Lagoon, directed by Jack Arnold, was released in 1954. Dracula and Frankenstein were re-released as double features in theatres, and were later broadcast in syndication on American television in 1957 as part of the Shock Theater package of Universal Monster Movies. Magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland covered the monster films. Universal spent the last half of the decade issuing a number of one-shot monster films.
|Film||U.S. release date||Director(s)||Cast|
|Dracula||July 13, 1979||John Badham||Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier|
|The Mummy||May 7, 1999||Stephen Sommers||Brandon Fraser and Arnold Vosloo|
|The Mummy Returns||May 4, 2001||Stephen Sommers||Brandon Fraser and Arnold Vosloo|
|Van Helsing||May 7, 2004||Stephen Sommers||Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale|
|The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor||August 1, 2008||Rob Cohen||Brandon Fraser and Jet Li|
|The Wolfman||January 27, 2010||Joe Johnston||Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving|
|Dracula Untold||October 10, 2014||Gary Shore||Luke Evans|
|The Mummy||June 9, 2017||Tom Cruise|
- Johnston, Keith M. (2013-05-09). Science Fiction Film: A Critical Introduction. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 24–. ISBN 9781847884787. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
- 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.