Universal Monsters Part 1- The Movies

The Classic Monsters featured in more than 120 movies made by Universal Studios. After some early entries including the first ever Werewolf movies The Werewolf (1913) and The White Wolf a year later. It is generally agreed that the first true entry into the Universal Monster canon was in 1923 with The Hunchback of Notre Dame  starring Lon Chaney.

Today, the horror movie is often seen as a ‘cheap’ way into film-making; and can be done on a very low budget. Universal’s first entry into its’ Monster Universe was not: The Hunchback of Notre Dame might have been one of 18 movies shooting on the Universal lot at the time, but it had over 750 technicians working on it,  with over 200 people working in the wardrobe department to fit all the extras: with a budget of approximately $1.25 million back in the day.

Hunchback made its budget back 5 times over – enough to ensure Universal continued making their Monster movies all the way through to the early 1960s (and beyond if you include remakes and Universal’s recent attempts to introduce their own Dark Universe having seen the success Marvel have had in extending single movies into an ‘extended universe’).

Clive Barker, the author, film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, playwright, painter and all round modern horror legend has said “I don’t like PG-13 horror movies. I think they’re a contradiction in terms.” – interestingly, looking at my Universal Monsters Blu Rays, today the vast majority of them are classified as PG – yet these are the films that scared the (fill in your choice of word here) out of audiences still relatively new to the medium of cinema back in the ’20s and onwards.

It’s fair to say that when you’re talking about a range of over 120 movies, you’re going to get some range in quality…and that’s certainly true of the Universal collection- from the very best – James Whale’s 1931 classic Frankenstein

 

Original poster for James Whale's 1931 classic 'Frankenstein'
James Whale’s 1931 classic ‘Frankenstein’

(so popular the creature went on to feature in seven more films in the ’30s and ’40s alone including the equally classic 1934 The Bride of Frankenstein),

The Bridge of Frankenstein - 1935 Universal Movie Poster
The Bridge of Frankenstein – 1935 Universal

To Claude Rains in 1933’s The Invisible Man, through The Wolfman, The Mummy, Dracula and the Phantom of the Opera – all of which have ratings of 90+ on Rotten Tomatoes, all the way down to what could be charitably termed ‘lesser efforts’ such as the more recent efforts to resuscitate the Universal monster universe with efforts like Van Helsing, Dracula Untold and Joe Johnson’s remake of The Wolfman

And we can’t just blame the duds on the newer films – even back in the day there were some clunkers – 1946’s She-Wolf of London was never going to challenge for an Oscar…

Regardless of the lows, there have been enough highs in the canon of the Universal Monsters to mean the iconic characters they created will last forever in cinematic history, influencing horror films ever since, and while the studio may not always have invented the creatures and monsters they portray, it is their versions of them that invariably stay with us today – and provide thousands of Halloween costumes every year…

 

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