With Marvel and DC comics continuing to duke it out as to who can create the biggest cinematic universe one almost forgets that back in the 1930s Universal Pictures unknowingly launched their own franchise with their adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, long before the idea of a cinematic universe even existed.
The beginning of the Universal Monsters dates back to the silent era, with Lon Chaney’s amazing turns as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Phantom of the Opera, but it wasn’t until sound entered the picture that the franchise really got going as it was with Tod Browning’s Dracula and the subsequent horror films starring Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Claude Rains and Lon Chaney Jr. that a true cinematic franchise was born, one that would help the studio survive the Great Depression and become the backbone for a renaissance in horror. Below you will find my collection of reviews by either clicking on the links or posters below, which will take you on a journey of dark terror and suspense.
A real estate agent takes on a terrible client and soon death and horror descend on the people of London, England as the famous Count Dracula sets his sites on fresh prey, with Bela Lugosi revising his iconic stage performance for the Silver Screen.
In this James Whale adaptation of the Mary Shelley classic, a scientist attempts to bring life to a body made up of cobbled-together corpses, needless to say, things don’t go as planned. This film turned Boris Karloff into a horror mega-star in what is both a terrifying and sympathetic performance.
A couple of British archeologists ignore an Egyptian curse and before you know it Boris Karloff is out and about looking for his reincarnated love. This idea of reincarnated love would be used later in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula.
A scientist is driven mad by an experiment that rendered himself invisible, and the rain of terror that follows is truly chilling and the death toll staggering. Claude Rains really ratchets up the kill count in this fantastic adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel.
Boris Karloff returns to the role that made him a star in a sequel that outshines the original in almost every way, in a story that brings new life to the Monster and his maker.
When Countess Marya Zaleska appears in London, mysterious events occur leading Dr. Von Helsing to believe the Countess must be a vampire. This spawn of Dracula brings some nice lesbian subtext to the series and Gloria Holden kills it as the vampire’s daughter.
Inheriting his father’s estate, the son of Frankenstein teams up with a grave-robbing murderer, who is holding a grudge against the town that tried to hang him, all to revive the monster and restore his family’s honour.
In this sequel, Vincent Price plays a man falsely accused of murder who must take a drug to make himself invisible to escape prison and find the true killer, all while going slightly mad.
In this screwball comedy, an attractive model with an ulterior motive volunteers to be a guinea pig for an invisibility process and a series of wacky hijinks ensue.
With no Boris Karloff in this offering, we get a new mummy and some archaeologists defiling the tomb of mummified Kharis, who was buried alive for falling in love with an Egyptian princess.
A prodigal son returns to his ancestral home only to find himself cursed with lycanthropy which leads to him up terrorizing the fog-shrouded woods. With this film, Lon Chaney Jr. continues the legacy of his famous father by giving us a new star in the Universal Monster crown.
The ancient Egypt Mummy, Kharis, is transported from his homeland with the high priest Mehemet to wreak vengeance on the family who has defiled the sacred tomb of his beloved Princess Ananka.
The Invisible Man’s grandson uses his secret formula to spy on Nazi Germany and he must face off against Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Peter Lorre.
Dr. Frankenstein’s plans to replace the brain of his monster are hijacked by his scheming and malevolent assistant Ygor. Lon Chaney Jr. takes over the role of The Monster in this sequel.
The resurrected Wolf Man enlists the aid of a mad scientist and the recently unfrozen body of Frankenstein’s Monster to hopefully find the secrets that can end his curse.
A beautiful Southern girl obsessed with thoughts of eternal life invites Count Alucard to come to her mansion in the U.S. much to the chagrin of her boyfriend.
An acid-scarred violinist rises from the Paris sewers to boost his favourite opera understudy’s career in this updating of the Gaston Leroux novel that sports a more sympathetic Phantom.
An eccentric scientist helps a fugitive from the law become invisible, unwittingly giving him the power to exact revenge on his former friends.
The priests of Arkam at it again with a new mission to bring Kharis the mummy, and the remains of Princess Ananka, back to Egypt, but they run into the usual problems and by that I mean Americans.
Kharis and Princess Ananka cause a lot of problems for some local Cajuns when their swampy tomb is disturbed by an engineering company. Wackiness ensues.
A deranged scientist escapes from prison and recruits Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man to get revenge on his behalf. Hijinks ensue.
Both the Wolf Man and Count Dracula beg a scientist to cure them of their killing afflictions but dubious motivations on the vampire’s part complicate things.
A young heiress finds evidence suggesting that at night she acts under the influence of a family curse and has begun committing a series of ghastly murders.
Dracula is after Lou Costello’s brain for the Frankenstein Monster and it’s up to Lon Chaney’s The Wolf Man to save the day in this zany comedy that brought the classic era of monsters to a close.
A group of scientists travel up the Amazon River to harass a poor aquatic creature who quickly develops a reasonable fixation on Julie Adams. Seriously, who could really blame him?
The Creature from the Black Lagoon is captured and turned into an aquarium attraction, from which he escapes and then pursues poor Lori Nelson.
A mad scientist captures the Gill-man and turns him into an air-breather, only for the creature to get caught up in the rage of an insanely jealous husband.
The Universal Monster franchise consisted of some of the most iconic creatures and villains to ever grace the big screen, with many of them getting several sequels to take their horrifying adventures to newer heights, but nothing lasts forever and the Gill-man from the Creature from the Black Lagoon was both the end as well as the beginning of a new generation of horror films, making room for creatures from outer space and radioactive monsters, in a direction that would take the genre out of gothic castles. Of course, Universal Studios would continue to adapt with the times, with science fiction and horror growing in wildly fun ways over the years, but that is not to say there wouldn’t be huge missteps along the way.
Note: In 2017 Universal Studios attempted to reboot the franchise with such films as Dracula Untold and Tom Cruise’s The Mummy but this Dark Universe was dead on arrival and its failure only heightened one’s knowledge of just how great those classic films were.
The Universal Classic Monsters: A Cinematic World of Horror
Franchise Rank - 10/10
Spanning over two decades the Universal Monsters remain to this day an example of remarkable filmmaking in what became a watershed of the horror genre, not to mention the fact that these “old” films still manage to capture the imaginations of new generations of fans which makes it’s hard to deny the immensity of their impact on popular culture.