I did it, guys! One of the goals I set for myself this October was to go through the entire Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection box set, because it felt like the perfect opportunity to revisit so many classic films, but also fill in a few gaps for me as a fan, as there were a handful of films I just never had the opportunity to watch before this set existed. And while it took up pretty much every second of my free time this month, making time for the Complete Collection felt like I was getting to experience my very own film studies on some of the most influential and unforgettable horror movies to ever grace the silver screen, plus it also helped get me into the mood for this year’s Halloween season.
For Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection, Uni sets the stage for all the awesomeness contained in this new set with their stunning booklet entitled “The Original House of Horror: Universal and a Monster Legacy,” which features all the iconic artwork created for these 30 films, but also dives into the history of their releases as well as some of the key Universal Monster players, including Bela Lugosi, Claude Rains, Lon Chaney Jr., Elsa Lanchester, Boris Karloff, and John P. Fulton, who is usually overlooked in comparison to some of his monstrous counterparts.
Two other influential figures are also briefly celebrated in the booklet: James Whale, “The Father of Frankenstein,” and Jack Pierce, the legendary makeup artist whose work still continues to influence the world of effects to this very day. I could have read another 150 pages of this booklet, but I get why brevity was necessary, especially considering it’s just supplemental material for the rest of the set.
Now, let’s dig into the discs!
Frankenstein: While I love most of the other Universal Monsters series, my favorite has always been the Frankenstein films, and the Complete Collection only further cemented my lifelong adoration for this world and these characters. In this particular set, titles include Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (which is easily my favorite of the Abbott and Costello monster series).
I’d argue that the trifecta of Frankenstein, Bride, and Son might very well be the greatest (and most significant) 1-2-3 punch to hit the horror genre ever, and it’s great that after more than 80 years, these films haven’t lost any of their staying power. Despite my longtime love of Frankenstein’s monster and all his antics, there were a few films from this first set that were “new to me” viewings: Ghost of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, and House of Dracula, and admittedly the one I ended up really enjoying was Ghost, as both House movies felt a bit underwhelming, almost like they were lacking a certain polish that most of the other Universal Monsters have (although it was still great to see so many iconic figures from that era of horror on screen together).
As far as the special features go, I haven’t had a chance to dive into any of the commentaries included here, but the featurette on Boris Karloff was absolutely wonderful (and informative), and I thought both docs on Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein are essential viewings for any genre fan.
Dracula: While Phantom of the Opera (1925) is technically the starting point for Universal horror, I’ve always considered Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931) to be the launch pad of the Universal Monsters, as Bela Lugosi’s quintessentially enigmatic performance as the titular bloodsucker proved that these monstrous characters from literature were primed to be hits for theater-going audiences in the 1930s (and beyond). Dracula is a film I’ve watched nearly a dozen or so times, but it was during this rewatch where Browning’s use of silence and stillness really hit me, evoking the same feelings I get from watching Nosferatu. There’s something about a villain who utilizes his mere presence to intimidate his potential victims that’s especially haunting, and that’s what I love about Dracula (plus the production design is absolutely top-notch). The Dracula set includes a few duplicate titles—House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein—but both Dracula’s Daughter and Son of Dracula more than make up for any overlaps.
Plus, my favorite part of this entire set beyond Dracula OG is the inclusion of the Spanish version of Dracula, which I am ashamed to admit I hadn’t seen until a few weeks ago, but I absolutely adored it and am so glad Uni has done right by it here. The bonus features for this series include a really fascinating documentary on Dracula, as well as a loving look back on Lugosi’s legacy as one of the premier performers of his time. There are also three commentary tracks for fans, as well as an alternate score for Dracula from Philip Glass, which is great as well.
The Wolf Man: When it comes to discussing the originators of what I like to call “movie magic,” one of the first films I always think of is The Wolf Man (1941) which blew my mind as a kid with its various transformation sequences dreamt up by the legendary Jack Pierce (if only they knew how radically the process would change in about 40 years). A series of films about man’s internal struggle with his true nature, revisiting the entire Wolf Man series not only reminded me that Lon Chaney Jr. was truly an actor in a class all in itself, but that Maria Ouspenskaya’s involvement in several of the films was truly one of the most under-appreciated players in the Universal Monster movies (her involvement in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is actually my favorite performance from her entire career as well). In this set, we get several more carryover titles—the aforementioned Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man as well as House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein—and the two other featured films in this collection include Werewolf of London and She-Wolf of London, which were “new to me” experiences, and sadly, I didn’t really love either of them.
The bonus features on The Wolf Man films are absolutely wondrous, especially the documentary about Pierce, which I hadn’t ever seen before, and I loved every single second of it (if we ever got one biopic on a classic monster maker, hands down I would love to see something done on Pierce). The Monster by Moonlight doc was also really well done—it’s as informative as it is entertaining—and I also thought the featurette that dove into the mythology of The Wolf Man was well worth my time. There’s also a mini-doc looking back on Lon Chaney Jr.’s career, and it was so interesting to me just how much of an influence his father’s career in Hollywood seemed to loom over him, especially early on.
The Invisible Man: Here’s where I admit something else that is slightly embarrassing, especially as someone who has been a horror fan for more than 30 years now: I had never really watched any of The Invisible Man movies all the way through until I started diving into the Complete Collection. I know I had seen most of the original Invisible Man back when I was a kid, because I remembered a few chunks of the story, but this was a series I never really got around to until now. And I am so glad that I did, because the whole series is a total blast. The best part of The Invisible Man films, beyond Claude Rains’ truly revolutionary performance in the first movie (it’s like you could “feel” his emotions coming through the nothingness of his character’s visage), is the fact that these movies are really like one endless magic trick, where the audience is in on it, which makes them so delightful and compelling to watch.
The films in this Invisible Man series include James Whale’s original film, as well as The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent, The Invisible Man’s Revenge, and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man. I’d definitely say that in terms of the sequels and associated films, the strongest entries for me were The Invisible Man Returns (which features Vincent Price in his very first horror role), The Invisible Woman (which was downright hilarious at times—it’s definitely an entry I’ll be revisiting a lot in the future), and Invisible Agent, which ends up being something of a WWII spy horror movie, which made it a real standout amongst all the other Universal Monster movies.
With this mini-set, there’s a pretty good commentary featuring film historian Rudy Behlmer (who really digs into just how important this film was at the time, in terms of the material and just how the movie set a new standard in the primitive world of visual effects during the 1930s), and I enjoyed the featurette on the making of The Invisible Man as well. Sadly, there isn’t much more to this set, and I would have loved if some of the sequels would have been shown a little love here.
Creature from the Black Lagoon: This might sound silly to say, but the Creature films have always made me a little mad as a viewer, because they’re very much about man’s inability to respect nature, and in some cases, perverting nature as a way to service their own scientific curiosities. Up until this point, the only film from this brief Universal Monster series I hadn’t seen was The Creature Walks Among Us (which features some scientists trying to turn the beloved aquatic monster into something more “human-like”), but it had been decades since I had really sat down with both the first Creature film as well as Revenge of the Creature, which absolutely had to be an influence on Jaws 3-D. I still think that the OG Creature ranks up there as one of the best films in the entire Universal Monsters catalog, and I must admit that Revenge was also pretty great as well. I wasn’t nearly as big of a fan of Walks, just because something in the performances didn’t seem to click as well as it does with its predecessors, but I must admit that it’s an intriguing take on the iconic monster that’s still worth your time.
This set also includes the 3D versions of both Creature from the Black Lagoon and Revenge of the Creature, but I haven’t had a chance to check either film out in three dimensions just yet. But I really loved the documentary on the Creature, though, and it was cool to see Milicent Patrick get some of her due in this since her efforts had been so vastly overlooked for so long.
The Mummy: Ah, this is where things get a little tricky for me, as I am not exactly a huge fan of the original Mummy film, and had always skipped over the sequels out of sheer lack of interest (I had seen parts of The Mummy’s Tomb and The Mummy’s Ghost as a kid, but never finished them). I will say that with having the Complete Collection at my disposal now, I was ready to give my least favorite run of Universal Monster flicks another chance. And for the most part, while I will always appreciate this series for its historical importance, and the incredible production value poured into each entry, I just still cannot get into The Mummy movies, even though I know they’re technically great films with an intriguing otherworldly presence front and center.
For me, The Mummy series is the driest of the Universal Monsters era (no pun intended), with the exception to that being Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (which isn’t nearly as hilarious as when the duo met Frankenstein, but still much more fun than their romp with the Invisible Man). So, as much as it pains me to say this, when it comes to Mummy movies, I’d much rather watch the 1999 film than any other, and I know that’s pretty much blasphemy, but I’ve come to terms with it.
I did enjoy both of the Mummy documentaries included with this set, because, as mentioned, I will always respect the character’s value amongst the pantheon of great monsters in horror cinema, so I think those two featurettes were my favorite part of this collection. The Jack Pierce mini-doc is carried over to this set, and Mummy fans can also dig into the two commentaries included here.
The Phantom of the Opera: Here’s a little known fact about me: ever since I studied it in junior high music theory class, I have been obsessed with Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera and will pretty much sit through any and all adaptations because of my love for his original story. That being said, when I realized that for the Complete Collection we were only going to be getting the 1943 adaptation from Arthur Lubin, and not the landmark 1925 silent film, I was a bit let down because this iteration of Phantom is my least favorite out of all of them. There’s no denying the fact that Lubin’s version is a stunning work of art, with incredible production design, lavish costumes, and engaging performances from Claude Rains and Susanna Foster, but it never quite leans into the Gothic horrors of Leroux’s prose, where it almost feels “too pretty” to be a true Phantom of the Opera movie. That being said, I still geek out whenever I watch this Phantom because of the fact that Lubin smartly reused the historic Paris Opera House sets located on Stage 28 that were originally created for the 1925 film. The featurette on Phantom is pretty good overall, but I have to say that not including the very first film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera in this set feels like a missed opportunity (I know there’s a great Blu-ray that does exist for it, so that at least helps).
And there you have it, folks: 30 different Universal Monster movies, all in one place for the very first time. It’s a magnificent achievement from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, and for fans of classic horror (who don’t already own the separated Blu sets), the Complete Collection is worth the hefty investment (albeit, I’m a bit of a bargain hound, so I’d wait to see how much the price drops around the holidays), and would make for an excellent addition to your home media collection. I truly love that this has given me a prime opportunity to revisit some of my favorite horror movies of all time, but it also introduced me to several films that I’m undoubtedly going to be including in my annual Halloween viewing plans for years to come.
Box Set Score: 4.5/5