Sunday, September 4, 2016

Re-watching the Universal Essential

I've been couch bound this weekend and left to my own devices. I decided to spend some time watching the Universal Monsters Essential Collection on Blu-ray. The eight films are:

Dracula
Frankenstein
The Mummy
The Invisible Man
The Bride of Frankenstein
The Wolfman
The Phantom of the Opera
The Creature from the Black Lagoon

All eight movies have something to offer and were highly influential on the variety of horror films that followed them.

Because I can't sit long enough to write a full post of the awesomeness of the collection (like the superior bonus features included), I'll give just a few thoughts, some of which will surprise no one.

1. Bride is the best of the lot. There used to be a time when sequels were rare (but series such as The Thin Man were not so rare), and having the best of these be a sequel is almost unfathomable. But it's true. From the effects, to James Whale's direction, and the perfect acting of Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester, Bride is as spot-on a film as possible. If there is a fault, it's that there isn't enough of the Bride shown. She comes in late, but by God, it is worth it.

2. The Wolfman is the most over rated of the set. Lon Chaney, Jr.'s Larry Talbot is a subpar character and a whining sycophant. His transformation into the wolfman is supposed to be tragic but there is nothing about Talbot that makes me care that he has been cursed. His love interest is a woman he just met, and only met because he accidentally spied on her from his father's (Claude Rains!) giant telescope. The Jack P. Pierce make-up is still awesome, though.

3. Claude Rains is the underappreciated hero/villain of Universal monsters. The Invisible Man is a masterpiece, but we all spend so much of our time talking about Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff that we forget about Rains. Maybe it is because he was able to do other kinds of movies instead of being stuck in horror and ending up in ever-worsening roles and films. For this set, Rains not only got to play two wildly different monsters (Invisible Man and the Phantom) but also had a non-villain role as Sir Talbot in The Wolfman.

4. Karloff is brilliant, but his most frightening screen time, to me, is when he first begins to waken in The Mummy. His eyes slowly open, one arm slumps down, then the other, as if let go from ropes (or the bands surrounding his body), and we don't get to see him walk. The patience of his performance is something we could all learn from.

5. I've mentioned him before but Jack P. Pierce and the make-up team created looks so original and frightening that even today they hold up. Some of the effects in these films would be hard to pull off today but seem like they should have been impossible in the 1930s and '40s. The feature on the effects in The Invisible Man highlights exactly what we mean when we say "the magic of cinema."

OK, that's all I have right now. I have another day to myself and some more viewing decisions to make. Catch you later.

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