Autumn of Terror: Top 5 Universal Horror Films
Hammer Films are fantastic, if you don’t believe me, check out these five awesome examples of British Gothic amazingness, however… There is only one Daddy in the Horror business, especially when it comes to Monsters. For fans of Horror, Monsters can mean only one name, Universal. Since 1931, Universal Pictures has been the home of Monsters, solidifying the look, and sound, of some characters firmly in the minds of the audience, and creating a few characters themselves. With Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, the holy trinity of horror, Universal has always been the place where Horror was taken seriously, mostly, and they delivered many quality films. When you add smaller characters, such as The Mummy, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Phantom of the Opera and The Invisible Man, Universal has a feast of high quality black and white horror classics that can not be matched by any studio. Recently released on Blu-ray, The Universal Monsters Collection is a must buy for fans of the genre. These films have never looked so beautiful and although they are no longer scary, the atmosphere can be cut with a knife. Clearly I love these films, and so, I have decided to give you guys a Top 5, so sit back, relax and remember, ‘Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night; may become a wolf, when the wolfsbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright’.
THE WOLF MAN
The Wolf Man is one of my favourite films of all time. I love it like few others, and for my money, it is the finest Universal Horror Film ever made (JAWS doesn’t count). Lon Chaney Jnr. plays Larry Talbot, with wonderful makeup effects by the peerless Jack Pierce. This film is kind of a Greek tragedy, once Larry is bitten, he is doomed to hurt those he loves, after all, a werewolf instinctively kills those that he loves. Bela Lugosi is great in a small role as a gypsy, Evelyn Ankers is adorable as Larry’s doomed love interest, and Claude Rains is brilliant as Sir John Talbot. However, it is Lon Chaney Jnr who steals the show, as Larry Talbot, he really makes you care about the fate of this doomed everyman. The effects are spectacular for the time, the film is set in Wales (yay) and is endlessly watchable. This film is just brilliant, and should be checked out immediately. I liked the recent remake quite a bit too, even though the CGI werewolf was a bit ropey, but for me, you can’t beat the original.
Universals first horror talkie, Dracula was a revelation and a bit of a scandal at the time. The movie was huge for Universal, and kicked off the whole horror stable. What can be said about Dracula? Well ask any child to do a Dracula impression, and I’m willing to bet that in almost 100 % of times, you get a Bela Lugosi impersonation back. Lugosi isn’t my favourite Dracula, but he set the blue print for all future iterations. The hair, the face, and the voice, all perfect for the Count, and it is no surprise that he is still the gold standard. There are so many good things about this film, the script is great, there are some amazing lines sprouted by Dracula, my favourite being his first encounter with Van Helsing; ‘For one who has not yet lived a single lifetime, you are a wise man, Van Helsing’. The atmosphere is thick and although some say the Spanish Version is a superior film, Lugosi cements this as the better version, at least for me.
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
This film came out a few years later than the classic Horror films of the 1930’s and 40’s, but is no less a film for it. Once more, our monster protagonist is stunningly realised for what is ostensibly a rubber suit. An american research crew are travelling up the Amazon, when they come into the territory of the creature, the titular Black Lagoon. Disturbing Gill Man’s habitat and normal everyday life with beautiful bikini clad scientists. Whats a creature to do? He falls for the hot scientist and then the trouble starts. The underwater scenes are beautiful and terrifying. We all fear what lies below the surface of the water, was that a hand, or a weed that brushed our leg? Spielberg has said that this film was an inspiration to him whilst filming JAWS, and there really can’t be higher praise than that can there.
BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN
Considered the best of all the Universal Horror films by many, Bride of Frankenstein is a bona fide classic. Directed by James Whale, who infused the horror with a very black sense of humour, the film is a delight to sit and watch. We get to see Boris Karloff’s Monster grow a little here, talking, and demanding a mate. The bride herself was another visual treat, with the lightning strike hair do and bird like head movements. If you only watch one Universal Horror film, critics say it should be this one, they are wrong, The Wolf Man is a better film, in my view, but this is an amazing piece of cinema. The Frankenstein franchise was Universals cash cow, and this is the finest entry in that franchise, but I would suggest watching the original as well, as it is almost as classic, if it does not quite reach the greatness of it’s sequel. Ghost of Frankenstein is also very good, and it is worth watching all of the Frankenstein saga, as it is worth watching most of the Universal Horror films, as they are always entertaining. Karloff is amazing as the Monster, adding pathos to a role that could easily be a mindless brute. He truly was the King of Universal Horror.
FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN
This is the sequel to The Wolf Man, and sees the titular monsters having a bit of a ruck in a ruined castle. This is my favourite of the monster mash up films, as the focus is once again back on my favourite monster, Larry Talbot. Larry is disturbed in his tomb by some luckless grave robbers and disappointed to find he is still alive, he decides to try and find a cure for his affliction with some notorious scientists on the continent. Of course he runs into Frankenstein’s monster, and a monster wrestling match takes place. Lugosi plays the Monster, with Lon Chaney Jnr. reprising his role as The Wolf Man and Maria Ouspenskyaya returning as the gypsy woman Maleva. One of the better sequels to the Universal brilliant originals, this is really worth a look, especially if you loved The Wolf Man.