Horror’s Icons: Universal Monsters
THE “O.G.” MONSTERS
As any horror fan knows, we can thank Universal Studios for beginning the monster craze in America. From 1923 to 1960, Universal released over 60 films that featured creatures, monsters, madmen, and more to scare audiences across the nation. And while there were many of these villains to choose from, I want to look at five icons that I believe are the best of the bunch. Many may feel that these classics are outdated, but they are the reason for much of the horror we have today. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the classics.
Dracula was released in 1931 and starred Bela Lugosi as the title character. Directed by Tod Browning, Lugosi’s Dracula was a sophisticated and slick villain. The movie, loosely based on Bram Stoker’s novel, is exactly what one would expect. Dracula is trying to get the woman and Van Helsing is standing in his way. In the end, Dracula’s attempts at love fails and Dracula meets his ultimate fate at the hands of his nemesis Van Helsing.
Since then, the Dracula character has gone on to become one of the most popular horror icons in movie history. Everyone has had their own versions of Dracula but Lugosi is the first to portray the character as a sophisticated being and not just a monster. And this Dracula didn’t sparkle in the sun either like other vampires have since done. Universal even went on to feature the character again but without Lugosi. However, Lugosi did act in other Universal films throughout the decade. But Lugosi was just one of the regular actors in Universal’s horror films…
Frankenstein was released with Dracula in 1931 as a double feature. Boris Karloff was the titular monster in this film and proved that not all monster are monstrous. Dr. Frankenstein and his hunchback assistant use various body parts and electricity to create human life, which becomes the iconic Frankenstein’s monster. However the monster does not want to harm or injury anyone, he just wants to live like everyone else. But because of how he looks, he is not accepted. He is viewed only as a monster that must be killed.
Based off of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein is a horror film with a monster that doesn’t want to be a monster. However, when trapped and pushed too far, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster will not hesitate to fight back to stay alive. Frankenstein would go on to be featured many more times for Universal and Karloff would reprise the role a few more times. But Karloff would play more than just Frankenstein. He was also the man that would be completely wrapped up to play …
The Mummy was released in 1932 and told the story of an ancient Egyptian priest who is revived and searching for his wife. After a scroll is read, Imhotep (Karloff) rises from his tomb and begins his quest to find the modern incarnation of his love, Ankh-es-en-amon. He eventually finds a woman that resembles her and plans to kill her and then mummified and resurrect her. But before he can, the scroll that awakened him is destroyed and Imhotep is turned into dust.
Karloff went from playing the sympathetic Frankenstein’s monster to Imhotep, the mummy in search of love. After The Mummy, Universal would remake the film and make more sequels, but Karloff would not return. In 1999, Universal once again remade The Mummy. With the success of its release, the film would spawn two sequels and a spinoff series based on the Scorpion King.
In 1941, The Wolf-Man hit movie screens and featured Lon Chaney, Jr., another Universal regular, as the title monster. The film also featured Bela Lugosi in a supporting role. The Wolf-Man center on a Larry Talbot (Chaney), a man that goes to Wales after learning about the death of his brother. After learning about werewolves, he saves a friend from an attack but is bitten in the process, infecting him with the curse. Talbot now transforms into a werewolf and begins to stalk the village. Eventually he is killed by his own father, who doesn’t know that it is his son until he transforms back into his human form.
The Wolf-Man is a classic tale that features a classic icon. Universal went back to the werewolf again and then remade the original in 2010 starring Benicio del Toro as Talbot. Outside of Universal, the werewolf, like Dracula, has been done so many ways over the years that it is a personal preference as to which is the best. But, unlike the werewolf, this next icon has never been redone and remains known only as a Universal Monster.
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
The Creature from the Black Lagoon was released in 1954 and was an attempt to revive the Universal Monsters. The film featured the Gill-Man who was portrayed by Ben Chapman when on land and Ricou Browning when filming was done underwater. The movie follows an expedition to the Amazon where the group of people eventually meet the Gill-man, a member of the species the group is trying to research. The creature then begins to kill those that harm him until he is shot multiple times and sinks to the bottom of the lagoon.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed in 3-D and was Universal’s attempt at resurrecting their monster movies which had lost popularity in the past 20 years. And even though the film did not revive the studio’s horror franchises, it is viewed as a 1950’s classic and spawned two sequels, the first of which was also filmed in 3-D. But unlike other Universal Monsters, the Gill-man has yet to get a modern remade. For now, the creature still rests in the lagoon, waiting for his day to come again.
Well, another blog is done. I know I could have included the Phantom, the Hunchback, and the Invisible Man, but I wanted to keep it simple and short. But, it was fun to look at these “blasts from the past”. But now that I have looked at the Universal Monsters, that means there is only one episode of Horror’s Icons left and that one will be available on Halloween day. And who better to close out this series than the man that makes Halloween scary. He attacked Haddonfield on Halloween numerous times and this Halloween, Michael Myers attacks Blog 4 Dat as he finishes out the Horror’s Icons series. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed.