by John Larkin
Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection 4K is now available at retailers everywhere and can be purchased online at Amazon.com
As if Universal's blu-ray restorations of their entire monster film library wasn't enough, they have now begun giving the major titles the 4K treatment. I will admit that the difference from the blu-ray is a more subtle jump because of the age of the film stock and the black and white, but make no mistake this is a gorgeous set and I'm looking forward to seeing future 4K releases of the other films.
This year marks significant anniversaries for DRACULA (90th), FRANKENSTEIN (90th) and THE WOLF MAN (80th). Hopefully we won't have to wait until 2024 to see CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON released in 4K for its 70th anniversary.
DRACULA (1931) Dir. Tod Browning
Bela Lugosi's quintessential portrayal of Dracula is as impactful as ever. One forgets just how truly iconic his performance was. Even now, the most recognized Dracula impersonation is an impersonation of Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula. They have become synonymous since the film was released almost 100 years ago.
The production design showing off the large cavernous halls of the castle are wonderful to behold in 4K. Browning brings a strangeness to the material that I think makes the film truly memorable and haunting. While my all time favorite film version of Dracula is Coppola's 1992 version with Gary Oldman, the original is a stone cold classic and still one of the very best adaptations of the Bram Stoker novel.
I'm happy to report that the beloved Spanish version of the film is included in this set. The Spanish version is an almost identical shot by shot remake of the original that uses the same sets and props from the Lugosi version. They would start filming after the Lugosi one had wrapped for the day. It's a truly bizarre doppelgänger piece of cinema that is worth checking out at least once.
FRANKENSTEIN (1931) Dir. James Whale
Probably the best film of the bunch, FRANKENSTEIN looks and sounds incredible in 4K and narratively and spiritually is the most profound story amongst the Universal horror canon. It's a good thing James Whale stepped in to helm the Mary Shelly classic and decided to humanize the character. Robert Florey was originally slated to direct with Lugosi starring as the monster and Florey wanted to make Frankenstein a pure brainless killing machine with no soul. This was something Lugosi objected to and eventually both players were subbed out for Whale and Karloff. Florey and Lugosi ended up joining forces for MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1932), a wonderfully twisted Edgar Allen Poe adaptation about a scientist obsessed with mixing the blood of a human with an ape's. The ape was played by notable strongman Joe Bonomo, who coincidentally was a cousin of our owner and editor-in chief Roy Frumkes!
THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) Dir. James Whale
After the huge success of FRANKENSTEIN, James Whale wanted to move on to another project that wasn't horror. It's surprising that he needed convincing to helm THE INVISIBLE MAN which is now my personal favorite of all the Universal monsters. Whale's sense of humor and campiness fits wonderfully into an otherwise disturbingly dark story of a scientist who has been able to make himself invisible, all the while losing his mind and making plans for world domination.
The special visual effects by John P. Fulton hold up incredibly well and are extremely effective as well as charming. The most significant aspect of casting the actor to play THE INVISIBLE MAN was the voice and there was no one better suited than theater actor CLAUDE RAINS. This was his feature film debut and he leaves his indelible mark in cinematic history with his strong guttural pronunciation and maniacal laugh.
THE WOLF MAN (1941) Dir. George Waggner
THE WOLF MAN was released some time after the other three but holds up just as potently. Lon Cheney Jr. embodies the roll of a man tortured by his hairy alter-ego so well. I'll never understand why they ended up casting him as Dracula in SON OF DRACULA (1943).
Jack Pierce's makeup is as perfect as anything seen on the silver screen and surprisingly the 4K does not reveal too much behind the scenes detail of the makeup work as to take you out of the film.
With great supporting turns from Claude Raines, Ralph Bellamy and Maria Ouspenskaya THE WOLFMAN is a ton of fun and a great film.
I was pleased to see that all of the legacy extras for all four films are included in this set and the extras are included in BOTH the 4K and regular blu-ray disc so there's no need to change discs to port over to the supplements.
I am wondering if down the road they'll release another 30-Film box set once all the films have proper 4K transfers. I'd rather just get them in 4 film sets like this than having to double dip! In the meantime pick up the new set from Universal, it's a must own!