The monsters of Universal’s classic horror movies served as my gateway into classic films in general. Today, Universal has officially launched their new monster-themed movie series, branded “Dark Universe”. Additionally, their Bride of Frankenstein movie is set for release in February 2019.
— #DarkUniverse (@darkuniverse) May 22, 2017
Pictured: Russell Crowe (Dr. Jekyll), Javier Bardem (Frankenstein’s monster), Tom Cruise (not a monster but the protagonist in The Mummy), Johnny Depp (The Invisible Man) and Sofia Boutella (The Mummy).
I am cautiously optimistic about this new series. 2014’s Dracula Untold was critically panned, and that movie is no longer considered a part of the shared universe. This summer we will get The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, which will be the new first movie in the series. Hopefully there won’t be a third first movie.
Anyway, back to classic movies.
With the franchise officially up and running, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you the original versions of these reboots and my brief thoughts on them.
(If these films are fully reviewed by me in the future, they will be linked accordingly. Also, links to rent/buy these films on Amazon are provided in the titles.)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
This Paramount Pictures film is oft-mistaken for one of Universal’s. It is just as good as your average Universal monster movie, with top-notch acting and a well-crafted plot. Fredric March stars as Jekyll and Hyde and he is utterly great in the dual role (unsurprisingly he won an Academy Award for his performance here). Dr. Jekyll devises a chemical mix that reveals man’s true, barbaric nature, hoping to conquer it.
The first time I saw this movie, the utter brutality of Hyde shocked me and kept me from watching the second half of the film. Upon revisiting it, I viewed the entire thing and realized that the bluntness of the character is one of the highlights of the movie! The sheer contrast between the two personalities makes for some intriguing drama and is accompanied by excellent camera trickery. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.
The character of Dr. Henry Jekyll will appear in the 2017 Mummy remake, played by Russell Crowe. I can’t imagine that Fredric March will ever be topped, however.
The Mummy (1932)
With the remake upon us, let’s look at The Mummy. When I first saw this film I just hated it. I must’ve been in middle school, and I was expecting something more along the lines of what occurs in the sequels (a fully-bandaged monster running/limping amok). If you go in with the right expectations, though, it’s not too bad.
Boris Karloff, fresh off the success of Frankenstein (1931), is what truly makes this movie worth watching. As the resurrected Imhotep (posing as Egyptian Ardath Bey), Karloff gives off a sense of dreamlike creepiness as he searches for the reincarnation of his lost ancient love. That being said, the film’s pace is a bit slow and the supporting cast (with the exception of Edward Van Sloan) is nothing special. Additionally, the plot is suspiciously similar to that of Dracula (1931), even including David Manners as the love interest and Van Sloan as a doctor. It is not the greatest of the classic monster films, but it is worth a look.
The Invisible Man (1933)
This one is a favorite of mine. Based on the H.G. Wells book (a great read), Claude Rains stars as scientist Jack Griffin, who turned himself invisible but can’t return to visibility. He steadily goes mad through the film, which makes for some humorously creepy antics. This film is equal parts silly and unsettling, and contains some iconic scenes and quotes.
The special effects at work here are astounding for the time, using a greenscreen-like technique (albeit with black velvet) for the invisibility. Claude Rains just owns this movie (his first Hollywood film); even when he is not physically onscreen, you just cannot help but feel enveloped in the movie thanks to him. Aesthetically great, you’ll be sucked into the film, especially after the opening scene where Griffin fiendishly enters a packed pub during a snowstorm. Definitely check this one out!!
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
I decided to leave Frankenstein (1931) off this list because the current Dark Universe series will start the monster’s story with The Bride of Frankenstein (2019).
This is one of the monster movies that I initially did not like much, but it has grown on me over the years. It picks up directly after the first film, with Doctor Frankenstein injured and the monster presumably dead in the windmill fire. With the help of Doctor Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger), the monster and he hold Frankenstein’s almost-wife Elizabeth hostage, demanding that he make the monster a mate.
The Bride does not show up until the last few minutes, and she truly is the MacGuffin of the film. This bothered me at first, but I came to realize the real story lies with the monster, Pretorious, and Frankenstein. All the performances amongst the main cast are exceptionally great, and are what drive this film. Many hail it as better than the original Frankenstein, and though I’m not one of them, it certainly is great!
For a considerable amount of time, the titular creature was my favorite monster. As the last great Universal monster, the gill-man’s first film is also exceptionally great. A group of scientists discover him, the last member of an ancient man-fish species, alive and well in the Amazon. However, they prove too invasive, and try to capture him, causing his retaliation and a considerable body count. The cast is pretty adequate, save Julie Adams as Kay Lawrence, who is very good (and Nestor Paiva as Capt. Lucas, who is quite the scene-stealer). It’s not hard to root for the gill-man in this movie, who is constantly bothered (and presumably killed) by these scientists.
This movie’s greatness lies predominantly in its monster and the great locations used. It is absolutely worth a look, and, if you like it enough, Revenge of the Creature (1955) is also good. The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) is passable in my opinion.
The gill-man will return at an unspecified date in the Dark Universe series, though his film is confirmed.
There you have it! Watch these original horror classics either instead of or before watching the reboots (who knows if they’ll be worth it). There are plenty more classic monster films than these worth checking out, so stay in touch with Peyton’s Classics, because the monsters will return to this blog many times.
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Click here to see the sizzle reel Universal put together to honor its rich monster legacy. It’s quite good!