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Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection - Blu-ray Review

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Universal Monsters - Blu-ray Review

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5 stars

Universal’s original run of monster flicks, stretching from 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera to 1956’s The Creature Walks Among Us, produced what many consider to be the Mount Rushmore of Horror.  From Dracula to The Creature from that infamous murky lagoon, Universal’s 20 year run produced the most iconic mugs in all of Hollywood’s history.  For most audiences, our appreciation of these quintessential monster pictures was instilled through late-night television broadcasts with Elvira as the host.

With a whole new generation coming up in an era where these films aren’t shown on cable unless it’s AMC, it’s important to save, share, and celebrate Universal’s monster legacy.  Recognizing this, the Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection arrives on blu-ray with newly remastered frame by frame restorations, presenting audiences with the absolute best look at their classic monster pictures.  What an incredible way to usher in the Halloween season.

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection begins with a comprehensive look at Dracula (as well as the sexier and artistically superior Spanish version). Bela Lugosi stars as the immortal bloodsucker from Transylvania who rests his tired batwings in England searching for fresh new blood from his female victims. Co-starring Dwight Frye as a very memorable Renfield and the elegant Edward Van Sloan as vampire hunter Van Helsing, Dracula, directed by Todd Browning, is a moody example of great gothic atmosphere as it spaces out its dialogue with long moments of silence and ambiance. While special effects are limited to fog, lighting, and large flexible bats, Lugosi’s performance as the charming but eccentric Count Dracula is the ONLY effect it needs. He flat out steals the production away from its director with classic line delivery. A horror icon is born.

Director James Whale brings life to Frankenstein with a friendly warning as Edward Van Sloan steps from behind a curtain and cautions audiences before the opening credits about the film’s subject matter.  While Lugosi was originally to play Frankenstein’s monster, it is Boris Karloff who eventually tackles the role and makes the “monster” in make-up artist Jack Pierce’s incredible work so human.  Co-starring Collin Clive as a lanky Henry “It’s alive!  It’s alive!” Frankenstein and Dwight Frye as Fritz, Whale’s production is a remarkable forward-thinking production that tackles the subject of man as God without batting an eye.  While it was subject to censorship in one of its key sequences (where Frankenstein drowns a little girl), the film manages to stay on critic’s list as one of the top 100 films of all time due to its notable craftsmanship and a harrowingly sympathetic performance from Karloff.

Karloff returns for Universal in another iconic role as Imhotep in Karl Freund’s The Mummy.  Originally released in 1932, The Mummy features another round of great make-up effects from Jack Pierce although the most notable one, Karloff in complete mummy wrap, lasts only a few moments.  While it is effectively less frightening than some of its cousins, The Mummy should be viewed through some sort of historical context as it was inspired by the discovery of by the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 and is, in its entirety, a uniquely designed fresh take on Horror ideas in the similar vein as Universal’s previously released titles.  Clocking in at a brisk 73 minutes, The Mummy is a satisfying jaunt through time.

Director James Whale returns to Universal with the one-two punch of The Invisible Man, featuring cool special effects and an unseen Claude Rains as a mad scientist driven to the brink after turning himself invisible, and the immortal The Bride of Frankenstein.  Karloff returns to the role that made him famous and demands a date from his maker.  Noted to be one of the first horror/comedies, Whale works not to topple the original but goes instead for the funny bone.  The gamble completely works and never once insults its audience.

Rounding out the collection is director George Waggner’s classic The Wolf Man, Claude Rains’ musical version of The Phantom of the Opera, and the atomic era’s own Creature from the Black Lagoon, an original drive-in classic.  While two of those latter three titles are tent pole classics of the genre, the musical remake of The Phantom of the Opera never matches the heights of the silent original and, being trapped in 1940’s musical aesthetics, is the release’s only dud.

Call them The Original Eight.  Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), Phantom of the Opera (1943), and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), boasting numerous special features, are all collected inside this celebrated release.  While the set does leave out their mostly inferior sequels, it is one that any unleashed horror hound should own.

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Universal Monsters - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA.
Runtime:
644 mins.
Films: Dracula; Drácula; Frankenstein; Bride of Frankenstein; The Wolf Man; The Mummy; The Invisible Man; Phantom of the Opera; Creature from the Black Lagoon 3D
Director
: Various
Writer
: Various
Cast:
Various
Genre
: Horror | Classic
Tagline: Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection
Memorable Movie Quote: "For one who has not lived even a single lifetime, you're a wise man, Van Helsing."
Distributor:
Universal Studios
Official Site:
Release Date:
October 2, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
October 2, 2012

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Universal Monsters - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades
Movie

Blu-ray Disc
5 Stars

5 Stars



Blu-ray Experience
5 Stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - October 2, 2012
Runtime:
644 mins.
Screen Formats: 1.37:1, 1.85:1
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono; French: DTS Mono
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Eight-disc set (8 BDs); Blu-ray 3D
Region Encoding: Region-free

The 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfers on this release have been, in some cases, newly minted from a masterful restoration of the original nitrate film elements.  Some – as with Dracula - have had major restorations performed, and look glossy and beautiful.  The transfers are now stabilized; they don’t flickering, and they’re not scrubbed to death with DNR, although all print scratches have been completely removed.  Black levels are quite rich and contrast levels are well-balanced.  The Phantom of the Opera is the only color release and those colors are superb (even if the film is not).  The set is not completely free of blemish but only those with perfect vision and a nit-picky attitude toward classic film restoration will be bothered by it. New DTS-HD Master Audio Mono tracks adorn each transfer and unwanted hissing noises have been removed.  They aren’t perfect but this is as good as it gets.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • The set spans eight discs and audio commentaries are provided for each film with Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy receiving TWO each.  Some are prepared notes, some are conversations between film historians or other screenwriters, but all are solid recordings that fans of all eight titles will indulge in.  This is top quality, folks, and very much necessary.

Special Features:

Most of the special features debuted on the old DVD Legacy releases, and, as noted, include audio commentaries, retrospective documentaries, trailers for all of the titles in each franchise, and more. While there are several newly produced exclusives to this box set, it’s a relief to know that the original material is not discarded as there were a couple of really nice documentaries about stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.  It's an extensive collection that takes hours to sift through.  Of special note are the newly produced "100 Years at Universal" featurettes attached to each disc except for Dracula as he gets a newly made restoration special.  Creature from the Black Lagoon includes a 3D version of the same film, which is a wonderful addition to have, since the film was originally shot and shown in that format.  The set also includes a 48-page booklet entitled "The Original House of Horror", a nice ode to everything Universal Horror, which is housed along with the eight-disc DigiPack inside a sturdy outer box.  This is a must-own for fans of horror and cinephiles.

Dracula: Disc One

  • Dracula: The Restoration (9 min)
  • Dracula (1931) Spanish Version (103 min)
  • Two Audio Commentaries: Film Historian David J. Skal and Screenwriter Steve Haberman
  • Alternate Score Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet Track (74 min)
  • The Road to Dracula (35 min)
  • Lugosi: The Dark Prince (36 min)
  • Dracula Archives (9 min)
  • Trailer Gallery (6 min)
  • Monster Tracks

Frankenstein: Disc Two

  • The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster (45 min)
  • Karloff: The Gentle Monster (38 min)
  • Universal Horror (95 min)
  • Two Audio Commentaries: Film Historian Rudy Behlmer and Film Historian Sir Christopher Frayling
  • 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics (9 min)
  • Boo!: A Short Film (10 min)
  • Frankenstein Archives (9 min)
  • Trailer Gallery (8 min)
  • Monster Tracks

The Mummy: Disc Three

  • Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed (30 min)
  • He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce (25 min)
  • Two Audio Commentaries: Make-up artist Rick Baker, filmmaker Scott Essman, screenwriter and film historian Steve Haberman, collector Bob Burns and film historian Paul M. Jensen
  • 100 Years of Universal: The Carl Laemmle Era (9 min)
  • Unraveling the Legacy of The Mummy (8 min)
  • The Mummy Archives (10 min)
  • Trailer Gallery (6 min)

The Invisible Man: Disc Four

  • Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed (35 min)
  • Audio Commentary: Film Historian Rudy Behlmer
  • 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters (8 min)
  • Production Photographs (5 min)
  • Trailer Gallery (4 min)

The Bride of Frankenstein: Disc Five

  • Audio Commentary: Film Historian Scott MacQueen
  • She's Alive! Creating The Bride of Frankenstein (39 min)
  • The Bride of Frankenstein Archive
  • Trailers (7 min)

The Wolf Man: Disc Six

  • Monster by Moonlight (33 min)
  • Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney, Jr. (37 min)
  • He Who Made Monsters: The Art and Life of Jack Pierce (25 min)
  • Audio Commentary: Film Historian Tom Weaver
  • From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth (10 min)
  • 100 Years of Universal: The Lot (9 min)
  • The Wolf Man Archives (7 min)
  • Trailer Gallery (9 min)

The Phantom of the Opera: Disc Seven

  • The Opera Ghost: A Phantom Unmasked (51 min)
  • Audio Commentary: Film Historian Scott MacQueen
  • 100 Years of Universal: The Lot (9 min)
  • Production Photographs (6 min)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2 min)

Creature from the Black Lagoon: Disc Eight

  • Back to the Black Lagoon (40 min)
  • Audio Commentary: Film Historian Tom Weaver
  • 100 Years of Universal: The Lot (9 min)
  • Production Photographs (11 min)
  • Trailer Gallery (7 min)

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