In 2018, Franchise Fred wept for there were no more new franchises to discover. Fortunately there are still some from before I was born. Would you believe I hadn’t seen most of the Universe monster movies? So when I got my hands on the Blu-Ray set with all 30 films I made it my Halloween project to catch up. I started with Frankenstein since the only films I’ve seen are in this collection (the two James Whale classics, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein), so I have kind of a head start.
I liked Son of Frankenstein. The idea of baron Wolf Von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) wanting to clear his family’s name and facing resistance from the locals is sound. Then he finds his father’s creature (Boris Karloff) still there and gets sucked back in. His examination of the body addresses the aftermath of previous rampages and adds some new scientific mythology. His delivery of “It’s alive! Alive!” Is a great twist on the franchise catch phrase.
I imagine seeing Karloff again was monumental when he’s revealed, and this would be his last turn as the monster. Having him lie there inanimate for several scenes adds to the buildup of when they finally reanimate him again.
All of the films look great on Blu-ray in crisp, sharp Academy ratio. Son of Frankenstein has great mansion sets with so much negative space and sharp angles. The camera angles set the walls and stairs at jagged angles. You see detail in the texture. It looks like stone but probably styrofoam.
Ghost of Frankenstein is only 67 minutes. They could get away with that. Lon Chaney plays the monster after he’d already established himself as other monsters. The makeup amazingly fits his face as well as Karloff’s. Scenes with a new little girl recall the creature’s tragic history with children. Frankenstein (Cedric Hardwicke) is still trying to fix his family’s mistakes and Ygor (Bela Lugosi) continues his nefarious plans.
This one isn’t as stylized but the Blu-ray clarity shows lots of detail in the town exteriors.
Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman starts crossing over the franchises. From the opening scene at the Talbot family grave, it feels special to have two monsters in one movie. In fact it begins as a Wolfman movie bringing Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) back from the dead and wolfing out just over 10 minutes in. Only then does he go over his whole story for the doctors and any newbs in the audience. He hopes Frankenstein’s research can help him die, the opposite of Frankenstein’s actual goal.
Bela Lugosi as the monster is noticeably different, but seeing Talbot and the monster hanging out is a hoot. There’s even a musical number. Not with Chaney or Lugosi but these movies really included everything to entertain.
The Blu-ray is full of detail, from the cemetery to gypsy camp to the remains of Frankenstein mansion. Great use of shadows in the sets and silhouettes performing significant action off to the sides.
House of Frankenstein adds Dracula (John Carradine) briefly. Now Karloff and Chaney are together but Karloff plays the scientist now. These Frankenstein movies start to remind me of Darkman and The Fly, where there was a science the characters wanted to solve in each movie. Even though the real point was to let the monsters loose, I always hoped they’d at least figure out the science. I guess the Frankenstein movies strung that along the longest. This one’s got a love triangle between Daniel (J. Carrol Naish), Talbot (Chaney) and a gypsy girl too.
The Blu-ray shows detail in Dr. Nieman’s obsessive cell. The matte painting of the castle is stunning. Once again, the laboratory is full of shadows.
House of Dracula is still a Frankenstein movie, but now Dracula also turns to the scientist for a cure. A lot of these Frankenstein movies still end with a torch wielding mob. That was a key recurring element of the franchise.
The crossover movies sometimes get so crowded, not all the monsters get much to do, and end rather anticlimactically. But when Chaney plays Talbot he’s still the star of the movie.
In Academy Ratio, establishing shots have characters enter the set leaving the top half of the frame to admire the atmospheric and moody construction. Shadows, like John Carradine’s silhouette getting bigger as it runs away (towards the light off camera) also make clever use of black and white photography.
I’m hoping to get through more of the Universal monster franchises before Halloween. The 30 film Universal Monsters Blu-ray Collection is available now.