Anyone who grew up watching TV in the 50s, 60s or 70s has strong memories of late-night creature features that recycled the classic monster movies from the 1930s & 40s. In an era before cable and VHS tapes, those movies featuring Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and the Mummy became as much a part of a generation’s shared culture as the Beatles or
The problem was we saw those original movies broadcast from worn-out prints with noisy, hissing soundtracks, but you’ve got a chance to see eight of those movies restored to their original glory with the Universal Classic Monsters Blu-ray box set.
Universal Pictures is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year with a series of deluxe reissues of some its most important films (including an impressive-looking Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection due later this month) and they’ve paid special attention to their iconic monster movies with extensive restoration work for Dracula (1931, starring Bela Lugosi), Frankenstein (1931, starring Boris Karloff), The Mummy (1932, starring Karloff), The Invisible Man (1933, starring Claude Rains), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935, starring Karloff and Elsa Lanchester), The Wolf Man (1941, starring Lon Chaney Jr.), The Phantom of the Opera (1943, starring Rains) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).
All of the movies were treated to extensive digital restoration and the results are startling. The audio upgrades on the earliest films in the collection keep the sound in its original mono but give a clarity that’s a huge shock if you remember the films from TV. Dracula and The Mummy benefit the most from the visual restoration but the two Frankenstein movies are close behind. The Creature from the Black Lagoon disk includes a 3D version if you’ve got the gear and the effect is a lot more impressive than what I remember from the 3D prints they were renting out back in the 70s. Black Lagoon’s restoration does expose a gap in the film technology of its era, with the restored on-land scenes looking a million times better than the underwater scenes.
Dracula gets a great new documentary about the restoration process and a similarly restored version of the Spanish-language version of the movie that was shot on the same sets at the same time with different actors. Universal hasn’t really neglected these titles before and the new box recycles an extensive catalog of Standard Definition documentaries and extras, including at least one commentary track for each movie, specialized documentaries about every film and a feature-length documentary that covers the history of Universal’s horror films.
The only movie that doesn’t quite fit is the Technicolor Phantom of the Opera, which features so much singing from Nelson Eddy and Susanna Foster that it might as well be a musical with a couple of potentially scary bits. There are dozens of other Universal monster sequels I’d rather see upgraded, but the restoration looks fantastic and the movie won an Oscar for cinematography. Rains fares much better as The Invisible Man, a movie that’s a lot more complicated than I realized back when I was eight.
Several of these movies are streaming on Netflix (minus the upgraded images and sound) and watching a few minutes of those versions really drives home what the producers and engineers have achieved with these reissues. If you loved these movies growing up and have the home setup to enjoy Blu-rays, this set is an absolute must-own.