The Universal Monsters are and will always be the premiere legacy franchises in horror. Before New Line was the House That Freddy Built, Universal built itself on the backs of Dracula and Frankenstein. These movies, these characters, are iconic in every possible way. They’ve endured for nearly a century. And even though some of the stories are much older than that, these characters, these images, will always be the very first that pop into people’s heads when they hear the names. This is a legacy worth honoring, and the Universal Classic Monsters Blu-Ray collection has thankfully done just that.
The films themselves need no introduction. We all know them, we all grew up with them. These are some of the most iconic characters in movie (and, in some cases, literary) history. But even some fans of these characters might have a few blind spots. I know I did. There were features in this collection I could have sworn I’d seen at some point, but were entirely new to me. That’s what this set offers. It’s everything, and unless you already own each of the individual Legacy collections, there are bound to be corners of this classic universe that you’ll be seeing for the first time. And given the treatment of each of the movies on Blu-ray, there’s no better way to see them than the Universal Classic Monsters Collection.
Each set contains each film to feature that monster, so you’ll find a copy of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in the sets for The Wolf Man, Frankenstein and Dracula. I much prefer this setup, with the individual sets in a larger box, convenient to pull out on their own, to the fold-out sleeves of something like the Chucky or Friday the 13th complete collections.
Visually, the packaging for The Universal Classic Monsters Box set looks terrific. Packaging isn’t everything, but it goes a long way toward encouraging someone to buy, and for a fan of these characters, this set is definitely going to catch your attention, wisely rendered in black & white with all of the monsters readily on display. The transfers are stunning, for the most part. That’s the largest appeal of the set, for me, as someone who’d only upgraded to one or two of these movies on Blu-ray. These features are obviously not new, but the treatment they’re given makes them pop like never before. Major classics like The Wolf Man and Frankenstein are gorgeously remastered in HD, but even later sequels like House of Frankenstein look just as crisp and clear.
The only exception to this is the Creature from the Black Lagoon set, which has issues including Revenge of the Creature being rendered in standard definition and Creature Walks Among Us only being available in the 2D version. But thankfully, Universal is aware of that particular issue and is offering a disc replacement program to give both of those sequels the same treatment as every other film in the set. That’s incredibly important to note, as this oversight of an issue was really the only holdup on an otherwise terrific set.
There also aren’t any special features exclusive to the thirty film collection, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a fair amount of special features in general. For one thing, there’s actual thirty-one films in total as the set also includes the Spanish language version of Dracula filmed on the same sets as the English language version. Thirteen of the movies feature commentaries from film historians, which is terrific. Even if you know these films, there are surprises to be had. The Mummy Dearest documentary, like that The Mummy was actually the first time Karloff was billed as Boris Karloff, as before that he’d only been credited as “Karloff the Uncanny.” Maybe the highlight of all the documentaries, though, is a spotlight on makeup legend Jack Pierce, which appears on both the Wolf Man and Mummy sets.
The Universal Classic Monsters Collection also comes with a 45-page booklet that features great poster artwork and photos and is really well put together, giving a condensed history of the studio and the major storytellers and actors involved. It doesn’t offer you anything that you won’t also learn in the special features on the discs themselves, but the booklet still serves as a perfect companion, something to flip through at your leisure and convenience, and I simply love the trend of including booklets like this in Blu-ray sets in general.
That’s just a glimpse of what it has to offer, though. This set is teeming with not just the stories of the films themselves, but stories of these legendary actors, directors, the exhausting makeup process of The Mummy, the pressures of Lon Chaney to break out from his father’s shadow when Universal wanted to promote his famous name, the Lugosi/Karloff rivalry, the special effects wizardry (at the time) that went into The Invisible Man. There’s so much here. This isn’t just horror movie history, this is movie history, and it’s stunning. The Universal Classic Monsters collection is available now.
WICKED RATING: 8.5/10