Back in the day
, Universal Pictures
was a minor film studio of modest means, looking to stand out from its competition. Their solution? Create some of the most classic and enduring horror
movie icons in history.
Universal first dabbled in the horror genre with its 1923 adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame
starring Lon Chaney
, but its first true horror movie was its 1925 adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera
, also starring Chaney. It then had a string of successful silent films with German expressionist director Paul Leni and actor Conrad Veidt
before it came roaring into the "talkie" era in 1931 with two movies: Frankenstein
. These two films were smash hits that laid the foundation
for the modern horror genre, helped to establish Universal as a studio to be respected, and made leading men out of their respective stars, Boris Karloff
and Bela Lugosi
. Universal followed this up with The Mummy
in 1932, The Invisible Man
in 1933, and a trilogy of movies based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe
(Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat
and The Raven
), as well as sequels to Dracula
Although Universal took time off from making horror movies in the late 1930s due to financial difficulties, it returned in 1939 with Son of Frankenstein
before introducing in 1941 one of its most enduring films: The Wolfman (1941)
, starring their new leading man, Lon Chaney Jr. They remade Phantom of the Opera
in 1943 and continued making sequels to their now-classic properties. Eventually, these sequels would start giving way to crossovers
featuring all of Universal's monsters
, culminating in the 1948 hit Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
, an Affectionate Parody
of the early horror genre. From here, Universal horror entered a period of dormancy, as the trend in horror movies began to shift toward science gone wrong
and alien invaders
in the Atomic Age
— the only original horror films (not based on existing properties) that Universal made after this point that are still unanimously considered to be "Universal horror" were Creature from the Black Lagoon
in 1954 and The Mole People
However, while production of new horror movies out of Universal came to an end, the monsters were by no means forgotten. Starting in the late 1950s, a British film studio called Hammer Film Productions
began making their own movies based on the same material, in color (often very lurid color
). These portrayals of the classic monsters would be distributed by Universal within America, and left their own mark on the popular image of the characters. Decades later
, The Monster Squad
introduced Universal horror to a new generation of young people, becoming a cult classic in its own right. While it wasn't actually made by Universal (the monster designs were all changed slightly so as not to infringe upon trademarks), it was filmed on their backlots.
Universal itself has also mined its past for ideas. They did a remake
in 1979 starring Frank Langella and Sir Laurence Olivier
, and at the Turn of the Millennium
, they remade The Mummy (1932)
as a series of pulpy, two-fisted Action Adventure
movies, known as The Mummy Trilogy
. They reunited the Wolf Man, Dracula, and Frankenstein's monster for the cheesily good Summer Blockbuster Van Helsing
in 2004, and did a remake
of The Wolf Man
in 2010 starring Benicio Del Toro and Sir Anthony Hopkins
. Remakes of Creature from the Black Lagoon
, The Invisible Man
, and Bride of Frankenstein
have also been announced. Finally, it's perhaps not a coincidence that Universal's theme parks
in Orlando and Hollywood are known across America for having some of the biggest Halloween
celebrations around, collectively known as Halloween Horror Nights
An interesting aspect of Universal Horror for film geeks is that it represents one of the earliest attempts at a shared movie universe
. Through sequels, its Dracula, Frankenstein, and Wolf Man movies were established as sharing a (somewhat loose) continuity, effectively creating
trope. Via movies by Abbott and Costello
, the Invisible Mannote
and the Mummynote
were also added to this shared universe. In later uses for homage and satire, these five "classic" Universal Monsters became somewhat inseparable, and were also frequently featured with the Creature from the Black Lagoon; while "Gill Man" was never established as having any canonical ties to the othersnote
, his popularity appears to have gotten him into the club. Eventually, as a way of promoting Van Helsing
, Universal gave its official stamp of approval to these six "classic" monsters — Count Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Wolf Man, and Gill Man — by releasing six "Legacy" collections, one for each, officially setting them apart from the remainder of Universal Horror (although the Wolf Man collection featured two unrelated films, one of which did not even feature an actual werewolf, to fill space). More recently, there have been plans to create a new, rebooted "Universal Monsters universe", with Dracula Untold
as the first film
in this shared 'verse.
It goes without saying that any horror fan is expected to have at least a passing familiarity with Universal's classic horror films. Until The Seventies
, the Universal monster movie was what most people thought of when they heard the phrase "horror movie". A large number of Horror Tropes
, and employed by these movies, particularly those pertaining to the so-called "classic movie monsters" — vampires
, etc. The modern images of said monsters were more or less created by Universal, to the point where deviations from their classic blueprints
are still regarded as subversions
of the "traditional" rules surrounding them. Also, since the limitations of The Hays Code
meant that Universal couldn't rely on graphic violence
to frighten and titillate viewers, they remain a great way to introduce younger or more squeamish viewers
to horror — which is exactly what they did once TV stations started using them as late-night movies.
Thanks to the Essential Collection, the 8 Major Universal Monsters are officially Count Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The (1943 version
) Phantom of the Opera, and Gill Man. Note: Boris Karloff plays two, the Mummy & Frankenstein's Monster. Also Claude Rains who playes the Invisible Man and the Phantom of the Opera.
- Original novels expanding on the stories of the film series occasionally pop up. Jeff Rovin's 1998 book Return Of The Wolfman continued the adventures of Larry Talbot, and itself received two sequels by David Jacobs. From 2001 to 2002 Scholastic published a six-part series of children's books by Larry Mike Garmon, in which monsters from the films escaped into the real world and had to be hunted down by a trio of 21st century teenagers. Most recently Dark Horse published a series of six Universal Horror novels, each by a different author: Dracula: Asylum, Frankenstein: The Shadow of Frankenstein and Creature From The Black Lagoon: Time's Black Lagoon in 2006, followed by The Mummy: Dark Resurrection, The Wolf Man: Hunter's Moon and The Bride of Frankenstein: Pandora's Bride in 2007.
- Allan Rune Pettersson's novel Frankenstein's Aunt is a young adult parody of, very specifically, the Universal Horror universe.
- Bally's Creature from the Black Lagoon is a game based on both the movie itself (in 3D!) and attending a drive-in to see the movie.
- Monster Bash is an ensemble game, with the player collecting six of the Universal Monsters to form a rock band.
- Halloween Horror Nights, an annual event at Universal Studios Orlando and Hollywood, has featured haunted houses and scarezones based on the classic Universal Horror properties and has been used to promote properties like The Mummy, Van Helsing and The Wolfman (2010) remake as well as properties from other studios. Also notable that the Orlando incarnation of the event has invented original horror icons with detailed backstories that feature heavily in the events and their marketing.
- The Universal Monsters brand has provided fertile ground for trading card manufacturers. Perhaps the most remarkable is the series put out by Kitchen Sink in 1996, which incorporated just about anything remotely horrific that was made by Universal up until 1960. Anyone remember The Man Who Reclaimed His Head?
- Monster Old Maid, a deck for playing Old Maid featuring Universal monsters. Dracula's Daughter is the eponymous Old Maid.