Universally Speaking

With Halloween right around the corner, let’s continue with our talk on movies, especially horror films. I am not a big fan of the gore type films, but prefer the classic black and white films, where there was a mystery involved, where you sometimes don’t see the monster until the end (some of you have seen these gems if you’ve ever watched Mystery Science Theater 3000). However, my favorite horror films are the ones that were brought by The Universal Film Company, most famously know as the Universal Monsters.
During the years 1920- 1960, Universal films were the kings of the horror film genre, starting with their first films with Lon Chaney Sr., in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, which where both silent films. Chaney designed his own make up in Hunchback, and the set in the opera house was even used in the non-silent film of Phantom starring Claude Rains.
In 1931, two movies were made that created the most famous Universal films in the genre, Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, and Dracula with Bela Lugosi, which to this day are the two most recognized actors to play the roles (By the way, can you name the only actor to play all the major characters- Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, The Mummy, and The Wolf Man? I’ll let you think for a bit). The Frankenstein Monster has been the most used character for sequels due to the popularity of the films.
Universal also made more movies in the 1940s with my favorite The Wolf Man, with Lon Chaney Jr. and a remake of Phantom. In the 1950s, The Creature from the Black Lagoon was made, along with the British Hammer Films starting to use the basis of the Dracula and The Monster characters for their films, which added more blood and sexuality, as opposed to the Universal ones. Taking nothing away from the Hammer films, which usually starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, they lacked the depth and creating acting in my eyes. (I tend to like the originals in films because they were new and not seen before).
Universal has re-released some of these famous films on Blu Ray and DVD recently at a cheaper cost as well, in a boxed set or individual films (although I have only seen the individual ones on Blu Ray, however at less than $10 a DVD, I can get more for my dollar, and the box sets run under $20). Another great thing about these films are the run time of the films-most run around and hour and ten minutes. This is great because 1. You can watch more of them in a night and 2. They are not drawn out and bore the audience with meaningless talk in the story.
So if you are looking to see some good horror films with great acting this Halloween season, check out the Universal Films from the early 1940s and beyond. You will get to see early film history.
The answer to the trivia question was Lon Chaney Jr. He played The Wolf Man in 5 movies; he played The Monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein, Dracula in Son of Dracula, and played The Mummy in 3 movies. Did you get the answer?


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