Universal Horror

Universal Horror

Universal Horror is the name given to the distinctive series of horror films made by Universal Studios in California from the 1920s through to the 1950s. With their iconic gallery of monsters, Universal would create a lasting impression on generations of avid moviegoers around the world.

1920s (Silent Era)

Universal's earliest success in the horror genre was Lon Chaney's "The Phantom of the Opera" in 1925, for which the actor famously designed and endured a torturous make-up. The interior of the Opéra Garnier was recreated on an epic scale for the film, and remains the longest-standing film-set to this day. It was used for the 1943 remake with Claude Rains, as well as numerous non-horror pictures. The set is contained on Stage 28 at Universal, which was constructed specifically for the film and dubbed "The Phantom Stage."

Having already starred in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" in 1923, Chaney continued to be the studio's most bankable horror star until his premature death from cancer in 1930.
*" The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923)
*" The Phantom of the Opera" (1925)
* "The Cat and the Canary" (1927)
* "The Man Who Laughs" (1928)
* "The Last Warning" (1929)
* "The Last Performance" (1929)

1930s (Golden Age)

In spite of the depression, executive Carl Laemmle Jr produced massive successes for the studio with "Dracula" (directed by Tod Browning) and "Frankenstein" (directed by James Whale), both in 1931.

The success of these two movies not only launched the careers of
Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, but also ushered in a whole new genre of American cinema. With Universal at the forefront, they would continue to build on their box office returns with an entire series of monster movies. These films would also provide steady work for a number of other genre actors including Lionel Atwill, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, and John Carradine. Other regular talents involved were make-up artists Jack Pierce and Bud Westmore, and composers Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner. Many of the horror genre's most well-known conventions -- the creaking staircase, the cobwebs, the swirling mist and the mobs of peasants pursuing monsters with torches -- originated from these films and those that followed.

Next up was "The Mummy" (1932), followed by a trilogy of films based on the tales of Edgar Allan Poe: "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1932), "The Black Cat" (1934) and "The Raven" (1935), the latter two of which teamed up Lugosi with Karloff. Also released was "The Invisible Man" (1933) which proved to be another phenomenal hit and would spawn several sequels. However, of all the Universal monsters, the most successful and sequelized was undoubtedly the Frankenstein series, which continued with "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935). Dracula too had its share of sequels, beginning with "Dracula's Daughter" in 1936, although none would feature its original leading man, Bela Lugosi.

1936 also marked the end of Universal’s first run of horror films as the Laemmle’s were forced out of the studio after financial difficulties and a series of box office flops. The monsters were dropped from the production schedule altogether and wouldn’t re-emerge for another three years. In the meantime the original movies were re-released to surprising success, forcing the new executives to green light "Son of Frankenstein" (1939) starring Basil Rathbone as heir to the Frankenstein legacy.

* "The Cat Creeps" (1930)
* "Dracula" (1931)
* "Dracula (Spanish Version)" (1931)
* "Frankenstein" (1931)
* "The Mummy" (1932)
* "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1932)
* "The Old Dark House" (1932)
* "The Invisible Man" (1933)
* "The Black Cat" (1934)
*" The Raven" (1935)
* "Werewolf of London" (1935)
* "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935)
* "Dracula's Daughter" (1936)
* "The Invisible Ray" (1936)
* "Son of Frankenstein" (1939)
* "Tower of London" (1939)


During the forties, the most successful of the new series of Universal Horror movies was "The Wolf Man" (1941), which also established Lon Chaney, Jr., as the new leading horror actor for the studio.

In 1943, the "Phantom stage" was employed again for a remake of "Phantom of the Opera", this time starring Nelson Eddy and Susanna Foster in a film that was as much musical as horror. Claude Rains played the Phantom.

The Frankenstein and Dracula series continued with "The Ghost of Frankenstein" (1942) and "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" (1943) while "Son of Dracula" (1943) featured Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Count. The Mummy too continued to rise from the grave in "The Mummy's Hand" (1940) and "The Mummy's Tomb" (1942). Eventually all of Universal's monsters would be brought together in: "House of Frankenstein" (1944) and "House of Dracula" (1945), where Dracula was played by John Carradine. As the decade drew to a close the knockabout comedy "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948) proved an instant hit for the studio, with the original Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi starring alongside Lon Chaney, Jr. as Larry Talbot (AKA The Wolf Man), and Glenn Strange, as Frankenstein's monster.

* "Black Friday" (1940)
* "The Invisible Man Returns" (1940)
* "The Invisible Woman" (1940)
* "The Mummy's Hand" (1940)
* "The Wolf Man" (1941)
* "The Ghost of Frankenstein" (1942)
* "Invisible Agent" (1942)
* "The Mummy's Tomb" (1942)
* "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" (1943)
* "Phantom of the Opera" (1943)
* "Son of Dracula" (1943)
* "The Mad Ghoul" (1943)
* "The Climax" (1944)
* "House of Frankenstein" (1944)
* "The Invisible Man's Revenge" (1944)
* "The Mummy's Ghost" (1944)
* "The Mummy's Curse" (1944)
* "House of Dracula" (1945)
* "She-Wolf of London" (1946)
* "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948)

1950s (Monster Revival)

For many, the series had lost much of its impetus towards the end of the 1940s, but with the success of "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (directed by Jack Arnold in 1954) the revived "Universal Horror" franchise would gain a whole new generation of fans. The original movies such as "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" were again re-released as double features in many theatres, before eventually premiering on syndicated American television in 1957 (as part of the famous [http://www.milwaukee-horror-hosts.com/Variety.html "Shock"] run of Universal Monster Movies). Soon dedicated magazines such as "Famous Monsters of Filmland" would help propel these movies into lasting infamy. By the early 60s the monsters were merchandised in the form of toys and model kits, the most famous of which were from the now-defunct Aurora company.

* "Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man" (1951)
* "Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1953)
* "Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy" (1955)
* "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954)
* "Revenge of the Creature" (1955)
* "The Creature Walks Among Us" (1956)

Later influences & homages

In 1957 the legendary Hammer Studios began producing their own series of monster movies in glorious Eastmancolor; Starting with "The Curse of Frankenstein" and followed by the "Horror of Dracula" (1958). Latterly, Universal was also the distributor for several of the films, enabling Hammer to replicate many features of the original Universal horrors for the first time. Most notable was "The Evil of Frankenstein" (1963), in which sets, effects, plot and make-up all borrowed heavily from the Universal Frankenstein series.

From 1964 to 1966, the CBS sitcom "The Munsters" featured a ghoulish family based on several of the Universal characters, including Karloff's Frankenstein and Lugosi's Dracula.

In 1967 the animated stop-motion movie "Mad Monster Party" was released. It proved popular amongst children and featured the voice talents of Boris Karloff.

Mel Brooks's 1974 parody "Young Frankenstein" paid brilliant homage to the films' style. Gerald Hirschfield's black-and-white photography particularly evoked the expressionistic style of the Universal horrors.

Richard O'Brien's "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975) featured the character Magenta (played by Patricia Quinn whose shock hair was modelled on that of the Bride of Frankenstein. The film (and stage play) is a parody of B-movies and the title song "Science Fiction/Double Feature" itself references Universal's own "The invisible Man".

The long running Children's TV favourite "Sesame Street" became an unlikely platform for one of Universal's key figures; Bela Lugosi's Dracula (unofficially) became a Muppet in the guise of Count von Count.

"The Monster Squad", a 1987 film released by Tri-Star Pictures and directed by Fred Dekker, featured Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Ironically, while the character designs were changed slightly so as not to infringe on Universal's copyright, the movie itself was filmed on the Universal backlot.

In 1998, filmmaker Kevin Brownlow made the documentary "Universal Horror". It was narrated by Kenneth Branagh, and featured interviews with many of the original stars.

"The Mummy" was remade in 1999, directed by Stephen Sommers it transformed the original 1931 Mummy film into an action/adventure-horror blockbuster. It also spawned two sequels: "The Mummy Returns" (2001) and ' (2008), and two Spin-off films "The Scorpion King" and '. Sommers also directed "Van Helsing" (2004) featuring the characters of Dracula, The Wolfman and the Frankenstein monster, it was a homage to the classic Universal monster mash up movies of the 1940s, such as the "Frankenstein Meets..." and "The House of..." series, and proved popular at the box office.

"Land of the Dead", a George Romero zombie film, used the original black and white Universal logo as a tip of the hat to the classic Universal Monsters, as did the movie "Dead Silence".

In "Mahou Sentai Magiranger", the main villains in the series each parodied and paid homage to many of the Universal Monsters.

Some of the characters in the video game "Darkstalkers" are inspired in the Universal Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon)

Japanese tokusatsu has also referenced the Universal Monsters, Mahou Sentai Magiranger (which would later become Power Rangers Mystic Force) and Kamen Rider Kiva.

Due for release in 2009 is a direct remake of the original (1941) " Wolf Man", directed by Joe Johnston and starring Benicio del Toro as Lawrence Talbot.

Castlevania based on the video game franchise of the same name, is slated for a 2009 release date and will utilize motifs of the Universal Monsters.

ee also

* Universal Monsters

External links

* [http://www.universalstudiosmonsters.com/ Universal Studios Monsters]
* [http://www.universalmonsterarmy.com/ Universal Monster Army]
* [http://www.stanford.edu/~krouse/ Classic Universal Monsters]
* [http://www.goodstuffcards.com/universal-monsters.htm Universal Monsters Trading Cards]

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