Spooky season means it is time to celebrate with the brand spanking new 4K Ultra HD release of Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection—an instantly iconic four film package that compiles Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and The Wolf Man! These classic movies from the 30s and early 40s have never looked better, and the discs are loaded with special features. For curious horror aficionados, there has simply never been a better way to experience them. As far as the movies themselves are concerned, milage may vary, particularly from a modern standpoint. Movies from this time period have an indelible charm to them, but are substantially slower-paced than what audiences may be acquainted to watching.
First up is Tod Browning’s 1931 classic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Before starting this vampire classic, I was surprised to see an available option for the audio track to include a beautiful alternative score from Candyman composer Philip Glass. Watching the movie in this way adds an extra oomph to the simple tale of a man on a journey to the castle of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi). A layer of fog rolls in as a hand emerges from out of a sea of caskets. One can see every detail in these eerie sets, from the massive cobwebs all the way down to the silly bat effects.
1931’s Frankenstein is next, with Boris Karloff’s depiction of the monster being a highlight of this set. It takes a very long time to get into the meat and potatoes so to speak, but when you hear “It’s alive!” for the first time, there is no question as to why this was such a game changer at the time. The most stunning visual in this one is of a little girl giving the monster a flower, with a beautiful lake background popping in black and white.
The best of the bunch for me was 1933’s The Invisible Man, featuring Claude Rains as the titular sassy character. With a snowy atmosphere and charmingly poor special effects, the humor and camp quotient is high indeed. My favorite scene is a shocking undressing with evil cackling laughter, as he bellows “I’ll show you who I am and what I am!” Another where bumbling guards form a chain around a house and try to catch the invisible man as he toys with them broadly highlights the comedy.
Up last both critically and sequentially, The Wolf Man showcases far too little of the titular wolf for my tastes. It begins in a peculiar way—the opening credits give an intro to each character before the film proper ever takes flight. Lon Chaney is terrific, and the big transformation itself is fantastic. As a full movie, the obvious padding for time is glaring and frustrating. There is maybe a full ten minute chunk of wolf. Horror and story progression is nearly altogether absent.
In the end, all four of these movies are worth watching at least once. The packaging is bold and sleek, splitting up the films by year of release, with a 4K disc on one side and a standard blu-ray disc on the other. The layout is appealing and stylish, with artwork containing retro posters adoring each disc like layers of a book. One hopes that in the future, a 4K release of the various sequels will be released to accompany this stellar collection.
The Invisible Man
The Wolf Man
Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection is out now on 4K Ultra HD Blu-Ray.