- by Jeff Beck
Universal Classic Monsters 30-Film Collection, Part 2: Selected Sequels (Blu-ray)
In Part 1, we took a look at most of the original Universal monster classics, and now, as promised, it’s time to delve into some of the sequels that followed those beloved films. And so, without further ado, let’s dive right into the first flick.
Starting off our exploration of the sequels is Lambert Hillyer’s “Dracula’s Daughter” from 1936. Picking up right where the original “Dracula” left off, we find Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) admitting to the “murder” of Count Dracula and being taken to Scotland Yard for questioning. Finding himself in a desperate situation, he asks for a psychiatrist friend of his, Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), to help him in his defense. Meanwhile, Countess Marya Zeleska (Gloria Holden), Dracula’s daughter, steals Dracula’s body and burns it, hoping that it will release her from her vampiric curse. When it fails to do so, she turns to Dr. Garth for help, though she obviously doesn’t reveal the entire truth. Will he be able to help her with her little problem, or will she be doomed to remain a vampire forever?
You’d probably be hard-pressed to find anyone’s who’s heard of this sequel, let alone seen in, which is a shame because it’s surprisingly not that bad. It comes off as rather silly, and has a pretty gaping plothole (the Harkers are nowhere to be seen), but its light cheesiness is what makes it rather enjoyable. On top of that, it’s infused with a little humor, which you don’t see much of in the original films, but is quite fitting for the atmosphere given off by this entry. You also get the return of Edward Van Sloan, who gets less screentime than before, but is always a welcome sight. On the whole, it may not be nearly as memorable as the original classic, but it still manages to stand on its own as a decent follow-up.
Next we have James Whale’s “Bride of Frankenstein” from 1935. Picking up where the first film left off, we discover that the monster (Boris Karloff) has survived the fire and escaped into the woods. Meanwhile, Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has been taken back home to be with his fiancée, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson), who nurses him back to health. However, it’s not long before a strange scientist known as Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) comes calling, wanting Henry’s help to create a female monster, who would be a companion for the original monster. He initially refuses, but after The Monster kidnaps his fiancée, he finds he has little choice but to cooperate, which brings him back to his laboratory where the whole nightmare began.
When it comes to the first sequel to “Frankenstein,” there are many that actually consider it just as much a classic as the original, while some even consider it to be superior. I’d have to say that, while it does remain a decent classic, I don’t think it quite reaches the level of the original film, primarily because it feels like it’s repeating a lot of what the first film did, i.e. creating a monster and having a monster run amok in the surrounding area. However, while the story may not offer much in the way of originality, there are plenty of other things to like about it, including memorable performances from Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger, and, of course, Boris Karloff. On top of that, you once again get to admire Jack Pierce’s incredible makeup work and Charles Hall’s stunning art direction. Overall, it’s an intriguing sequel to the original classic, and while it is a little silly (You’ve got to love that handy lever that blows everything up.), it remains an enjoyable flick with several intriguing elements.
Next we come to Christy Cabanne’s “The Mummy’s Hand” from 1940. The film tells of two archeologists, Steve (Dick Foran) and Babe (Wallace Ford), who are stuck in Cairo. When Steve discovers an ancient vase with clues telling of the tomb of an Egyptian Princess, he puts together an expedition with the help of a local magician, Solvani (Cecil Kellaway). Along with Solvani’s daughter, Marta (Peggy Moran), the team sets out to find the tomb, but stumbles upon the resting place of a male mummy instead. Little do they know that this mummy (Tom Tyler) is there to act as a guardian against those that would seek to desecrate the Princess’ tomb, and that there are others keeping watch should the need come to awaken him. As you can probably guess, the mummy is brought to life and murder shortly follows. Will they be able to stop him before he becomes too powerful?
The very first thing that must be said about “The Mummy’s Hand” is that it is much, much closer to what the original “The Mummy” should have been. You may recall that the classic Karloff film is not so much a horror film, but rather a melodramatic love story, which makes it feel out of place when compared to the other Universal classics. However, this sequel, which was made eight years later and barely has a thing to do with the original, actually utilizes the horror elements of the story and Jack Pierce’s incredible makeup to deliver a decent sequel that is actually pretty entertaining. Like “Dracula’s Daughter,” it’s even infused with a little humor thanks to its likeable characters, brought to life by a fine cast. I wouldn’t say it’s particularly great or anything, but it is rather stunning to find that this sequel, which I had never seen or heard of before watching it for this review, ended up being better than the original classic that is still revered to this day. It’s definitely worth checking out if you get the chance.
This brings us to Joe May’s “The Invisible Man Returns” from 1940. The story starts with Geoffrey Radcliff (Vincent Price) facing a death sentence after being falsely accused of his brother’s murder. After a visit from Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton), Geoffrey disappears, having been given a dose of a drug that turns him invisible, the same drug that Frank’s brother originally developed. Geoffrey attempts to hide out with his fiancée, Helen (Nan Grey), while attempting to find out who the true murderer is, but just like Jack Griffin before him, he gradually starts to go mad. Will he be able to locate his brother’s murderer and bring him to justice before he goes completely insane?
In a similar fashion to “Bride of Frankenstein,” this sequel can be accused of covering somewhat similar territory that the original film already did, but the good thing is that it tries to surround the familiar elements with a different plot. Utilizing a kind of murder mystery, though one that they don’t take long to explain, helps set it apart from its predecessor and prevents it from being just a retread of the familiar Wells tale. As with the original, we are treated to some pretty effective special effects for the time from John P. Fulton, who earned an Oscar nod for his work. The Blu-ray upgrade once again reveals a little more than we’re supposed to see (outlines and strings), but just like before, it hardly takes away from the film’s entertainment value. Finally, just like the original Invisible Man had been a breakout role for Claude Rains, the sequel too contains a fantastic early performance from Vincent Price, who likewise skillfully uses his voice and body language to deliver a memorable turn. Overall, this sequel may not be quite on the level of the outstanding original, but it’s a worthy follow up that has plenty to offer.
Next up is Roy William Neill’s “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” from 1943. As the film opens, graverobberts are attempting to steal valuables that were buried with Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.), only to have him turn into the Wolf Man and come back to life. He is found unconscious in the street and brought under the care of Dr. Frank Mannering (Patric Knowles), who, along with Inspector Owen (Dennis Hoey), slowly unravels the mystery of Talbot’s condition. However, Talbot escapes and seeks out the help of an old gypsy woman, Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya). She leads him to the hometown of Dr. Frankenstein, whose work may hold the answer to his condition. With the help of Dr. Mannering and the Baroness Frankenstein (Ilona Massey), he goes about conducting an extremely dangerous experiment with Frankenstein’s Monster (Bela Lugosi) that may give him the eternal rest he desires.
When it comes to the first sequel to “The Wolf Man,” which also acts as the fifth “Frankenstein” film, it unfortunately succumbs to the same problem as the original in that it just doesn’t have a lot to offer in the way of substance. Most of the film is simply Lawrence Talbot going from person to person and place to place as he attempts to find a way to end his life so that he can finally be rid of his curse, which sadly doesn’t make for a particularly compelling film. This is not to mention the bizarre inclusion of Frankenstein’s Monster, who only appears to have been thrown in as a plot device to give Talbot some hope of a cure. With a title like “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man,” obviously the part everyone is waiting for is the big confrontation between the two infamous creatures, but here the film merely disappoints again, as the fight lasts less than two minutes and is interrupted before it can even finish. The premise (the one suggested by the title or the one the film actually uses) could have made for a thrilling and entertaining monster flick, but sadly it’s ultimately unable to utilize it to its full potential.
Next is Jack Arnold’s “Revenge of the Creature” from 1955. The film starts with a group of men returning to the same spot from the last film in an attempt to capture the creature that had killed several of the previous crew. They are successful, but their method leaves the creature in a comatose state as they bring it to an ocean life park in Florida, where he is made one of the exhibits. The creature’s arrival has attracted the attention of Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar) and Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson), who begin to study it after it wakes up, striking up a romantic relationship in the process. Inevitably, the creature kills the guards and escapes, sparking a manhunt to recapture it. Will they be able to find the creature and stop it before it kills again?
When you think about the possibilities for a sequel to “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” the first thought would probably be that it shouldn’t be that hard to come up with something more compelling and entertaining than the original film, which you may recall was rather bland and repetitive. However, there’s also the old saying “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” and by that I mean, since the original was rather popular, it would appear that they decided to churn out a sequel that was pretty similar, and therefore suffered from the same problems.
For the sequel, they opted to basically use “King Kong” as a template by capturing the beast and displaying it, only to have it escape and go on a rampage. However, before we get to any of that, we have endlessly dull scenes of the creature swimming around in its habitat, sometimes alone and sometimes with the two main characters, that only serve to stretch the film out needlessly. During this time, the film falls back on Clete and Helen’s romance, but it’s not nearly enough to make up for the film’s tediousness. Then, when the creature goes about getting its revenge, hardly anything happens, leading up to the exact same ending of the previous film (seriously, it might even have been the same footage). Overall, this is a completely forgettable and unnecessary sequel, one that’s best skipped over like the original.
Finally, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t include at least one of the Abbott & Costello classics, so to wrap up our journey through the Universal monsters, let’s take a look at Charles Barton’s “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” from 1948. The film revolves around two freight handlers, Chick (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur (Lou Costello), who are tasked with delivering two crates to a “House of Horrors.” Little do they know that the crates contain the bodies of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), the former of which is trying to resurrect the latter. Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) had tried to warn them about the monsters, but was too late, forcing him to try and intervene before Dracula can carry out his plan of putting Wilbur’s brain in Frankenstein’s Monster. Will the unlikely pairing of these package handlers and The Wolf Man be able to stop him?
Taking a completely different approach to the material, the Abbott & Costello monster flicks were obviously much lighter in tone when compared to the other Universal classics, and yet, it’s this comedic approach that allowed it to go above and beyond many of the blander sequels that would be churned out by the studio. Not only that, but it also somehow manages to utilize the monsters in a much better fashion than the previous crossover attempts had done. Sure, the plot makes absolutely no sense, but that only adds on to the film’s comedic element, which is already rather strong with the infamous comedic duo headlining it. The film may have its slow points throughout its 83-minute runtime, but its charm is able to carry it all the way through, especially during the amusing hijinks of the last ten minutes. Overall, it allowed the “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” legacies to go out on a high note, while providing a much-needed peak for the “Wolf Man” series, making it the perfect flick to bring this stroll through the classics to a close.
Films Included in the Set, but Not Reviewed:
Werewolf of London (1935), The Invisible Woman (1940), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Invisible Agent (1942), The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), Phantom of the Opera (1943), Son of Dracula (1943), The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944), The Mummy’s Ghost (1944), House of Frankenstein (1944), The Mummy’s Curse (1944), House of Dracula (1945), She-Wolf of London (1946), Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955), and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)
Most of the films are presented in a 1.33:1, 1080p High Definition transfer, while “Revenge of the Creature” is presented in 1.85:1. Once again, the films look absolutely incredible, making them seem practically new again. The Mono 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks for each film are marvelous, giving you the dialogue, score, and sound effects in outstanding quality. Overall, I can’t imagine these films looking or sounding better, which only becomes a further testament to how much work Universal has put into restoring these monster classics.
Bride of Frankenstein:
She’s Alive! Creating The Bride of Frankenstein
The Bride of Frankenstein Archive
Feature Commentary with Scott MacQueen
100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics
The Mummy’s Hand:
The Invisible Man Returns:
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man:
Revenge of the Creature:
Feature Commentary with Actress Lori Nelson and Film Historians Tom Weaver and Bob Burns
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein:
Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters
Feature Commentary with Film Historian Gregory W. Mank
100 Years of Universal: The Lot
100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters
As you can clearly see, extras on the sequels are much scarcer than they are on the original classics, but on the three here that do contain some, at least you get some decent material. Once again, all three contain a commentary track with film professionals, while two of them feature some intriguing and informative featurettes. After having the original films packed with extras, I suppose we should consider it fortunate that there was anything left for any of the sequels. However, it’s worth mentioning that the set also comes with a booklet containing information about some of the films, actors, and crew.
As we bring our journey through the Universal monster classics to a close, it really must be said that this is an outstanding set. Sure, not all of the films are great, and it even contains a few stinkers (which have their own amusing qualities), but having them all together in excellent quality, with lots of fantastic extras, is a dream for any fan of classic horror. However, something else that needs to be pointed out is that the title of the set is a little misleading in that it is not truly “complete,” for Universal has shockingly neglected to include the original “Phantom of the Opera” with Lon Chaney from 1925 (hence why I’ve had to say “most” of the original classics). Anyone can tell you that this is one of the original Universal monster classics, so as to why it’s not in the set is a pretty big mystery. In its place, they have included the inferior 1943 version starring Claude Rains, which, to give another brief review, focuses far too much on its lavish opera scenes and not enough on the story and characters. That glaring omission aside, for all of the amazing material that is contained within, it remains a remarkable set that is most definitely worth adding to your collection.
Now Available on Blu-ray and DVD.
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