Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection
Universal // Unrated // $199.98 // September 2, 2014
Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted November 2, 2014
M O V I E
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
this review to a friend
R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection:
Perspective is absolutely everything. So, from where you stand, this massive collection might send you into hog heaven, or have you asking for a little bit more. Collecting every damn bit of goodness from the Universal Legacy Collection releases of 2004, (plus a little extra) should please anyone looking to get the foundation of a solid horror movie collection situated on his or her shelf. On the other hand, collectors who have been laboring to build this section of their library for the last ten years might see things slightly differently. As always, your mileage may vary, but as a general rule, I'd be a fool to say this collection isn't anything but highly recommended.

So, what's new, what's old, and what does it matter to you, the DVD collector? What's old? All of it; these are nominally the exact same releases of our classic monster favorite collections already released. You get everything included in the previous single set editions spotlighting Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, (now there's an interesting notion) The Wolf Man, and the Gill-Man (AKA The Creature From The Black Lagoon). These editions as well included stuff presented here for you again, such as the multi-monster films Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein, plus the parody films in which Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein, (sic) the Invisible Man, and The Mummy. Each set, inclusive of all mentioned above, comes with fairly substantial buckets of extras. All of those extras are present and accounted for in this set as well. Sounds pretty good, right?

But wait! There's more! You also get the in-color movie, 1943's Phantom of the Opera starring Claude Rains, and a nice 48-page booklet about the Universal Monsters, including poster art, a chronological listing of the movies' release dates, and more (previously included in the Blu-ray boxed Essentials set). (As an aside, if you didn't already know, check out David J. Skal's "The Monster Show" for some seriously in depth knowledge about this arena.) Some, including this reviewer, would have preferred to see Lon Chaney's Phantom included, but since that film has since lapsed into public domain, and pre-dates the heyday of Universal's monsters, it was calculatedly left out.

For most readers, actual critical reviews of the movies are a foregone affair. Suffice it to say, all of the films included enjoy various degrees of unassailability: they form the backbone of modern cinematic horror as we know it. But ... do you want to pluck down your dollars for this set? My first bit of advice is, don't pay attention to Amazon dot com's pricing schemes. The release has an MSRP of $199.98, which at a per-movie price averages about $6.50 for each of the 30 films included. This - all things considered - is a fine price. However, if you lurk at Amazon, you'll see their price whipsaw between $180 and $90 dollars with bewildering regularity. Caveat emptor is all I can say. You must also consider how many of these releases you already own, and how many you want. I had only managed to reel in Frankenstein and the Gill-Man prior to this set's release, so had I found it for $90 I would have considered it a no-brainer - the time and effort involved in tracking down the other releases individually would have been too much. You'll have to take your own temperature in this regard.

What's somewhat curious is the current lack of a comprehensive Blu-ray collection - which is what the heavy heads really want - and the somewhat blah presentation of this set. Each Monster gets its own bog-standard black keepcase, with flippers (30 movies spread out over 21 discs in six cases) and uninspiring artwork. The whole affair is encapsulated in a stiff paper slipcover that speaks of a lack of inspiration, or looks like a stopgap measure. Hello, 2005 is what I'm saying. For a collection that merely gathers together and repackages pre-existing elements, a little more effort where packaging is concerned would have been nice. That said; horror fans should know that owning all of these movies is absolutely essential, and here they all are, under one roof, at what is either a decent or really decent price. One way or another, this set is Highly Recommended.

The Movies

Dracula (1931)
Dracula (Spanish version) (1931)
Dracula's Daughter (1936)
Son of Dracula (1943)

Frankenstein (1931)
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

The Mummy (1932)
The Mummy's Hand (1940)
The Mummy's Tomb (1942)
The Mummy's Ghost (1944)
The Mummy's Curse (1944)

The Invisible Man (1933)
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
The Invisible Woman (1940)
Invisible Agent (1942)
The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944)

Werewolf of London (1935)
The Wolf Man (1941)
She-Wolf of London (1946)

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) (Not in 3D)
Revenge of the Creature (1955) (Not in 3D)
The Creature Walks among Us (1956)

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
House of Frankenstein (1944)
House of Dracula (1945)

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

The Phantom of the Opera (1943)

Bela Lugosi is indeed dead, but he lives on with his multiple turns throughout the Universal horror canon. By today's standards, his wooden appeal is mysterious. But boy could he stare! Karloff, empirically the better actor, brings pathos and humor to his Frankenstein's Monster, as well as regal shambling grace to The Mummy. His performance in Bride of Frankenstein, certainly, is one for the ages. Claude Rains camps it up with fussy-and-crazed delight as The Invisible Man, while bringing thespian skill to his (color) version of The Phantom of the Opera. Lon Chaney Jr. is perhaps the most hangdog performer (pun intended) of the entire Universal oeuvre. It's hard not to love his Wolf Man, and want to bring him home so he can just curl up in front of your fireplace.

For my money, the relatively contemporary-feeling Black Lagoon films still pack the best punch, with a feeling of menace, great underwater action, and one of the best zippered-suit monsters going. By the time of Universal's various monster mash-ups (and proof that sequelitis started long ago) in the late '40s, it was clear that people were looking to these movies for cheap thrills as much as dripping atmosphere. Abbott and Costello pretty much cemented the end of the era with their comic takes on Dracula, The Monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and The Invisible Man, though their silly films are master classes in old-fashioned comedy, and still hilarious today.

If you're any kind of Monster Movie fan, you know all about the Legacy Collection, and have at the very least been eyeing the individual editions for years. You know that they all come packed with commentary tracks, documentaries and more - far too many to list here. Absent a complete Blu-ray collection, this massive set is essential for lifetime horror fans and those newly minted. Highly Recommended.

The DVD

Video:
Most all transfers are the same as from the 2004 editions, and all of them look quite nice for movies of this vintage. The premier titles, (Dracula, Frankenstein etc. - basically the first movie in each series) are new transfers made for the Blu-ray Essentials collection, and they look fantastic. Most presentations are 1.33:1 ratio transfers, but film damage is at a bare minimum, the images are pretty sharp, and lovely film grain adds to the atmosphere.

Sound:
Audio is good in all cases, and presumably unchanged from the 2004 editions.

Extras:
Every single stinkin' extra included in each individually released Legacy Collection is included here for you. Nothing new, however. The 48-page booklet is the same as that included in the Blu-ray Essentials Collection. If you have not experienced any (or many) of the Legacy Collection releases, you can expect a scholarly, entertaining education regarding each Universal Monster and his or her cinematic history through multiple commentary tracks, lengthy documentaries and more. Way more.

Final Thoughts:
Clocking in at about $200, though often steeply discounted, this is a hefty collection. However, with 30 movies and tons of extras, this set is still kind of a good deal and an easy way to start or complete your (or someone else's) library of Monster madness. (With the set often priced at $88, the deal is even better.) However, there are many who lament this as simply a huge double dip for previously released material, when a new massive aggregation on Blu-ray might be preferable. You will have to take your own temperature in that regard. As an easy to obtain omnibus, and essential for all horror fans, I'll still call it Highly Recommended.

Check out DVD Savant's excellent take on this collection here.



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