Universal’s Dracula

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula in 1931.

I have been a fan of Universal horror and monster movies in general since I was a very young boy growing up in Rochester, New York. Friday night Chiller Theater, Saturday afternoon Commander USA Groovie Movies, et al, introduced me to a wonderful world of science gone wrong, things that go bump in the night, and Gothic horror. Also, I was an avid reader and would have my parents order books for me from the Scholastic Weekly Reader. Dracula and Frankenstein were easy choices for me. When I was tasked with creative writing assignments in school, my musings always danced into the macabre. 

With the advent of motion pictures at the turn of the last century (1900), horror was a natural choice for visually rich material. Naturally, literature has always been a great source for movies and television shows, especially horror. Before movies, people flocked to theaters for plays and musicals, the symphony, the opera, and the ballet for their entertainment.  

But, when it comes to horror, adapting those written works has been hit and miss over the past 120 years. In 1910, Edison Studios took a run at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in a largely forgotten silent movie. J. Searle Dawley directed this roughly 13-minute treatment in what is considered the very first horror film. It wasn’t until the 1920s when moviegoers packed theaters that horror films took center stage. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Haxan (1922), The Golem (1922), The Phantom Carriage (1921), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920), and Nosferatu (1922) thrilled audiences in ways never before imagined.

In 1925, Universal Studios, under the direction of Carl Laemmle Sr., and his son, Carl Laemmle, Jr., launched the first cinematic universe with perhaps the greatest silent horror movie ever made, The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney and Mary Philbin. Not all of the movies got sequels, not all of the characters got complete story arcs, but I thought it would be fun to tackle the monsters who did.  

German filmmaker F.W. Murnau made his seminal film, Nosferatu, in 1922 without permission from Bram Stoker’s widow and had to change many elements from the novel, including names and plot points. Florence Balcombe Stoker sued and won and all copies of Nosferatu were to be destroyed. Luckily for us, at least one survived.

While the burgeoning movie industry was finding its footing in the 1920s, Hamilton Deane’s stage adaptation of Dracula, was terrorizing audiences. With a revision from John Balderston, Dracula, with Bela Lugosi, descended on Broadway in 1927. Universal secured the rights from Stoker’s estate for an authorized adaptation of the novel. Due to budgetary constraints and other factors, Dracula would be adapted from Deane and Balderston’s stage production rather than the book. 

According to RogerEbert.com, Lon Chaney was cast to play Dracula, but died of lung cancer before he could take on the role. I have watched numerous documentaries, read several articles, and gotten into a few social media arguments, and nowhere can I find that Chaney was ever offered an actual contract to play Dracula. Tod Browning, who had directed Chaney in several earlier films, was tapped to direct. 

Hungarian-born Bela Lugosi was not Universal’s first choice to play the legendary vampire despite the success of the stage play. His command of the English language was spotty and his accent was thick. Lugosi wanted the part so badly he took a mere pittance compared to what he should have been able to command. He was eventually cast as Count Dracula, with Edward Van Sloan (Professor Van Helsing) and Herbert Bunston (Dr. John Seward) coming over from the stage production as well.  

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula

Attention: Spoilers ahead.    

I have resisted it in other articles I’ve written, but I feel the need to do it now. It’s important to note the differences between the novel and the film. In Bram Stoker’s book, a solicitor named Jonathan Harker is dispatched to Transylvania to complete a real estate transaction with Count Dracula, a local nobleman who desires to move to London. Harker completes the transaction, and is imprisoned in Dracula’s castle, accosted by three vampire women (the brides of Dracula). Dracula boards a ship called the Demeter and transports himself and 50 boxes of his native soil to be placed at his new home at Carfax Abbey and strategically throughout London. 

Meanwhile, Mina Murray and her friend Lucy Westenra spend time together while Lucy is courted by Dr. John Seward, an American named Quincey P. Morris, and Arthur Holmwood. Dracula arrives next door to Seward’s insane asylum, distributes his boxes around town, attacks Lucy and begins her transformation into a vampire. Dracula’s psychic connection to a patient named Renfield emerges along the way. 

Eventually, Harker escapes from Dracula’s castle, sends word to his fiance Mina, who travels to Transylvania, marries Jonathan and the pair heads back to England. Seward is called in to help Lucy who has taken ill thanks to the vampire next door, and he in turn involves his mentor, Professor Van Helsing. Lucy becomes a vampire, her mother dies of a heart attack and a manhunt for the perpetrator is undertaken. Long story short, after setting his fangs on Mina, Dracula is found out and chased back to Transylvania where he is destroyed just outside his castle and Mina is released from his influence. 

Dracula – 1931

In the film released on February 14, 1931, which begins with music from Swan Lake over the opening credits, it is Renfield who travels to Transylvania to complete the deal with the Count, is attacked by the “brides,” and returns to London in short order with Dracula and just three boxes of earth aboard the Vesta. Renfield is played with relish by Dwight Frye. Lugosi’s Dracula utters two iconic lines upon Renfield’s arrival, “Children of the night, what music they make,” and, “I never drink … wine.” Upon arrival in England, Dracula, in the form of a wolf, jumps ship and leaves Renfield in the cargo hold. Upon his discovery as the sole survivor (Dracula has killed the crew), Renfield is committed to Seward’s asylum. 

After attacking a female street vendor, Dracula attends the symphony where he meets Seward, Jonathan Harker, Mina Seward (not Murray, and now Seward’s daughter), and Lucy Western (not Westenra). Dr. Seward is an older gentleman, unlike the young man of the novel, Morris and Holmwood do not appear in the film at all. That night Dracula attacks Lucy (Frances Dade) in her bed. Van Helsing is called in to consult, and he comes to the conclusion that the peddler and Lucy were killed by a vampire. Dracula then sets his sights on Mina, played by Helen Chandler. 

Much of the film relies on spoken exposition rather than showing what actually happens. One of the asylum’s orderlies, Martin (Charles Gerrard), reads a newspaper article detailing Lucy’s exploits molesting children as she has now become a vampire. Renfield does a lot of explaining of Dracula’s machinations as well.

David Manners plays Harker, and he is aghast at Dracula’s attentions toward Mina. Van Helsing reveals Dracula to be the vampire they’ve been looking for. In a long-winded monologue, Renfield explains several supernatural things Dracula has done, and Dracula himself announces his claim on Mina. Harker and Van Helsing pursue Dracula to his coffin in the catacombs of Carfax Abbey, and while Harker searches for Mina, Van Helsing dispatches Dracula with a wooden stake driven through his heart. Dracula’s hold on Mina is severed. 

There are several wonderful elements in the film. Helen Chandler’s transformation into a creature of the night takes place before our very eyes, and those of David Manners as Harker. Her facial expressions are the stuff of nightmares. Lugosi’s delivery of several important lines are done with over-enunciation, and coupled with his accent, create even more menace. Van Helsing’s battle of wills with Dracula as he resists the Count’s hypnotic abilities is a key moment in the movie. Dwight Frye’s portrayal of Renfield is often imitated, almost as much as Lugosi is. 

Bela Lugosi turns in a character- and genre-defining performance. Many actors have played Count Dracula, many were better thespians than Lugosi, but it is Lugosi’s Count we impersonate and emulate, not Christopher Lee or Gary Oldman or Frank Langella. Unfortunately, Lugosi would only play Count Dracula on the big screen one more time. 

Dracula’s Daughter – 1936

It took five years for Universal to make a sequel. Dracula’s Daughter was released in 1936. The studio had already brought Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and The Mummy (1932) to life in the interim, RKO had their own monstrous hit in 1933 with King Kong, and Paramount had jumped into the monster business in 1931, the same year as Dracula, with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Frederic March. 

Edward Van Sloan reprises his role as Van Helsing, now called Von Helsing for some reason. Von Helsing feels the need to confess to the murder of Count Dracula. His friend Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), a noted psychiatrist of some renown, comes to his aid. Meanwhile, a certain Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) arrives in London. 

The term “Dracula’s Daughter” is a misnomer. Zaleska is not Count Dracula’s traditional biological child, she is a victim turned vampire like Lucy in the original film. And like Van Helsing did with freeing Mina from Dracula’s influence in the first film, Zaleska thinks that if she can destroy her maker, she will be rid of her vampiric curse. She steals and burns Dracula’s body, to no avail. She turns to Garth who thinks he can treat her for her “addiction” as if she was an alcoholic or drug addict … to no avail. 

Zaleska, a painter, lures her female victims in with the promise of modeling work and food and drink with her servant Sandor’s help. The fascinating thing here is Zaleska’s overt lesbiansim and the fact that the film, directed by Lambert Hillyer and written by Garrett Fort, doesn’t shy away from it.

During one scene set in a social situation, Zaleska delivers the iconic line, “I never drink … wine.”

Zaleska kidnaps Garth’s assistant and races back to Transylvania, much like Dracula in the original novel. Garth follows but it is Sandor who dispatches Zaleska as revenge for not making him immortal.

Son of Dracula – 1943

We all know Lon Chaney, Jr., as Larry Talbot, a.k.a. The Wolf Man. But in 1943 he took on the role of Count Dracula in Son of Dracula directed by Robert Siodmak, and written by Curt Siodmak and Eric Taylor. Somehow, Dracula has been resurrected and transported back to Transylvania where he meets and enchants Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton). She invites Dracula, who now calls himself “Alucard,” to her family’s estate in the deep southern United States. Katherine plays Dracula for a chump, using him to gain immortality, eventually burning Dracula in his coffin in a bayou graveyard.

Allbritton is absolutely stunning when she becomes a vampire. There is a haunting beauty to her as she lay on her deathbed.

Many criticize Chaney for his performance, but I watched the film again not that long ago and he’s actually not that bad. He’s not Lugosi and he doesn’t try to be. There’s a meanness and cruelty to his effort.

House of Frankenstein – 1944

After each monster got their “origin” story if you will (and a sequel or two) – Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster in 1931, Kharis the mummy in 1940, and The Wolf Man in 1941 – Universal sought to continue to milk the cash cow that was their stable of monsters and decided mash-up films were the way to go. The first, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, was released in 1943. I won’t go into detail here as Dracula does not appear in this movie. However, Count Dracula makes a bit of a triumphant return in House of Frankenstein as Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man are also featured. 

Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.,) is continuing his search for a cure for his lycanthropy, Frankenstein’s monster, now played by Glenn Strange, has become an unwitting pawn, and the remains of Dracula (somehow), now played by John Carradine, are part of the Lampini traveling sideshow. Boris Karloff stars as the deranged Dr. Niemann who escapes from prison with his assistant. They murder Profesor Bruno Lampini (George Zucco) and Niemann masquerades as Lampini’s brother. Niemann recruits Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s monster for an elaborate revenge plot. The film takes place near the fictional villages of Frankenstein and Vasaria, thought to be in Switzerland. The website Movies and Mania does a better job than I ever could explaining the geography of the Dracula and Frankenstein films.

As I mentioned, John Carradine takes over the role of Dracula. According to Movies and Mania, Lugosi was set to return as the Count, but scheduling conflicts with Lugosi and Karloff led to the casting of Carradine. It has been suggested that Carradine’s appearance was more like what Stoker had intended. White hair, white mustache, etc. But I just don’t buy it. The filmmakers at Universal had long since departed from the source material and the fact that Carradine bore some resemblance to the literary character is pure coincidence. I came across a 1996 documentary series called 100 Years of Horror hosted by Christopher Lee (available on Amazon Prime), and in it John Carradine did in fact say that his appearance in the movie was supposed to resemble the way Stoker described the character in the novel. It wasn’t quite exact and Carradine said compromises were made, but that was the intention. So, I stand corrected.

I have two issues with Carradine’s performance. As distinct as his voice was, he comes across as folksy and down-home, not as a Transylvanian nobleman (neither did Chaney). The other issue is the wardrobe. Nowhere in the novel does Dracula wear a tuxedo, yet because Lugosi did, almost every Dracula adaptation puts the character in a cape and tuxedo. Lugosi wore a top hat the night he went to the symphony, now the top hat is part of Carradine’s accoutrements. This could be part of the compromises Carradine spoke of. I did not care for Carradine’s portrayal of Count Dracula. He is masquerading as “Baron Latos,” which makes little to no sense.  

Erle C. Kenton directed this film from Edward T. Lowe and Curt Siodmak’s screenplay.   

House of Dracula – 1945

John Carradine returns as Count Dracula/Baron Latos, Lon Chaney, Jr., continues as Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man, Glenn Strange is back as Frankenstein’s monster, and Onslow Stevens plays Dr. Franz Edlemann. Dracula and Talbot seek out Edlemann to rid them of vampirism and lycanthropy, respectively. Dracula is a long way off from denying his proclivities as he targets Edlemann’s nurse. Carradine does a serviceable job while trying to seduce his victim, but the costume and his folksy demeanor just don’t work for me. 

Eventually, Frankenstein’s monster is found and chaos ensues. Edlemann becomes infected with Dracula’s blood and decides he’d rather be a monster than a scientist. 

House of Dracula also takes place in the fictional village of Vasaria. 

These last two entries in this piece are as brief as Dracula’s presence. He has a larger role in House of Dracula than House of Frankenstein, and he is much more menacing and nefarious in House of Dracula, but he is still little more than a sidebar character.

Erle C. Kenton directed and Edward T. Lowe wrote an original screenplay.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein – 1948

By the late 1940s, Universal had bled their stable of monsters dry and decided to give them one more go by teaming them up in a comedy film with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Bela Lugosi finally returns as Dracula, 17 years after the original film. He’d like to give the Frankenstein monster, played once again by Glenn Strange, a new brain and he’s selected Wilbur (Costello). Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) is wise to Dracula’s machinations and has designs on stopping him.

Wilbur and Chick (Abbott) are useful idiots and are delightful as their comedic talents are on full display. Lugosi’s Dracula spends most of the film covering his face with his cape, ostensibly to hide his age (?). He has inexplicably become a doctor or a scientist of some variety. I guess you can pick up all kinds of skills if you are immortal. 

This was a fun movie and it was great to see Lugosi don the cape one more time. He is delightfully menacing and up to no good, even if many of the plot points don’t make any sense. 

To summarize Dracula’s story arc:

He travels to London where he is eventually staked by Van Helsing, he is destroyed by fire by his progeny Marya Zeleska, somehow returns to Central Europe and then destroyed by fire in the deep south of the United States, his remains are then acquired, transported (somehow) back to Central Europe and displayed by Bruno Lampini as part of a traveling show and he is resurrected when escaped lunatic Niemann (who has taken over Lampini’s show) removes a stake from his rib cage. Niemann then uses sunlight to destroy the Count. Dracula returns (somehow) and seeks out Dr. Edlemann for a cure to his vampirism. Instead he tries to corrupt Edlemann’s nurse and inadvertently turns Edlemann into a monster. This time it’s Edlemann who uses sunlight to dispatch Dracula. The Count returns (somehow) as he is shipped to Florida and is eventually killed as a bat by Larry Talbot in Wolf Man form.   

Universal’s treatment of the Dracula character after the first film doesn’t make much sense. Aside from what similarities there are in the first film, Dracula strays from the source novel almost immediately. He is irrelevant in the sequel other than to set up the events that follow. Son of Dracula makes no sense and he is a secondary character in House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula as Boris Karloff and Onslow Stevens steal their respective shows. Lugosi’s return in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is more of a love letter to the monster he created rather than furthering the character’s narrative. The deaths, resurrections and transportation of Dracula from film to film make absolutely no sense. 

I wrote a piece not that long ago detailing the movie and TV adaptations and portrayals of Dracula by a slew of actors. Lugosi far and away set the bar for everyone else who followed. His deliberate mannerisms, his enunciation, his speech patterns, his glare set the standard for the character for decades to come.

Bela Lugosi: Dracula, 1931
Lon Chaney, Jr: Son of Dracula, 1943
John Carradine: House of Frankenstein, 1944
John Carradine: House of Dracula, 1945
Bela Lugosi: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, 1948

I have often said that Dracula is the greatest literary villain ever created. Lugosi made the character his own and everyone who has played Dracula since has been chasing Lugosi’s bat-shaped shadow ever since. The 1931 Dracula has always been my favorite Universal monster movie.  

“The blood is the life.”  

My 100 Favorite Horror Films as a List

It struck me that the Countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Films does not exist as a true numerical list anywhere. So, from now until Halloween, I will just continue to update this blog entry.

100. Brides of Dracula
99. Horror of Dracula
98. Sleepwalkers
97. The Ritual
96. The Lair of the White Worm
95. Spellbinder
94. Sinister
93. Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight
92. The Void
91. They
90. Mansquito
89. Pumpkinhead
88. Wishmaster
87. Mimic
86. The Relic
85. Pitch Black
84. Jeepers Creepers
83. The Witch
82. Pet Sematary
81. Night Breed
80. The Fog
79. Underworld
78. Fright Night
77. Prince of Darkness
76. The Howling
75. The Beast Must Die
74. Ginger Snaps
73. Countess Dracula
72. The Vampire Lovers
71. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter
70. Twins of Evil
69. Satanic Rites of Dracula
68. Dracula: Prince of Darkness
67. 30 Days of Night
66. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
65. Lifeforce
64. Taste the Blood of Dracula
63. House of 1,000 Corpses/Devil’s Rejects/Three from Hell
62. Candyman
61. Ghost Story
60. The Conjuring
59. The Amityville Horror
58. Spring
57. 28 Days Later
56. The Shining
55. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
54. The People Under the Stairs
53. Fallen
52. IT
51. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
50. 1408
49. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
48. Re-Animator
47. From Beyond
46. The Fly
45. Poltergeist
44. Saw
43. Phantom of the Opera
42. The Birds
41. Sleepy Hollow
40. Shadow of the Vampire
39. Nosferatu the Vampyre
38. Nosferatu
37. Angel Heart
36. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
35. The Invisible Man
34. The Creature from the Black Lagoon
33. The Curse of the Werewolf
32. Creepshow
31. The Ring
30. Tarantula
29. Eyes without a Face
28. From Dusk Till Dawn
27. House of Dracula
26. House of Frankenstein
25. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
24. Son of Frankenstein
23. The Mummy
22. Rosemary’s Baby
21. Carrie
20. Let Me In/Let the Right One In
19. The Exorcist III
18. Hellraiser
17. NIght of the Living Dead
16. An American Werewolf in London
15. The Lost Boys
14. Godzilla/Gojira
13. The Omen
12. The Thing
11. Evil Dead Franchise
10. Alien
9. Psycho
8. Jaws
7. The Wolf Man
6. Frankenstein
5. Bride of Frankenstein
4. Dracula
3. King Kong
2. Halloween
1. The Exorcist

Drum Roll Please … The Top Three

The Countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Films comes to a close with the Top 3. Ending a bit early this year so you can find something new and different, or an old favorite to watch. Thank you for reading. I hope you found this list interesting and informative.

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This is my favorite movie of all-time. That may surprise a lot of people considering my affection for Gothic horror. I know much of the dialogue by heart. A film crew goes to a remote island to film what has never been seen by any “white man.” Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is the intrepid filmmaker who drags destitute Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) along on a a voyage helmed by Captain Englehorn and first mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot). Driscoll falls for Ann along the way.

After landing on Skull Island, Ann is kidnapped by the natives and offered as a sacrifice to Kong, a giant gorilla. The crew encounters all kinds of prehistoric creatures as they try to rescue Ann. Eventually, Driscoll rescues her and Denham hatches a plan to take Kong to New York, with predictable disastrous results.

This film, a pipe dream by Merian C. Cooper, pioneered so many movie making techniques and effects. Willis O’Brien established himself as one of the great effects people in Hollywood, and I have a special place in my heart for sound effects man Murray Spivack. A sequel, Son of Kong followed almost immediately, and two major remakes, in 1976 and 2005 respectively, have their finer points and their not so finer points. Kong Skull Island was released in 2017 and it sets up a potential matchup with Godzilla as part of the American monsterverse that started with the 2014 Godzilla film, followed by Godzilla: King of the Monsters.


I don’t like slasher films but I like this one. I’m not a Nightmare on Elm Street fan, I don’t like Friday the 13th.

This is the quintessential Halloween scary movie. Jamie Lee Curtis carries on her mother’s scream queen legacy and Donald Pleasence continues his run as a horror movie veteran. P.J. Soles (Stripes) is also in this one. In Haddonfield, Illinois, Six-year-old Michael Myers murders his sister and comes back 15 years later on Halloween after escaping from the mental asylum that has kept him. You never know what drives his murderous rage. And you never find out how he learned how to drive.

It’s suspenseful, there isn’t a lot of gore, the soundtrack pulses throughout the movie. The opening tracking shot is a signature moment in John Carpenter’s career. There are some fascinating tidbits. Myers iconic mask is actually a William Shatner mask with the eye holes enlarged. This film launched a genre and that’s why it’s on this list. Plus, it’s set on and around Halloween.

If you watch one slasher movie … watch this one. The sequel is serviceable, Halloween III is a stand-alone and should have been called something else, and the rest of the franchise just goes off the rails.

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Ellen Burnstyn, Max von Sydow and of course, Linda Blair, star in what I believe is the scariest movie ever made. I know what’s coming, I’ve seen this film numerous times, I know what’s coming and I still jump. It gets me every time … every freaking time. This is the movie that defines demonic possession movies for all time. Nothing comes close.

I grew up sort of Catholic and this movie speaks to me on so many levels. Watch the extended version with the “crab walk” scene if you can.  Watching The Exorcist is my Halloween tradition and I will be watching the Director’s Cut again this year.

Released in 1973, few films, if any, have caused the in-theater reaction this movie did. Blair injured her back during filming and there are all kinds of legends surrounding the making of the movie.

Happy Halloween everyone. I know things are way different and extremely challenging this year due to the pandemic. There’s never been a better time to wear a mask. Stay home, and if you do go out, wear a mask and stay safe.

And remember…

There are such things.

The Pillars of the Universal Monsterverse

I have written extensively on the Universal monster cinematic universe recently. Although Universal’s Monsterverse technically began with the Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney in 1925, there is a quartet of films that form the pillars of of that cinematic universe. These films include great acting performances, fantastic direction, and cutting edge makeup effects. The monsters that were created then are the ones we adore today, the ones we do impressions of – these are genre- and character-defining movies.

7. The Wolf Man

Lon Chaney, Jr., stars in The Wolf Man. He plays Larry Talbot, the son of the local lord, Sir John Talbot played by Claude Rains. A troupe of gypsies come to town and Larry escorts two local lovelies to the festivities. A fortune teller named Bela, played by Bela Lugosi, is actually a werewolf, and while trying to save one of his companions, Larry is bitten. In turn he becomes a werewolf on the next full moon. Jack Pierce’s makeup effects for the first transformation scene are second only to Rick Baker’s work in American Werewolf in London.

Talbot’s father eventually kills his son with his son’s silver-handled walking stick, or so he believes. Ralph Bellamy and Patric Knowles also star. Although this movie was made well into the Universal monster catalogue, 16 years after Phantom, it is one of the most iconic and it led to a pretty complete character arc for Larry Talbot.

6. Frankenstein

Hoo boy, where do I start with this one? Boris Karloff plays the monster created by Jack Pierce’s groundbreaking makeup. Colin Clive plays Dr. Henry Frankenstein, Edward Van Sloan plays Frankenstein’s medical college mentor, Mae Clark plays Elizabeth and Dwight Frye plays Fritz. We join the story as Frankenstein and Fritz rob graves and the gallows for parts for Frankenstein to create his monster. Elizabeth and family friend Victor Moritz (John Boles) get involved and witness the creation. Predictably, the monster gets loose and mayhem ensues. Eventually, the creature chucks his creator off of a windmill and presumably dies in a fire set by righteous villagers.

The movie departs from Mary Shelley’s novel in more ways than I can count, but stands apart as a cinematic achievement. Karloff’s nuanced performance as the monster is wonderful, his ability to emote with facial expressions through the prosthesis and with guttural grunts is spectacular. James Whale directed and created a masterpiece, only to be outdone by his own sequel.

5. Bride of Frankenstein

Whale directed the long-awaited sequel, with Karloff and Clive reprising their roles. Valerie Hobson replaces Mae Clark as Elizabeth. It’s quite possible that Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein could have and should have been combined into one film. But then again, I don’t think we would have gotten Whale’s new touches in Bride. Music was used masterfully as each character had their own score.

Ernest Thesiger (The Ghoul) plays Dr. Pretorius, an old acquaintance of Henry’s. He convinces Frankenstein to create a mate for the original monster. Elsa Lanchester plays Mary Shelley in a prologue alongside Lord Byron and Percy Shelley in a scene that is supposed to depict the summer when Frankenstein was written. Only John Polidori was missing.

Frankenstein eventually caves to Pretorius and the monster’s demands as Elizabeth is kidnapped. Dwight Frye plays another shady character in this one after Fritz was murdered by the monster in the first film.

Much of the last third of the film takes place in the lab as Frankenstein and Pretorius complete their handiwork and reveal Lanchester as the Bride. The Bride predictably rejects the monster who decides to blow the place up and take the Bride and Pretorius with him. This movie is considered one of the best films of all-time and it is certainly the best of the Universal Monsterverse.

4. Dracula

I wrote about the genesis of this film in my piece about the Universal cinematic universe. As the title of the countdown stipulates, these are my favorite horror films. I was very young when I first saw this, I read the book at a young age too. I have to remind people that this is a film adaptation of the the stage play that was derived from the novel. Many characters are omitted, names changed, etc. A good bit of story is reworked as well. However, there is one reason this movie is No. 4 on this list – Bela Lugosi. Many people argue that the Spanish language version, filmed at night during the making of the English version, is better. It does have some good cinematography and technical elements that surpass director Tod Browning’s effort, however, Lugosi is masterful as Count Dracula.

There is so much to unpack with regard to how Lugosi came to play Dracula. He was fantastic in the stage production. And he is who we imitate when we think of Count Dracula today. I won’t go into all the differences between the movie and the book. The film is dark and atmospheric and almost plays like a Sherlock Holmes mystery movie.

Edward Van Sloan plays Van Helsing, and Helen Chandler and David Manners also star. Lugosi only played Dracula one more time on the big screen in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Three Groundbreaking Films Break Us into the Top 10

I had to do some separating. Last year I posted 10 films at once just to catch up and keep on track to finish by Halloween. Now, it seems I am ahead of the game. I will finish the countdown this Wednesday, which will give you plenty of time to peruse the list and choose some moves to watch.

10. Alien

Many people struggle with how to classify this film. Is it science fiction or is it horror? It’s science fiction horror. Sigourney Weaver leads an all-star cast with John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, and Veronica Cartwright. The crew of the commercial towing vessel Nostromo sets down on LV 426 to investigate what appears to be a distress signal. What they find is the monstrous stuff of nightmares.

This film, by director Ridley Scott, was claustrophobic, frightening and groundbreaking all at the same time. Weaver’s Ellen Ripley wasn’t just the “final girl,” she was a rare female protagonist. Alien relied on the imagery of artist H.R. Giger and the isolation of space to create a truly unique atmosphere, and a creature the likes of which never seen before. The marketing campaign alone was frightening.

The film kicked off a universe of films and other media, including crossovers with the Predator franchise, all with mixed results. Aliens, the direct follow up, is a fantastic film, but I wouldn’t call it horror.

9. Psycho

Alfred HItchcock’s greatest creation if you ask me. Anthony Hopkins stars at the unassuming Norman Bates, the proprietor of the Bates Motel. Janet Leigh (mother of Jamie Lee Curtis) stars as a white collar criminal on the run who runs right into Norman’s, um, mommy issues. Hitchcock does a masterful job of building suspense and creating atmosphere leading up to the big reveal.

This movie is considered not only one of the best horror films ever made, but one of the best period, and I would be hard-pressed to disagree. The story is based on the novel by prolific writer Robert Bloch. The house on the hill just above the motel is one of the most iconic set pieces in all of movie history.

Skip the shot-for-shot remake with Vince Vaughn. A few sequels were made, but the original is by far the best of the bunch.

8. Jaws

Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, and Murray Hamilton star in Steven Spielberg’s tale of a giant rogue great white shark that terrorizes the resort town of Amity in the northeast. Like Godzilla, if you don’t think this is a horror movie, go back and watch it again. There is plenty of dread, suspense and gore to satisfy any horror fan.

Much has been written and talked about regarding the making of this film, and how the failures of the mechanical shark helped contribute to the suspense. I tend to agree. The great John Williams composed the score which has become world renowned.

I has called this a near perfect film. I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. Hamilton’s portrayal of the delusional mayor echoes some of our current events, and Shaw’s monologue about the fate of the crew of the USS Indianapolis is almost as chilling as the prospect of getting eaten by a giant shark. The sequel is decent, but they get pretty ridiculous after that.

Less than a week in Countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Movies

We are really getting down to it now. Only a couple of days left in the countdown. I figured I would give you a few days to watch some movies before Halloween.

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Gregory Peck and Lee Remick star as the cursed couple who bring home the antichrist in the form of little Damien. Born under auspicious circumstances and switched at birth, Damien makes life hell for everyone around him as minions flock to him to support and aid him.

Peck’s character, the U.S. ambassador to England, finally starts to believe the clues and evidence and finally decides to do something about it. Peck ignores the warnings of a doomed priest before teaming up with a photographer who has a vested interest.

The remake with Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles was not good. The original is a classic. This film spawned a franchise of films that were uneven at best.

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John Carpenter directed what some consider the greatest horror movie ever made. Although I don’t agree with that sentiment, it is pretty damn good. Based on the short story, Who Goes There, with serious H.P. Lovecraft influence and overtones, The Thing touches on numerous themes common in better horror films – isolation, fear of the unknown, paranoia, mistrust and more.

The crew of an isolated Antarctic research station is plagued by The Thing from Another World (see what I did there) that can imitate any lifeform. Kurt Russell stars a helicopter pilot MacReady, the only member of the team that seems to have any common sense. One by one, members of the team are assimilated in spectacular practical effects fashion.

An all-star cast including, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, T.K. Carter, Richard Dysart, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, et al, do battle with the otherworldly oogedy-boogedy. And I still say Windows deserved better.

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Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, Army of Darkness, and Evil Dead
1981, 1987, 1992, 2013

One of the reasons my best friend is just that is because of our love for the Evil Dead franchise. It is a lifelong bond that started at midnight movies watching films like Re-Animator, From Beyond, Heavy Metal, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and of course, Evil Dead.

Bruce Campbell, who I saw in person at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco as he introduced a screening of Evil Dead 2, created an iconic character known simply as “Ash.” Campbell’s lifelong friend Sam Raimi helmed what started as low budget “cabin in the woods” gore fests and created a sub-genre in the process. The films also led to the Ash vs Evil Dead television series on Starz.

Army of Darkness plays more as a horror comedy, even though the first two movies could be considered the same. You can take almost anything you want from these movies, but I will say this … if you are a horror movie fan, then you are a fan of the Evil Dead.

Undead, Shapeshifters and a God

We are getting close horror fans. We cross into the Top 15 and the films are as eclectic as your humble narrator. From the undead to giant monsters, tonight’s four-pack will leave you shivering.

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George Romero defined the zombie genre for generations to come with this low-budget, black and white chiller. Previously, most zombies were voodoo-commanded revenants. Romero changed all that while adding a science fiction element.

The crush of the weight of the mob of zombies, the desperate people holed up in the farmhouse boarding up doors and windows, the coward who falters at the wrong moment, Night of the Living Dead set the standard and the formula for the modern-day zombie film.

Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea star in what is widely considered a genre-defining horror masterpiece. Often imitated, never duplicated.

MV5BNTYzMDk3MzIyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM2OTE4MzE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,634,1000_AL_16. An American Werewolf in London

THE greatest werewolf movie ever made.  John Landis directed this award-winning gem starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run), Griffin Dunne, Brian Glover (Alien III).

Naughton and Dunne play college students backpacking across Europe who stop in at a pub on the English countryside. After a weird experience with the locals, the boys set out again. Dunne is mauled to death by a werewolf and Naughton is injured. He transforms during the next full moon in the greatest werewolf transformation scene ever filmed. 

Agutter plays the sympathetic nurse who falls for Naughton’s character and tries to help him. John Woodvine is great as the London doctor who also tries to help. 

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Let’s see … Jason Patric (son of Jason Miller, The Exorcist’s Father Damien Karras), Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, the two Coreys, an awesome soundtrack, vampires … what’s not to like?

Set in Santa Carla, Calif., (actually Santa Cruz, along the beach boardwalk), vampires take up residence and they are recruiting. Well done in a manner that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s heavy with lighthearted moments. This film explores the seduction the life of a vampire offers and the struggle to maintain human.

Soundtrack spoiler, this is a bit of a pet peeve – it’s Echo and the Bunnymen’s version of People are Strange over the closing credits, not The Doors. That being written, I think this film has the best horror movie soundtrack in movie history.

MV5BMjAzNTk3MTc2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzI5MzU5MTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,697,1000_AL_14. Godzilla/Gojira

If you don’t think Godzilla is a horror film go back and watch it again. The original, not the Americanized release of the original with Raymond Burr. An allegory for the nuclear nightmare unleashed on Japan during World War II, Godzilla is awakened and rampages throughout Japan. The destruction he brings is portrayed poignantly as we see the human cost of the monster’s mere existence.

Eventually Godzilla is defeated by a scientist, Daisuke Serizawa, and a controversial new weapon. The scientist sacrifices himself to vanquish the monster.

This film spawned one of the most successful movie franchises of all-time and Godzilla is enjoying a resurgence with Hollywood’s Monsterverse films – uneven quality, reviews and success not withstanding, they are at least paying homage to the original movies.  The original is dark and apocalyptic. You can’t tell me it’s not a horror movie.


Bullied Teens, the Greatest Jumpscare Ever Filmed and the Birth of a Franchise

We are winding down the Countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Films kiddies as we crack the Top 20. We are getting to the point where the films need no introductions, but I’ll write the descriptions anyway.

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For my money, this is the best Stephen King adaptation of them all. Based on the novel that launched King’s mercurial career, Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, John Travolta, William Katt (Greatest American Hero), Amy Irving, Nancy Allen and P.J. Soles all star in this tale of the supernatural and kinetic rage.

Shy, oppressed Carrie White is asked to the prom and a horrible prank leads to Carrie unleashing her telekinetic abilities on her fellow prom-goers. The recent remake with Chloe Grace Moretz was passable but it didn’t have the believability of the characters of the original. Moretz didn’t fly as the bullied, repressed, tortured soul that Spacek pulled off wonderfully, although Julianne Moore does a nice job as Mrs. White.

There are many iconic moments in this film. For some reason, filmmakers have had trouble over the decades adapting King’s work for the big screen. Brian De Palma did a great job with this one.

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As you can see, there aren’t very many newer films in the top end of the countdown. A movie really has to grab me. I also find that remakes tend to fall flat. These two are exceptions.

A young bullied boy befriends the female vampire who moves in next door. The original Swedish version is phenomenal and the American remake is excellent. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz star in the American version. The relationship between the bullied Oskar and Eli/Owen and Abby (U.S. version) begins as friendship and slowly becomes co-dependence and maybe even love as the two learn to protect each other, and even desire to do so. Although a bit slow paced, these films are unusual and different and very well acted.

Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, it’s a new-age tale of Gothic horror for the vampire and a coming of age story for the bullied boy, these movies are well-written and gritty. I just watched the original again the other night, it’s just so pitch perfect and well done.

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This is the sequel to The Exorcist we should have gotten. From IMDB, “A police Lieutenant uncovers more than he bargained for as his investigation of a series of murders, which have all the hallmarks of the deceased Gemini serial killer, leads him to question the patients of a psychiatric ward.”

That description doesn’t come close. George C. Scott plays that police lieutenant as all kinds of Satanic goings on plague him. He plays the Lt. William Kinderman character and Ed Flanders plays Father Dyer from the first film, as Pazuzu continues to terrorize Georgetown in Washington, D.C. Basketball great Patrick Ewing and model Fabio make odd cameo appearances.

If you recall from The Exorcist, Detective Kinderman investigates the strange goings on with Regan, her mom, the murder of Burke Dennings and the involvement of Father Karras. Lee J. Cobb played Kinderman and Cobb died in 1976, three years after The Exorcist was released. Father Joseph Dyer was played by William O’Malley in the original film. Some time between the end of the events of The Exorcist and The Exorcist III, Kinderman and Dyer become close friends.

This movie features the single greatest jumpscare ever filmed. Brad Dourif also stars and he is his usual creepy self.

MV5BMTkyNzc4NjkwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzI2Mjc1MDE@._V1_18. Hellraiser

“We’ll tear your soul apart!” Clive Barker is at his best with this film that centers around a puzzle box that can summon all kinds of hell – literally. We were introduced to Pinhead and the Cenobites. Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence and Sean Chapman star in this gory thriller.

Chapman plays Frank, a macabre adrenaline junkie who wants to test the limits of pleasure and pain. He finds his solution in the form of the puzzle box. He finds a way back from the other side and embroils his brother’s family in his evil. Doug Bradley stars as the iconic Pinhead.

Based on the novella The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser spawned an entire universe that includes several sequels, novels and comic books. I watched this again recently and I was surprised at how well it still holds up 30+ years later. I read the book for the first time this year. There are some minor character changes but in all, the movie is fairly true to the source, which makes it a pretty chilling read.

The Universal Monsterverse

Much has been talked about and written when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). From Iron Man in 2008 to Avengers: End Game, Marvel and Walt Disney Productions created a canon of 23 interconnected films of superhero origin stories, team-ups, and mash-ups all leading to the saving of half of all life in the universe with the defeat of the Titan, Thanos. 

Familiar faces were thrust into adventures and battles alongside new characters as we learned about misogyny, femininity, and morality in ways rarely brought to the silver screen, but in ways comic books had been doing all along. I’m sure many of us had never heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain Marvel, or even some members of the Avengers. And Black Panther had never been brought to life like this. 

Some of the movies are wonderful, exciting and thrilling; some are just okay; some are downright terrible. We were reintroduced to some little known actors and others made their debuts, while still others resurrected their careers. All in all, the MCU, which has more films in the works, features an amazing array of talent and storytelling, a brilliant attempt at continuity, and the most intricate web of interconnected tales ever purposely brought to theaters. In fact, if I am not mistaken, the only actor substituted for another was Don Cheadle in place of Terrence Howard as James Rhodes/War Machine. I’m very confused about what happened with Eric Bana and Edward Norton with the Hulk movies.

As much as I love Stephen King and what he has accomplished with his tangled web of mostly horror stories, cinematically I don’t believe there ever was a conscious effort to bring his works to interconnected life on screen. Film and TV adaptations of King’s work are a hodgepodge of studios, screenwriters and directors over the span of 45 years or so. I think King’s multiverse is the largest and most intricate ever created outside of the comic book world but it happened organically and not so much purposefully (at least with the screen adaptations).

Toho in Japan created a cinematic universe with its stable of Kaiju, but most of the films are linear timeline Godzilla sequels, although there is an American attempt afoot as I write this to create a “monsterverse” with Godzilla at the center of it. 

Carl Laemmle, Jr.

Roughly 95 years ago Universal Studios created the very first cinematic universe, the first Monsterverse shall we say. When Carl Laemmle took control of Universal Studios, he entrusted his son Carl Laemmle, Jr., to produce horror films. As Marvel and Walt Disney Pictures would do 83 years later with comic books, Universal and Laemmle Jr. turned to literature for source material. From 1925 to 1956, Universal Studios created a stable of creatures featured in mostly interconnected tales of the macabre and science gone wrong. 

It all started with the Phantom of the Opera in 1925. Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, directed by Rupert Julian, starring Lon Chaney – the Man of 1,000 Faces – and Mary Philbin, this silent film stunned audiences and it features one of the greatest creature reveals ever filmed. I saw it when I was an adolescent with a live orchestra performing the score. I already loved Universal horror films, but this was a treat. 

Next up was 1927’s London After Midnight, also starring Lon Chaney. Unfortunately this film is lost to the ravages of time as no copy exists, only still photographs remain. Tod Browning began his Universal horror directing career with this movie. Browning had directed Chaney in several other pictures before London after Midnight.

Actor and playwright Hamilton Deane adapted Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the stage in 1924, and John L. Balderston revised it in 1927. The theater production starred Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula. I have read conflicting reports and accounts, as well as watched numerous contradictory interviews and documentaries that state (or dispute) Lon Chaney was to play Count Dracula in Universal’s film adaptation. Regardless, Chaney died of lung cancer, and the role eventually fell to Lugosi. How and why Lugosi wasn’t the studio’s first choice despite the success of the stage play is a story for another time. Browning directed what is more a film version of the play than an adaptation of the novel with Lugosi as Count Dracula. The film features Helen Chandler as Mina Seward, David Manners as Jonathan Harker, Dwight Frye as Renfield and Edward Van Sloan as Professor Abraham Van Helsing. Lugosi turned in a genre- and character-defining performance.

I am no film historian (football is more my speed) and I will not pretend to understand how it worked back then, but it is my understanding studios had stables of actors they would draw on for any number of pictures while those actors were under contract. Those actors could also be “loaned out” to other studios. Dracula is the start of the Universal Monsterverse careers for Lugosi, Manners and Van Sloan. When it was released, the film featured an epilogue, a version of Van Sloan’s curtain call speech from the theater production where he would proclaim, “There are such things.” Unfortunately, video of this has been lost to the sands of time as well. 

In the MCU, although the writers and directors change, the same actors play the same characters throughout multiple films in all but one case. I don’t know if I want to count the reboot of The Hulk with an entire cast change, and then another when Mark Ruffalo was cast as David Banner/The Hulk for the MCU. With the Universal films, characters are killed off or written out of sequels and actors play different characters along the way.

Later in 1931, Universal released Frankenstein based on Mary Shelley’s novel with Boris Karloff as the monster. This film jumpstarted Karloff’s career off as a horror movie icon. Directed by James Whale and also starring Dwight Frye, Colin Clive, Edward Van Sloan and Mae Clark as Elizabeth. Clark would be replaced as Elizabeth by Valerie Hobson in 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein. Lionel Belmore plays the burgomaster. Michael Mark plays Little Maria’s father. Jack Pierce cemented himself as a master monster maker with his make-up techniques. Van Sloan would appear in a prologue before the film, a bit of a disclaimer: “Mr. Carl Laemmle feels that it would be unkind to present this picture without a word of friendly warning … I think it will thrill you, it may shock you, it might even horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now’s your chance to, uh … well … we warned you.”   

In 1932, Boris Karloff starred in The Mummy, along with David Manners and Edward Van Sloan. Karl Freund directed this tale of murder and undying love, while Jack Pierce provided the make-up for the mummy. As wonderful as Karloff is as the title character, it’s the one and only time he would play a mummy. And as far as continuity and canon goes, there is no true sequel to this film, it’s a one-off. 

Also in 1932, Lugosi starred in an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue. And Karloff appeared in The Old Dark House along with Ernest Thesiger, with the pair starring together in The Bride of Frankenstein three years later. Charles Laughton and Gloria Stuart were also in The Old Dark House.

In 1933, several Universal horror actors appeared in The Vampire Bat from Larry Darmour Productions. Dwight Frye, Lionel Atwill, and Lionel Belmore all had roles in this film. Faye Wray, who starred in King Kong that same year, also appeared. Although not a Universal picture, I mention it because of the appearance of three Universal horror stalwarts.

In 1933, Claude Rains starred in Universal’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’s story The Invisible Man. This film is one of the better films yet one of the least talked about in the entire catalogue. Una O’Connor appears alongside Gloria Stuart (Titanic) and E.E. Clive, who plays a constable. Rains is brilliant as a scientist who goes mad after developing a formula that turns him invisible. Dwight Frye appears in an uncredited role as a newspaper reporter.

In 1934, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff teamed up for the truly disturbing film The Black Cat. David Manners also makes an appearance. Not necessarily a monster movie, but horror nonetheless. I mention it because of the on-screen pairing of Lugosi and Karloff. The story is loosely based on an Edgar Allen Poe tale.

In 1935, Universal made their first run at a werewolf movie with Henry Hull in the lead in Werewolf of London. Valerie Hobson starred as Hull’s character’s wife. Stuart Walker directed an original screenplay written by Robert Harris and John Colton. One of the most interesting sidebars in the one is the use of what looks like an iPad device connected to what amounts to a doorbell camera. Talk about foreshadowing future technology. Hull’s character is bitten by a werewolf while traveling the wilds of Tibet and subsequently becomes one as a result. This aspect of the story is conflated with the 1941 film’s storyline in Universal’s 2010 film The Wolfman starring Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins.   

Also in 1935, after much convincing, James Whale directed the much anticipated Bride of Frankenstein, starring Colin Clive, Dwight Frye, E.E. Clive as the burgomaster (a change from Lionel Belmore), Ernest Thesiger, and Una O’Connor. This movie is widely considered the best of all of the Universal horror/monster films, and as one of the greatest films of all-time. Karloff returns as the monster and Elsa Lanchester stars as Mary Shelley/The Bride. Lanchester was married to Charles Laughton who would go on to play Quasimodo in a remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1939. Lon Chaney starred in the 1923 silent film from Universal.   

Dracula finally got a sequel in 1936 with Dracula’s Daughter. Edward Van Sloan reprised his role as Van Helsing (now called Von Helsing for some reason), and Gloria Holden stars as one of Count Dracula’s victims turned vampire. Dracula himself is not in the movie. The film bears little resemblance to the source material, but Van Sloan’s presence lends itself to the continuity of the story. E.E. Clive appears as a police sergeant. It’s avant garde approach to on-screen lesbianism was way ahead of its time.

Basil Rathbone starred as one of Henry Frankenstein’s sons, Wolf, in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein. Karloff once again plays the monster. Lionel Atwill joined the Universal monster stable as Inspector Krogh. Lionel Belmore and Michael Mark return to the franchise as different characters. Bela Lugosi, who turned down the role of Frankenstein’s monster in the 1931 film, joins the cast as Ygor and becomes the driver of the story for two films. Josephine Hutchinson plays Elsa Von Frankenstein. Lugosi’s performance as Ygor may just be the best of his career.

In 1940, Universal took an interesting tack and instead of delivering a sequel to 1932’s The Mummy, the studio introduced a whole new mummy franchise and mythos, starring Tom Tyler as Kharis, an ancient Egyptian mummy, in The Mummy’s Hand. Kharis must defend the tomb of long dead Princess Ananka from infidels and graverobbers, and in this case, archaeologists. A line of priests descended through the ages possess the secret to keeping Kharis alive and shuffling. George Zucco stars as the high priest. Michael Mark makes an appearance in this film as well. Many believe that Hammer Studios’ The Mummy from 1959 with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee  is a remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff film, when in fact it is actually a retelling of The Mummy’s Hand.

The Invisible Man Returns was released in 1940 with Vincent Price and Cedric Hardwicke. That same year, Universal released the little known and seldom talked about The Invisible Woman starring Kitty Carroll. Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, also stars.

Lon Chaney, Jr., entered the fray in 1941’s The Wolf Man. Bitten by a werewolf, played by Bela Lugosi, Chaney’s character, Lawrence Talbot, turns into a werewolf himself. His father, played by Claude Rains, kills him with a silver-handled walking stick. But as we all, know, nothing in these cinematic universes stays dead for long. Maria Ouspenskaya plays Maleva, Lugosi’s character’s mother, who tries to help Talbot. Ralph Bellamy and Patric Knowles also star.

In 1942, Universal released The Mummy’s Tomb with Chaney Jr. as Kharis the mummy in this one. Dick Foran reprised his role of Stephen Banning from The Mummy’s Hand. George Zucco returns as the high priest. Much of this movie is shown as flashbacks to The Mummy’s Hand.

Also in 1942, The Ghost of Frankenstein starring Chaney as the monster was released. Ralph Bellamy also appears in this film along with Lionel Atwill as Dr. Theodore Bohmer. Cedric Hardwicke stars as Ludwig Frankenstein and the ghost of his father, Henry. Colin Clive died in 1937. Bela Lugosi returns as Ygor and Evelyn Ankers plays Elsa Frankenstein.  

The Invisible Agent was released in 1942, not technically a horror or monster movie, it still follows the invisible man arc. Invisible man science is used to create a World War II solider who could operate behind enemy lines undetected.

In 1943, Chaney Jr. took on the role of Count Dracula, now calling himself Alucard, in Son of Dracula. The plot was a bit ridiculous and broke from the continuity of the Dracula, Dracula’s Daughter story arc in many ways, but the film has a few excellent, creepy moments.   

Also in 1943, Chaney returned as Larry Talbot in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Lionel Atwill now plays the mayor, Bela Lugosi is Frankenstein’s monster, Maria Ouspenskaya returns as Maleva, and Dwight Frye plays a concerned citizen. Patric Knowles also stars as Dr. Mannering. Ilona Massey plays Elsa Von Frankenstein.  

George Zucco returned and John Carradine made his first credited appearance in a Universal horror film in 1944’s The Mummy’s Ghost, the third in the Kharis films. Carradine had an uncredited role in The Bride of Frankenstein. Chaney once again played Kharis.

In 1944, Universal released the second “mash-up” film of their monsterverse with House of Frankenstein. Boris Karloff plays Dr. Neimann, Chaney returns as Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man, John Carradine is now Count Dracula, Lionel Atwill is Inspector Arnz, and George Zucco plays Lampini. 

Also in 1944, The Mummy’s Curse was released. The film’s locale changes to the deep south of the United States after the second and third movies were based in Massachusetts. As much as Universal did try to keep continuity throughout a franchise, changes like this make absolutely no sense.  

The Invisible Man’s Revenge was also released in 1944. Jon Hall plays Robert Griffin and the character is back to his vengeful, homicidal tendencies. John Carradine also stars.

House of Dracula in 1945 featured Carradine as Dracula, Chaney as Talbot, Atwill as police inspector Holtz, Onslow Stevens as Professor Edlemann, and Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein monster.  

In the three mash-up films, Dracula and Talbot search for cures for their conditions, and the scientists, altruistic at first, can’t help but help themselves to the monsters’ secrets.

In 1946, June Lockhart starred in She-Wolf of London. I’m going to have to watch this one again. It is my recollection that there aren’t any actual werewolves in this one, much like MGM’s Mark of the Vampire 11 years earlier, which didn’t have any vampires in it. Apparently, convincing someone or the people around them that they’re crazy was a good way to screw someone out of an inheritance back in the day.

In 1948, Universal put a comedic spin on its stable of monsters starting with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Lon Chaney, Jr., returns as Lawrence Talbot, Bela Lugosi plays Dracula for only the second time on the big screen (and last), and Glenn Strange returns as Frankenstein’s monster. In 1951, the comedic duo stars in Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man and then again in 1955’s Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. The mummy is now named Klaris, played by Eddie Parker, but there seems to be some continuity here from The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost, and The Mummy’s Curse. The Abbott and Costello films have their charm but the monsters had become caricatures and shells by this point.

In 1954, Universal launched the gill-man franchise with the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Richard Carlson, Richard Denning and Julia Adams star in this wonderful creature feature. Revenge of the Creature was released in 1955, with The Creature Walks Among Us following in 1956. Nestor Paiva reprises his role as Amazonian boat captain Lucas in Revenge

Here are the films listed in franchise order by appropriate monsters. You’ll see how they cross over.

1931 Dracula
1936 Dracula’s Daughter
1943 Son of Dracula
1944 House of Frankenstein
1945 House of Dracula
1948 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein


1931 Frankenstein
1935 Bride of Frankenstein
1939 Son of Frankenstein
1942 Ghost of Frankenstein
1943 Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
1944 House of Frankenstein
1945 House of Dracula
1948 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Invisible People
1933 The Invisible Man
1940 The Invisible Woman
1940 The Invisible Man Returns
1944 The Invisible Man’s Revenge
1948 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (cameo by Vincent Price)
1951 Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man

1932 The Mummy (Imhotep)
1940 The Mummy’s Hand (Kharis)
1942 The Mummy’s Tomb (Kharis)
1944 The Mummy’s Ghost (Kharis)
1955 Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (Klaris)


1935 The Werewolf of London
1941 The Wolf Man (Talbot)
1943 Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (Talbot)
1944 House of Frankenstein (Talbot)
1945 House of Dracula (Talbot)
1946 She-Wolf of London (June Lockhart)
1948 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Talbot)

Here are the actors who played the same character in more than one movie. Forgive me if I have missed anyone.

Bela Lugosi (Count Dracula): Dracula, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Edward Van Sloan (Professor Abraham Van Helsing): Dracula, Dracula’s Daughter

Lon Chaney, Jr. (The Wolf Man/Larry Talbot); The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

John Carradine (Count Dracula): House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula

Lon Chaney, Jr. (Kharis the Mummy): The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost

George Zucco (Andoheb): The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost 

Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein): Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein

Boris Karloff (The Monster): Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein

Maria Ouspenskaya (Maleva): The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man 

Nestor Paiva (Lucas): Creature from the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature

Now I will detail the actors and which characters they played throughout the Universal Monsterverse if they played more than one character and/or appeared in more than one film. Again, forgive me if I have forgotten anyone.

Bela Lugosi
Dracula, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat, Son of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Lon Chaney, Jr.
The Wolf Man, The Mummy’s Tomb, Ghost of Frankenstein, Son of Dracula, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, The Mummy’s Ghost, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein  

Edward Van Sloan
Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula’s Daughter

Lionel Atwill
Son of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula

David Manners
Dracula, The Mummy, The Black Cat

Dwight Frye
Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, The Invisible Man

John Carradine
Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy’s Ghost, The Invisible Man’s Revenge, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, The Invisible Man’s Revenge

Michael Mark
Frankenstein, The Black Cat, The Mummy’s Hand, The Ghost of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein

Patric Knowles
The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man 

Cedrick Hardwicke
The Invisible Man Returns, Ghost of Frankenstein

Evelyn Ankers
The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man’s Revenge

Ralph Bellamy
The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein

Lionel Belmore
Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein

E.E. Clive
The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula’s Daughter

Valerie Hobson
Werewolf of London, Bride of Frankenstein

Boris Karloff
Frankenstein, The Mummy, Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, The Black Cat, House of Frankenstein

Your complete story arcs (without Abbott and Costello):

Dracula – Dracula’s Daughter – Son of Dracula – House of Frankenstein – House of Dracula

The Wolf Man – Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man – House of Frankenstiein, House of Dracula

The Mummy’s Hand – The Mummy’s Tomb – The Mummy’s Ghost

Creature from the Black Lagoon – Revenge of the Creature – The Creature Walks Among Us

Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula

DC has tried unsuccessfully to replicate what Marvel has done with the MCU. As much as it had to have been planned, the MCU seems to have happened organically, while the DC attempt seems forced. Universal is guilty of this recently with its attempt to create the Dark Universe. The first film, The Mummy in 2017 starring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, and Russell Crowe, was a mess. It’s an original story set in modern times that probably could have stood on its own, but the filmmakers decided to include Dr. Jekyll as the head of a secretive monster hunting organization. It just doesn’t work. The second film, The Invisible Man, which was released in early 2020, is an excellent, well-done entry. Word is the Dark Universe plans have been scrapped just as attempts to make Bride of Frankenstein were getting underway. 

Many have tried to remake Universal horror films over the years. I don’t want to take a deep dive into what Hammer Studios did from the late 1950s-early 1970s. I mentioned The Wolfman from 2010. I didn’t like the combination of storylines from Werewolf of London and The Wolf Man. Stephen Sommers, an admitted fan of Universal horror, perhaps did the best job with The Mummy in 1999. Starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, Sommers weaves a tale in the Egyptian desert and resurrects the name of Imhotep (Boris Karloff, The Mummy, 1932), played by Arnold Vosloo. It’s more action-adventure than horror, but I adore it. Watching all four Universal mummy movies, you can definitely see where Sommers drew inspiration. The two sequels fell flat, however. Sommers tried to turn Abraham Van Helsing into an action hero played by Hugh Jackman in an unintentionally comical film called Van Helsing in 2004. Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula and plenty of werewolves make appearances.

And many have tried to use the characters that flew from the pages of Gothic literature that formed the basis of Universal’s horror canon in new and different ways with varying degrees of success. Showtime’s Penny Dreadful TV series is a great example. Many of the Universal horror stable, or variations thereof, appear throughout the series including Dr. Frankenstein and more than one monster creation, Lawrence Talbot, Count Dracula, Mina Harker (nee Murray), Renfield, and Van Helsing.  

The bottom line here is this. As much as we marvel at what Marvel has done with the MCU, admire (or loathe) what DC tried to do with their cinematic universe, see and appreciate what Stephen King has accomplished over the course of six decades with his multiverse, the Universal Monsterverse was the first. It may not even be the best, that title may belong to Marvel. Intentional or not, it looks and feels organic, at least until the mid-1940s with the mash-up and comedy films. Not all of the movies, monsters or characters crossover or intertwine, but many of the actors do – even if it’s in different roles. Watching them now, you feel like you know the characters, the actors, the screenwriters, the directors, the costumers, the make-up artists, the sound people and the special effects wizards. They’re old friends. They’re like a dram of good single malt Scotch, smooth and warm with a bite.

Just like many of the novels that spawned these characters, the films of the Universal Monsterverse have stood the test of time and will still be watched and enjoyed well into the future. You can’t keep a good monster down.

And just remember … There are such Things!          

A Trio of Universal Classics and Satan Fathers a Child

I do love Universal horror, I have since I was a very young child. Whether is was on Chiller Theater on a Friday or Saturday night or a Saturday afternoon flick on cable, I never wasted a chance to watch any one of them. I have made it a point to watch most of them again recently. I have three for you today, plus one of the greatest Satanic cult movies ever made.

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The Universal monster mash-ups begin with this one as Bela Lugosi takes a turn as Frankenstein’s monster, the role he turned down for the original Frankenstein. A choice Lugosi would later regret as Boris Karloff claimed it and created an icon. Lugosi’s career didn’t pan out the way he hoped as he was typecast as a cape-wearing vampire. Lon Chaney, Jr., reprises the Wolf-Man role as he tries to find a cure for his lycanthropy. Lionel Atwill appears in this one as well in one of his many Universal and MGM monster film roles.

Roy William Neill directed this film based on Curt Siodmak’s screenplay. Illona Massey plays Baroness Elsa Frankenstein, Patric Knowles appears as Dr. Frank Mannering, and Maria Ouspenskaya reprises her role as the gypsy Maleva.

Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf-Man fight it out until the bitter end.

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Of all of Universal’s monster franchises, Frankenstein has the best stable of films from front to back, the best continuity, the most complete story arc. From Bride of Frankenstein on, each sequel ranks better in quality than the sequels for the other monster films.

Boris Karloff once again plays Frankenstein’s creation, Lionel Atwill plays yet another character, and Bela Lugosi turns in the best performance of his career outside of Dracula as Ygor. Basil Rathbone takes a turn as the mad scientist in this one.

Lugosi’s is amazing as Ygor, his nuanced performance should not be overlooked. Watch all of the Frankenstein films in order, you won’t be disappointed.

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Universal introduced The Mummy a year after the debut of Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Boris Karloff plays the ancient priest Imhotep cursed 3,000 years ago because of forbidden love. Karl Freund directs this tale that is more of a re-telling of Dracula than it is an original story, right down to the use of music from Swan Lake in the opening credits. Universal regulars Edward van Sloan and David Manners also star. Zita Johann plays the Mummy’s love interest, his reincarnated princess.

Toss aside the fact that Universal wanted to capitalize on the success of Dracula by recycling the plotline. Boris Karloff, as is this case with all his films, is the reason to watch this one. He is mesmerizing and exudes controlled cruelty and menace.

The Mummy sequels are not listed in the countdown because, as charming as they are, they’re quite silly. Anyone who is caught and killed by the lumbering gauze-wrapped Lon Chaney, Jr., deserves to die. And in all actually, there is no true sequel to this one. Starting with The Mummy’s Hand in 1940, a whole new mummy mythos is introduced.

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Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes star as a young couple on the verge of creating the miracle of life. The only problem is, Rosemary’s husband has a stand-in the night of conception. As noted in numerous films where Satan tries to bring his son, the antichrist, into the world, the devil likes to get his freak on.

Rosemary lives the nightmare of discovering that her husband isn’t quite what he seems, the neighbors are up to something, and the baby’s not quite right. This is a true horror classic.

The tension and terror builds slowly but surely throughout the film and the payoff at the end is the stuff of horror movie legend.