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Classic Monsters

Collector’s DVD’s Offer Thrills Without Splatter

Classic Monsters a Hoot

By Jim Bray

Parents looking for good old fashioned Halloween fare should take a gander at Universal Studios “Classic Monster Collection.”

It’s a nifty boxed set, available on DVD and VHS, that contains eight of the studio’s most famous old monster movies. You get “the Bride of Frankenstein,” “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “the Invisible Man,” “the Mummy,” “Phantom of the Opera,” and “the Wolf Man”– and if your hair isn’t standing on end by the time you’ve sat through this monster marathon you’ve been desensitized by today’s gore-fests – and I don’t mean Al the veep.

Okay, maybe I do.

As a confirmed video snob, I chose to view the DVD versions, and I couldn’t have been happier. Here, in one swell foop, is the best of the Friday night fright flicks I grew up watching on TV, except that now they look and sound better than ever thanks to the high quality of the DVD medium.

They haven’t been given the deluxe treatment offered by the THX standard, but they still look and sound very good considering the films’ ages.

Okay, these movies may be a tad hokey by the yardsticks of today’s moviemaking. After all, they were generally “B” features shot with fairly low budgets and the special effects are at times nearly laughable by today’s digital standards. They stand the test of time, however, when it comes to scripting, acting, and ingenuity, and one must remember that it was films like these that inspired many of today’s big movie makers.

Take “Creature,” for example. This 1954 classic includes a wonderful scene in which Julie Adams is swimming alone, with the captivated Creature swimming unseen below her. It reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” in its opening scene of the solitary swimmer, and later, when the shark is stalking the kids from below. Spielberg’s version may be more intense, but “Creature” was there first.

Or “Dracula.” Bela Lugosi was positively chilling as the evil, undead Count who gave bloodsucking a bad name even before the term was associated with the legal profession. Sure, the bat looked like it was rubber, but so what?

Incidentally, this DVD release of “Dracula” actually includes three versions of the film. There’s the original, and best, and there’s the original with a new musical score by Philip Glass. Finally, they’ve also included the original Spanish language adaptation of the film. This fascinating edition was shot simultaneously to the Lugosi version, using the same sets and screenplay, but it has a completely different feel to the Lugosi outing.

And who could pass up the opportunity to see Boris Karloff in his most famous roles: Frankenstein’s monster (in two films!) and the original Mummy. Despite its criminal brain, Karloff’s Monster was a gentle creature who didn’t now his own strength, but those torch wielding villagers didn’t care – and his Imhotep (wasn’t he also the lead character in “Of Human Bandage?”) didn’t have to rely on the bugs and eye-popping pyrotechnics of Universal’s 1999 “Mummy” to provide an appropriately menacing meanie.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

This isn’t to minimize the contributions of Lon Chaney, Jr. and the great Claude Rains, let alone the work of directors James Whale, Tod Browning et al – and “Titanic” fans may be fascinated to see a young Gloria Stuart in “The Invisible Man.”

Once you’ve reveled in the classic ghastliness you can take advantage of the DVD versions’ many extras. Each of the movies contains at the very least an original documentary about the film and some of them also have running commentary tracks and many other goodies that take the Classic Monster Collection from the realm of pure nostalgia and make it a legitimate tool for film students as well.

If all this horror isn’t your cup of tea and you’d prefer something a bit lighter, Universal has also released (or did it escape?) “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” a classic comedy from the legends who brought us such gems as “Who’s on First?”

Here, Bud and Lou are up to their usual antics (this time Dracula has a hankering for Lou’s brain), with Lugosi reprising his Dracula role and Chaney Jr. appearing as the Wolf Man. The DVD also includes a documentary, commentary, and other goodies to sweeten the deal.

It all adds up to a classic video feast, just in time for Halloween!

Classic Monster Collection, from Universal Home Video
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, from Universal Home Video

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE Syndicate. Copyright Jim Bray.


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Updated May 13, 2006