DVDs Offer Thrills Without Splatter
By Jim Bray
Parents looking for good old fashioned Halloween fare should take a gander
at Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection.
Its a nifty boxed set, available on DVD and VHS, that contains
eight of the studios 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 isnt standing on end by the
time youve sat through this monster marathon youve been desensitized
by todays gore-fests and I dont mean Al the veep.
Okay, maybe I do.
As a confirmed video snob, I chose to view the DVD versions, and I couldnt
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 havent been given the deluxe treatment offered by the THX
standard, but they still look and sound very good considering the films
Okay, these movies may be a tad hokey by the yardsticks of todays
moviemaking. After all, they were generally B features shot
with fairly low budgets and the special effects are at times nearly laughable
by todays 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 todays big movie
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 Spielbergs
Jaws, in its opening scene of the solitary swimmer, and later,
when the shark is stalking the kids from below. Spielbergs 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. Theres the original, and best, and theres
the original with a new musical score by Philip Glass. Finally, theyve
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: Frankensteins monster (in two films!) and the original
Mummy. Despite its criminal brain, Karloffs Monster was a gentle
creature who didnt now his own strength, but those torch wielding
villagers didnt care and his Imhotep (wasnt he also
the lead character in Of Human Bandage?) didnt have
to rely on the bugs and eye-popping pyrotechnics of Universals 1999
Mummy to provide an appropriately menacing meanie.
This isnt 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 youve 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 isnt your cup of tea and youd 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 Whos on First?
Here, Bud and Lou are up to their usual antics (this time Dracula has
a hankering for Lous 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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