on October 15, 2014
These four are classics as anyone can guess. Universal always finds the right atmosphere in their classic movies and the black and white adds to the beauty of these classics. There are four DVDs with up to five movies in Dracula, Spanish Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Dracula is very similar to Nosferatu only with the best Dracula possible in Bela Lugosi. Bela owns this role and really steals the show. There is also a bonus of the Spanish Dracula added onto the Dracula disc. Spanish Dracula is superior to the American version in every way except in who plays Dracula. Carlos isn't quite on Bela's level, but he's not bad. The extra dialogue and better camerawork keep Spanish Dracula as the definite Dracula film(despite the lack of Lugosi). Both are moody films with a dark romantic element to them. Frankenstein has awesome scenery and legendary sets. This story despite its simplicity resonates with anyone. Frankenstein is driven by great character work and like Dracula relatively short. Bride of Frankenstein is superior to the original Frankenstein. I would say it is a little more similar to the book in a way. The inclusion of a possible female Monster makes the film even better with different complexities. It also has a lot of the same scenery. Lastly, we have Creature from the Black Lagoon. This film looks gorgeous and tells the simple story of an unknown species.
All these films are classics that everyone in the family can enjoy. They all have unique sets and a dark atmosphere that is sure to entertain, and for 10-11 dollars you get four of the most classic movies ever.
These are 4 great Universal films nicely packaged who may not be ready for Blu ray. Well preserved in one collection. Here are reviews of each film:
DRACULA (5.0 Stars)
The well-known tale stars Bela Lugosi in his most recognizable role. The Hungarian actor also played the character in the stage production from which much is adapted for this early talking picture. Some will snicker at the mannerisms and heightened theatrics more common in the theater. Even as a great admirer of the movie, I chuckle when I see a couple armadillos scurrying across Dracula's Transylvanian castle.
Lugosi, still struggling with English accentuates his dialog not only with an unusual cadence, enunciating each syllable but seemingly each letter. But Bela was a charmer, especially of the ladies which transformed the Count from the Dracula in Bram Stoker's novel and the first production on film, "Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror" (1922). In F. W. Murnau's film, the Count (Orlok) was ugly, sinister and more in tune with what Stoker had in mind.
One of the things that always bothered me about the film was the lack of a musical score. The story has extended moments of silence, except for noise coming from old tape or DVD transfers. The cleaned up version here, eliminates almost all of the surface noise, and makes the silence even more...well silent. I much prefer the added Philip Glass score performed by The Kronos Quartet. I was fortunate to see Glass perform this live accompanying the film a few years ago in Dallas.
FRANKENSTEIN (4.5 Stars)
The best thing here is Boris Karloff, as Dr. Frankenstein's creation. Watch his near mute (he does grunt and growl) performance. Like many of the silent films a few years earlier, actors have to use their movement, their eyes and facial expression to communicate feelings. And Karloff is masterful in this performance. Can't say enough about him.
Troubled actor Colin Clive is also excellent as Frankenstein. Dwight Frey as Fritz and Edward Van Sloan return after their similar performances in "Dracula." The story of course is based on an early 19th century story by Mary Shelley. All of this wouldn't have happened of course but for some great direction from James Whale and masterful makeup from Jack Pierce. So what's wrong? Quibbles admittedly, but still.
First when the monster is on the loose on day of the doc's wedding to lovely Elizabeth (Mae Clarke), Frankenstein thinks he hears the monster inside the house. He gathers a search party of staffers and locks Elizabeth in her room "to keep her safe." Say what? Of course, the creature enters though an open window. Then there is the issue of the little Maria (Marilyn Harris) who is playfully tossed into the lake by her cottage by the creature. Fortunately this once censured scene was rightfully restored. Her father finds the girl (off camera) and marches into the village carrying her dead body claiming she had been murdered. Huh? Couldn't she just have drowned on her own? And why did he teach her how to swim anyway? Great sets, especially the flowing electricity in the laboratory, excellent acting and a timeless story overcome any shortcomings.
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (5.0 Stars)
This true sequel to director James Whale's 1931 masterpiece is considered by most critics to be even superior. Certainly from a production standpoint, it is hard to argue against it. This movie actually continues the story originated by Mary Shelley in 1816. In fact, like "Frankenstein," the movie opens with Mary (Elsa Lanchester), Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) and Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton) once again in flashback, discussing Mary's horror novel during a thunderstorm. This was a scene Whale insisted on recreating.
Back to the present day, the story picks up where "Frankenstein" left off. The monster is trapped inside a burning windmill and Dr. Frankenstein is near death after being thrown off by the monster. He recovers, but is forced to help a strange former teacher, Dr. Pretorius (fey Ernest Thesiger). Pretorius had his own success with creating life. Whale and screenwriter William Hurlbut struggled with censors as the film hints at homosexuality, necrophilia and has numerous religious connotations.
Boris Karloff returns as the monster and once again is terrific, this time more sympathetic in spite of the fact he kills more people than he did in his first outing. Both he and Colin Clive, once again Henry Frankenstein, were injured before and during the movie causing additional complications for Whale. A 17 year old British actress, Valerie Hobson replaces Mae Clarke as Elizabeth, Henry's fiancée. She has a couple meaty scenes and pulls them off nicely.
As a kid I mostly remembered Pretorius's little people which he created and housed in jars. A lightened moment in what was still a frightening film. The best scenes however are given to Lanchester who also portrays the "Bride" complete with herky-jerky head movements and the now iconic lightning bolt hairdo. Pretorius also utters a couple quips that become important to the future. When the lady monster comes alive, he calls her the Bride of Frankenstein not the Bride of the Monster. Is that how the monster became known by many as "Frankenstein?" He also announces the successful reanimation declaring "gods and monsters," the name of a 1998 biopic about James Whale.
The movie is enhanced by some excellent photography (Stephen M. Katz), makeup (Jack Pierce returning), special effects (John P. Fulton) and an amazing musical score by Franz Waxman. Note how each main character has his/her own musical announcement. This is one of the great horror movies. Make that one of the great movies of all time.
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (4.5 Stars)
I remember my mother gathering my 2 brothers and me, decked in our PJs, into the family Plymouth and heading to the drive-in movie theater. I was a kid. It was a big deal. It was 3-D! Among others on the bill, was the "Creature From The Black Lagoon." The 3-D gimmick has come and gone a few times since then and appeared to have made a real comeback recently. Yet, checking out the Sunday ads in the paper (Best Buy, Fry's, Target, Tiger Direct), there was not one featuring a 3-D TV for sale. In any case, I watched this Blu ray disc in good old fashion 2-D and it looks better than ever.
The story centers on a group of scientists who find a large webbed hand and part of an arm in the Brazilian Amazon. Believed to be a water creature, scientists who are also scuba divers are recruited. Among them are David (Richard Carlson) and Mark, his boss (Richard Denning) both playing for the affections of statuesque Kay (Julie Adams). While the story is pretty much a straight forward beauty and the beast, director Jack Arnold and his team create an above average "horror" film.
The movie was essentially shot in two locations. One was the Universal Studios lot and some of the shots are well done, but others are limited to the technical capabilities of the time. All of the underwater filming was done in a Florida grotto and they are remarkably well done, especially when you remember that the film was shot in 3-D using the big and cumbersome cameras of the era. The creature, even with a rubber suit is plenty creepy given its human characteristics.
The most memorable scene (and yes, one I remember as a kid) is when Kay decides to go swimming in the lagoon in her white, and brief for the day, one piece suit. With the camera in the water shooting upward to the surface we see the shadowed silhouette of Kay gracefully swimming across the surface. Yeah, that got my attention, then and now...and more importantly, that of the creature. Director Steven Spielberg must have remembered that scene too (see "Jaws"). This goes on for a while and the creature joins in, swimming upside down below Eve. Great swimming by Ricou Browning who played the creature in the underwater scenes.
While the creature manages to kill a few crew members, it was he who was attacked first and he doesn't seem to have menace in mind when it comes to Eve. Mostly we are sympathetic to his plight. He's lonely. He wants a friend. My only complaint with the film is that each time the creature is featured, we get a menacing, shrill brass section musical blast. It's very annoying and unnecessary given the otherwise excellent score.
Like a lot of people, I grew up seeing black and white horror movies. At that time you could see two movies plus several cartoon features for about 25 cents. This fantastic collection has four classic movies and at a bargain price. They include: Dracula, one of the first ones ever produced. Frankenstein, which is the first original one made, as well as the classic The Bride of Frankenstein. The last movie in this collection I recall seeing the first time in an old movie theater, which is The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
I enjoyed viewing these movies again in this DVD. Yes, it is true that these old films are sometimes a little unclear but that does not take away from the enjoyment of seeing these classic old movies in the DVD format.
In conclusion, if you are a horror movie buff, and enjoy seeing the early black and white versions of these old classics, you may want to check out this DVD collection.
Rating: 5 Stars. Joseph J. Truncale (Author: Predator Hunter: A warrior's memoir)