I Watched Every Universal Monster Film
Updated: Mar 1
In February of 2020, I watched every Universal Monster Film. It was something I always wanted to do because I’ve always been a fan of a few of those films growing up. They were my introduction to the horror genre so they mean a lot to me.
One of my earliest memories as a child was watching Frankenstein (1931) at my grandparent’s house when I was 5 years old. We lived on the same property and my brother, who was seven, was invited to go over to their house to watch Dracula (1931). I remember begging my parents to let me go with him and they surprisingly said yes. Probably just to shut me up. So I remember we walked down the driveway on a spooky Friday night in October. We got to their house and my brother turned to me and said “This is going to be scary. You’ve been warned.” I was up for the challenge. I don’t know why I wanted to watch it so badly. Maybe it was because my brother was doing something without me. We went inside and my grandparents were happy to see us. They had a VHS copy of Frankenstein (1931). My parents thought they said Dracula but they misheard them. My grandpa popped in the VHS and we watched the classic monster flick. I remember my experience, it was nothing I’ve ever seen before. It felt like a surreal nightmare but I was having a blast. The film blew my mind. I left terrified of course but enthralled. Frankenstein is still one of my favorite horror films of all time. From then on, my love for horror films was born.
One reason why I love these films so much is because of the atmosphere. These films have the perfect gothic atmosphere. It’s nothing that can be done these days because cameras these days are more sophisticated, which make modern films look new and flashy. Back then, the cameras could only do so much, but because of that, the black and white look added so much depth to the old gothic atmosphere. Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy especially have that perfect gothic look. The cemeteries and castles look so fucking real and old, it’s awesome. Every October, when I’m in a spooky mood, I throw those on and immerse myself in the gothic creepy world of the Universal Monsters.
There are six main Universal Monsters and their own series: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, Wolf Man, Invisible Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Before this project, I’ve seen all the main monsters and their first films. So, it was nice to finally finish each monster series. There are other films that don’t belong in a monster franchise, like The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame so I’ll talk about those separately.
These films are full of iconic horror actors like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr and Lon Chaney Sr, Colin Clive, Dwight Frye, Ernest Thesiger, Claude Rains… the list goes on!
So in February of 2020, I printed out a list of all the Universal Monster films and watched one a day. There were a lot of good underrated films and A LOT of bad and forgettable films. Honestly, it was hard to sit through the last couple days because those days consisted of the awful films. Below, I’m going to go through each monster series, rank them, and give thoughts on each. You’ll notice some films will be on multiple lists and that’s because the films crossed over a lot. The Universal Monster Film Series is technically the first cinematic universe because the monsters appear in each other’s films. It’s really cool! At the end I will give my ranking on all of the films. Potential spoilers!
Frankenstein (1931): It should be no surprise this is my favorite of the series. I plan on devoting a whole piece to this film so I’ll save my thoughts on it for then. It’s a masterpiece and one of my all time favorites.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935): I will also devote an entire piece to this film so I’ll save my thoughts again. It’s the perfect sequel to a perfect film.
House of Frankenstein (1944): Underrated gem. It has all the essentials for a classic Universal Monster film. Dracula, Wolf Man, the Frankenstein monster, a hunchback, and a mad scientist. The dark atmosphere is present. This film is mostly focused on Karloff's Dr. Niemann. His character stole the show and he's an underrated villain in Universal's monster catalog. It's a nice change of pace and it makes this film stand out. I enjoyed seeing the classic characters in one film and they feel like they should be included rather than not. One of my favorites of the Universal Monster films.
Son of Frankenstein (1939): For the 3rd film in the series I didn't expect to like this one as much. Even though Karloff is the only returning cast member, I found myself enjoying the new characters. Bela Lugosi as Ygor stole the show. One of his best performances. The direction fits with the first two films as does the atmosphere. It feels like a continuation of the story and it doesn't feel pointless. I love the paranoia and PTSD the village showcases throughout. I like how the film spends a good amount of time developing the new characters. I can see myself watching a triple feature of the original, Bride, and Son.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943): This film is a blast! I watched this a lot when I was younger. It's more of a Wolf Man sequel than a Frankenstein sequel but it still works. I love how the film brings the two iconic stories together. Lon Chaney Jr is great as the Wolf Man and Bela Lugosi does a good job playing the monster. The film has the brilliant creepy atmosphere like the other films do. The 3rd act is my favorite part and it's fucking awesome. Even though it’s more silly, it’s a really good time.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948): I remember watching this as a kid and loving it. Dracula, Wolf Man, and the Frankenstein Monster in the same film (this was before I watched the other films that had all three in the same film). All I remembered was the badass 3rd act and that's it. Does it still hold up? No. It does not. I still loved seeing the three monsters in the same film. Lugosi back as Dracula, for one more time, is a blast to watch. Lon Chaney Jr is great again as the Wolf Man and Glenn Strange plays a good Frankenstein Monster. Whenever those three were on screen, I was enjoying the film. The 3rd act is a fun time. However, Abbott and Costello ruin this film. They are so misplaced. They aren't funny. They're a wannabe Three Stooges. I chuckled maybe twice. I get that this film is supposed to be a campy comedy but it's not remotely funny. This is the first of the Abbott & Costello Meet films and you’ll see later on that their other films aren’t my favorites.
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942): This film felt so uninspired. The story is really bland and it felt rushed. Lon Chaney Jr as the monster wasn't as bad as I was expecting, but I don't like how he looks. His head is too wide compared to Karloff. You can tell immediately that it's not the same monster. Lugosi is the only saving grace. He does the best job and steals the show. This film lacks the atmosphere that the other films have which is a huge let down. I don't like the story and how Dr. Frankenstein has yet another son. He’s there just so Ygor can ask for help to harness the power of the monster. How does Ygor know there's another son of Frankenstein? Why wasn't he mentioned in the previous film? The new characters aren't compelling and lack proper development so I didn't care for them. This film is just uninteresting and boring. Also they reused the score for The Wolf Man (1941) in this like nobody would notice. I wouldn’t recommend this one, which sucks because I like the name and the poster for this film.
House of Dracula (1945): This is my least favorite of all the Universal Monster Films. It’s AWFUL. This film fails in almost every way. It's boring, lazy, and messy. It doesn't even try. There's no atmosphere… at all! It takes the awesome ending of House of Frankenstein and shits all over it. It retcons everything from before, only to do the same shit but worse? It felt like they made this only to make money and nothing else. I would not recommend this garbage.
Overall, the Frankenstein series only has two duds. Not bad for the one with the most sequels. I cannot sing enough praise for the original and the first sequel. They are perfect in every way. Karloff, Clive, Frye, and Thesiger are the MVPs of this series. James Whale is the best director of the Universal Monster Films.
Dracula (1931): A classic in every way. It's a slow burn but the gothic atmosphere is perfect. The production design is fucking incredible. This film oozes with October vibes. Bela Lugosi IS Count Dracula. He steals the show and is my favorite aspect of the film. Dwight Frye also gives a memorable performance. Again, the film is slow, so I’d understand some people not enjoying it. If you’re in the mood for some old school gothic horror, this is the perfect film. Side note: I’d recommend watching the version with Philip Glass’s 1999 score. It is one of my all time favorite film scores.
Drácula (1931): The Spanish version. It was made at the same time as the English version, using the same sets but at night. I will say this film has way better direction. The camera moves a lot and it adds much needed energy to the film. The English version’s direction is really flat compared to this one. The acting is good all around. I just prefer Lugosi and Frye. Still, I’d recommend it.
Dracula’s Daughter (1936): The sequel to the classic Dracula without Bela Lugosi… no I’m serious, read that again. Universal fucked that one up big time because his presence is sorely lacking from this film. It’s fine. Gloria Holden tries but she’s not as memorable as Lugosi. Overall it’s a forgettable film.
Son of Dracula (1943): What a joke of a film. Lon Chaney Jr as Count Alucard is laughable. He’s horribly miscast in this film. He doesn't even try. I couldn't take him seriously at all. It's the most entertaining part of the film because it’s so awful. The story isn't that interesting and the new characters are forgettable. At least Dracula's Daughter felt like a continuation of the original film. This one feels like a parody that wasn't funny. Wouldn’t recommend it.
Overall, the Dracula series is half good and half bad. I’d recommend both English and Spanish versions but not the other two. Bela Lugosi is the man and I’m glad he became a legend playing the iconic Count.
The Mummy (1932): My third favorite of the Universal Monster Films. I also plan on writing a piece on this one eventually, so I will save my thoughts for then. It’s one of my favorite films of all time.
The Mummy’s Ghost (1944): My favorite of The Mummy sequels and it’s the fourth film of the series. It has the most memorable scenes and the ending is unique. I like the title as well. Unfortunately, it isn’t very good.
The Mummy’s Hand (1940): First off, terrible title. This is the first sequel to the brilliant original. It's about a different mummy with a new story. The perfect slow pacing and Egyptian gothic atmosphere from the original is thrown out the window for this comedy/adventure/horror film that fails to be any of those. The new characters are a wanna Abbott and Costello but they come off as annoying idiots, especially the character "Babe Jenson" played by Wallace Ford. He’s AWFUL. He isn't funny at all. He ruined every scene he's in and he's in this film a lot. The mummy is just a monster who chases the good guys. He also looks like shit. The makeup is horrendous. His backstory is the exact same as Imhotep (Karloff from the original), and they even used the same footage from the first but replaced Karloff with the new actor. It’s not good at all.
The Mummy’s Tomb (1942): The first 20 minutes of this film is just footage from The Mummy’s Hand, with the main character explaining what we're seeing. Why the fuck did they think that was a good idea? It’s annoying, especially if you just watched the previous film and had to rewatch the same scenes. It's yet another forgettable sequel. Lon Chaney Jr is fine as the mummy I guess. Also they reused The Wolf Man's score. This film is just lazy.
The Mummy’s Curse (1944): I have no memory of this one honestly, so that says a lot.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955): Not funny in the slightest. This was really difficult to sit through and finish.
Overall, I have to admit, The Mummy series has the worst sequels. I didn’t like any of them and they were really hard to get through. The original film is slow gothic masterpiece with a brilliant performance from Boris Karloff. The sequels, for some fucking reason, switched and became boring slasher films with a slow moving Chaney as the monster. It’s baffling and I wouldn’t recommend any of them. Just watch the original classic.
THE WOLF MAN:
The Wolf Man (1941): Classic! This film is nostalgic for me. It's one of the first horror films I ever watched. I love it when Chaney becomes the Wolf Man, he really sells it as the creature. The transformation scenes are iconic and amazing for 1941. The score is great and I love the sets. The foggy woods are iconic! Claude Rains is fantastic in this. He steals every scene he's in. I do have some issues, mostly with the script. Chaney's character is unlikable and a creep. He spies on an engaged woman and makes her go out with him. That's how the plot moves forward for Chaney getting bit by the werewolf. The relationship with Chaney and the female lead is bizarre and doesn't work for me. Despite those issues, I still like this one and would recommend it.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943): I already talked about this one. It’s awesome!
Werewolf of London (1935): Look, I’m not going to lie… I didn’t like this one. It’s painfully dull.
She-Wolf of London (1946): Now this one pissed me off. It’s false advertising. This is a werewolf film without a fucking werewolf. It's just a predictable murder mystery. I'm serious. The film builds up the idea that the main character thinks she's a werewolf committing murders but she's not. Her cartoonish evil Aunt is the one murdering everyone so she can convince the main character that she's insane. Yes, again I'm serious. What the fuck Universal? Not only that, but it's a forgettable film that has ZERO atmosphere. Don't watch this one.
Overall, similar to the Dracula series, The Wolf Man series is half good and half bad. I’d recommend the first two but not the other two. Lon Chaney Jr though is what makes the character so memorable and awesome. He’s a champ just like his father was.
THE INVISIBLE MAN:
The Invisible Man (1933): Classic and brilliant. The technical achievements in this film are really fucking impressive. For 1933, the effects are astounding! Claude Rains absolutely kills it as the Invisible man. He's horrifying yet believable. He's my favorite part of this film. He steals the show and it's one of my favorite performances. I love the story and the execution. Una O'Connor though, is the one problem. She is so fucking annoying and ruins every scene she's in. Still, this is one of the best of the Universal Monster Films by far.
The Invisible Woman (1940): A complete departure from the original. It’s a straight up comedy but you know what? I dug this one. I thought it was hilarious and it still had amazing effects. Virginia Bruce is awesome as the lead. She has great comedic timing. Shemp Howard from The Three Stooges is in this film! That was really awesome to see. I enjoyed this overall.
The Invisible Man Returns (1940): This film is a snoozefest. Claude Rains insane performance is missing here. Instead we get Vincent Price, who tries his best. The story is so uninteresting and I didn't give a single care about what was going on. I’d recommend it only for Vincent Price because he is awesome in everything.
The Invisible Agent (1942): The story is interesting I guess? At least it tries to be different but it still doesn't work. The effects aren't as good. The new characters are forgettable. Even Peter Lorre couldn't save this film. Wouldn’t recommend it.
The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944): I have no memory of this one either. So again, that says a lot.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951): Once again, Abbott and Costello are at the bottom of a ranking. I don’t find their comedy funny so this was another film of theirs that was hard to sit through.
Overall, The Invisible Man series has two good films with forgettable sequels. I’d recommend the original classic. It is so so so fucking good.
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON:
Creature From The Black Lagoon 1954): Banger! The last of the great Universal Monsters. This film is really impressive. The stunts and underwater filmmaking really make this a worthwhile experience. The creature is horrifying yet we understand where he's coming from. The human characters are likable. I was amazed with what the filmmakers accomplished. Especially the stuntmen who played the creature. This is top tier and one of my favorites from the Universal Monster Films.
The Creature Walks Among Us (1956): What a weird fucking film. I like the characters. I thought they were well developed and I like their differences in views and morals. I like their hunt for the creature. The first half is good, even though it's mostly scientific exposition. Like I said, this is a strange film. Like really weird. What the characters are trying to do is bizarre yet it works?? It doesn't make sense but I didn't care. They make it sound interesting. This could've been an average sequel like the Revenge of the Creature (1955) but this film goes into such a strange direction that I went with it. What the characters accomplish dives into the mad scientist subgenre. Leigh Snowden is an underrated actress of the Universal Monster Films. The creature is still awesome and scary in this. The underwater scenes are still well shot. The look of the creature during the 2nd half of this film is weird, but it fits with the overall tone. This film is definitely a hit or miss but I think it works for me. It's not perfect but I like it for what it's going for.
Revenge of the Creature (1955): Not a bad follow up to the classic original. I liked where they took the story. The creature is captured and essentially becomes a SeaWorld attraction. He's stripped away from his home to a fish tank for human entertainment. I felt bad for him. The creature performance and underwater scenes again are top notch. The highlight of the film. My main issue is the human characters. They're really the villains of the film yet they get the most screen time. I don't care about them nor do I like them. Still though I would recommend this. Also Clint Eastwood has a small role in this so that was funny to see.
Overall, the Creature series is the most consistent. All three films are good and I’d recommend the entire trilogy.
I need to mention that I enjoyed the two silent films: The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). I am not a big fan of silent films but I did appreciate those two films. Lon Chaney Sr. is the OG of the Universal Monster Films and is amazing in both films.
The Phantom of the Opera (1943) with Claude Rains really surprised me. It’s amazing! It has beautiful cinematography and a brilliant performance from Rains as the Phantom. I’d highly recommend that one.
Below I will rank all the films I just discussed in order from favorite to least favorite!
The Bride of Frankenstein
The Invisible Man
Creature From The Black Lagoon
Phantom of the Opera (1943)
House of Frankenstein
Son of Frankenstein
The Wolf Man
Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man
The Creature Walks Among Us
Revenge of the Creature
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The Invisible Woman
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
The Mummy’s Ghost
The Ghost of Frankenstein
Werewolf of London
The Invisible Man Returns
The Mummy’s Hand
The Mummy’s Tomb
The Invisible Man’s Revenge
The Mummy’s Curse
She-Wolf of London
Son of Dracula
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy
Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man
House of Dracula
I had a blast with this project and I am happy I completed the Universal Monster Film series. Some of these films mean the world to me and I cannot recommend the top films enough!