I want to put this out there right out of the gate: The Mummy movies are the absolute worst of all the classic Universal Monster films; which has me worried that the shared universe is starting with it, but I digress. Released in 1940, the film is the first sequel to the Boris Karloff original despite having no relation to that film's events. It is also only 67 minutes long and The Mummy does not appear until the 43-minute mark. A supreme exercise in boredom.
I often wonder what H.G. Wells would think of what happened to his seminal novel when it was sequelized by Hollywood, because The Invisible Woman is quite literally a farce. Released the same year as the first sequel to The Invisible Man (The Invisible Man Returns), The Invisible Woman is a comedy spin-off of the franchise featuring a woman that becomes invisible to gain revenge against her former boss. Though some charming jokes can be found, it's primarily a waste.
The formula for Invisible Man sequels always involved someone needing a reason to become invisible and using it for their own advantage, mostly, so “Revenge” sees an escaped convict volunteer himself to become invisible and use his abilities to intimidate a family he thinks cheated him out of some money. The set-up is nonsense and the movie as a whole is really dull. There is, however, an invisible puppy in it.
The Universal Monsters have the 1925 version of Phantom of the Opera to thank for their mere existence, so it's only natural Universal would remake the film amid their others. The sad part is that not even Claude Rains (who kills it) is capable of saving this toothless version of the movie. All of the atmosphere of the original is replaced with filming expensive and elaborate sets.
When the sequels for all of the films started to get stale, there was only one way to keep the train going: bring them all together. Universal made two of these “Rally” movies and the second one was the death kneel for the characters in a serious film. Nothing happens for the entirety of the film, but I can't help but think it should be seen simply for what happens in the completely bonkers final three minutes. It's almost worth it. Almost.
What's remarkable about the Creature from the Black Lagoon franchise is how well it shaped the mold of horror sequels that series like Friday the 13th or Saw would later follow. The third and final film in the series, it picks up right after the events of Revenge of the Creature and has the harebrained plot of a man seeking revenge on the Creature who enlists a doctor to capture it and take away his gils. There's a good idea in there, but it's poorly executed.
The franchise would lay dormant for two years as the war in Europe began to grow, but it wouldn't stay dead and would return as a literal piece of war propaganda in The Invisible Man's Revenge. It revolves around the grandson of the original Invisible Man, having immigrated to the United States, who finds himself a target by the Axis powers eager to gain the formula. It's a mostly trashy movie with some funny gags about Nazis but overall uninteresting. Though I can't prove it, I think the Japanese spy in the film was the basis for Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Picking up right where the original Dracula left off, Dracula's Daughter has a strong start as it tries to put together all the pieces of that film's climax but quickly devolves into a smattering of several different popular film genres that simply don't coalesce together. The film is notable for its not-so-subtle lesbian undertones, which would become a big staple for the vampire genre later.
At the same time that Tod Browning's Dracula was being shot during the day, at night a Spanish version of the exact same film was being produced. What's very interesting about it is that they watched the dailies of the English version before filming, giving them a chance to better approach the situation. The Spanish version Dracula has a much better use of cinematography because of this, but its title character, played by Carlos Villar, is laughable.
Released just one year after Dracula, The Mummy is essentially a remake of that film but with a different monster. So similar, in fact, that it uses the exact same music at almost the exact same moments in the story. Fans of the remake series starring Brendan Fraser will also be surprised to know how similar they actually are in terms of plot.
The good thing about The Mummy's Tomb is that following The Mummy's Hand there was nowhere to go but up, plus it features Lon Chaney Jr as the title monster and he always, always brings his A game. The film also inexplicably moves ahead 30 years in time with World War II still raging in the 1970s.
All of The Mummy movies are basically the same, a long boring slog where someone wakes up a Mummy to either kill people or retrieve a woman that is a reincarnated priestess; however, The Mummy's Ghost outdoes all of them by having the best ending, a total gut punch even by today's standards.
11 years after the series had been in slumber, the iconic comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello dug up The Mummy and officially meet him in their fifth horror comedy. The film certainly has some great gags (as all of their pictures do), but when its total on-screen Mummy time is just nine minutes, it loses points.
Not much makes sense about this movie, but I suppose that is in keeping with some of the other Invisible Man films. What's really strange is how it changes from a “hunt for the Invisible Man” movie to a boxing movie. It's certainly funny and probably has the weirdest ending of all the films.
Something to understand about these films from the 1930s is how much they relied on showing off high society. Films were an easily accessible art form for the masses, so letting them see how the other side lives was a big part of it, and a primary chunk of Werewolf of London. Parts of the film hold up remarkably well, but when it focuses on these banquets and parties, it's bland even by 1930s standards. It's notable, however, for it's pop culture significance, inspiring the title of the Warren Zevon song, the John Landis film An American Werewolf in London, and the look of Eddie Munster.
The sequel/spin-off wouldn't arrive until 11 years later, but She-Wolf of London actually has a much more clever take on the idea. A young woman, days away from being married, becomes anxious about a series of murders thought to be carried out by a werewolf, thinking she's the lycanthrope. That's the kind of movie that could still work today and they made it work in 1946.
Saying The Mummy's Curse is the best Mummy movie is like picking a favorite flavor of candy corn. Some are more tolerable than others, but it is primarily a thing that is best ignored and used only as decoration. That said, The Mummy's Curse is kind of amazing for how insane its story is, which roughly takes place in 1995 thanks to its screwy timeline and inexplicably moves the events of the film from Massachusetts to Louisiana.
House of Frankenstein, though not the first crossover movie, is the first time more than two of the “monsters” were brought together and it yielded mixed results. Dracula appears in the film with a poor magician costume and has no interaction with the other creatures, but the harebrained plot for the second half of the movie is about as bonkers as these films can get, complete with a “they drowned in quick sand” ending.
A recurring theme for the Universal Monster movies? They get it right the first time. What's really remarkable about Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is how the film created the mold that Marvel Studios gets all the credit for, it's both a sequel to The Wolf Man AND Ghost of Frankenstein, while also being its own standalone feature. Though it does feature an inexplicable and extended sequence of village singing.
Again, a wacky plot almost keeps this film from reaching the next level of maintaining entertainment decades later, but Son of Dracula prevails. Lon Chaney Jr. plays the title character and does a great job despite his mustache, and again it has one of those rare gut-punch endings, something that really should have been a staple for all of these films.
For 75% of this sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon it follows a logical sequel path and is pretty entertaining on the whole. In fact, the film is weirdly relevant again in a world where Jurassic World and Westworld are so popular, as it sees the Creature taken from the Amazon to a Florida amusement park. The last 20 minutes could have been condensed into 5 though, and that might have made it one of the real greats of the entire filmography.
Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein manages to outdo all of the “serious” crossover films by blending all of the monsters into a pretty seamless and interesting plot with some of the funnier gags for the title duo. A true horror-comedy classic that still holds up.
By the metric of any other horror franchise (barring some exceptions), the fourth film in the series has no right to be as good as The Ghost of Frankenstein is. It continues the tradition of the monster being a sympathetic being surrounded by true monsters in the people around him. Plus its an all-star cast with Lon Chaney Jr. as the Monster and Béla Lugosi as Ygor.
The one that started them all is still a worthwhile classic. Though the Spanish version capitalizes on some of the mistakes made during production, the Tod Browning-directed film is the better version. Lugosi does a great job as the title character but Dwight Frye as Renfield is the true MVP of the film and is what keeps you drawn in to the film's wickedness.
In his American film debut, Claude Rains completely owns the role of Universal's most human and insane monster. What's really great about The Invisible Man is how timeless it is. Sure, the effects are dated, but they're (ahem) effective, some even more so than the other Invisible Man movies. It's a true roller coaster of a movie.
Lon Chaney Jr.'s debut into the Universal Monster world is proof why he became their go-to secret weapon: he's charming as all hell out of his make-up and he's completely fearless to lose himself into the role that he's in. Plus, he's with Bela Lugosi again, a tag-team that never disappoints.
You might be more familiar with Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein than Son of Frankenstein, but they're almost the same movie but on different ends of the tonal spectrum. Son of Frankenstein is notable because it's the final time Boris Karloff would play The Monster but also because it continues to find new ways to make the formula of the series exciting and new.
One of those only instances where the sequel is somehow better than the original, even if it's by a slim margin. Horror god Vincent Price stars as the title character, a man falsely accused of murder that must find the real culprit while invisible. What's even more remarkable about the movie is that Price only appears on screen in the final moments but commands the entire movie with just his voice.
Though it may follow a similar structure to many of the other monster movies, Creature is top-tier because of the design of the monster, the effectiveness of its scares, and the incredible underwater photography. The Creature himself is one of the most visually interesting monsters of all time, even just small parts of him like his hand (which is a milked-to-death scare tactic in the film that is charming as it is funny).
There's a reason Frankenstein is such a cultural icon and though Mary Shelley's novel is timeless, this film deserves most of the credit. James Whale uses the artifice of the film's scenery to create a living play that speaks to countless aspects of what it means to be human. Plus, Karloff creates empathy under those many layers of makeup and prosthetics in a way unlike anyone else can.
As great as Frankenstein is, Whale took the sequel up to 11 and delivered one of the best horror movies of all time. The sequel improves on the original in ways that remain fresh, exciting, and incredibly nuanced in their message. God save the Queen of the monsters.