night at karloff's

My Top 10 Universal Horror Movies

My final top horror list for the year, here’s my top 10 (sort of) Universal Monsters list. This is exclusively just the Universal horror films from the silent era to the 50s. I won’t be including later ones like Jaws or anything, just the original Monsters collection, or this list would be too big and messy.

#10…

The third in the Frankenstein series, I don’t feel it’s as good as its two prequels, but a damn good film all around. While hardcore fans of the Monster may be let down by how little he appears in the movie, I feel the real star of the show is Ygor, played by Bela Lugosi. It’s an interesting turn for the series, but still perfectly captures that classic Universal atmosphere. I feel this is the last great Frankenstein film in the Universal library, ironically also being the last one with Karloff behind the Monster.

#9…

I know many people would probably rank The Mummy higher than this on their personal top 10 Universal lists, and it IS a great movie, but I’ve always felt it was a bit weaker than the other greats in the Universal series. Karloff is amazing as the resurrected haunting mummy, Imhotep, and the film is far smarter and better acted than the other unrelated Mummy “sequels” that followed (not to mention all remakes). I have a few problems with the movie, like the rehash of many of Dracula’s elements (some argue it’s the exact same story), the lack of much spooky scenery and settings, and they kill a dog. Come on. Why do movie directors always have to kill the dog?

#8…

My personal favorite film adaptation of the classic romance tragedy, Lon Cheney IS the Phantom. His look and mannerisms (all makeup done by Cheney himself) were the perfect defining version of the character, and all later iterations always felt a bit flat in comparison. This one doesn’t seem to be as widely renowned as all the post-Dracula films, as silent movies rarely get enough love, but it truly is one of the greats, and in my opinion, the first Universal film to kick off their style of gothic horror.

#7…

This one is not only important in that it practically set up an entire genre, but is also just a really great film. The most famous character is likely the mute, drunken butler played by Boris Karloff, but the whole cast is really good. The mood and visuals of the film make it perfect for a stormy, spooky night.

#6…

Lugosi and Karloff together in one film, the Black Cat, which is really not at all related to the Poe story beyond the title, is actually a surprisingly damn good film despite the little buzz about it these days. We see Lugosi in a heroic role, which was not common at that point (or ever, really) and he actually plays a really likable guy, despite being really bizarre at times. The acting from Lugosi and Karloff is some of their best, and there are a lot of really interesting and ambitious effects and scene transitions for its time. I won’t spoil the whole film, but I will say that the ending is the only thing in the movie I don’t really care for. It ends on a crappy, throw-away joke after some really heavy events just occurred, which to me weakens the mood and, considering what the main protagonists just witnessed/did, makes them seem pretty inconsiderate and messed up.

#5…

A direct sequel to the 1931 classic, Dracula’s Daughter, Countess Zaleska, is an extremely interesting vampire for her time since she is reluctant to give into her curse. She’s sympathetic and dreams of a release from her vampirism, much in contrast to the monstrous pride of her father. Not only do we want to see her get better and succeed, but her gradual failure to fight her urges make for a very unique and complex vampire film for its time.

#4…

Though this is sort of the odd man out in the Universal series, as we don’t see any old European castles, mansions or laboratories, this film is still a ton of fun and a worthy member of the Universal Monsters Collection. After decades of magical monsters terrorizing the screen, the 50s gave birth to more monsters of science. And when it comes to sci fi horror films of the 50s, few are better than “Black Lagoon”. Some may find the Gillman suit a bit too silly and tacky looking today, but if you enjoy the slight campiness, this movie is a great time. It’s sequel, Revenge of the Creature, however, I probably feel is the worst Universal horror film I’ve ever seen. Not TERRIBLE, but not NEARLY as good as its prequel.

#3…

The Invisible Man is a smart and cheeky flick. Not as horror based as many of the other Universal classics, but still enough so to fit right in. The acting is great, the special effects are mind-boggling for their time, and the movie can actually be damn funny, especially with how surprisingly not weirded out the people are by Griffin’s invisibility. The only two complaints I have is that I would have rather had there been no explanation that the drug is responsible for his madness, and think it would have been more powerful and interesting if his madness was the result of his living in terror and paranoia, as well as realizing the freedom of his new form. Also, I hate that loud old woman. She’s so freaking annoying. I guess James Whale found her really funny, because she plays the exact same kind of loud annoying comic relief role in Bride of Frankenstein.

#2…

Often considered possibly the best Universal Monster film, Bride of Frankenstein is definitely one of the greats. While it is probably the best written, acted, and directed of the Frankenstein series, I do personally think it is not AS enjoyable as the first one. That being said, though, it is extremely well made, and surprisingly smart, emotional, and even witty for a 1930s horror film. It clearly has more to say than your average classic horror flick, but still delivers all the eerie atmosphere and sets you expect from Universal.

#1…

And for my #1 space, I couldn’t decide. These are the generic standard for Universal Monsters. They’re the three everybody thinks of first. But I genuinely just love these three the most. I used to say The Wolfman was probably a bit higher for me than the other two simply because I LOVE those foggy woodland sets, but Dracula and Frankenstein are so damn good, it’s impossible for me to choose. If I had to pick one as my favorite, it might be Dracula. It just perfectly embodies everything I identify the Universal collection by. All three of these movies excel in that perfect gothic style of visuals and setting and just have great simple yet absolute classic monster stories. Not to mention, the actors playing the monsters are perfect. It doesn’t feel like Halloween season any year if I don’t watch these three.