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Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection Blu-ray Review - Recommended



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#1 of 107 Kevin EK

Kevin EK

    Screenwriter

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  • Join Date: May 09 2003

Posted October 07 2012 - 04:01 PM

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection scares its way onto Blu-ray in an 8-disc set mostly featuring some exemplary HD transfers that present these movies in the best manner they have been available on home video.  Six out of the eight discs feature excellent picture and sound, and the two remaining discs (of Phantom of the Opera and Creature From the Black Lagoon) are still watchable, even if they don’t scale the heights of the first six.  For that reason, this release is Recommended for purchase as a must-see for fans of classic Universal Horror films.   I note that four of the movies included in this set (Dracula, Dracula (Spanish language), Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein) were included on the special attention list for restoration as part of Universal’s 100th Anniversary celebration.




396fb24d_UniversalMonstersBlu-rayCover.jUNIVERSAL CLASSIC MONSTERS

THE ESSENTIAL COLLECTION



Studio: Universal

Year:  Various, between 1931 and 1954

Length:  Various, averaging around 1 hour and 15 minutes each  

Genre:  Horror/Adventure


Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1, except for Creature From The Black Lagoon at 1.85:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 30 mbps),

Except Creature 3D with MVC encoding


Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (@ an average 1.9 mbps), French DTS 2.0


Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish


Film Rating: Unrated (Mild Scares and Violence)






Release Date: October 2, 2012



Before I begin the review proper, I need to once again thank Joe Kane, for allowing me to bring this Blu-ray set to his professional grade system for evaluation.  I’m grateful to Joe for giving me the opportunity to do so, and I thank him for his generosity, graciousness and for his good counsel.   For the record, Joe’s system is an HD projector that he designed, and the screen is 90”, also of his design.   Joe’s system is calibrated to the nth degree, and is set up to allow whatever information is on a Blu-ray disc to be transmitted to the screen and speakers at around 90% - meaning that the system passes through the information without trying to reinterpret the signal.   Sitting comfortably at a distance of 8 feet from the 90” screen, Joe and I were able to evaluate all 8 discs as projected.  I also brought along for comparison purposes the 2004 “Legacy Collection” sets of Dracula and Frankenstein, and the Special Edition DVDs of The Mummy and The Wolf Man.   The only movies in the set for which we did not have comparison materials were The Invisible Man, Phantom of the Opera and Creature From the Black Lagoon.


The short version of this evaluation is that I’m going to RECOMMEND this set for purchase, based on the strength of the first six discs in the set.  I cannot make this a Highly Recommended set, due to picture quality issues with the final two discs – Phantom of the Opera and Creature From the Black Lagoon.  I should also note that since I put up my draft review, several people have contributed information about Creature From the Black Lagoon that indicates that at least some of the PQ issues with the movie may have to do with an extensive use of opticals in that movie.  Nevertheless, fans of the original Dracula and Frankenstein, etc, are going to have a great time with this set.  The movies on the first six discs have never looked better, and Universal should be commended for what was clearly a massive undertaking to restore them.  It’s a shame that the last two couldn’t have been in that good company, but in the overall scheme of things, it’s a heck of a good opportunity to get seven classic monster movies, now preserved for all time in all their glory.


Looking over the complete set, I find that almost all of the extensive special features here are ported over from the prior DVD editions, current to whatever the most recent release was in each case.  This is not a bad thing, as the existing featurettes and commentaries are a treasure trove of information about all of these movies, and having the whole pile together like this is akin to being given a full semester film school course in the fundamentals of the Universal Horror legacy.


Let’s take the discs in order.  As I go through each disc, I will note the picture and sound quality, as well as the origin and nature of all the special features to be found with each movie.




DISC ONE:  DRACULA


Studio: Universal

Year:  1931

Length:  1 hour 15 minutes

Genre:  Horror/Adventure


Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 30 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (@ an average 1.9 mbps), French DTS 2.0,

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Content Rating: Unrated (Mild Scares and Violence)


Starring:  Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye and Edward Van Sloan


Based on the Novel by:  Bram Stoker

And on the Stage Adaptation by:  Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston

Screenplay by: Garret Fort

Directed by: Tod Browning


Film Rating: 5/5


The first disc in the set focuses on Dracula – the English language Tod Browning version and the Spanish language version filmed nightly on the same sets.  Watching English language version today, I am struck by how much of a silent expressionist movie it really is.  (It’s no accident that a completely effective silent version was released at the same time as the sound version.)  Over 80 years after the fact, Bela Lugosi’s performance in the title role continues to be mesmerizing, as is the delirious spin into lunacy by Dwight Frye.  The movie’s power rests in the performances and in the hypnotic imagery created by director Tod Browning and cinematographer Karl Freund.   It’s interesting to hear the baying of the “children of the night” near the beginning of the movie.  After this film, that sound would go on to be one of the hallmarks of horror cinema for decades to come.


VIDEO QUALITY   5/5

Both Dracula movies are presented in AVC 1.33:1 transfers that are absolutely the best the films have ever looked on home video.  The English language version benefits more from the work, showing clear improvements over the 2004 transfer in many ways.  The most significant improvement is a change in the gamma, allowing viewers to see much more detail in the shadowy areas of the screen.  In earlier transfers, many characters and objects are in total blackness when in shadow.  This doesn’t become evident until you compare between the Blu-ray and the earlier DVD, at which point it’s clear that you’re seeing a lot more detail and texture within the shadows.  This is not to say that the moody, dark, expressionist look of the film has been compromised in any way – on the contrary, the improved transfer simply allows the viewer to see a bit more into the shadows.  Both movies have benefited from an extensive cleanup of scratches and other damage, and from a stabilization of the picture that makes the credits easier to watch and generally helps ground the picture.   The Spanish language version of the movie gets the same benefits as the English language, but it seems to me that it was likely in better shape before the restoration to begin with, so the hill it’s climbed in quality doesn’t seem as high as the English language version.  (And for those who are curious, the English language version title card indeed has the word “President” misspelled as “Presient”…)


AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

Both Dracula movies are presented with DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mixes that greatly improve the sound quality from what we’ve been given before on home video.  Again, the English language version really gets the better part of this deal.  The sound has been noticeably cleaned up and the hiss has been reduced, thus allowing the dialogue to be heard more clearly.  Listening between the 2004 DVD sound and the new Blu-ray sound, we noted that the earlier mix had some unfortunate distortion which has now been cleared up.  For the record, the performance of Swan Lake heard over the opening titles is correct for each version of the movie.  (The Spanish language version uses a different performance.)  I also note that the unhappy moans and groans of Bela Lugosi as he is staked off-camera at the end are indeed present.



SPECIAL FEATURES   5/5


The Blu-ray disc of Dracula comes packed with extras, mostly ranging back to the 1999 release, but one is actually a new featurette assembled this year.


Spanish Version of Dracula, with Introduction by Lupita Tovar Kohner (Movie presented in 1080p AVC with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix, as noted above) (Introduction presented in 480p 4x3, running 4:14) (NEW TRANSFER FOR THIS RELEASE, INTRODUCTION ORIGINALLY PREPARED FOR THE 2004 DVD) – The Spanish-language version of the movie is included here, fully restored in all its glory.  As with DVDs of this title since 2004, a video introduction by actress Lupita Tovar Kohner is included.  And as she points out, this version of the movie was filmed on the same sets and locations as the English language version – but during the nighttime hours between 7pm and 7am.


Commentary by David J. Skal  (FROM THE 1999 DVD) – This commentary, prepared for the 1999 DVD, is a thorough series of prepared remarks by David J. Skal, who walks the viewer through a massive amount of information about the movie.  The remarks are tailored to coincide with on-screen events, but are clearly a prepared lecture.  Regardless, there’s a mountain of material here.


Commentary by Steve Haberman  (FROM THE 2006 DVD) – This commentary, prepared for the 2006 75th Anniversary DVD, is a series of prepared remarks by author and screenwriter Steve Haberman, who at another time wrote the script for Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It.  This is another mountain of information that mostly coincides with the onscreen events even if it isn’t quite scene specific.  Haberman takes a few shots at the Spanish language version, noting how Tod Browning’s version is better paced and shot.


Monster Tracks  (FROM THE 2006 DVD) – This is a text commentary prepared for the 75th Anniversary DVD, providing background information about everything from the cast to the sets to anything else you could possibly want to know that hasn’t been in either commentary you’ve already heard at this point.


Alternative Score by Philip Glass, Performed by the Kronos Quartet  (FROM THE 1999 DVD) – As another bonus dating back to 1999, there is an option to watch the movie, with all the dialogue audible, accompanied by a new score written by modern composer Philip Glass.  Fans of Philip Glass’ stylings will likely enjoy this, but I must confess finding the music a bit frenetic and distracting.  Granted, it’s interesting to hear the movie with ANY score, since there is no music aside from the credits.  But this just feels like an interpretation of the movie as opposed to a score written FOR it.


The Road to Dracula  (FROM THE 1999 DVD) (35:04, 480p, 4x3) – This featurette, assembled by David J. Skal for the 1999 DVD, covers a lot of ground from the book through the production and release of the movie.  Multiple scholars weigh in on various aspects of the movie, as well as the Spanish language version.  This featurette continues to be a fine supplement to the movie.


Lugosi: The Dark Prince  (FROM THE 2006 DVD) (36:07, 480p, 4x3) – This featurette, prepared for the 75th Anniversary DVD, focuses on the career of Bela Lugosi, including a frank discussion of how he was rejected for the title role in Frankenstein but wound up playing the part later on in a blind performance that came to typify how people remember the role.  (The lurching walk with the outstretched arms, etc.)  Lugosi’s rivalry with Boris Karloff is also discussed, although much of the time goes into their roles together in movies including The Black Cat.


Dracula: The Restoration  (NEW FEATURETTE) (8:46, 1080p) – This new high definition featurette discusses the extensive restoration work done to preserve Dracula and prepare the movie for a Blu-ray release.


Dracula Archives  (FROM THE 1999 DVD) (9:11, 480p, 4x3) – This is an assembly of poster art and production stills, presented initially to the tune of Swan Lake and then to blander music.  This assembly dates back to 1999 but is still interesting to watch.


Trailer Gallery  (FROM THE 2004 DVD) (6:22 Total, 480p, 4x3) – Four trailers are presented here as they were on the 2004 Legacy Collection where all four movies were part of the package.  Older SD trailers of Dracula, Dracula’s Daughter, Son of Dracula and House of Dracula are presented here either individually or via a “Play All” option.   Watching all the trailers in one sitting has the unfortunate result of making the later sequels look sillier and sillier the farther on it goes…



DISC TWO:  FRANKENSTEIN


Studio: Universal

Year:  1931

Length:  1 hour 11 minutes

Genre:  Horror/Adventure


Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 30 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (@ an average 1.9 mbps), French DTS 2.0,

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Content Rating: Unrated (Mild Scares and Violence)


Starring:  Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clark, John Boles and Edward Van Sloan


Based on the Novel by:  Mary Shelley

And on the Stage Adaptations by:  Peggy Webling and John L. Balderston

Screenplay by:  Francis Edward Faragoh and Garret Fort

Directed by:  James Whale


Film Rating: 5/5


The second disc in the set focuses on Frankenstein, the second major horror movie released by Universal in 1931.  Unlike Dracula, Frankenstein is much more of a conventional sound picture, although it still harkens back to expressionism at multiple points.   The performances here are more subtle than the earlier film, although Colin Clive gets to an inspired level of mania during his famous “It’s ALIVE!” rant.  Another staple of the horror genre, the dark and stormy night, gets a first major spotlight here – and in this story the storm is crucial as it’s the lightning that will give life to the monster.



VIDEO QUALITY   5/5

Frankenstein is presented in an AVC 1.33:1 transfer that, again, presents the movie in the best condition it’s ever been seen in a home theater.  As with Dracula, the picture has benefited from stabilization (fixing the gate weave noted on the 2004 transfer), significant scratch and damage cleanup, and a change in the gamma that reveals more shadow details.  The changes here are not as profound as those with Dracula, but they are still noticeable.  Again, it’s a pleasure to see a 1931 movie looking this good on a 2012 HD system!  Of course, there are some drawbacks to the improvement in quality – namely that the opening funeral/body recovery scene is now very obviously on a stage.  The “sky” background is clearly the back wall with a drop.  We can clearly see the folds in the fabric and even a hole!  The issue is exacerbated when the good doctor throws his first shovelful of dirt behind him – and we can see and hear the dirt hit the wall!


AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

Frankenstein is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that is an obvious improvement over the prior DVD mixes.  Again, the dialogue is clearer, the hiss is reduced.  Like the picture quality, this is not as significant of a quality jump as we saw with Dracula, but the improvement is still noticeable.  And for the record, Dr. Frankenstein’s line of “Now I know what it is to BE GOD!” is present in all its glory.



SPECIAL FEATURES   5/5


The Blu-ray disc of Frankenstein comes packed with extras, mostly ranging back to the 1999 release.


Commentary by Historian Rudy Behlmer  (FROM THE 1999 DVD) – This commentary, prepared for the 1999 DVD, is a thorough series of prepared remarks by Rudy Behlmer, who like David Skal with the prior film, walks the viewer through a massive amount of information about this movie. 


Commentary by Historian Sir Christopher Frayling  (FROM THE 2006 DVD) – This commentary, prepared for the 2006 75th Anniversary DVD, is a series of prepared remarks by historian Sir Christopher Frayling.  This is definitely more of a lecture than a commentary, but there’s still a mountain of information to receive here.


Monster Tracks  (FROM THE 2006 DVD) – This is a text commentary prepared for the 75th Anniversary DVD, providing background information about everything from the cast to the sets to anything else you could possibly want to know, just as was the case with the earlier film.


The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster   (FROM THE 1999 DVD) (44:53, 480p, 4x3) – This featurette, assembled for the 1999 DVD, covers everything from the origins of the book through the production of the movie and its subsequent legacy.  This is another solid piece of Hollywood history, filling in the backstory and anything that might not have been covered in the commentaries.


Karloff: The Gentle Monster   (FROM THE 2006 DVD) (37:58, 480p, 4x3) – This featurette, prepared for the 75th Anniversary DVD, focuses on the career of Boris Karloff, including his multiple appearances in the Frankenstein movies and the movies in which he appeared with Bela Lugosi.  The trajectory of his career is examined, including his late appearance in Targets.


Universal Horror  (1998 Documentary, included with DVDs as of 2006) (1:35:14, Full Frame) – This 1998 documentary, narrated by Kenneth Branagh, has previously been seen on television. It essentially covers the gamut of classic Universal horror films, starting from before Dracula and including several lesser-known films to boot. As is usual with these documentaries, the piece consists of interviews with surviving crew members and cast (including Fay Wray from King Kong and various scholars and family members, intercut with footage from the films and the odd production still for variety. There's also a bit of color on-set footage from a test for Son of Frankenstein, showing Karloff mock-strangling Jack Pierce and revealing the monster in all his green glory. (One wonders if that had any impact on the eventual coloring of The Incredible Hulk...) It’s fascinating material, for those who have not seen these interviews before.


Boo!  A Short Film  (FROM THE 2004 DVD) (9:30, 480p, 4x3) – This is a short film made in 1932 by Albert DeMond using clips from various horror movies including Frankenstein and Nosferatu, only in a mocking fashion.

Frankenstein Archives  (FROM THE 1999 DVD) (9:24, 480p, 4x3) – This is an assembly of poster art and production stills, presented initially to music from the film, but as we get into the stills, the backing sound becomes the dialogue in the movie.


100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics  (FROM VARIOUS 2012 BLU-RAYS) (9:13, 1080p) – This featurette, which has been included on several 2012 Blu-ray releases, discusses the restoration work being done for multiple Universal titles, including the monster movies in this collection.


Trailer Gallery  (FROM THE 2004 DVD) (8:23 Total, 480p, 4x3) – Five trailers are presented here as they were on the 2004 Legacy Collection where most of the movies were part of the package.  Older SD trailers of Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and House of Frankenstein are presented here either individually or via a “Play All” option.   Watching all the trailers in one sitting continues to have the result of making the increasing level of ridiculousness, and the drop in story quality more obvious…




DISC THREE:  THE MUMMY


Studio: Universal

Year:  1932

Length:  1 hour 14 minutes

Genre:  Horror/Adventure


Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 30 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (@ an average 1.9 mbps), French DTS 2.0,

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Content Rating: Unrated (Mild Scares and Violence)


Starring:  Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners and Edward Van Sloan


Written by:  John L. Balderston

Directed by:  Karl Freund


Film Rating: 3 ½/5


The third disc in the set focuses on The Mummy.  As I noted in my review of the 2008 DVD, The Mummy is a curious addition to the line of Universal horror films from the 1930’s, in that it is more of an adventurous romance than a scare fest, but it still has that opening image of Boris Karloff in exquisite Mummy makeup to get the viewer going. The plot is clearly designed to take advantage of the interest in Egypt and mummies after the 1922 discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. At the same time, many scenes are designed to echo the prior year’s hit, Dracula, with the same screenwriter brought back, along with cinematographer Karl Freund, promoted here to director. The grotesque “monster” moment of the film passes quickly, and the next hour or so is spent with the heroes as they deal with the attempt by Karloff’s revived Imhotep to similarly revive his lost love. Since her soul has already been reincarnated, Imhotep embarks on a mad plot to kill the current incarnation and return her soul to her original body. While this sounds like typically scary material, it actually plays in a more tragic vein. This is greatly enhanced by the performance of Zita Johann as the the lost princess and particularly by Karloff, whose stillness and intensity is simultaneously moving and chilling. And I should note that the filming techniques are very much in a vein with silent films, particularly for a flashback sequence to Ancient Egypt. In the hands of Karl Freund, this is all fairly effective stuff – not that scary, but still quite atmospheric.



VIDEO QUALITY   5/5

Here’s another quantum jump in picture quality from the prior DVD transfers.  The Mummy gets a new AVC 1.33:1 transfer which is an absolute revelation in terms of detail and stabilization over prior home video transfers.  This is really a remarkable achievement, given that I don’t think an original camera negative for this movie even exists anymore.  I reviewed the Special Edition DVD a few years ago and noted there were serious picture and sound issues but that there wasn’t much we could expect to be done about it.  Looking at the new Blu-ray of this movie, I was shocked at how much better this movie looks.  Much more detail can be seen, the picture is more stable – this is a pleasure.  Once again, the transfer benefits from a change in the gamma, just like what was done with Dracula.  Scratches and damage have been cleaned up, the gate weave has been fixed.   This is one of those cases, as RAH noted with Pillow Talk, where the guys at Universal really did make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.


AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

The Mummy is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that both reduces the hiss that could be noticed in earlier editions, and fixes the distortion issues.  Again, this is really a pleasure.   If you’re a fan of this movie, you now get to see and HEAR it in a way that hasn’t been possible since it first hit theaters in 1932, and it likely didn’t sound as good then…


SPECIAL FEATURES   5/5


The Blu-ray disc of The Mummy comes packed with extras, mostly ranging back to the 1999 release.


Feature Commentary by Paul M. Jensen  (FROM THE 1999 DVD) – This commentary was available on both the 1999 and 2004 DVDs. It’s a bit dry, and sounds as though Jensen is reading from a prepared script. There’s a lot of information on tap here, but it’s more of a lecture on the subject of the film than a specific interaction with it.


Feature Commentary by Rick Baker, Scott Essman, Steven Haberman, Bob Burns and Brent Armstrong  (FROM THE 2008 DVD) - This commentary is a new group discussion, with all the participants clearly being fans and students of the film. This is a scene specific group commentary with everyone chiming in with their reactions as the film unspools. Rick Baker has recorded some comments separately to specifically discuss the makeup work of Jack Pierce, which are inserted at appropriate points during the film.


Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed  (FROM THE 1999 DVD) (30:11, 480p, 4x3) – This featurette has been available on both the 1999 and 2004 DVDs. It’s an informative look back at the making of this film, with a brief discussion of the sequels that followed it. Since pretty much all the original participants have passed on, the stories here are second-hand, coming from people who conducted interviews with the actors and filmmakers when they were alive. There’s some good stuff here, including a graphic description of how difficult it was to do the heavy Mummy makeup seen at the beginning of the film. And there’s a general recounting of the difficulties onset between director Freund and Zita Johann, culminating in a discussion of a deleted sequence of a past life of her character being fed to the lions. (The discussion of deleted material is fascinating, but none of these scenes has ever been found, to my knowledge.)


He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce (FROM THE 2008 DVD) (24:58, 480p, 4x3) – This 25 minute featurette explores the work of makeup artist Jack Pierce, who created multiple horror makeups for Universal over 75 years ago, including Frankenstein and the legendary smile for The Man Who Laughs, which is universally acknowledged to be a primary origin of Batman’s nemesis, The Joker.


Unraveling the Legacy of the Mummy – (FROM THE 2008 DVD) (8:06, 480p, 4x3) - This featurette is really a promo for the 2001 film The Mummy Returns, only starting with a very brief look at the original 1932 film, tracking forward to the 1999 remake and spending the bulk of the time on the sequel.


The Mummy Archives (FROM THE 1999 DVD) (9:46, 480p, 4x3) – This feature has been available on both the 1999 and 2004 editions under the title The Mummy Archive. It’s a nearly ten minute display of various posters, lobby cards and production stills, backed with score from the film, including the opening titles and their signature lift from Swan Lake (which just happens to be the same lift used for the opening titles of Dracula.)


100 Years of Universal: The Carl Laemmle Era (FROM VARIOUS 2012 BLU-RAYS) (8:41, 1080p) – This featurette, which has been included on several 2012 Blu-ray releases, offers a very light discussion of the contributions of Universal’s founder, Carl Laemmle.  Unfortunately, this rose-glassed portrait does not include anything about the end of his tenure at the studio.


Trailer Gallery – (6:29 Total, 480p, 4x3) - Trailers for the original Mummy movie and its four sequels are presented here, as they were in the 2004 Legacy Collection – for The Mummy, The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost and The Mummy’s Curse. Picture and sound quality is a bit distressed, but they’re fun to watch as a quick romp through the stories of the five films. There’s also a lot of fun to be had in seeing how the studio will try to sell the same story in each succeeding instalment. (In the sequels, the Mummy effectively just shambles his way through the movie strangling people – who stand still, screaming their heads off - until somebody does something rash, like set him on fire. On the other hand, the Mummy really could be seen as an early incarnation of a zombie...)  The trailers can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” option.





DISC FOUR:  THE INVISIBLE MAN


Studio: Universal

Year:  1933

Length:  1 hour 12 minutes

Genre:  Horror/Adventure


Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 30 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (@ an average 1.9 mbps), French DTS 2.0,

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Content Rating: Unrated (Mild Scares and Violence)


Starring:  Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, Wm Harrigan, Dudley Digges, Una O’Connor, Henry Travers and Forrester Harvey


Based on the Novel by:  H.G. Wells

Written by:  R.C. Sherriff

Directed by:  James Whale


Film Rating: 3/5


The fourth disc in the set focuses on The Invisible Man.  This one is a decidedly different idea than the prior movies.  Here, instead of vampires or monster creatures, we are instead menaced by an ordinary man driven insane by his own devices.  Of course, the device in question is an invisibility serum, which both unhooks his mind from the sane world and makes it possible for him to do all kinds of terrible things without anyone being able to see him.  To create the illusion of the invisible man, every technical trick in the book had to be utilized, and some had to be invented.  The new Blu-ray makes this work pretty evident, but not in any way that really distracts from the well-told story.



VIDEO QUALITY   5/5

This was the first of the movies where we didn’t have a comparison DVD, but the picture quality is exemplary, even without having an earlier edition to check.  The Invisible Man looks great in the AVC 1.33:1 transfer.   There’s a satisfying amount of detail present, although we should note that it does make the tricks a lot easier to spot.  One early shot is obviously a matter of fuzzing the focus around Claude Rains’ face.  In other places, you’ll see the various on-set wires and methods used to create the illusion of an invisible person doing things in the room.  I don’t mind this so much, in the same way that I don’t mind the wire on the tail of the Cowardly Lion.  It can be a judgment call, where restorers can deliberately leave something a little less resolved to keep the illusion – but I’m happy just to have the movie in all its glory.  By the same token, I didn’t have a problem with the final shot in the new Blu-ray of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where it’s now totally obvious that we’re looking at a painting…


AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

The Invisible Man is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that is a pleasure to hear.  Dialogue is clear, even when characters are muttering quickly.  And for the record, the music that Kemp is hearing on the radio when Claude Rains comes a-calling is indeed “La Rosita” and not “Hearts and Flowers”.  (For those keeping track, we’re establishing that these are the original versions of these movies and not later video editions with changed lines or music.)


SPECIAL FEATURES   4/5


The Blu-ray disc of The Invisible Man comes with a smaller number of extras, mostly ranging back to the 2000 DVD release.


Feature Commentary with Historian Rudy Behlmer  (FROM THE 2000 DVD) – This commentary was available on both the 1999 and 2004 DVDs.  It’s again a bit of a lecture about the movie more than it is a scene-specific commentary.  But it’s still full of great material.


Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed  (FROM THE 2000 DVD) (35:21, 480p, 4x3) – This featurette has been available on both the 2000 and 2004 DVDs.   While it’s ostensibly about this movie, the discussion really shifts to an examination of director James Whale, with plenty of clips from the movie Gods and Monsters and interviews with the cast and director of that movie.


Production Photographs  (FROM THE 2000 DVD) (4:30, 480p, 4x3) – This feature has been available on both the 2000 and 2004 editions, and could also fairly be given the title The Invisible Man Archive. It’s a four and a half minute display of various posters, lobby cards and production stills, backed with music from the film.


100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters  (FROM VARIOUS 2012 BLU-RAYS) (8:18, 1080p) – This featurette, which has been included on several 2012 Blu-ray releases, goes over various memorable characters featured in Universal movies over the decades, ranging from Dracula and Elwood P. Dowd to Doc Brown and Tony Montana.


Trailer Gallery  (FROM THE 2004 DVD) (3:47 Total, 480p, 4x3) - Trailers for the The Invisible Man, The Invisible Man Returns, and Invisible Agent  are included here.  I have to confess bursting into laughter when I saw the third trailer.  The trailers can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” option.



DISC FIVE:  THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN


Studio: Universal

Year:  1935

Length:  1 hour 15 minutes

Genre:  Horror/Adventure


Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 30 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (@ an average 1.9 mbps), French DTS 2.0,

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Content Rating: Unrated (Mild Scares and Violence)


Starring:  Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Elsa Lanchester, Una O’Connor, Ernest Thesiger and C.C. Clive


Based on the Novel by:  Mary Shelley

Screenplay by:  William Hurlbut and John L. Balderston

Directed by:  James Whale


Film Rating: 5/5


The fifth disc in the set focuses on The Bride of Frankenstein, which ranks in cinema history as one of the finest sequels ever made.  (I can’t say it’s the very best as I’m partial to The Godfather, Part II, but this movie is a classic in its own right.)  Starting with a prologue featuring the author, Mary Shelley, as played by Elsa Lanchester in normal makeup, the movie both fills in areas of Shelley’s novel not included in the first film and expands the story to take it to a place the first movie could not have considered.  The mid-picture scenes of the Monster being taken in by a blind hermit are among the most moving I’ve seen in any film, horror or otherwise.  The final sequence, showcasing the constructed Bride and her unfortunate reaction to her new husband, is a symphony of emotions – going everywhere from horror to tragedy to comedy without missing a beat.  This is truly an extraordinary movie, and one that any film student should make a point of seeing.



VIDEO QUALITY   5/5

This is another great transfer along the lines of Dracula and The Mummy.  The new AVC 1.33:1 transfer of The Bride of Frankenstein is a marked improvement over the prior 2004 DVD, which itself had already been an improvement over the 1999 DVD.  The new Blu-ray features a stabilized picture, and a similar level of cleanup of dirt, scratches and damage throughout.  The gamma has noticeably and thankfully been changed to bring detail out of the same kind of murky blacks that were present before in Dracula.  Here, the best example is the opening prologue with the writers.  There is a large fireplace centerstage, with a large portrait mounted above it.  In the 2004 DVD, this portrait is almost completely black.  In the new Blu-ray, you can actually see the portrait.  Again, this does not mean that the moodiness of the image has been lost or that anything has been artificially brightened.   It only means that we are seeing deeper into the black and getting a lot more detail from the darkness than just a flat black shadow.   I have been asked if the framing is correct on this title, based on issues about this which arose with the 1999 DVD.  What I see is identical framing to the 2004 DVD, which shows the proper framing in one signature moment in the hermit’s cabin where the camera holds on an overhead crucifix between two scenes.  Apparently, in the early DVD, this was cropped in an unfortunate way.  The Blu-ray, like the 2004 DVD, includes nearly the full crucifix in the upper center of the shot. 


AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

The Bride of Frankenstein is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that actually is only a marginal improvement over the earlier mix on the 2004 DVD.  That doesn’t mean there’s a problem – just that it feels like there was less work that needed to be done.  The voices, music and effects are all clear, which is exactly what we should expect and need from this mix.



SPECIAL FEATURES   4/5


The Blu-ray disc of The Bride of Frankenstein comes with a smaller number of extras, mostly ranging back to the 1999 release.


Feature Commentary with Historian Scott MacQueen   (FROM THE 1999 DVD) – This commentary was available on both the 1999 and 2004 DVDs.  It’s, again, a bit of a lecture about the movie more than it is a scene-specific commentary.  But it’s still full of great material.


She’s Alive!: Creating The Bride of Frankenstein  (FROM THE 1999 DVD) (38:54, 480p, 4x3) – This featurette has been available on both the 1999 and 2004 DVDs.   The discussion covers the making of the Frankenstein sequel and the creation of the famous Bride makeup.


The Bride of Frankenstein Archives  (FROM THE 1999 DVD) (13:11, 480p, 4x3) – This feature has been available on both the 1999 and 2004 editions, and it’s an over thirteen minute display of various posters, lobby cards and production stills, backed with music from the film.


100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics  (FROM VARIOUS 2012 BLU-RAYS) (9:13, 1080p) – The restoration featurette is included on a second disc in this set.


Trailer Gallery  (FROM THE 2004 DVD) (6:46 Total, 480p, 4x3) – Four of the trailers seen on the Frankenstein Blu-ray are presented here as they were on the 2004 Legacy Collection where all of the movies were part of the package.  Older SD trailers of Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein, and House of Frankenstein are presented here either individually or via a “Play All” option.   As I’ve noticed, watching all the trailers in one sitting continues to have the result of making the increasing level of ridiculousness, and the drop in story quality more obvious…

.



DISC SIX:  THE WOLF MAN


Studio: Universal

Year:  1941

Length:  1 hour 10 minutes

Genre:  Horror/Adventure


Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 30 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (@ an average 1.9 mbps), French DTS 2.0,

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Content Rating: Unrated (Mild Scares and Violence)


Starring:  Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Warren Williams, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya and Evelyn Ankers


Based on the Novel by:  Mary Shelley

Written by:  Curt Siodmak

Directed by:  George Waggner


Film Rating: 3/5


The sixth disc in the set focuses on The Wolf Man, which came out ten years after Dracula, but quickly proved to be just as memorable of a screen creation.  As I noted in my review of the 2010 DVD, the basic story here is one that really can’t be spoiled, since it feels timeless even in its first telling. Essentially, a young man is bitten by a werewolf and finds himself cursed to become one whenever the moon is full. The movie is fun, if a bit quaint, with its atmosphere limited to some archetypal foggy night exteriors on the Universal Backlot and two intense performances by Bela Lugosi and Maria Ouspenskaya. Lon Chaney, Jr. brings an everyman quality to the title character, which isn’t a bad thing, as it allows the audience to identify with him a little more easily, even as the scenario gets wilder. The plot moves along rather quickly until things come to an end after just over an hour, presaging multiple sequels, reimaginings and remakes, like the Benecio del Toro film we saw in 2010.



VIDEO QUALITY   5/5

The Wolf Man gets a new AVC 1.33:1 transfer that is yet another marked improvement over the earlier DVD.   Not only is the image much clearer (which means that several effects shots and rear projection shots are obvious for what they are) but the grain is greatly improved on the lighter parts of the frame.  Going between the Special Edition DVD and the new Blu-ray, we were struck by how Larry’s suit in the early scenes was much easier to see in terms of its details.  This isn’t saying that the grain was removed – it’s saying that the grain continues to be visible but isn’t obscuring all the details.  Basically, this was a delicate job, and it was handled very well.   An early scene in the Talbot house where Larry fixes the telescope is clear enough now that the backdrop outside the window is fairly obvious.


AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

The Wolf Man is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that improves over the prior SD mixes by reducing the hiss and making the dialogue clearer.  Which just serves to make the experience of hearing the movie more transparent and enjoyable.



SPECIAL FEATURES   4/5


The Blu-ray disc of The Wolf Man comes with a smaller number of extras, mostly ranging back to the 1999 release.


Feature Commentary by Tom Weaver   (FROM THE 1999 DVD) – This scene-specific commentary was available on both the 1999 and 2004 DVDs. Weaver has a lot of fun watching the movie with the viewer, offering historical background on the actors and sets on the screen, and making some occasionally hilarious observations. (He notes the oddity of the Talbot telescope somehow seeing at street level for a view into the town below...)


Monster by Moonlight   (FROM THE 1999 DVD) (32:37, 480p, 4x3) – This featurette has been available on both the 1999 and 2004 DVDs. It’s an affectionate look back at the franchise, narrated by John Landis, discussing the cast, the production and the sequels.


The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth   (FROM THE 2010 DVD) (10:02, 480p, Anamorphic) - This featurette looks back at the movie again, this time including some ideas about writer Curt Siodmak’s inspiration for the title character. One interesting notion is that the idea of an uncontrollable animal evil lurking within a normal person might well explain how apparently normal Germans could become Nazis or support them.


Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney, Jr.   (FROM THE 2010 DVD) (36:53, Anamorphic) - This featurette is actually the jewel of this disc. It’s an affectionate look back at the life and career of Creighton Chaney, who wound up being forced to take his father’s name in order to keep his acting career alive. And it’s a sad story – of a man who wanted to be a successful actor outside of the shadow of his legendary father, but who spent almost all of his career in either smaller character parts or in lower budget pieces. His success in Of Mice and Men and The Wolf Man are shown here, but balanced by the long decline that came afterward. Footage of an increasingly older and bloated man, along with a frank discussion of his troubles with alcohol, gives this featurette a weight you don’t normally see in these materials. It’s an honest portrait of a troubled man who could paradoxically be the friendliest man you could imagine – particularly to children and animals.


He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce  (FROM THE 2008 MUMMY DVD, ALSO SEEN ON THE 2010 WOLF MAN DVD) (24:58, 480p, 4x3) – This 25 minute featurette explores the work of makeup artist Jack Pierce, who created multiple horror makeups for Universal over 75 years ago, including Frankenstein and the legendary smile for The Man Who Laughs, which is universally acknowledged to be a primary origin of Batman’s nemesis, The Joker.



The Wolf Man Archives  (FROM THE 1999 DVD) (6:46, 480p, 4x3) – This feature has been available on both the 1999 and 2004 editions. It’s a nearly seven minute display of various posters, lobby cards and production stills, backed with score from the film, including the three note signature theme for the title character and the dramatic music that accompanies his metamorphosis.


100 Years of Universal: The Lot   (FROM VARIOUS 2012 BLU-RAY RELEASES) (9:25, 1080p) – This featurette, seen on multiple Universal Blu-rays this year, covers the versatility of the Universal Studios Backlot, as well as the famous Universal Studios Tour.


Trailer Gallery – (FROM THE 2004 DVD) (7:53 total, Full Frame) - Trailers for Werewolf of London, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula and She-Wolf of London are included here, as they were in the 2004 Legacy Collection. Picture and sound quality is a bit distressed, but they’re fun to watch as a series of ways the studio would try to tell this story.





DISC SEVEN:  PHANTOM OF THE OPERA


Studio: Universal

Year:  1943

Length:  1 hour 29 minutes

Genre:  Gothic Romance/Opera/A Bit of Horror


Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 30 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (@ an average 1.9 mbps), French DTS 2.0,

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Content Rating: Unrated (Mild Scares and Violence)


Starring:  Claude Rains, Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster,


Based on the Novel by:  Gaston Leroux, as adapted by John Jacoby

Screenplay by:  Samuel Hoffenstein, Eric Taylor and Hans Jacoby

Directed by:  Arthur Lubin


Film Rating: 2 ½/5


The seventh disc in the set focuses on the 1943 Technicolor production of Phantom of the Opera.  This is an odd title to include in the Universal House of Horror, given that it’s not really a horror movie so much as it is a lush, romantic adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel.   A good part of the movie is taken up with beautifully mounted opera performances and massive costume displays of period finery.  And while it’s all beautiful to see, there’s not a lot of urgency here. This is a giant sumptuous wedding cake of a movie – and while the icing sure looks great, it just doesn’t have much going on past all the pageantry.  Claude Rains does the best he can in the title role, but this is a Phantom on a far smaller scale – a small man whose dreams of authoring the classic opera are cruelly dashed.  The movie, sadly, never reaches the operatic horror of the classic 1925 Lon Chaney depiction or the romantic heights of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.  A hit and an Oscar winner in its day, the movie today just doesn’t move the soul.  I should add that the climactic moment where the Phantom drops a chandelier on the audience is completely undermined by the way the scene is played.  As the opera is underway onstage, we see the Phantom crawling out to the chandelier chain with a little saw, and then he goes to work for the next few minutes, pulling away.  This is the sort of moment that tends to result in unintentional laughter…



VIDEO QUALITY   2 ½/5

And here’s where the wheels unfortunately come off the wagon for what has been up to this point a terrific Blu-ray set.  Phantom of the Opera was a major Technicolor production in 1943, winning Academy Awards for Color Art Direction and for Color Cinematography.   The new AVC 1.33:1 transfer unfortunately does not present this movie in the best light.  Many shots and sequences are quite good, and lush color fills the screen.  But at random times, in the middle of scenes, there will be shots that go out of green or red registration.  An early scene between Claude Rains and Susanna Foster has a good master shot, and good coverage of Claude Rains  - but when we cut to Susanna Foster’s shot, the green has gone out of registration, meaning that there is a green outline around her and the white areas of her costume now have a green tint bleeding onto them.  It’s a kind of double image effect just in terms of color, and it’s very distracting.  Other shots are out of red registration, resulting in a red outline and red bleed on one side or another of objects or people.  One wider shot in another scene has the brass buttons on uniforms turning a noticeable green along with the white paper of books seen on the tables.  The big climax of the chandelier drop is even more perplexing.  Some of the shots are perfect.  Others are out of red registration.  But the upward looking VFX shot of the chandelier falling is the strangest of all.  In this shot, the painted backdrop appears to be perfectly in sync, but the falling chandelier is out of red registration.   I should also note that for some reason, the titles have been windowboxed, which makes very little sense in a 1.33:1 transfer.  We have inquired with Universal to determine exactly what happened here, but have not received an answer yet to our specific issues.



AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

Phantom of the Opera is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that sounds very clear and gives a lot of punch to the numerous opera sequences.  The issues to be found with this title are not with the sound mix.



SPECIAL FEATURES   4/5


The Blu-ray disc of Phantom of the Opera comes with a smaller number of extras, mostly ranging back to the 2000 DVD release.


Feature Commentary with Historian Scott MacQueen  (FROM THE 2000 DVD) – This commentary was available on the 2000 DVD release.  It’s again a bit of a lecture about the movie more than it is a scene-specific commentary.  But it’s still full of great material, including quotes from various people involved with Universal and this production at the time it was made.


The Opera Ghost: A Phantom Unmasked  (FROM THE 2000 DVD) (51:19, 480p, 4x3) – This featurette was prepared for the 2000 DVD but it’s plenty effective today.  It covers the various productions of this story on film, including the famous Lon Chaney makeup and performance.  It also discusses a potential production I had never heard about before which would have had my grandfather directing this movie with Charles Laughton as the Phantom and Deanna Durbin as Christine…


Production Photographs  (FROM THE 2000 DVD) (5:47, 480p, 4x3) – This feature was available on the 2000 release, and could also fairly be given the title The Phantom Archive. It’s a nearly six minute display of various posters, lobby cards and production stills, backed with music from the film.


100 Years of Universal: The Lot   (FROM VARIOUS 2012 BLU-RAY RELEASES) (9:25, 1080p) – This featurette, seen on multiple Universal Blu-rays this year, covers the versatility of the Universal Studios Backlot, as well as the famous Universal Studios Tour.


Theatrical Trailer  (FROM THE 2000 DVD) (2:12, 480p, 4x3) – The movie’s theatrical trailer is presented here in standard definition.




DISC EIGHT:  CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON


Studio: Universal

Year:  1954

Length:  1 hour 18 minutes

Genre:  Horror/Adventure


Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 30 mbps) (and MVC for the 3D Version)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (@ an average 1.9 mbps), French DTS 2.0,

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Content Rating: Unrated (Mild Scares and Violence)


Starring:  Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva, Whit Bissell, and the Creature as Himself


Written by:  Harry Essex and Arthur Ross

Screenplay by:  Jack Arnold


Film Rating: 3/5


The eighth and final disc in the set presents Creature From the Black Lagoon, which was notable as Universal’s big horror monster contribution to the 1950s.  Looking at it today, I don’t know that it holds up that well – it’s a basic monster movie where you can see the monster coming a mile off.  On the other hand, the movie benefits from some very interesting underwater photography where the Creature paces the movements of the lead actress several feet below her. The initial appearance of the Creature can be frightening, particularly to children, but once you get used to it, he’s really not that bad.  The movie was successful enough to spawn two sequels and occasional talk of a remake.  (I’ve heard that Universal is currently making a new version but can’t find any evidence of it yet…)  And the movie is known for its use of 3D, in which it has never been available to my knowledge on home video.  This new Blu-ray takes care of that issue by including a 3D version on the same disc.  I confess to having some issues with the PQ on the 2D version, and having some difficulty watching the 3D version.  However, I have heard some differing voices on the forum – some are saying that the 2D version is simply reflecting the extensive use of opticals, while others are saying that the 3D version has some alignment problems.  Not being an expert on either the film or 3D, I can only pass these comments on and let the viewer make their own determinations.




VIDEO QUALITY   2 ½/5 for 2D, 4/5 for 3D

Creature From the Black Lagoon gets a little more complicated, in that there are actually two pictures to evaluate here.   The 2D version on the Blu-ray has an AVC 1.85:1 transfer that is maddeningly inconsistent.  After a fairly SD-like credits sequence, the picture quality improves dramatically with the first scene in the Amazon as we find the claw.   But then the sequences begin randomly having shots that are of much lower picture quality.  This is not restricted to close-ups or anything else.  All of a sudden, a wide shot of the boat will look like an uprezzed DVD image.  And then the next shot of the boat will show a tremendously improved PQ.  And then in the next shot it will revert to the poorer quality.   I honestly have no idea how that happened, but it’s very distracting to watch.  


As for the 3D version, I’m marking that one higher as the 3D is quite effective.  The thing is, this is the 1950s eye-popping variety of 3D.  In several cases, objects are pushed very far into the foreground, which makes for a definite impression of things coming at you out of the screen but can also be painful for those of us who aren’t fans of it.  I personally enjoy 3D, particularly for depth, as can be seen in many shots here.  And I don’t have a problem with the opening shot of the Big Bang shooting out into the house.  But watching shots of the Creature swimming behind reeds that are being pushed right into my face is very difficult for me.  For other viewers, this will probably be a lot of fun, and exactly the experience of this movie that they’ll remember from the movie theater. 



AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

Creature From the Black Lagoon is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that again, sounds very clear and is easy to understand.  The issues we have here are with the picture, not the sound.



SPECIAL FEATURES   4/5


The Blu-ray disc of Creature From the Black Lagoon comes with a smaller number of extras, mostly ranging back to the 2000 DVD release.  Of course, the main one is the 3D version of the movie


Creature From the Black Lagoon 3D (1080p, MVC) – As discussed, the 3D version of the movie is included here.  Having only seen this film with anaglyph glasses in a school auditorium 30 plus years ago, this was a revelation to watch.  My only problems with it have to do with the very forward nature of the 3D.  Other viewers will likely enjoy this part of the process – but I should warn everyone about the comments made in the Creature thread on this forum: that multiple shots are out of alignment and can cause some eyestrain.  This isn’t every shot, and it isn’t a large number of shots, apparently, but there are shots that apparently may be hard to watch, and not just because they’re the “poke in the eye” 3D variety.


Feature Commentary with Tom Weaver  (FROM THE 2000 DVD) – This commentary was available on the 2000 DVD release.  It’s a very interesting commentary where Weaver shows his knowledge of the movie and the production schedule, discussing how scenes were shot between location work and rear projection at stage some time later.  As a nice touch, this commentary is available while watching the 3D version of the movie.


Back to the Black Lagoon  (FROM THE 2000 DVD) (39:40, 480p, 4x3) – This featurette was prepared for the 2000 DVD, and it covers the genesis and production of all three Creature movies.  The casts of the movies are interviewed, particularly Ricou Browning, who played the Gill Man during the underwater shots.


Production Photographs  (FROM THE 2000 DVD) (11:29, 480p, 4x3) – This feature was available on the 2000 release, and could also fairly be given the title The Creature Archive. It’s a nearly six minute display of various posters, lobby cards and production stills, backed with music from the film.


100 Years of Universal: The Lot   (FROM VARIOUS 2012 BLU-RAY RELEASES) (9:25, 1080p) – This featurette, seen on multiple Universal Blu-rays this year, covers the versatility of the Universal Studios Backlot, as well as the famous Universal Studios Tour.


Trailer Gallery  (FROM THE 2004 DVD) (7:25 Total, 480p, 4x3) – Trailers for all three Creature movies are presented here:  The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature, and The Creature Walks Among Us.  The trailers can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” function.




Looking over all 8 discs, subtitles are available for the movies and the special features in English and Spanish.  Full chapter menus are available on each disc.  Pop up menus work as normal on every disc.


The set also includes a 47 page color booklet with trivia about the various movies in the set.  The final two pages of the booklet are a chronological timeline of when all the various monster movies came out between Dracula in 1931 and The Creature Walks Among Us in 1956.  An insert in the package includes a sweepstakes entry code for viewers to potentially win prizes from Universal.



IN THE END...


As I’ve said, on the basis of what I’ve described here, I’m still going to Recommend this set for purchase – purely on the strength of Discs 1 through 6.  The final two discs have picture quality issues, but they shouldn’t dissuade fans from picking up the quality work on the first six titles.  And to be honest, we could argue that Phantom of the Opera doesn’t really belong in this collection in any case – it’s not a monster movie so much as it is a kind of gothic romance.  Creature from the Black Lagoon is more at home with the other monsters, but it’s also a generation removed from them.   But when you look at this set on an overall level, this is a heck of a package for Universal Horror fans.  Within one set, you have six great transfers and all the extras you could want for eight movies, and you have literally a film school in a box.  With that line of thinking, it’s easy to Recommend this set for purchase.



Kevin Koster

October 7, 2012.


 



#2 of 107 bgart13

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Posted October 07 2012 - 04:18 PM

Eight feet from a 90" screen...? Sheesh, didn't your parents ever tell you not to sit so close to the tv screen?? :P

#3 of 107 Ken Volok

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Posted October 07 2012 - 04:21 PM

Ok so am I the only person who's Creature from the Black Lagoon disc (2D version) plays in slow motion with sound drops beginning approx. 58:00 to the end of the film? VERY unhappy. Plan on contacting Universal tomorrow. And yes of course I checked for dust and fingerprints; and tested it on a second machine as well.

#4 of 107 Nelson Au

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Posted October 07 2012 - 04:37 PM

In reading the first few paragraphs of the review, which is great, I kept thinking to myself, if Colin Clive or Lagosi or Karloff or James Whale were alive today, or some how teleported from a time shortly after these films have been out to modern day and sat in a room with a high end home theater system, what it would be like for a 20th Century man to experience their films on a system from the 21st century. They saw these films in their most pristine condition, so would it look the same to them or better? I imagine it would blow their minds. I look forward to a free evening where I can sit and watch Frankenstein! In regards to. The backdrop being visible in the grave robbing sequence of Frankenstein, it's like we are in a situation where as Robert Harris has said, seeing the the film as clean as ever, without the effects of duplications and poor projection systems or TV broadcasts to dilute the image. Such as in 2001: A Space Odyysey, and The Wizard of Oz, we can really see the stage or backdrop paintings now that we never could before.

#5 of 107 willyTass

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Posted October 07 2012 - 06:38 PM

Ok so am I the only person who's Creature from the Black Lagoon disc (2D version) plays in slow motion with sound drops beginning approx. 58:00 to the end of the film? VERY unhappy. Plan on contacting Universal tomorrow. And yes of course I checked for dust and fingerprints; and tested it on a second machine as well.

timestamp please. US or UK version?

#6 of 107 Kevin EK

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Posted October 07 2012 - 06:39 PM

Hi Ken.  Just posting this in this thread as well.  I'm sorry you're having problems with the Creature disc.  I'm not sure what's causing it, but the disc in my review set plays fine both on a PS3 and on the Oppo 93.  I just played Creature all the way from 57:30 to the end without any playback issues.

All I can think is that either it's the players or it's a badly pressed disc (or whatever the vernacular is).  I only know the disc I have in hand does not have the problems described.



#7 of 107 willyTass

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Posted October 07 2012 - 06:43 PM

pretty sure Universal's UK box set of David Lynch had similar glitches

#8 of 107 Ken Volok

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Posted October 07 2012 - 07:02 PM

pretty sure Universal's UK box set of David Lynch had similar glitches

Hi Ken.  Just posting this in this thread as well.  I'm sorry you're having problems with the Creature disc.  I'm not sure what's causing it, but the disc in my review set plays fine both on a PS3 and on the Oppo 93.  I just played Creature all the way from 57:30 to the end without any playback issues.  All I can think is that either it's the players or it's a badly pressed disc (or whatever the vernacular is).  I only know the disc I have in hand does not have the problems described.

timestamp please. US or UK version?

Thanks everyone for your replies. US version. At approx 58:00 it started getting really bad, but it actually begins earlier. To test it on the second machine (Samsung*) I just went directly to the chapter "Breaking Out" I guess I'll just ship the whole thing back to Amazon unless by some miracle I hear from Universal who it seems impossible to reach (went to universalhomevideo.com). Only watched three films in the set, don't know if I can bear watching Phantom again just to QC it :( * first machine a Sony

#9 of 107 willyTass

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Posted October 08 2012 - 03:06 AM

Ok so am I the only person who's Creature from the Black Lagoon disc (2D version) plays in slow motion with sound drops beginning approx. 58:00 to the end of the film? VERY unhappy. Plan on contacting Universal tomorrow. And yes of course I checked for dust and fingerprints; and tested it on a second machine as well.

Ok just checked 55:00 to 60:00 on my US version . Runs smooth. Hope u get your replacement soon Superb review Kevin :tu:

#10 of 107 Yorkshire

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Posted October 08 2012 - 03:26 AM

Kevin, I don't know what's going on here, but you're review is completely wrong. I've been assured many times by some forum members that Universal are incapable of producing good catalogue releases, and that they don't care about film. Please ammend your review accordingly. I suggest you -5 from each score. Steve W ps. Seriously for a second, great review. Many thanks. SW
Correct a fool and he will hate you, correct a wise man and he will thank you.

#11 of 107 warnerbro

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Posted October 08 2012 - 04:44 AM

Has anyone noticed any differences between the UK and the US versions? I ordered the UK version, but it hasn't arrived yet. And I've always loved the fact that you can see wrinkles in the cyclorama near the end of Frankenstein. It gives it an historical feel. They were doing the best they could with what they had and they created a wonderful world. And I've always loved the long silences in Dracula because it made it seem creepier like I was watching something really happening. The atmosphere these old Universal horror films created has only been slightly recaptured and that was in Young Frankenstein. I think the atmosphere they created is why we are still watching these 80 years later with wonder. Thank you, Universal!

#12 of 107 FoxyMulder

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Posted October 08 2012 - 04:56 AM

Originally Posted by Yorkshire 

Kevin, I don't know what's going on here, but you're review is completely wrong.
I've been assured many times by some forum members that Universal are incapable of producing good catalogue releases, and that they don't care about film.
Please ammend your review accordingly. I suggest you -5 from each score.
Steve W
ps. Seriously for a second, great review. Many thanks.
SW


Your sarcasm is duly noted and i agree with you that in the past they have usually not been very good at catalog titles but, there are always exceptions, this year there have been more exceptions than usual, let's hope it continues into next year, having said that i won't hold my breath but i will keep my fingers crossed.


Credit and praise must go to Kevin for a comprehensive and quality review.


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#13 of 107 Mark Oates

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Posted October 08 2012 - 06:00 AM

Kevin, I don't know what's going on here, but you're review is completely wrong. I've been assured many times by some forum members that Universal are incapable of producing good catalogue releases, and that they don't care about film. Please ammend your review accordingly. I suggest you -5 from each score. Steve W ps. Seriously for a second, great review. Many thanks. SW

Steve, you do realise what's happened with this set - the ultimate cock-up. They've only gone and released the perfectly restored version destined to be accidentally destroyed rather than the carefully misframed, yellow-tinted and DVNRed version with the computer generated, misspelt titles they'd intended to release. Many had been looking forward to complaining about Bride of Frankenstein which had been mastered with the entire fourth reel transferred upside-down.
J Mark Oates
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#14 of 107 warnerbro

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Posted October 08 2012 - 07:04 AM

It seems Universal has learned their lesson about over-smoothing grain.

#15 of 107 Johnny Angell

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Posted October 08 2012 - 08:25 AM

An excellent an informative review. I do have some comments on it. What you consider to be a lecture, I call a well-prepared commentary. In too many commentaries it is clear that no preparation has been done. The participants show up and start talking (or often they don't talk). Too much time is spent on "how lucky we were to get him for the part." These commentaries by film historians are prepared, yes, and that is what I like about them. You are either getting info directly pertinent to the film or in-depth background on a participant in the film. Secondly, I would have rated the Mummy a 5 and the Invisible 5an a 4.5. Ratings of 3.5 and 3 put them on a par with the Wolfman, which I consider the least film in this set. I've not seen this version of the Phantom. Creature from the Black Lagoon, even in 2D (all I've seen so far) is a 5 for me. The fact I grew up with this film as a child has absolutely nothing to do with my rating.:rolleyes: Finally, I'll mention that despite popular opinion, I consider the Bride to be the lesser of the two Frankenstein movies. The little people in the bell jars seems out of place for a "scare" film. There's a place were the Monster does a snarl, and a double take. Both are out-of-place. I do agree the climax is wonderful. All, IMHO, of course. Come on, come on, where's my coffin?
Johnny
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#16 of 107 JoHud

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Posted October 08 2012 - 08:38 AM

Your sarcasm is duly noted and i agree with you that in the past they have usually not been very good at catalog titles but, there are always exceptions, this year there have been more exceptions than usual, let's hope it continues into next year, having said that i won't hold my breath but i will keep my fingers crossed.

I agree there, with the only serious misstep being The Sting this year. The Hitchcock set is still a big question mark due to the previous negative buzz and Universal pulling the release to (hopefully) fix what was wrong with this set. Crossing my fingers and hoping they deliver on Hitchcock like they did with the Universal Classic Monsters. From my experience, Universal 60s and 70s titles seem to be the more problematic ones.

#17 of 107 Adam Gregorich

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Posted October 08 2012 - 09:26 AM

Great review Kevin.  You took a lot of time with it and it shows.  Thanks!  My UK version hasn't arrived yet.  Waiting patiently....



#18 of 107 Dave H

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Posted October 08 2012 - 12:56 PM

Very good review and extremely informative.

#19 of 107 RolandL

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Posted October 09 2012 - 09:05 AM

My UK version came in the mail today. The 3D for CFTBL is excellent! Sounds great too!

Roland Lataille
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#20 of 107 JohnS

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Posted October 09 2012 - 10:29 AM

My UK version came in the mail today. The 3D for CFTBL is excellent! Sounds great too!

I hope mine is coming in the mail today. It was suppose to be here on Monday. I hate I can't track my UK package.

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