My friend Shea messaged me the other day with a brilliant idea, a plan that struck me as so simple, so elegant, I felt shame I hadn’t thought of it myself. The words in the text message from him were to the point, “If you include the silent “Phantom of the Opera,” there are 31 original Universal Monster Movies. There are 31 days in October. I’m doing it.”
When Shea said to me that he was going to do a monster movie a day, I knew I wanted in on it too. People always make a game plan for what horror/spooky favorites they want to watch during the month, and I hold the Universal Monster movies in high regard to start with.
Though the films are close to 90 years old, there is no denying the fact that the classic line up of Universal’s Monsters has endured. Even people who have never seen “The Bride of Frankenstein” knows the iconic, white-streaked hair look. The classic line up of “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “The Wolf Man,” “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Mummy,” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” is iconic. They’ve been a part of pop culture for as long as most of us can remember. Finding a whole new life and developing die-hard fans in the early days of TV, being sold off to TV stations in a package called “Shock Theater,” which in turn gave birth to that uniquely American art form of the “horror host.”
Perennial Halloween staple “Monster Mash” owes a lot to the fact that the singer is doing an impression of Boris Karloff. Everyone knows that voice, even if they’ve never seen a Karloff film (perish the thought, Boris Karloff makes the world go round). I’ve seen all these movies many times and I love them all. The rich, gothic, black and white imagery. The beautiful sets, the fabulous labs with eerie electric devices. Some of them are stone solid classics. I’d rank “The Bride of Frankenstein” as one of the best movies ever made.
But, as with some things in the vein of horror, some of the plots can be a bit bonkers, but isn’t that what makes it all the more joyful? Take “The Creature Walks Among Us,” for example, the third film with the “Gill Man,” as he is affectionally called by fans and the final film of the classic monster series. In the movie, “Gill Man” is brought to the surface and found to have a layer of human skin under his scales after being badly burned. It makes no sense and the shots of the creature walking around in a makeshift suit are a bit much, yet it’s a hoot from start to finish.
If there is a cherry on top of the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe, it would have to be 1948’s “Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein.” The film combined both Universal’s top moneymakers of the era, their monsters, and the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. In the movie, which features the only other time Bella Lugosi ever played Dracula on film, Dracula wants to control the famed Frankenstein monster, but he wants to correct the doctor’s mistake and get a gentle, dumb, and docile brain for the creature. Enter Bud and Lou, with the baddies gunning to give Lou a free transplant.
If you’ve never watched a Universal monster movie, or if you want to find a new Halloween favorite to share with the family, may I suggest watching “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein?” Yes, it’s in black and white, but I’ve shown it to all my cousins when they were young and I’ve yet to have met a kid who was immune to the film and its charms. You won’t know if your kids will rebel against black and white movies unless you try, and I hope you do.
Halloween is going to be strange this year, but getting that spooky mojo going by watching a Universal Monster movie a day sounds like the perfect antidote for it. Until next month, I’ll see you under the marquee.