Welcome to LRM’s Top 5, the new evolution of LRM Ranks It. This weekly column will be a hybrid written article with podcast support. Kyle Malone will still provide you with engaging multi-party debate on rankings, but occasionally guests will come in to write a compelling argument for their rankings. Be sure to engage us and tell us what’s on your list in the comments.
We love monsters, and we love to get scared. Universal has made a name for themselves through that very thing. Decades ago, they pretty much popularized the genre in their classic film, cementing pop culture’s perspective of many different monsters. But which classic films are the best? In celebration of The Invisible Man hitting theaters this week, I dive into my favorite classic Universal monster movies.
5. The Mummy (1932)
One of the first movies in Universals early horror cycle, this was the first one not based on a previous story. Starring Boris Karloff, it’s a slow, contemplative film about a man search for his lost love. More of an atmospheric film than an outright horror, it’s perfect if you’re in the right mood for it.
The famous image of the mummy in bandages is barely seen in the movie but the makeup is very impressive either way. Even when he’s playing the non-wrapped version of the mummy under the pseudonym Ardath Bey, Karloff has an eerie undead look on him thanks to the work of makeup man Jack Pierce.
This would be higher if not for the slow nature of the film that might turn off modern audiences, it also just beat out Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein, but that just seemed unfair to include since it’s a comedy although it is a great film in its own right.
4. Dracula (1931)
Two words about this movie: Dwight Frye. His acting as Renfield alone would be enough to recommend this film. He plays a man who’s broken mentally by the evil of Dracula and in the way only an actor from this era could, with his darting eyes and creepy laugh but he’s not even the real star of the film.
That honor goes to Bela Lugosi, the Hungarian actor who set every stereotype we know of Dracula to this day. With his piercing stare and slow cadence with an accent that has been imitated to death yet still to this day has an otherworldly charm to it. He carries the movie on his back and is excellent in it. Unfortunately, he was so perfect that he would be typecast until the day he died.
Another slow burn with almost no score but definitely worth the watch for that creepy atmosphere. It beat out the previous film because it feels a little more like traditional horror over the tale of love The Mummy told.
3. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
I know. This not being number one is sacrilege to most and no wonder, it’s a fantastic film. One of the rare sequels better than the original. Dr. Pretorius is a delightful villain in it, chewing the scenery but in a good way and just generally loving what he’s doing. The Monster also has a much more emotional arc compared to the original film, just wanting to be accepted and coming to realize he’s nothing but a monster to everyone. There are the usual kills we always get in these films but this time with a little emotion to it, an almost sad ending that I won’t spoil but really makes you feel for the Monster.
Once again the acting is on point, with Karloff finally getting to speak as the monster. Colin Clive is also worth mentioning as Dr. Frankenstein, who regrets his creation but still has that desire to play God. This film was also directed by James Whale, Universal’s best when it came to these movies as you’ll see when we continue.
2. The Invisible Man (1933)
This particular movie stands out to me for one reason, it’s very funny. The humor stems mostly from the villagers’ reactions. They go from a screaming woman who constantly panics to the world’s calmest Policeman. An actual quote from him was “He’s invisible, that’s what’s the matter with him” in the most nonchalant way possible. The effects are quite good for the time period as well. Once again James Whale directs and the main character is played quite well by Claude Rains, of Casablanca fame, whose face you never see until the final shot of the film.
I’m not sure if the humor was all intentional or not but it really added something that none of the other films Universal made around this time even attempted. The story is entertaining as well about a man fooling with science and slowly giving way to madness. The acting outside the main few characters isn’t as strong as some of the other movies here or it may have been number one but I still find the story and humor strong enough to give it a solid number two as it offers something different from the others which can be very similar to one another.
1. Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Yes, another Frankenstein sequel but what a sequel it was. This is the movie that perfects everything I love about the Universal Monster movies. Boris Karloff’s last turn as the Monster and it’s a great one. The plot is interesting about a son falling into the same traps as his father and also a tale of revenge. Basil Rathbone plays Wolf Frankenstein and just kills it. The scene where he plays darts while being interrogated by the police chief is wonderful, famously parodied by Young Frankenstein years later.
There’s also Bela Lugosi as the treacherous Igor, who’s broken neck protrudes in a grisly manner and has a rotten to the core smile that you just know is hiding evil. This movie proves to me that he was a top-notch acting talent unfortunately hampered by both typecasting and his accent. It’s a shame he never got to transition to more serious roles as he proves in this film he had the chops to play whatever he needed to.
His revenge plot on those who hanged him is the real thrust of the film, using the doctor’s curiosity against him so Igor can take the monster for himself and use it to kill. In my opinion, this gets the top spot for the intriguing story, fantastic direction once again by Whale, and the performances of all three main stars, one as good as the next. It’s the perfect combination of all the elements I love in an old-fashioned monster movie and easily steals my top spot.
These old fashioned monster movies have a great old fashioned charm that’s impossible to replicate with modern film. I grew up renting them from the video store every chance I got and staying up late Saturday nights watching them alone in the dark and it’s a hard experience to beat. Anyone with an appreciation for old films or even horror, in general, should check them out, even if they aren’t that scary anymore they still have great stories that stand the test of time.
The Invisible Man hits theaters this weekend!
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