A new Mummy is in theaters this weekend from Universal. How is it? I’m not sure, since as of this writing I haven’t watched it yet, although I’ll attend a screening on the morning this posts. But one of my favorite movie critics, David Ehrlich, said of it: “It’s an irredeemable disaster from start to finish, an adventure that entertains only via glimpses of the adventure it should have been.” You know you’ve got problems when people start talking of their fond memories of the Brendan Fraser Mummy from the Summer of ‘99. (I have a genuine affection for that silly movie. The Jerry Goldsmith score is killer.)
If you want to know more about why plenty of folks who love the classic Universal Monsters are a bit, well, concerned about this new Tom Cruise-starring Mummy and the studio’s plans for an entire “Dark Universe” franchise, our own Sue Granquist has you covered. As for me, I have no plans to write a post about Nu-Mummy. Instead, I’m going to hang out here in the 1940s, maybe work on my victory garden, listen to some 78s of Artie Shaw and the Gramercy Five, purchase War Bonds, and watch a couple of mummy flicks.
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This year, the home video divisions of all the major distributors banded together and plotted a full-scale assault on the wallets and bank accounts of Blu-ray owners during September and October. Only the wealthiest could possibly survive an attack that began with the first Hi-Def release of the Indiana Jones films. But the supreme weapon, the ultimate October Surprise, is Universal’s huge ebony slab of fear, nostalgia, and latex make-up: Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection. Spanning twenty-three years and nine films (advertised as eight, sorry Spanish Dracula), the long-anticipated set brings the Masters of Halloween into glorious 1080p for the first time, and in perfect seasonal position to drain your money before you waste it on a Jack Sparrow costume that forty other people are also going to wear to that same party.
Few movie series have had such an impact on filmmaking and popular culture as Universal’s stable of ghouls. They are as much a part of Halloween as Pixie Styx and pumpkin carving. I can’t imagine there are Blu-ray owners with any shred of geek cred out there who won’t want to add this to their shelves. When I received mine in the mail, I rejoiced at the anticipation of a week full of evenings revisiting some of my favorite movies in beautiful restored editions. The box set did not let me down—except for the one film that doesn’t really belong on it, but I anticipated that.
Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection comes packaged in a black slipcase with a side-bound color booklet of trivia. The eight discs contain Dracula (1931), the Spanish-language Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, the 1943 color re-make of The Phantom of the Opera, and Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Taking the discs in chronological order, as I did during the week:
Dracula by Bram Stoker frequently vies with The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett as my favorite book.
Both stories are archetypes of their genres and despite endless imitations, almost every attempt to emulate the originals falls wide of the margin.
The current vogue for Twilight and its many imitations may be the worst misinterpretation of Stoker’s classic yet, despite its enviable success among pre-pubescent girls (and their emotional equals). The ignorance of most Twilight fans as to how their heroine earned her first name led me to revisit the seminal Universal Horror, Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931) starring Bela Lugosi in an iconic performance that did much to secure Stoker’s novel its hard-won place of acceptance as a literary classic.
The resulting film owed much to the stage plays which took the West End and Broadway by storm during the Roaring Twenties.
Film historian David Skal has gifted the world with several excellent books and DVD bonus features and commentaries chronicling this once untapped goldmine’s transition from page to stage to screen.
Film buff Philip J. Riley has done one better (actually twice better) by sharing with film lovers not one, but two volumes collecting the various story treatments and screenplay drafts that were languishing in Universal’s files for decades.
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House of Frankenstein (1944)
Directed by Erle C. Kenton. Starring Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, J. Carrol Naish, Glenn Strange, Anne Gwynne, Elena Verdugo, George Zucco, Lionel Atwill.
I was working in the lab, late one night…
Ah, October. My favorite month. No other time is so ideal for exploring dark fantasy, the Gothic, the classic ghost story … and of course, Universal horror films. The monsters of Universal’s 1930s and ‘40s films have given the Halloween season its mascots, creatures as closely identified with the holiday as Santa Claus is with Christmas. So there’s no better Halloween party flick than the wall-to-wall monster epic that was the original “The Monster Mash”…
In seventy-one minutes, House of Frankenstein brings you:
- The Wolf Man
- Frankenstein’s Monster
- A mad scientist
- A hunchback
- A torch-wielding mob of angry villagers
- A laboratory full of Kenneth Strickfaden-influenced sizzling equipment
- Brain transplants!
All this, plus the hat trick of Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., and John Carradine in the same film; roles for classic supporting actors Lionel Atwill and George Zucco; and sexy Anne Gwynne. Now how much would you pay?
I paid $8.99 for my DVD, and I got Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man on the same disc!
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