The Missing Frankenstein Movies

Legacy Collection: FrankensteinI was worried when I saw a new package for the Frankenstein films in WalMart recently. Labelled the “Complete Legacy Collection,” it offered eight original films on the Frankenstein theme, from 1931 to 1948. I snapped it up and read the back. I had to have it. (I always check the films they bring in pre-Halloween, in case they have any classics I don’t yet have….)

Oh oh, I said to myself as I read the cover. I had purchased all of the Legacy monster movie collections a few years back (they were first released in 2004)  and my set of Frankenstein movies had only five films in it. This one had Three More Monster Films! True, one of them as Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein, but even if it was a comedy, it did include some of the great stars (Lugosi, Chaney and Glenn Strange, who replaced Karloff as the monster in later films of the series).

If the entire series had been re-released with additional films in each set, I thought to myself as I stood there, it mean I would have to buy all the sets all over again. Susan wouldn’t be happy. I put the box into the cart, and looked for the others. Fortunately for my wallet, there were none. Yet.

A little reading online made me realize this was simply a repackaging of the entire 30-film one-box collection that had been released in late 2014. Universal has repackaged the films in several versions with varying numbers of movies since the first release, from four to 30 in each. Some even have the 1943 Phantom of the Opera movie, one of the few Universal horror of that era titles I lack.

The Legacy Collection first packaged 14 films from the original Frankenstein, Wolfman and Dracula series made by Universal, in three boxed sets. The originals star the actors who would become famous for their roles in the first of them, all shot in the early 1930s: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. The sequels didn’t always include the original actors, however (and some of the replacement actors – like John Carradine as Dracula – are poor choices). But these are the films I treasure.

Legacy collection: DraculaThe original films are classics in every way, particularly their sets, lighting, makeup and effects. They aren’t as scary today as they were then, but the first films can still raise a few goosebumps.

The sequels vary in quality – although effects improved through the years with advancing technology, the acting, dialogue and plots often didn’t match pace. And budgets seem to have been a bit parsimonious at times, especially when the sequels were made. Frankly, too many of the sequels weren’t actually sequels at all, just films loosely based on the original idea or characters.

The popularity of the three sets apparently encouraged Universal to add three other sets to the series: the Mummy, the Invisible Man and the Creature From the Black Lagoon.

The Mummy set features Boris Karloff in another great monster role, as the Egyptian pharaoh risen from the dead, the original filmed in 1932, with sequels in the 1940s sans Karloff (some with Lon Chaney Jr, barely acting at all).

The Invisible Man fits the genre reasonably well, although it has only one film from the 1930s – starring Claude Rains, who was great in the role – and the rest followed a decade and more later with other actors and unrelated plots. It’s not so much a monster film as a human-gone-bad/mad, as would be the Fly film series that was released by another publisher (which, of course, I also own*). The problem, I suppose, with any film about an invisible person is that it doesn’t depend as much on acting as on special effects and suspense.

Legacy series: CreatureHowever, the Creature series is much later than the rest, although more in keeping with the monster theme. The original CFTBL film was shot in 1954 and the two sequels in 1955 and 56. By the 50s, the technology, effects and makeup were far advanced from the original movies made in the early 30s (the Creature suit is magnificent, even by today’s technology). But the budgets of the Creature films, especially the sequels, didn’t seem large enough to take the best advantage of them, even then.

The original film in the trilogy is better than the Roger Corman movies of the 1950s and 60s (of which, Attack of the Crab Monsters remains my favourite), but the sequels are about on par with them.

Universal was the reigning monarch for monster films for many years, but there were other studios making them as well, including Columbia. And of course there were many, many Japanese monster movies somewhat later.

The earliest of these movies are histrionic in their acting, being not too far from the era of silent films, and many of its actors schooled in that period. Their gestures are sometimes strong and violent, overly done by today’s standards. But that changes as the movie industry develops and pushes further from the silent stage.

Susan loves movies as I do, but not all the films I like. And especially not the monster movies of the 1930s and 40s that I revere (nor, in fact, does she like the film noir and B flicks that entertain me). Black and white with looming shadows; great, gloomy, atmospheric sets; no CGI… I love these films. Some are clearly B films made on the coattails of the popularity of the originals, sometimes not even starring the original cast and suffering accordingly from rapid production and writing. They were churned out. Still, I like them for the nostalgia they bring me.

I was raised in the 1950s and 60s, going to drive-in theatres with my parents, and I especially remember those evenings at the Penetang drive-in near the cottage, where we sat in the front seat between our parents and saw double and triple-bill films, usually of the B genre, and often re-runs. Some of these, I recall, were the Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre films, but I also saw It, Them, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Godzilla and others there.

I saw the original monster films from the 30s and several of their sequels on TV at home, then and later. I have watched several of them many times since, and have the DVD collections. I have to admit I have not watched all the sequels or all the bonus features, but I still have time. Whenever Susan as a “girls’ night out” I pop a frozen pizza into the oven and settle back on the couch for a two-four film evening. My biggest problem is having a B-film and monster/sci-fi collection larger than my available time.

Here is the list of all the films in the original and revised versions. All series have various documentaries and bonus features related to the set.

Original Frankenstein:

  • Frankenstein
  • The Bride of Frankenstein
  • Son of Frankenstein
  • The Ghost of Frankenstein
  • House of Frankenstein

Revised set adds:

  • Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
  • House of Dracula
  • Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein

Original Dracula:

  • Dracula
  • Dracula (Spanish version)
  • Dracula’s Daughter
  • Son of Dracula
  • House of Dracula

Revised edition adds:

  • House of Frankenstein
  • Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein

The 1931 Spanish version may only interest sincere film buffs, but it was an important chapter in both filmmaking and in the series. As CinemaBlend tells it:

“What the hell is this?” you may ask. Well I’ll tell you. This film was made at the exact same time as Bela Lugosi’s Dracula with the same script, and shot on the same stage only with a different director and cast. Long before “dubbing” was the more common practice in Hollywood, Universal gave the go ahead for the film to be shot in Spanish in order to keep from losing the Latin American market . Carlos Villarios is no Bela Lugosi, but the interesting thing here is to watch the director’s work. George Melford would watch the “English” scenes being shot in the morning, and then decide how to improve on what they did. In many aspects he succeeded, mostly from a technical standpoint. Performance wise, yuck! Melford’s eye stretched the film a full thirty minutes longer, but in no way does it drag.

Honestly, If Melford and “English” Dracula director Tod Browning would have collaborated the version that became legendary would’ve had just that extra dab of spice. It’s a shame one can’t put these two flicks in a blender and create the ultimate Dracula film experience.

Original Wolf Man:

  • The Wolf Man
  • Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
  • Werewolf of London
  • She-Wolf of London

Revised edition adds:

  • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
  • House of Frankenstein
  • House of Dracula

Original Mummy:

  • The Mummy
  • The Mummy’s Hand
  • The Mummy’s Tomb
  • The Mummy’s Ghost
  • The Mummy’s Curse

Revised edition adds:

  • Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy

Original Invisible Man:

  • The Invisible Man
  • The Invisible Man Returns
  • The Invisible Woman
  • Invisible Agent
  • The Invisible Man’s Revenge

Revised edition adds:

  • Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man

Original and Revised Creature:

  • Creature from the Black Lagoon
  • Revenge of the Creature
  • The Creature Walks Among Us

You might note the additional films in the revised series include three Abbot and Costello flicks. These can be purchased separately in a collection of four films, Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters Collection, which includes A&C meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which doesn’t appear in the Legacy series. Or you can buy any of a number of “best of” Abbott and Costello DVD sets and get not only these films but many others.

Susan and I sat through A&C Meet Frankenstein recently, which I mostly enjoyed, but during which she winced and yawned a lot. Lon Chaney Jr. is actually the best; the most convincing in his role as the Wolf Man and his alter ego, Larry Talbot, but Lugosi is just going through the motions, and Strange as the monster doesn’t have to do much more than stomp around.

The other additions in the new series are actually already included on the separate older Legacy disks: House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. So, no, I don’t need to buy any more sets for the moment. But while researching this, I did find a few other DVD collections of classic films on Amazon that I’ve added to my shopping cart…

* I also have all of the main King Kong films and most of the spinoffs like Mighty Joe Young, as well as many of the Godzilla and a few related Japanese monster films. But there were many, many such films made from 1930 to 60, and I have a lot to get. I just started to turn my interest to Christopher lee’s Fu Manchu, after watching Warner Oland in a few Charlie Chan movies.

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