Halloween is just around the corner, which makes this week the perfect time to treat yourself to some classic Universal horror. The iconic monsters of the Universal films are perpetual favorites in the Halloween costume department, and their movies are great entertainment for kids and grown-ups alike. Classic horror stars like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney (both Sr. and Jr.), and even Claude Rains lead casts of delightful character actors, including horror great Dwight Frye; their definitive performances have inspired and influenced horror movies ever since, making knowledge of the classics a must for serious genre fans. Here are ten classic Universal horror movies to keep the chills and thrills going all through the Halloween week.
1) “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925) – This silent masterpiece starring Lon Chaney helped usher in the golden age of classic horror. Mary Philbin stars as the object of the Phantom’s romantic obsession, a beautiful young singer at the Paris Opera. Use of eerie color and Chaney’s monstrously disturbing look give this picture plenty of punch, even 90 years after its original release.
2) “Dracula” (1931) – Tod Browning’s iconic – if unfaithful – adaptation of the Stoker novel relies on the creepy continental charm of Bela Lugosi for its effect, but Dwight Frye shines as a terrifyingly tragic Renfield. Later adaptations never quite escape the Lugosi legacy, while parodies and horror-comedies spoof it with boundless delight.
3) “Frankenstein” (1931) – Boris Karloff puts an equally influential stamp on the classic creature with his shuffling steps and oversized skull, while director James Whale invests the horror story with flourishes of wickedly dry humor.
4) “The Mummy” (1932) – Karloff plays the monster again in this Egyptian horror story, while Universal regular Edward Van Sloan fights against him. The movie inspired scores of sequels, revisions, and parodies, with the 1999 Brendan Fraser film as one of the most popular and creative tributes.
5) “The Invisible Man” (1933) – James Whale delivers another darkly comic chiller with Claude Rains in the lead as a scientist who is rapidly losing his mind after turning himself invisible. Gloria Stuart, best remembered today as old Rose in “Titanic” (1997), stars as the doomed scientist’s love interest.
6) “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) – This sequel to the 1931 movie brings Karloff and Colin Clive back as the creature and his creator, but Elsa Lanchester gives a scene-stealing performance as the shock-haired Bride. Be sure to note that Lanchester also plays novelist Mary Shelley in the picture’s opening scene.
7) “Dracula’s Daughter” (1936) – Edward Van Sloan returns as Van Helsing in this sequel to the 1931 film, which picks up right where the original ended. Gloria Holden is hypnotic and deadly as the vampiric countess who seeks Van Helsing’s help in ending her supernatural affliction.
8) “The Wolf Man” (1941) – Lon Chaney, Jr. follows in his famous father’s footsteps and becomes a horror icon with his performance as Larry Talbot, a perfectly ordinary man who succumbs to an extraordinary curse. Claude Rains plays Larry’s father, and Bela Lugosi makes a brief appearance as the original gypsy werewolf, while tiny Maria Ouspenskaya steals her scenes as Maleva.
9) “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948) – For laughs and an iconic Halloween monster mash, it’s hard to beat this Abbott and Costello comedy, which also stars Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Glenn Strange as the Universal monsters who are out to get the bumbling duo.
10) “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954) – The last of the great Universal monsters is fish-flavored, with a team of scientists chasing a strange aquatic being in the Amazon. Unfortunately for heroine Julie Adams, the creature has a romantic nature, and she’s the only girl on the boat. Two different actors were required to play the monster on land and in the water.
For even more classic Universal horror, try “Son of Frankenstein” (1939), “The Invisible Man Returns” (1940), and “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” (1943). Learn more about the history of Universal horror by watching the video at the top of this article.