Blu-ray Review: Universal Classic Monsters Collection / Cert: 15 / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi / Release Date: Out Now
As part of Universal Pictures' 100th Anniversary, they have been restoring and releasing many of their famous back catalogue. This set covers the formative years of their monster output (as well as one from the ‘50s).
For the most part, this new Blu-ray collection features the special features and excellent documentaries that were included in the brilliant Legacy Collection, as well the Region one single disc releases. But let's look closer and see how a group of films that are up to 80 years old bare up to the HD treatment.
Fears that there may not be much of an upgrade from the DVD counterparts are completely unfounded. The majority of the films have undergone extensive HD restoration and arguably look better than they did on their cinema release. For many of us, these films were our first taste of horror cinema, and as such they hold a special place in the heart, so to see them in such detail and quality now is simply breathtaking. The films included in the collection are: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Invisible Man (1933), The Wolf Man (1941), The Phantom of the Opera (1943) and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).
Like the DVDs, Dracula also includes the alternate Spanish version; filmed on the same sets with a different cast and often cited as being better than the US version, while this writer doesn’t agree with that, there are some moments that work better, and it contains a few extra scenes which make the story flow a little smoother. This has also been restored to a fantastic degree, with only a 10min section (reel 3) which comes from a different print and is noticeably lesser quality. This in itself shows how good the transfer of the other print is. The Mummy shows the most sign of wear and tear, but still looks stunning and can be heard properly for the first time in years, as opposed to previous releases. The only colour picture in the set (and indeed, in the Universal Monsters catalogue) The Phantom of the Opera looks simply gorgeous, the Technicolour photography makes the film really pop, even though most fans struggle with the film because it dwells too often on the opera itself rather than the Phantom (Claude Rains), it is a brilliant and worthy addition to any collection.
Finally, it is marvellous to finally get to see The Creature from the Black Lagoon in its original format: 3D (it is also playable in 2D). If you have the equipment, or know a friend who does, make sure you check this out as it is the best use of the format yet released. Yes, it's all gimmicky, but when you see the claws reaching out of the screen at you or duck from harpoons, you see the format for what it was meant to be; FUN!
As well as the aforementioned documentaries and commentaries that have appeared on other releases (they are presented here in standard definition), there are a short series of new featurettes focusing on the restoration process, the Universal lot, and the characters. A small but informative and well laid out book and a set of art cards round off the packaging. A limited edition version in a coffin shaped box is nice, but is one of those items that would look odd on the shelf.
In conclusion, this set does the classic films proud, and presents them in a format and quality that they deserve. It is a shame that the numerous sequels and team ups couldn't have been included, but that would have made the collection higher than most fans’ budgets. Hopefully, a second set will be forthcoming. Until then, this set is highly recommended.
Extras: 44 page booklet, 8 exclusive art cards with original theatrical posters, Trailer Gallery for all movies, Dracula: The Restoration,Monster Tracks: Interactive Pop-Up Facts About the Making of Dracula, Dracula Archive, Score by Philip Glass performed by the Kronos Quartet, Feature Commentary by Film Historian David J. Skal, Screenwriter of Dracula: Dead and Loving It, The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster, Karloff: The Gentle Monster, Monster Tracks: Interactive Pop-Up Facts About The Making of Frankenstein, Universal Horror, Frankenstein Archives, Boo!: A Short Film, Feature Commentary with Film Historian Rudy Behlmer, Feature Commentary with Historian Sir Christopher Frayling, 100 Years Of Universal: Restoring the Classics, Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed, He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art Of Jack Pierce, Unraveling the Legacy of The Mummy, The Mummy Archives, Feature Commentary by Rick Baker, Scott Essman, Steve Haberman, Bob Burns and Brent Armstrong, Feature Commentary by Film Historian Paul M. Jensen, 100 Years Of Universal: The Carl Laemmle Era, Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed, Production Photographs, Feature Commentary with Film Historian Rudy Behlmer, 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters, Monster by Moonlight, The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth, Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney Jr.,He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce, The Wolf Man Archives, Feature Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver, The Opera Ghost: A Phantom Unmasked, Production Photographs, Feature Commentary with Film Historian Scott MacQueen, 100 Years of Universal: The Lot, The Creature From The Black Lagoon in Blu-ray 3D, Back to The Black Lagoon, Production Photographs, Feature Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver.