Blu-ray Review: The 3D Creatures And Beautiful Beasts Of The ‘Universal Classic Monsters’ Set

If you’re a horror fan, sometimes you simply have to go back to your roots–take the opportunity every once in a while to revisit (or explore for the first time) some of the classics that laid the foundation for Freddy, Jigsaw, or Jet Li featuring prominently in a Mummy movie. With Universal’s eight movie Essential collection (technically, nine with the Spanish-language version of Dracula), you can do that as the studio celebrates the monsters in its closets in a gorgeous collection.

The Blu-ray set, packaged in Universal’s handsome, glossy black book-style packaging, contains the following movies:

Dracula (1931, Tod Browning)
Dracula (1931, George Melford)
Frankenstein (1931, James Whale)
The Mummy (1932, Karl Freund)
The Invisible Man (1933, James Whale)
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935, James Whale)
The Wolf Man (1941, George Waggner)
Phantom of the Opera (1943, Arthur Lubin)
Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954, Jack Arnold)

All of the titles here have had previous home video releases, although I believe this is the first time a version of Black Lagoon has been available in 3D for home release (one of the cooler additions to the set). Universal has seen fit to give every one of the classic black and white films here a visual restoration, making films like The Wolf Man stand out in all of their crisp, black and white glory. The level of depth and detail is impressive and a great way to experience these movies.

Most of the standard definition features appear to be from the 2004 Legacy Collection, Universal’s last effort to reintroduce these films, around the release of the non-starter franchise Van Helsing. Those sets contained the original films and many of their sequels, while here, Universal seems to have focused on presenting the movies with an optimal visual presentation. The Black Lagoon disc (which contains both the 2D and 3D versions of the film) suffers from some minor, I guess it would be edge enhancement in the 3D presentation, but that’s really only noticeable during the titles and some early shots.

It comes down to how much archival material you need or want, but each of the eight discs has at least a doc with a basic examination of their respective film and stars, in addition to a nice, full-color booklet with brief overviews of the films and key art. Maybe the most successful among these is a 40-minute doc focusing on Wolf Man star Lon Chaney Jr. and his rocky Hollywood career, where historians, filmmakers, and friends consider the man, his work, the troubled relationship with his famous father, and subsequent stint as a go-to character actor on TV. If you don’t find yourself welling up a little at the end of this doc, you might be a monster.

While maybe not the comprehensive collection that the out of print Legacy series provided, Universal has still provided a magnificent celebration of its monster movie heritage. My hope is that down the line they follow up with another set focusing on their horror output from the second half of the century, giving us the full scope of their hundred years in film.

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection is available now on Blu-ray.

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