The classic horror films of the 30's and 40's have never been as popular as they are today. Baby Boomers who grew up watching the old Shock Theater packages in the 50's and 60's hold a tremendous fondness for the films that terrified them as children. The Boris Karloff Frankenstein and Bela Lugosi Dracula are still the most recognized images of those two classic monsters...so much so that their families had to move to legally trademark their images to protect them.
The Universal horror films are the subject of Universal Horrors, the second edition of this outstanding book by noted classic film historian Tom Weaver and Michael & John Brunas. Throughout the massive 608 page hardcover, the authors cover each one of the 85 horror films made by Universal from 1931 - 1946. Just do the math...that's an average of about seven pages spent on each film during this period. This is no mere listing of actors with a one-page synopsis. Rather this is a definitive guide to these 85 films with complete cast and credits, detailed storyline synopses, production history, behind-the-scenes information, critical analysis, period reviews, and commentary by cast and crewmembers. Most of the comments come from the voluminous numbers of reviews that Weaver has conducted over the years.
The films are listed chronologically beginning with Dracula in 1931 and ending with The Brute Man in 1946. It even includes the Spanish version of Dracula which was filmed on the same set as the original at the very same time! White The Lugosi version was shot during the day, the Spanish crew took over at night. In many ways, the Spanish version outshines the Tod Browning directed original.
One of my guilty favorites of the Universal Classic film era is 1932's Murder in the Rue Morgue, presenting Lugosi in truly one of his most sadistic and macabre roles. This film ended up being the bone that both Lugosi and Director Robert Florey received for NOT getting their respective parts in Frankenstein, which instead went to Karloff and Director James Whale. This rather film features Lugosi as Dr. Mirakle, who injects the blood of an ape into women he captures. When the experiments fail, he dumps the women into a river. It's a highly underrated film and one of Lugosi's best roles.
Weaver and partners don't give a short shrift to lesser-known films. While the most popular films do get more coverage, even the least well-known of the Universal Horrors gets several pages devoted to it...and there are a number of lesser known films. Unfortunately a number of these are not on DVD or even VHS for that matter meaning that the entry in this book is probably the closest you'll get to the film without actually seeing it.
Many of these lesser-known films are not true horror but often murder mysteries with horror trappings such as "old dark house-style" films. These films include Secret of the Blue Room, Secret of the Chateau, The House of Fear, and The Black Doll. The appendix goes on to list several dozen more films that were borderline exclusions...close, but just not making the cut to receive a full write-up for various reasons. Actually it's somewhat difficult to figure out while some of these were left out of the main listing since many are quite similar in plot and tone.
This book is simply fabulous. Everything that Weaver does is always meticulously researched and extraordinarily entertaining. This is THE Bible to fans of Universal's classic horror films, and one of the finest film reference books I've ever read.
REVIEWED BY TIM JANSON