Friday, October 31, 2014

Universal Monster Films

The horror films produced by Universal in the 1930s left an indelible mark on the history of popular American film. Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy and others remain in the cultural zeitgeist to this day and are chiefly responsible for helping Universal become one of the largest movie studios in the world.

Although monster films existed before the 1930s (with Murneau's Nosferatu being released in 1922), the genre made great strides in popularity following 1931's Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi in his most famous role. Universal followed that film up with Frankenstein, an adaptation of a story that had been around since the 1820s. Both films achieved great success at the box office, and their characters became part of our culture. Lugosi, The Wolf Man star Lon Chaney, and Frankenstein star Boris Karloff became some of the most famous actors of the day.

Universal's success with monster movies over the next couple of decades positioned the studio as one of the titans of the industry. Although the studio had been around since the days of silent film, and in fact came to prominence with several pre-Jazz Singer hits, it was the horror hits of the early 1930's that allowed the studio to branch out into other genres. The studio's success with horror continued with Creature from the Black Lagoon, whose titular monster is considered one of the class Universal Monsters.

Universal horror films changed the path of popular American film greatly, as they set the standard for all horror films to follow. Several classic films of later decades have sprung out of the tradition set by these films; one of the funniest movies of all time, Young Frankenstein, is entirely built around the tropes of the Universal films.

Two years ago, the AV Club published a guide to Universal monster films, which comes in handy every Halloween:

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