Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Oct 31, 2021
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection (4K UHD Review)

Director

Tod Browning, George Melford, James Whale, George Waggner

Release Date(s)

1931-1941 (October 5, 2021)

Studio(s)

Universal Pictures/Universal Studios Home Entertainment (Studio Distribution Services)
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: See Below
  • Audio Grade: See Below
  • Extras Grade: B+
  • Overall Grade: A-

Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection (4K Ultra HD)

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Review

The Universal Classic Monsters films have been released many times before for home viewing, starting with VHS and LaserDisc in the 1980s. The films began appearing on the DVD format in 1999, and then followed on Blu-ray starting in 2012. Most recently, the thirty films considered key to the franchise appeared in a comprehensive Blu-ray box set in 2018. But those 1080p HD presentations were all based on native 4K restorations. So finally, in 2021, we’ve been given the to chance to appreciate the quality of that restoration work in its full resolution.

Universal’s new Ultra HD box set disc includes Tod Browning’s original Dracula (1931) along with George Melford’s Spanish alternate version, as well as James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), and George Waggner’s The Wolf Man (1941). Each is available in both 4K and 1080p HD.

Let’s go through this set film by film and see what’s included...

 

DRACULA (1931)

Based upon the novel of the same name by Bram Stoker, Tod Browning’s Dracula begins with a nebbish solicitor named Renfield (Dwight Frye), who is summoned to the Transylvanian castle of the mysterious Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi). Once there, Renfield is charged with arranging Dracula’s impending move to Carfax Abbey outside London. Renfield agrees to this, but is soon attacked by the count’s three wives and then by Dracula himself, vampires all. Renfield serves his purpose, delivering Dracula and his wives aboard the schooner Vesta for their journey to England, but goes mad during the voyage. When the ship arrives at its destination, Renfield is the only person aboard left alive. Dracula and his brides are nevertheless delivered to Carfax Abbey (packed in coffins as freight), where they soon meet Seward (Herbert Bunston), the doctor who runs the sanatorium to which Renfield is committed. Seward’s daughter Mina (Helen Chandler) and her friend Lucy (Frances Dade) soon fall under Dracula’s spell, but Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), who’s been studying Renfield’s condition, realizes what’s happening and is the only person with the knowledge and courage to stand between Dracula and his intended victims.

The origin of the vampire mythos seems to arise first in the Middle Ages, dating back at least to the the 12th century and possibly as early as the 5th, with accounts of the dead rising or transforming into demonic entitles that in turn kill the living appearing in Norse, Jewish, Persian, and Eastern European literature of the period, perhaps inspired by still more ancient religious beliefs, and later intertwined with Christian mythology. But it was the Irish author Abraham “Bram” Stoker who re-introduced vampires into Western culture with his 1897 horror novel Dracula. Stoker had been outlining a vampire story set in the port town of Whitby in Northern England, where he often vacationed and was inspired its crumbling Gothic abbey, wind-swept moorlands, and ancient cemetery, when he learned of the 15th-century historical figure Vlad Drăculea, aka Vlad the Impailer. This quickly inspired a name change—Stroker had originally planned to call his character Count Wampyr. It’s also believed that Stoker, who managed the business affairs of London’s Lyceum Theatre from 1878 to 1898, may also have based some of his vampire’s mannerisms on those of Sir Henry Irving, an imposingly-tall Victorian stage actor who frequently starred there. In any case, Stoker’s novel was critically praised upon its debut and has never fallen out of print, though it earned its author little money during his lifetime. It wasn’t until years after Stoker’s death in 1912 that the story was first adapted dramatically for film (a now lost 1921 Hungarian production called Dracula’s Death, aka Drakula halála) and also the stage on both sides of the Atlantic.

But it wasn’t until Universal licensed the rights to make its 1931 Hollywood film adaptation, Dracula, that the title character was finally cemented into both popular culture and cinema legend, in large part due to its portrayal by the great Hungarian-American actor Bela Lugosi, who had appeared previously as the character in a successful 1927 Broadway production. The iconic cape that Lugosi wears in the film have been loosely inspired by the novel, which features a single passage that describes the character’s cloak “spreading out around him like great wings.” And while the novel describes Dracula has having pointed teeth, it’s the Browning film that first depicts him with animal-like incisors. Whatever their genesis, Lugosi’s performance, along with his trademark cape, firmly established a vampire iconography that endures to this day, some some ninety years later. And the continued popularity of Dracula (both the film and the character), as well as the larger vampire mythos, has everything to do with that fact that the physiological and psychological states fear and arousal they inspire are closely intertwined… and deeply rooted in the human psyche.

Dracula was shot on 35 mm photochemical film—nitrate stock, which was commonplace at the time—using Mitchell NC Standard #257 cameras and spherical lenses under the supervision of cinematographer Karl Freund, and was finished in a traditional photochemical process originally framed at 1.20:1 for theaters (the negative image is actually 1.37:1, the difference resulting from the fact that sound wasn’t originally recorded in-camera). For the occasion of Universal’s 100th anniversary in 2012, the studio embarked on a program to restore and preserve its greatest films, Dracula among them. The best surviving film element was a nitrate lavender master positive made directly from the original negative. This was wet-gate scanned in native 4K to reduce scratches. The resulting image was then given extensive digital restoration to create a new 4K Digital Intermediate at the fuller 1.37:1 aspect ratio of the actual negative. The restored source was subsequently used to create the various Blu-ray releases from 2012 on, and it’s the source for this new Ultra HD release too, now with an added High Dynamic Range grade (in HDR10 only). To finally see this restoration in its full 4K resolution is pretty extraordinary. Detail is notably greater and more refined looking, save only for shots that are optically soft as originally filmed. Grain varies between moderate and strong, but it’s well controlled and organic looking. The whole image seems to have greater depth and dimensionality. A range of age-related damage and artifacts have been cleaned away, leaving only the occasional white spec visible. But the star of this presentation has to be the HDR, which expands the contrast significantly. This not only results in deeper shadows, with great detail visible within them, it makes the highlights noticeably bolder, yet these too exhibit more detail. Nighttime scenes in particular benefit from this, particularly Renfield’s late night ride to Dracula’s castle, not to mention several shots of its catacombs. The HDR also greatly enhances the intensity of the lighting used to illuminate Dracula’s piercing gaze. A few opticals are soft looking, and the occasional shot exhibits a bit of crush, but that’s always been the case. Given the age of the film, it would be unrealistic to call this reference-quality. But this 4K UHD presentation is truly the only way to fully appreciate this film.

Audio is included in English 2.0 mono in DTS-HD Master Audio format, with additional tracks available in French, Castilian Spanish, German, and Italian 2.0 mono, also in DTS-HD MA. This too has been digitally restored to reduce pops and crackle, analog hiss, wow, flutter, and other age-related issues, not to mention the fundamental limitations of the Western Electric Recording System equipment of the time. Dialogue is cleaner and more clear than ever before. The uncompressed nature of the tracks offers a somewhat fuller sound than was available on previous DVD releases, delivering nice fidelity and every bit of quality possible from the original audio recordings. It should also be noted that the popular alternate score by Philip Glass, performed by the Kronos Quartet, is included here too in good fidelity, in 48 kHz English 2.0 stereo in Dolby Digital format. Optional subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Chinese. Subtitles are also available for the commentary tracks, and there’s a trivia track as well.

Dracula (1931) is included in this package on both 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Disc—the BD is the same one released previously and reviewed here on The Bits (though do keep in mind that the Blu-ray was mastered from the same 4K restoration as the new UHD disc). Both the UHD and BD discs include the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary with David J. Skal
  • Audio Commentary with Steve Haberman
  • Alternate Score by Philip Glass and The Kronos Quartet
  • The Road to Dracula (SD – 35:02)
  • Lugosi: The Dark Prince (SD – 36:06)
  • Dracula: The Restoration (HD – 8:46)
  • Dracula Archives (SD – 9:11)
  • Trailer Gallery (SD – 6 trailers with a Play All option)
    • Dracula Trailer (1:50)
    • Dracula’s Daughter Trailer (1:24)
    • Son of Dracula Trailer (1:37)
    • House of Dracula Trailer (1:27)
    • House of Frankenstein Trailer (1:41)
    • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Trailer (1:38)
  • Monster Tracks (Trivia Track)

All of these are carried over from previous releases, and they’re excellent across the board. Many of these features were originally produced for DVD and thus are in standard definition and 4x3, but the actual content is terrific, Both commentaries are excellent, as are a pair of documentaries by David J. Skal and Constantine Nasr. These feature interviews with surviving participants and family members, not to mention acclaimed film historians, and a who’s who of filmmakers, expert horror aficionados, VFX/make-up artists, and the like (here including Carla Laemmle, Clive Barker, Bob Madison, Skal, Michael Barsanti, Nina Auerbach, Lokke Heiss, Jan-Christopher Horak, Ivan Butler, John Balderston Jr., Bela Lugosi Jr., Rick Baker, Gary D Rhodes, Dwight David Frye, Scott MacQueen, Lupita Tovar, Ronald V Borst, Richard Gordon, Gregory W. Mank, Joe Dante, Steve Haberman, Peter Atkins, Kim Newman, Christopher Wicking, Darryl Jones, Christopher Frayling, Ramsey Campbell, Jimmy Sangster, Steve Jones, and more).

Also included on both the 4K disc and the Blu-ray is George Melford’s Spanish-language version, so let’s consider that film next…

 

DRÁCULA (1931)

Shot at night on the same sets as Browning’s production, George Melford’s Spanish-language version tells essentially the same story but with a different cast. Carlos Villarías assumes the role of Conde Drácula, with Pablo Alvarez Rubio replacing Frye as Renfield, Eduardo Arozamena as Professor Van Helsing, and Lupita Tovar as Seward’s daughter, who now goes by the name Eva. Garrett Fort’s English-language screenplay has been adapted by Baltasar Fernández Cué, and, in some ways, the Spanish dialogue has a more lyrical quality. Melford also makes better cinematic use of Browning’s sets and props, and the costumes are different too—Tovar’s in particular is more diaphanous and alluring. But while Melford often chooses better camera angles for his action, the limitations of working at night means he’s less able to use dolly and tracking shots. What’s more, Villarías’ performance in the title role has an almost comic quality, employing stiffer movements and campy facial expressions. Nevertheless, this version’s pleasures are undeniable. It’s not better than Browning’s film, but it’s enjoyable in its own right. And the opportunity to experience it alongside Browning’s Dracula in fully restored 4K with HDR is a pleasure indeed.

The Spanish version of Drácula was also shot on 35 mm photochemical film—nitrate stock—using Mitchell NC Standard #257 cameras and spherical lenses, this time under the supervision of cinematographer George Robinson. It was finished in a traditional photochemical process originally framed at 1.20:1 for theaters (the negative image is actually 1.37:1, the difference resulting from the fact that sound wasn’t originally recorded in-camera). It should be noted that the Spanish version of Drácula was believed to be lost until the 1970s, when incomplete original elements began to resurface. While the original nitrate negative was discovered in a New Jersey warehouse by the American Film Institute, the third reel was found to have deteriorated to the point of unusability. Fortunately, a complete print was located at the Cinemateca de Cuba in Havana, and this was used to complete the restoration. There’s conflicting information as to whether the Spanish version of Drácula was restored in full 4K or simply 2K in 2012, but it’s possible that additional restoration has been done since. Either way, the film is included here in 4K, and though it’s difficult to be sure whether this is an upsample or not, the image exhibits a modest improvement in detail regardless. Many shots are better lit and are taken from different angles than their English-language counterparts, so show more detail for that reason alone. However, the third reel (which kicks in during Renfield’s late night meeting with Conde Drácula), exhibits an obvious reduction in quality, including focus issues, some leftover vertical scratches, and a much softer focus overall. As is the case with the English version, the High Dynamic Range grade (HDR10 only) enhances both the highlights and shadows, squeezing out extra detail on both ends. Candlelight is bolder, are are the title characters menacing eyes. A few opticals are soft looking, and there’s occasional artifacting and black crush, so this is certainly not reference-quality. But again, this 4K UHD presentation is certainly the best way to appreciate this film.

Audio for this version is included in Spanish 2.0 mono in DTS-HD Master Audio format only, with optional subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Japanese, German, and Italian. The English subs are on by default. The sound has been digitally restored to reduce pops and crackle, analog hiss, wow, flutter, and other age-related issues, not to mention the limitations of the original Western Electric Recording System equipment. Dialogue is clean, while sound effects and music offer improved fidelity. But again, the audio quality drops noticeably during the film’s third reel, which exhibits significant wow and flutter.

Though Melford’s Drácula appears on the same UHD and BD disc as Browning’s version, it includes only one unique extra:

Introduction by Lupita Tovar Kohner (SD – 4:15)

You can choose to watch this introduction by itself, or at the start of the film. And of course, the discs’ menus allow you to switch between the versions as needed.

Whichever version of the film you choose, you’re in for a memorable experience. When Browning’s Dracula premiered in New York City, newspaper accounts of the day report that some viewers fainted in shock in reaction what they were seeing on screen. Canny marketing soon drew big audiences see the film nationwide. Its box office success not only validated Carl Laemmle Jr.’s risky decision to give supernatural horror a try on the big screen, it led the studio to start production on James Whale’s Frankenstein, which arrived in theaters just nine months later, thus launching what would eventually become known as the Universal Classic Monsters, one of Hollywood’s oldest and most enduring film franchises.

Dracula (Film/Video/Audio): A-/A-/A
Drácula (Film/Video/Audio): B+/B/B
Extras (Both): A

 

FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

Based on the 1818 novel by Mary Shelley, James Whale’s Frankenstein opens with actor Edward Van Sloan (who plays Dr. Waldman in the film) breaking the fourth wall to warn the audience that the film they’re about to see may horrify them. The story then follows the effort of a scientist named Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) in his effort to re-animate dead human flesh obtained from the corpses of hanged criminals and via grave robbing. His effort is assisted by a hunchback named Fritz (Dwight Frye). What Frankenstein needs most is a brain, which he soon avails himself of from Dr Waldman’s classroom at a nearby university. But Waldman has two brains—one from a normal person and another from a criminal—and Fritz steals the corrupted one by mistake. So when Frankenstein’s monstrous creation (played by Boris Karloff) finally rises from its laboratory slab, blasted into life by a bolt of lighting, it’s prone to moments of aggression when provoked, in between stretches of child-like innocence.

Considered by many to be the first true science fiction novel in addition to a work of Romantic and Gothic horror literature, Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus when she was just eighteen. While traveling through Europe with her future husband, Percy B. Shelley, and the English poet Lord Byron in 1816, Mary participated in a challenge between the trio to see who could write the best horror tale. As it happens, few years earlier she’d visited Germany and stayed not far from the famed Frankenstein Castle, where the alchemist Johaan Konrad Dippel had engaged in “elixir of life” experiments in the late 1600s—a likely inspiration along with medieval Jewish “golem” folklore. Shelley completed her novel two years later, initially choosing to have it published anonymously by a small London company. Critical reviews were mixed originally, especially when Shelley was revealed to be a woman. Nevertheless, it quickly became a hit with readers and was adapted often for the stage.

The success of the novel made it an obvious choice for producer Carl Laemmle Jr. as a cinematic follow-on to Dracula. Actor Bela Lugosi had hoped to play the part of Henry Frankenstein, but the producer wanted him in the role of the Monster instead. When Lugosi balked, Karloff was eventually recruited for the role, which soon evolved from a simple, golem-like killing machine to a more empathetic creature, in no small part due to the artistry of legendary make-up artist Jack Pierce. A Santa Monica inventor named Kenneth Strickfaden was called upon to populate Frankenstein’s lab with devices that would become iconic “mad scientist” gear for decades to come, including a Tesla Coil built by none other than Nikola Tesla himself. James Whale, a English director whose previous work included Journey’s End (1930) and Waterloo Bridge (1931), was hired to helm the production, which finally arrived in theaters in November of 1931 to widespread acclaim from the critics of the day and even bigger box office success than Dracula. In fact, by June of the following year, the film had grossed over $1.4 million, virtually ensuring that additional horror titles would follow from Universal.

Like Dracula before it, Frankenstein was shot on 35 mm photochemical film—nitrate stock—using Mitchell NC Standard #257 cameras and spherical lenses under the supervision of cinematographer Arthur Edeson, and was finished in a traditional photochemical process originally framed at 1.20:1 for theaters (again the negative image is actually 1.37:1). For the occasion of Universal’s 100th anniversary in 2012, Frankenstein was among the films selected for restoration. The best surviving film elements were wet-gate scanned in native 4K, with the resulting image given extensive digital restoration to create a new 4K Digital Intermediate at the 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The result was used to create the various Blu-ray releases from 2012 on, and it’s the source for this new Ultra HD release too, now with an added High Dynamic Range grade (in HDR10 only). As was the case with Dracula, the improvement in detail and dimensionality here is notable. Grain varies between moderate and strong, but it’s well controlled and organic looking. Age-related damage has been cleaned away, leaving only the occasional speckling visible. The HDR grade expands the contrast significantly, resulting in deeper shadows, bolder highlights, and greater detail in both. A few shots and opticals are soft looking, and there’s occasional crush in the shadows, but that’s always been the case. Again, while it’s short of reference quality, this 4K UHD presentation is clearly the preferred way to fully appreciate this film.

Audio is included in English 2.0 mono in DTS-HD Master Audio format, with additional tracks available in French, Castilian Spanish, German, and Italian 2.0 mono, also in DTS-HD MA. The sound too has been digitally restored to reduce pops and crackle, analog hiss, wow, flutter, and other age-related issues, and the limitations of the Western Electric Recording System equipment of the day. Dialogue is cleaner and more clear than ever before. The lack of compression offers a fuller sound than the previous DVD releases, delivering good fidelity and every bit of the quality possible from the original audio recordings. Optional subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Chinese. Subtitles are also available for the commentary tracks, and there’s a trivia track as well.

Frankenstein (1931) is included in this package on both 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Disc—the BD is the same one released previously and reviewed here on The Bits (though do keep in mind that the Blu-ray was mastered from the same 4K restoration as the new UHD disc). Both the UHD and BD discs include the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary with Rudy Behlmer
  • Audio Commentary with Sir Christopher Frayling
  • The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster (SD – 44:50)
  • Karloff: The Gentle Monster (SD – 37:57)
  • Universal Horror (SD – 95:20)
  • Frankenstein Archives (SD – 9:24)
  • Boo!: A Short Film (HD – 9:29)
  • Trailer Gallery (SD – 7 trailers with a Play All option)
    • Frankenstein (1:41)
    • The Bride of Frankenstein (1:27)
    • The Ghost of Frankenstein (1:55)
    • Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1:36)
    • House of Frankenstein (1:40)
    • House of Dracula (1:26)
    • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1:38)
  • 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics (HD – 9:13)
  • Monster Tracks (Trivia Track)

As was the case with Dracula, all of these are carried over from previous releases, and they’re excellent across the board. Many of these features were originally produced for DVD and thus are in standard definition and 4x3, but the actual content is terrific. Both commentaries are excellent, as are a trio of documentaries by David J. Skal, Constantine Nasr, and Kevin Brownlow. These feature interviews with surviving participants and family members, not to mention acclaimed film historians, and a who’s who of filmmakers, expert horror aficionados, and VFX/make-up artists (here including Skal, Rudy Behlmer, Sara Karloff, Bob Madison, Rick Baker, Donald F. Glut, Ivan Butler, Jan-Christopher Horak, Bill Condon, Richard Gordon, Gregory W. Mank, Dwight David Frye, Paul M. Jenson, Steve Haberman, Joe Dante, Steve Jones, Peter Atkins, Kim Newman, Christopher Wicking, Darryl Jones, Ramsey Campbell, Christopher Frayling, Ray Bradbury, Nina Foch, James Karen, Carla Laemmle, Forrest J. Ackerman, Gloria Stuart, Fay Wray, Lupita Tovar, Curt Siodmak, and many others).

In many ways, Frankenstein can be called the first Hollywood film produced specifically with the intention of terrifying its audience. Not only did it inspire a series of popular sequels, it turbo-charged the career of actor Boris Karloff, who had already appeared in dozens of silent films and serials in the 1920s. Today, Frankenstein is rightly considered to be a classic by both critics and fans, many of whom regard it as the greatest horror film of all time.

Frankenstein (Film/Video/Audio/Extras): A/A-/B/A

 

THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933)

Based on the H.G. Welles novel of the same name, James Whale’s The Invisible Man chronicles the story of Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), a chemist who accidentally discovers the secret of invisibility while experimenting on behalf of his employer, Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers, better known for his role as the angel Clarence Odbody in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life). When Griffin literally and figuratively disappears during the course of his work, his fiancée Flora (Gloria Stuart, over sixty years before her appearance in James Cameron’s Titanic)—who’s also Cranley’s daughter—naturally becomes upset. So Cranley and his assistant, Dr. Arthur Kemp (William Harrigan), investigate and soon discover that Griffin used monocane, a dangerous drug that’s known to drive animals mad. Fearing the same fate for Jack, Cranley and Kemp decide to inform the police, even as Griffin—who’s gradually going insane—formulates a plot to use his newfound invisibility to dominate the world.

Inspired by a verse from The Bab Ballads by W.S. Gilbert, not to mention the mythical Ring of Gyges depicted in Plato’s Republic, Welles’ story first appeared in serialized form in the pages of the London periodical Pearson’s Weekly, and was published a novel in 1897. Universal purchased the film rights during the production of Frankenstein. James Whale was initially approached to direct, but left the project to make The Impatient Maiden (1932) instead. When that film failed at the box office, Whale returned to horror with The Old Dark House (1932), eventually circling back to The Invisible Man after a series of writers finally cracked the script. And though the resulting film isn’t quite as iconic as its predecessors, it still sparkles thanks to the performance of star Claude Rains, who’s memorable despite the fact that so much of his work goes unseen, and clever invisibility special effects by John P. Fulton (whose later work included the parting of the Red Sea in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 biblical epic The Ten Commandments).

The Invisible Man was shot on 35 mm photochemical film—nitrate stock—using Mitchell Standard cameras and spherical lenses under the supervision of cinematographer Arthur Edeson, and was finished photochemically. As part of Universal’s 100th anniversary restoration project in 2012, The Invisible Man was selected for extensive restoration and preservation. The best surviving film elements were wet-gate scanned in native 4K, with the resulting image given extensive digital restoration to create a new 4K Digital Intermediate at the 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The result was used to create the various Blu-ray releases from 2012 on, and it’s the source for this new Ultra HD release too, now with an added High Dynamic Range grade (in HDR10 only). Once again, the improvement in detail and dimensionality here is notable. Grain is moderate, but well controlled and organic looking. Age-related damage has been cleaned away, leaving only the occasional speckling visible. The HDR grade expands the contrast significantly, resulting in deeper shadows, bolder highlights, and greater detail in both. A few shots and opticals remain soft looking, and there’s occasional crush in the shadows, but the image here is more even-looking and consistent than the previous films, making this 4K UHD presentation the absolute best possible way to appreciate this film.

Audio is once again included in English 2.0 mono in DTS-HD Master Audio format, with additional tracks available in French, Castilian Spanish, German, and Italian 2.0 mono, also in DTS-HD MA. Like the image, the sound has been digitally restored to reduce pops and crackle, analog hiss, wow, flutter, and other age-related issues, and the limitations of the Western Electric Noiseless Recording System equipment of the day. Dialogue is cleaner and more clear than ever before. The lack of compression offers a fuller sound than the previous DVD releases, delivering good fidelity and every bit of the quality possible from the original audio recordings. Optional subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Chinese. Subtitles are available for the commentary track as well.

The Invisible Man (1933) is included in this package on both 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Disc—the BD is the same one released previously and reviewed here on The Bits (though keep in mind that the Blu-ray was mastered from the same 4K restoration as the new UHD disc). Both the UHD and BD discs include the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary with Rudy Behlmer
  • Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed! (SD – 35:19)
  • Production Photographs (SD – 4:28)
  • Trailer Gallery (SD – 3 trailers with a Play All option)
    • The Invisible Man (2:05)
    • Invisible Agent (1:43)
    • Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man (1:57)
  • 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters (HD – 8:19)

All of these are carried over from previous releases Blu-ray and DVD releases. While they’re not as extensive as the features for Dracula and Frankenstein, and are mostly in standard definition and 4x3, they’re still quite good. The commentary by Behlmer is informative and engaging, and the documentary featurette by David J. Skal features interviews with surviving participants and family members, not to mention acclaimed film historians, and a who’s who of filmmakers, expert horror aficionados, and VFX/make-up artists (here including Behlmer, Skal, actor Ian McKellen, Paul M. Jensen, Bill Condon, Jessica Rains, and Curtis Harrington, among others).

The Invisible Man is an entertaining and unsettling entry in the Universal Classic Monsters franchise, with visual effects that remain surprisingly effective some eighty-eight years after the film’s original release. This is a good one.

The Invisible Man (Film/Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/A/C+

 

THE WOLF MAN (1941)

Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) returns to his childhood village in Wales for his brother’s funeral, hoping to salvage his relationship with his father (Claude Rains). During the visit, he falls in love with Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers) who runs an antique shop. There he purchases a cane topped by a silver wolf’s head and learns about werewolves, which are a familiar part of local lore. As they walk together that evening, Talbot saves Conliffe from an attack by wolf—which he kills with the cane—but is bitten in the process. Soon he learns from a fortune teller that the beast was actually her son, a genuine werewolf… and that he’s doomed to become one himself.

Produced a full decade into the Universal Classic Monsters era, George Waggner’s The Wolf Man is one of the few main entries in the franchise not based upon a previous literary source. Not only did it introduce an iconic new character into the cannon, it catapulted star Lon Chaney Jr. into the hearts and minds of moviegoers. The film is notable for its innovative transformation sequence, which features lap-dissolves between progressively more extensive make-up effects by the great Jack Pierce. The Wolf Man also features wonderfully-atmospheric cinematography and an engaging score. Watch too for a brief cameo by Bela Lugosi as the fortune teller’s son, who eventually infects Talbot.

The Wolf Man was shot on 35 mm photochemical film—nitrate stock—using Mitchell Standard cameras and spherical lenses under the supervision of cinematographer Joseph Valentine, and was finished photochemically. As part of Universal’s 100th anniversary restoration project in 2012, the film was selected for extensive restoration and preservation. The best surviving elements were wet-gate scanned in native 4K, with the resulting image given extensive digital restoration to create a new 4K Digital Intermediate at the 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The result was used to create the various Blu-ray releases from 2012 on, and it’s the source for this new Ultra HD release too, now with an added High Dynamic Range grade (in HDR10 only). Once again, the improvement in detail and dimensionality here is obvious. Grain is moderate, but well controlled and organic. Age-related damage has been cleaned away, leaving only the occasional speckling visible. The HDR expands the contrast, resulting in deeper shadows, bolder highlights, and more refined detail on both ends. A few shots and opticals remain soft looking, but the image here is more even-looking and consistent than the previous films—on par with The Invisible Man—making this 4K UHD presentation the very best possible way to appreciate this film.

Audio is once again included in English 2.0 mono in DTS-HD Master Audio format, with additional tracks available in French, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, German, and Italian 2.0 mono, also in DTS-HD MA. Like the image, the sound has been digitally restored to reduce pops and crackle, analog hiss, wow, flutter, and other age-related issues, and the limitations of the Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording equipment of the day. Dialogue is cleaner and more clear than ever before. The lack of compression offers a fuller sound than the previous DVD releases, delivering good fidelity and every bit of the quality possible from the original audio recordings. Optional subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Chinese. Subtitles are available for the commentary track as well.

The Wolf Man (1941) is included in this package on both 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Disc—the BD is the same one released previously and reviewed here on The Bits (though keep in mind that the Blu-ray was mastered from the same 4K restoration as the new UHD disc). Both the UHD and BD discs include the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary by Tom Weaver
  • Monster by Moonlight (SD – 32:36)
  • The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth (SD – 10:07)
  • Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney Jr. (SD – 36:51)
  • He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce (SD – 25:00)
  • The Wolf Man Archives (SD – 6:44)
  • Trailer Gallery (SD – 7 trailers with a Play All option)
    • Werewolf of London (1:22)
    • The Wolf Man (1:48)
    • Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1:37)
    • House of Frankenstein (1:40)
    • House of Dracula (1:26)
    • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1:38)
    • She-Wolf of London (1:21)
  • 100 Years of Universal: The Lot (HD – 9:27)

Once again, all of these are carried over from previous releases Blu-ray and DVD releases. While they’re still mostly in SD, this time some are in 16x9. What’s more, they’re far more extensive than the extras for The Invisible Man. The highlight is no less than four interesting documentary featurettes produced and directed by David J. Skal and Constantine Nasr. As before, these include interviews with surviving participants and family members, acclaimed film historians, and a who’s who of filmmakers, expert horror aficionados, and VFX/make-up artists (among them John Landis, Rick Baker, Curt Siodmak, Jan-Christopher Horak, John W. Morgan, William T. Stromberg, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Steven Haberman, Steve Jones, Kim Newman, Jonathan Rigby, Gregory W. Mank, Kerry Gammill, A.C. Lyles, Sid Haig, Janet Ann Gallow, our old friend Bob Burns, Jack Hill, Nick Dudman, Kevin Haney, Scott Essman, Michèle Burke, Christopher Frayling, Howard Berger, Tom Savini, Thomas R. Burman, Greg Nicotero, Bill Corso, Ralph Edwards, and others).

The Wolf Man is unique in the Universal Classic Monsters franchise, as its title character is the only monster to be played by the same actor throughout several sequels. The downside of this success is that Lon Chaney Jr. was typecast as a horror actor for the rest of his life. Thankfully though, this formative work remains effective and engaging, due in no small measure to the actor’s sympathetic performance, ensuring the film’s place as a favorite of classic cinema and genre fans alike.

The Wolf Man (Film/Video/Audio/Extras): B/A/A/A-

 

The packaging for this set is similar to hardcover book, with illustrated cardboard page that slots to hold the individual discs within. This in turn slips into a cardboard slipcase. You can see the open packaging below…

Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection (4K Ultra HD)

Note that there’s also a paper slip that contains a Movies Anywhere code which allows access to 4K Digital Copies of each film.

All in all, this is a very nice Ultra HD/Blu-ray combo package. Now… obviously it must be noted that this set includes only five films, and is completely missing two iconic characters—The Mummy and The Creature—so it’s far from complete. But one can hope that, if this first 4K set sells well, Universal may follow with additional films in 4K Ultra HD. As it is, this package complements the studio’s previous 30-film Complete Collection Blu-ray set nicely. The bottom line is this: If you love the Universal Classic Monsters, these classic and enduring films have never looked or sounded better. The Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection is thus highly recommended for fans.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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