As a lad who grew up in the rural outlands of Northern California in the '80s, there were few opportunities for me to catch many of the classic Universal horror films on the television (and absolutely no chances to see them in a theater). Thankfully, I managed to find the eight films which have been highly regarded as the truly quintessential monster masterpieces from Universal Studios over the years, and my obsession with the whole lot of 'em only grew from childhood on. Well, most of 'em: there was one that definitely didn't move me the same way as the others — but more on that later.
In 2000, the Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection came to DVD, presenting us with the absolute best look at the classics, Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), Phantom of the Opera (1943), and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), boasting numerous special features for the whole lot. It was like a dream come true for myself and the many other fans out there who I shared my passion for vintage horror movies with.
Now, in the age of High-Definition, we have been blessed with Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection, which gives us some glorious new transfers of those aforementioned titles, the original special features from the DVD box set, and a few new extras just to sweeten the pot. Regretfully, the many (mostly poorer) sequels to these individual franchises (i.e. Dracula's Daughter, The Mummy's Hand, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, et al) are not included in this $159.98 (MSRP) set, so don't go throwing out those Legacy Collection titles just yet.
The set takes us on a chronological journey into the vaults, beginning with Dracula (Disc 1). Here, Bela Lugosi takes on the role that would literally accompany him to the grave with (he was buried in his cape) as the Transylvanian bloodsucker who travels to England in search of fresh new blood. Dwight Frye inhabits a role that would result in him being typecast forever as Renfield, while Edward Van Sloan takes on the part of Van Helsing. Next up is Frankenstein (Disc 2): a part Lugosi could have had, but who ultimately lost out to some feller named Boris Karloff — who plays the monster made by Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) perfectly. Frye and Van Sloan once again play similar roles as the doctor's hunchback assistant and mentor, respectively.