Horror: 30s and 40s
Not only did Nosferatu kick off the vampire craze, at least for Dracula, but it also started one or two new trends in the vampire superstition. For one thing, it created the whole "death by sunlight" weakness for vampires. In the older books, including Stoker's, vampires were merely weakened by sunlight, it didn't burn them or turn them to dust. Future vampire filmmakers as well as authors would continually use this idea in their works. One thing that Universal's Dracula was able to create was the popular image of the King of Vampires.
Hungarian Actor Bela Lugosi was the best choice to play the count, both on stage and on the big screen. Sure, he wasn't the first choice for the role. There was also John Carradine, but he wouldn't be able to play as Dracula until the 40s. Audiences were glad that Lugosi was chosen and we all know why. His accent and hypnotic stare was something that only he can pull off. There were a few pros and cons to his costume/vampire design. You got the classic cape, black suit, and amulet. The only way he lets you know he's a vampire is by turning into a bat and a wolf offscreen, as well as sleeping in a coffin/wooden box. The one defining trait that Universal was missing here were fangs. Not a single of their films with Dracula had him wearing fangs. Which is weird, because even Count Orlok (Dracula) had fangs in Nosferatu. Throwing that minor flaw aside, this movie makes for a classic chiller. If you like this Dracula film, check out the 1979 remake starring Frank Langella and Donald Pleasence.
Although there was a short silent film in 1910 that should be noted here, it is now regarded as one of those "lost films." It's the 1931 adaptation of Mary Shelly's Novel, by Universal Studios, that made the old and classic story still popular today (at least around Halloween time). It was also adapted from a play, the same way that Universal's Dracula was also adapted from both a play and a book. Some of the lines and scenes from this movie by James Whale are often parodied and repeated. For example, the children's Disney cartoon Phineas and Ferb did their own parody of this classic monster movie. They even did the opening introduction that Edward Van Sloan perfected in the original. Warning to the audience that what they are about to see "Will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even horrify you...Well, we warned you."
Universal has had plenty of their own recurring actors such as Edward Van Sloan, Dwight Frye, David Manners (not in this one). The one actor we see for the first playing a monster is Boris Karloff. It's worth mentioning that it was rumored Bela Lugosi was first offered to play as the monster after he successfully played Dracula, but he didn't like the idea of putting on a bunch of makeup and not speaking. Another fun fact was that it was Jack Pierce who designed the original makeup for Boris Karloff, even though the monster doesn't look completely like that in the novel. It's so good to know that this role was what kicked off Karloff's career in monster movies at Universal Studios.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Out of all the versions of Jekyll and Hyde seen on film and television, the one in this adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's chilling tale stands out the most. The horror in this film comes from the duo personality aspect. Mr. Hyde is one of those monsters created from science, just like the Frankenstein monster. When examining the character of Dr. Jekyll, he can easily be compared and contrasted to that of Victor Frankenstein. Both Scientists dream of delving into the great beyond, not knowing that it would cost innocent people's lives. However, Dr. Jekyll is what you would call an improvement from Frankenstein. Victor is a college dropout who had no good reason to do what he did other than the pursuit of knowledge. Dr. Jekyll was a more refined scientist who tried to look deep inside himself and see if he can control his base urges.
Going back to this 1931 film, the #1 thing that make this a classic monster chiller is the atmosphere. Set in a gothic-looking district of London, you get chills down your spine every time you see the foggy streets and twisty designed buildings. Fredric March's performance as Mr. Hyde deserves his place among the other golden age monsters.
The Mummy (1932)
Fresh off of his legendary performance as the Frankenstein monster, Boris Karloff sits in Jack Pierce's makeup chair a second time to play as the iconic Egyptian zombie: the mummy. Unfortunately, it was only for the opening scene. Even when he's not wrapped in bandages for the rest of the film, Karloff still manages to send a chill down your spine with his slow and deep voice. There is also those glowing eyes that he has, similar to those of Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931). Speaking of, there are a few returning actors from that other monster movie such as Edward van Sloan and David Manners. They even play as similar roles here, and I don't mean to contrast this movie with Dracula. Edward plays as the heroic doctor who is an expert in the occult and must use his knowledge to battle evil. Manners plays as the female lead's love interest who must save the girl from being seduced and killed by the monster.
One reason that this film is a masterpiece is the fact that it's more than just a monster movie. It's also a love story about an ancient foreigner who falls for a reincarnation of a past lover. That trope will be used a lot in future horror films, especially those involving vampires. Once the 40s arrived, so did a new string of mummy movies, but they had nothing to do with this original classic. The first of those new string of mummy films is The Mummy's Hand (1940), which used an unusual amount of recycled footage from the '32 movie.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Anyone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this is the first horror sequel ever filmed. To this day it's also considered one of the best, especially by me. Why is that? It's because of everything that the monster goes through and how it eventually leads up to the tragic but satisfying ending. It picks up right where the first movie left off, minus the introduction scene with Elsa Lanchester, who plays as Mary Shelly in this scene and the bride during the final scenes. Having a sequel take place right after the original left off is a technique that will be used again in the Halloween franchise. I could talk more about this awesome horror sequel, but it's better if you watch it for yourself.
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
This Frankenstein film may have somewhat started off fresh, but it's the last time we see Boris Karloff as the monster (at least on film). I consider this to be the first horror requel. A requel is the combination of a reboot and sequel, by the way. Any horror film historian would tell you that this movie started a new cycle of Universal monster movies. A few more examples of first movies in this cycle include The Mummy's Hand and Son of Dracula. One thing that makes this a reboot-sequel is the fact that there are no recurring characters other than the monster and he goes back to being nearly mute. On the plus side, it follows one thing from the previous movie and that's when the monster was supposedly destroyed in the laboratory explosion and the presence of a hunchback (though the name was changed). Some of this feels like a Frankenstein movie, but some of it also doesn't feel like that. It doesn't have that gothic set designs like the ones from the previous film. The angry villagers are not just going after the monster, but also the Frankenstein family as well. This will be continued in further sequels including the Mel Brooks parody Young Frankenstein (1974). I could list more things that this movie started, but I got more monster movies to go over. One of those will not be The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), just because it seems like one of those weaker unnecessary sequels that were made just to bring up box office spending.
The Wolf Man (1941)
Werewolf of London (1935) may have been the first werewolf film, it was nowhere near as impactful as the tragic story of Larry Talbot. This film established the werewolf lore for decades to come and some filmmakers still use it today. The first piece of that lore that is usually, but not always, used is the full moon. We don't get a shot of it here when he first transforms, but the moon is mentioned in a nursery rhyme created by the screenwriter:
Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night,
May become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms,
and the Autumn moon is bright.
The last line of it gets changed in the sequel to "and the moon is full and bright" to better establish this part of werewolf lore. Speaking of, the Wolf Man never gets his own stand-alone sequel. After this, you only see him when he crosses over with other monsters such as the Frankenstein monster and Dracula. You have to give the makeup artist(s) here some credit. Every time Lon Chaney Jr. would play as the Wolf Man, he would have to sit in a stool or chair for hours while the makeup is being put on him. Still, despite all the hard work they went through, they could have made him look a little more like a wolf instead of some hairy guy with fangs, claws, and paw feet. I was referring more on his face. The set designs and atmospheres still make this look like a classic chiller movie like the ones before it. The score is excellent and would be used in sequels and other monster movies in the 40s such as Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). Overall I would put this film somewhere in the top 5 best werewolf movies ever made.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Everything to say about this crossover has already been said by the guy who serves as the inspiration to all this: James Rolfe. It's better to let him describe the movie to you. Just to clarify to any disclaimers, I do not own this video:
House of Frankenstein (1944)
This is the first time we see three of the best golden age monsters in one film. The previous film doesn't count cause it only had two, and that isn't always enough. It's to put include Dracula in the mix as well. Unfortunately he's wasn't played by Bela Lugosi, but John Carradine. It's said in one or two documentaries that Carradine was one of the first choices for the role back in '31, but Lugosi (who already had a history of playing the role on stage) just happened to be in the area so they picked him instead.
Unfortunately, none of the monsters share the same screen time together, unless you want to count Larry Talbot in his human form with the Frankenstein monster. Dracula takes the first 25 minutes, the Wolf Man takes up a great deal of the middle portion, and the monster doesn't awaken until the last scene. Despite this setback, it ended up being a pretty good conclusion to this Universal horror "universe" if you want to call it that. Unfortunately, if there's one thing we learned from horror filmmakers, it's that they will bring back their monsters in the dumbest ways in order to make money.
House of Dracula (1945)
The last of the "horror" sequels to the golden age of horror is far from being the best of the series. One of the numerous flaws and the first to be pointed out is the opening premise. Dracula comes to a doctor's castle home and asks to be cured of his vampirism. There are two problems with this, the first is that this is Dracula, the king of the vampires. Why would he ever want to be cured of what he is? I get that vampirism is considered to be a curse with the whole "eternal hunger" thing, but Dracula is called the lord of the undead for a reason. Speaking of, how can you cure something that's already dead? It's the same way the government failed to find a cure for the walkers in The Walking Dead graphic novels, because their affliction already killed them.
Another problem with the film is a lack of continuity. The only thing that continues from the previous film is the Frankenstein monster storyline. Talbot and the doctor find the remains of the monster and the mad doctor from the last film underground. The film doesn't explain how the Wolf Man and Dracula come back. Despite all of this, it still comes off as an entertaining sequel. If you are considering buying this as a monster fan, I would recommend buying it on digital in standard definition just because it's not worth buying in HD or on dvd/blu ray.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
It's safe to say at this point in the 40s, nobody found the classic Universal monsters as scary anymore. When comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello realized this, they decided to give these monsters one last run for their money with this film. Not only did they give one last showing of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man, but also the mummy and Mr. Hyde in later films. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) is a loving tribute to all these monsters with a little comedy twist. One thing that makes this a good tribute is how Bela Lugosi is casted as Dracula, his second and final time playing as his most iconic role.
The story doesn't offer anything new that would have kept audiences coming to see these films. Once again, someone is trying to swap the monster's brain with someone else. The only difference being that its Dracula who wants to give the monster pliable brain so it would do everything he says. Why can't these screenwriters realize that it's impossible to remove a person's brain, while he/she is still alive, without killing that person. The brain is connected to the heart. You remove that, you basically remove the heart. It's the final act that makes this whole movie worthwhile. The comedians get chased by the monster throughout a castle, while Dracula fights the monster.