Slow Moving Death

The Mummy’s Ghost has gotten extremely repetitive at this point. The picture quality is still bad, the story follows the same beats, and the Mummy does exactly what’s expected of him. Proving Universal’s continued lack of interest in the monster franchise. Yet The Mummy’s Ghost is still slightly better than The Mummy’s Tomb. At least the fourth installment doesn’t rely on archive footage to fill an hour runtime. That’s not saying much for what they did end up with.

George Zucco appears for the third and final time as High Priest Andoheb to pass his Egyptian knowledge onto yet another successor named Bey. At least the respectable John Carradine brings some class to Yousef Bey. You know the drill, tana leaves revive the mummy Kharis, he slowly takes out several important people, and a woman is kidnapped, but never becomes an immortal bride. Lon Chaney Jr. is still too wrapped up to show character, but Kharis does display some emotion. The setting is now a college town where students learn about the undead mummy.

The Mummy is ripped off again with another modern Egyptian woman as a reincarnated princess. The exotic looking Ramsay Ames plays college student Amina Mansori who’s really Princess Ananka. The more she faints, the faster her hair turns white. Robert Lowery plays her swell boyfriend Tom who desperately tries to save her, but the ending is more somber that expected. The Mummy takes his princess into the swamp where they’re never seen again? The Mummy’s Ghost is a mostly pale reflection of a dying franchise.

26. The Mummy's Ghost

Kharis lunges

Preceded by: The Mummy’s Tomb & Followed by: The Mummy’s Curse

Insanity Unseen

The Invisible Man’s Revenge is nothing I haven’t seen before. The franchise is the most unique of the Universal monster movies. The Invisible Man focused on invisibility turning a man into a monster and The Invisible Man Returns used invisibility to tell a murder mystery. The much more experimental The Invisible Woman and Invisible Agent used invisibility to tell stories in the comedy and action genre. So it’s kind of strange that The Invisible Man’s Revenge reverts back to the original formula.

More confusing is Jon Hall playing a different Griffin after already playing one in Invisible Agent. Robert Griffin is an already insane man who escapes an insane asylum to get his revenge on those who wronged him. The wealthy Herrick family are blackmailed by Griffin, but they manage to get rid of him. His only ally becomes the bumbling cockney Herbert played by comedian Leon Errol. Unlike any of the other films, Griffin isn’t a scientist who creates an invisibility serum. The respectable John Carradine plays scientist Dr. Peter Drury who only managed to turn his pets invisible.

We haven’t seen an invisible dog before, but we have seen an invisible person so many times that it no longer feels special. The only impressive special effect is Griffin’s face being partially covered in powder. Other than that, it’s the same old bandage look with dark glasses. Plus an out of nowhere scene with invisible dart throwing. Robert wants to marry Julie played by Evelyn Ankers (without Lon Chaney Jr.). He manages to become visible by doing a blood transfusion, but it’s not enough to save his life. The Invisible Man’s Revenge is a modest effort that’s better left unseen.

25. The Invisible Man's Revenge

The Invisible Man threatens Dr. Drury

Preceded by: Invisible Agent

He Craves Blood

Son of Dracula is the lesser known descendant of Dracula. It was only the third installment in 7 years since Universal didn’t give the Dracula franchise as much attention as you might think. Even though the immortal vampire is one of their biggest icons. Much like Dracula’s Daughter, Count Dracula is replaced by one of his many children of the night. The story isn’t connected to Bram Stoker’s work and barely follows the continuity of the previous films. Lon Chaney Jr. was pretty much contractually obligated to play every Universal monster. Now he’s played the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, and Count Dracula.

The vampire’s name is actually Count Alucard, but that’s just Dracula spelled backwards. Chaney doesn’t wear makeup for the first time in any of his many monster movies. All he has is a mustache, slicked back hair, and the traditional cape. He does his best, but without an accent, all I see is Lon Chaney in a Dracula costume. Effects have advanced to the point of showing a vampire transform into a bat as well as mist. Son of Dracula is likely the first genuine vampire romance. Louise Allbritton plays lovely Southern belle Katherine Caldwell who becomes seduced by Alucard into marrying him. Evelyn Ankers only plays Kat’s sister Claire instead of a love interest.

The Southern plantation setting unfortunately means several uncomfortable depictions of black servants. Frank Stanley played by Robert Paige, goes mad thinking he killed his former lover Kat in an attempt to kill Alucard. Kat is instead turned into a vampire. The only people who know Alucard’s vampiric Transylvanian origin are Dr. Brewster and Professor Lazlo played by Frank Craven and frequent collaborator J. Edward Bromberg respectively. Alucard became the first vampire killed by sunlight. Kat meets a similar fate in her coffin. Son of Dracula isn’t enough to revive the long deceased vampire.

24. Son of Dracula

Count Alucard attacks Frank Stanley

Preceded by: Dracula’s Daughter & Followed by: House of Frankenstein

Technicolor Terror

Phantom of the Opera (1943) is the only Universal monster movie released in technicolor. It was given a much more lavish production set in a grand colorful opera filled with elaborate musical numbers. All that added attention also made Phantom of the Opera the only Universal monster movie to win Academy Awards. It was nominated for Best Music & Sound Recording and won the Oscar for Best Art Direction & Cinematography. Despite so many distinctions, I always knew more about the silent 1925 original than the 1943 adaptation. Maybe because Phantom of the Opera makes so many changes from Gaston Leroux’s French novel and the more faithful 1925 film. Changes that would define later versions of the Phantom for decades.

Lon Chaney Jr. was understandably mad about not being asked to play the role his father revolutionized. Instead his on-screen father Claude Rains wears the mask. Rains has matured a great deal since his days as The Invisible Man, but I have mixed feelings about the direction. The Phantom was meant to be a deformed man with a mysterious past who haunts the Paris Opera House. The renamed Erique Claudin is given an entire backstory that removes all the mystery. Claudin is a humble violinist with an unspoken love for renamed Opera singer Christine DuBois. Christine is now loved by three men including Edgar Barrier as the renamed Inspector Raoel Dubert and Nelson Eddy as original opera singer Anatole Garron. Their rivalry is very overly comedic.

Susanna Foster is a fine singer and lead actress, but there’s way more focus on well composed music than genuine horror. Claudin only appears monstrous when he thinks his music is being stolen and acid is thrown in his face. So he dons a cape, a fedora, and an opera mask. Like the silent film, the Phantom appears mostly in shadow, harms anyone who threatens Christine’s career, brings down a chandelier, and lures his love into an underground lair where she pulls off his mask. The reveal doesn’t have the same impact since his red disfigurement is more unsightly than terrifying. Since a sequel titled The Climax never officially happened, the Phantom’s supposed death feels very anticlimactic. Phantom of the Opera is well arranged for the horror studio, but it doesn’t always live up to its legacy.

23. Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom frightens Christine DuBois

The Monster and the Werewolf

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is the original monster mashup. By 1943, Universal Pictures gathered a large collection of iconic movie monsters. It only made sense to pit two of their biggest monsters against each other. Frankenstein’s giant near invulnerable reanimated Monster and Larry Talbot cursed by the full moon to become the ferocious Wolf Man. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is the first major movie crossover. The Frankenstein franchise lasted from 1931 to 1942. The franchise was consistently perfect with movies like Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein.

Meanwhile, Son of Frankenstein and The Ghost of Frankenstein marked a steady decline. The Monster went from misunderstood creature to mindless killing machine. The Wolf Man was the only solo movie made in 1941. It was an instant classic that popularized the tragic werewolf legend. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man feels more like a Wolf Man sequel that didn’t know how to continue his story without bringing in an already successful monster. Regardless of quality, my brother and I watched the crossover just to see our favorite monsters collide…

21. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

Frankenstein’s Monster vs. the Wolf Man

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man takes place 4 years after The Wolf Man and an indeterminate amount of time after The Ghost of Frankenstein. I say indeterminate because it was always assumed the Frankenstein story took place long before the more modern Wolf Man. The black & white atmosphere isn’t as artistic as it was for either franchise, but both styles blend well together. Despite playing the Monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein, Lon Chaney Jr. only plays Larry Talbot. Universal wanted him to play both parts, but that would’ve been too much makeup and an obvious split screen nightmare.

Although he died at the end of The Wolf Man, Larry is brought back to life when grave robbers remove the wolfsbane from his crypt. The crossover more explicitly states that a full moon brings out a werewolf. Chaney is always at the top of his game playing the tormented Talbot. Now all Larry wants to do is die. Even a festival celebrating life is enough to make him snap. Patric Knowles now plays Frank Mannering, a doctor who treats Larry and works with the police to determine if he is who he says he is. The Wolf Man makeup is just as good as before as the werewolf attacks more innocent people. Larry seeks the old gypsy woman Maleva. Maria Ouspenskaya is still a caring mother figure who guides Larry to the answers he seeks.

Hearing characters from The Wolf Man say the name Frankenstein is a feeling you only get from a crossover. Since I avoided The Ghost of Frankenstein when I was younger, I didn’t notice any connections when I saw Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. The village still hates the long dead Dr. Frankenstein and his castle is still burned down. The Wolf Man is chased by angry villagers into the ruins of the castle that contains the frozen Monster. Larry befriends the Monster that no longer has the voice of Ygor. Even though Bela Lugosi now plays the Monster, all of his lines were cut. Lugosi made his mark by extending his arms outward, but the rest of his performance is a little too mindless.

Larry seeks Dr. Frankenstein’s secret to life and death from remaining descendant Elsa Frankenstein. She’s presumably the same character from The Ghost of Frankenstein, but the recast Ilona Massey has an inconsistent Hungarian accent. Elsa fills the role of beautiful female lead that Larry is smitten with. Since she doesn’t follow in her father or grandfather’s footsteps, the role of mad scientist goes to Dr. Frank Mannering. Elsa, Maleva, and Mannering all try to help Larry die by constructing an energy draining machine. In theory, the machine will allow Larry’s lifeforce to be placed in the body of the Monster.

Everything goes wrong when the Monster gets too strong and a full moon comes out. Frankenstein meeting the Wolf Man literally happens in the last 3 minutes of the movie. It’s false advertising, but their fight is worth the wait. Seeing the Monster and the werewolf attack each other is a monster fan’s dream come true. Thanks to the energy draining machine, the Monster overpowers the Wolf Man, but the latter is still able to pounce on his enemy. The winner is left ambiguous since the villagers cause a flood that washes them away. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is a less than perfect “monster rally” that made major crossovers the crowd pleasers they are today.

22. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

The Wolf Man on the prowl

Crossover of: The Wolf Man and Frankenstein franchises & Followed by: House of Frankenstein

From Out of the Crypt

The Mummy’s Tomb is another slap dash sequel that’s barely 1 hour long. For some reason, the Mummy franchise was never given the same treatment as other Universal monster movies. The third installment was given to a B movie director who constantly cut corners. Even the picture quality is bad for a Universal production. Almost the entire climax of The Mummy’s Hand is reused for the opening. Dick Foran returns as an elderly Steve Banning who recaps everything we already know.

Except that the villainous Andoheb and undead mummy Kharis somehow survived being shot and burned. Turhan Bey plays Andoheb’s successor Mehemet Bey almost exactly like his former. Kharis is the same strong, but incredibly slow mummy he was before. Lon Chaney Jr. made Kharis his third monster after the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster. A role that limits him to only walking around in bandages.

Kharis is taken from Egypt to America where Bey sends him to kill the families of those who opened his tomb. Steve and his sister are killed, but John Hubbard takes their place as his son John Banning. Wallace Ford also returns as a less comedic Babe Hanson, but only with enough time to identify the monster. Elyse Knox plays another stock damsel named Isobel who gets carried away and chained up. Even Frankenstein gets ripped off when villagers burn down a house with the Mummy in it. The Mummy’s Tomb sealed the fate of the franchise.

20. The Mummy's Tomb

Mehemet Bey awakens Kharis

Preceded by: The Mummy’s Hand & Followed by: The Mummy’s Ghost

A Spy without Form

Invisible Agent is a mandatory war picture that Universal monster movies couldn’t ignore. Much like the presumably non-canon The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent also experiments with genres. It’s the standard invisible man formula given to an agent in World War II. I never knew the film existed since it’s so far removed from the rest of the franchise. Even though it follows Frank Griffin Jr. under the assumed name Frank Raymond. His father’s invisibility serum is sought by both the Allied Forces and the Axis Powers.

Since an invisible agent spying on enemies could be enough to win the war. Jon Hall is a relatively charismatic invisible lead. Frank only agrees to help the Allies under the condition that he carries out the mission himself. The special effects will always be impressive no matter how repetitive they get. Frank’s visible look uses cold cream instead of bandages. Cedric Hardwicke and the always creepy Peter Lorre elevate their standard roles as Nazi general Conrad Stauffer and Japanese Baron Ikito respectively.

Other Nazis like J. Edward Bromberg’s Karl Heiser are appropriately made to look like fools. Though the wartime action doesn’t always blend with the humorous tone. Although she hated the part, Ilona Massey isn’t the usual screaming damsel. Maria Sorenson is a German double agent that Frank falls for. Actual German Albert Bassermann is another ally who assists Frank in his mission. Frank never goes insane and saves the American people without being seen. Invisible Agent delivers what it promises.

19. Invisible Agent

The Invisible Agent battles the Nazis

Preceded by: The Invisible Woman & Followed by: The Invisible Man’s Revenge

The Monster and Ygor

The Ghost of Frankenstein officially ran out of ideas for the long running Universal monster franchise. Although some consider Son of Frankenstein to be as good as the first 2 films, I wasn’t a fan of the new direction. I could’ve watched The Ghost of Frankenstein on my DVD box set, but I didn’t want to risk being disappointed. The fourth installment closely follows the plot of the third. Ygor is somehow still alive with Bela Lugosi reprising the role that he popularized. Boris Karloff was officially done with the Monster.

So the Wolf Man himself, Lon Chaney Jr. wore the makeup instead. His Monster retains the same iconic look, but you can tell Chaney is underneath. Villagers are fed up with the curse of Frankenstein (a decidedly better title), so they rally together to burn down his castle. The Monster somehow survived a sulfur pit thanks to his superhuman body. Ygor takes his friend to a small village to find yet another son of Frankenstein. Cedric Hardwicke is the far less insane brain surgeon Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein.

The title refers to one moment where Ludwig sees ghostly visions of his father telling him to finish his work. Chaney’s Wolf Man co-star Evelyn Ankers now plays Ludwig’s well meaning daughter Elsa Frankenstein. The Monster is still mostly mindless, but an adorable relationship with a little girl softens him a bit. He’s also sent to trial where Ralph Bellamy examines him as prosecutor Erik Ernst. Ygor isn’t as actively sinister as he was before, but he does convince Ludwig’s assistant to place his brain in the body of the Monster. Hearing Lugosi’s voice come out of the Monster is as ridiculous as it sounds. The Ghost of Frankenstein lost its spark.

18. The Ghost of Frankenstein

Frankenstein’s Monster in chains

Preceded by: Son of Frankenstein & Followed by: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

Bitten by a Werewolf

The Wolf Man (1941) is the definitive take on a man cursed to become a werewolf. All it took was 6 years after Werewolf of London failed to make an impression. Despite releasing a decade later, The Wolf Man is a Universal monster movie on par with Dracula or Frankenstein. They’re the big three that every horror fan should watch. Similar to The Mummy, The Wolf Man is an original story based in folklore. It was a good change of pace for the studio after so many sequels.

Much like vampires, I’ve always considered myself to be a werewolf expert as well. Once bitten by a werewolf, an individual will be cursed to transform by the light of a full moon. The Wolf Man is exclusive to Universal, but his story has inspired countless werewolf movies, TV shows, and novels. My mom is a big Wolf Man fan who encouraged my brother and I to watch the 1941 classic when we were kids. The Wolf Man has been my second favorite Universal monster movie ever since…

16. The Wolf Man

The Wolf Man

The Wolf Man (1941) understands the tragic supernatural nature of lycanthropy better than any werewolf movie. Werewolf of London was too scientific and didn’t give its protagonist enough bite. Lon Chaney Jr. follows in his father’s paw prints to create the most sympathetic werewolf victim of all time. Larry Talbot is an everyday man with a wealthy background. The prodigal son returns to his home in Wales after the death of his brother. The Invisible Man himself Claude Rains plays Larry’s estranged father Sir John Talbot. They attempt to reconcile their relationship throughout the movie. A mutual interest in astronomy leads Larry to spy on a beautiful shop girl. Larry drops by her antique store just to talk to her. Evelyn Ankers is much more well rounded as love interest Gwen Conliffe. Like everyone else in town, Gwen knows everything there is to know about werewolves.

The Wolf Man is fully steeped in the legend from beginning to end. Many characters recite the fictional poem: “Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night; May become a wolf when the wolfsbanes blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” The movie establishes a connection to wolfsbane, but it isn’t an explicit weakness. The only werewolf weakness is silver. Larry purchases a neat looking walking cane with a silver handle in the shape of a wolf. Pentagrams are also a symbol for werewolves that foretell their next victim. Despite having a fiancée, Gwen agrees to go out with Larry and her friend Jenny. Director George Waggner takes full advantage of the black & white setting. The forest filled with fog is just as iconic as the spooky castles from Dracula and Frankenstein.

They visit a band of gypsies to get their fortunes told. Bela Lugosi need only use his first name as the gypsy Bela. After Count Dracula and Ygor, Lugosi became the werewolf who bites Larry after attacking Jenny. Larry is accused of murder and insanity when the police start an investigation. Even his own father starts to doubt him. Warren William evaluates Larry as Dr. Lloyd and Gwen’s fiancée Paul played by Ralph Bellamy leads a hunt. The only person who can help Larry is old Romani gypsy woman Maleva. Maria Ouspenskaya makes the strongest impression by reciting a blessing that eases a werewolves suffering. She tries to help by giving Larry a protective charm, but it’s not enough to stop the full moon.

The Wolf Man’s transformation into a werewolf is far more iconic with makeup that artist Jack Pierce intended for Werewolf of London. Larry is both man and wolf with a body covered in yak hair, sharp teeth, and a small snout. His primary outfit is a dark jumpsuit. Chaney fully commits to the animalistic monster by walking on his hind legs. As the Wolf Man strikes, Larry becomes consumed with guilt. Villagers hunt the werewolf while Larry attempts to keep himself from hurting what he loves most. Gwen is his next victim, but Larry manages to reconcile with his father who reluctantly uses his son’s cane against him. Maleva eases Larry’s suffering just as she did with her own son. It’s a tragic ending, but one that most werewolves desire. The Wolf Man effectively bridged the gap between man and monster.

17. The Wolf Man

The Wolf Man caught in a trap

Followed by: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

Unseen and Loving it

The Invisible Woman has nothing to do with the Fantastic Four. It’s actually a straightforward comedy that gave a woman a shot at invisibility. Although the movie is part of the Invisible Man collection, it has nothing to do with horror. The Invisible Woman isn’t a Universal monster, because most female led projects weren’t taken seriously back then. Dracula’s Daughter being a rare exception. The Invisible Woman makes its comedic tone clear at the very beginning with a series of gags, pratfalls, and overacting.

Griffin is replaced by the friendly, yet sexist Professor Gibbs played by the legendary John Barrymore near the end of his career. Post-Wicked Witch Margaret Hamilton plays his underappreciated maid Mrs. Jackson. Gibbs uses an invisibility machine that can only temporarily make someone disappear. John Howard plays the wealthy playboy Richard Russell who reluctantly funds his invention. Character actor Charlie Ruggles is the most overtly comedic as his butler. A test subject is found through a personal ad and the titular Invisible Woman ends up being model Kitty Carroll.

Virginia Bruce shows her face, but she has the right screwball charm when only using her voice. The effects are on par with the previous movies. Having her be naked is common for Invisible movies, but it’s still scandalous for 1940. Insanity is replaced by impulsiveness since her greatest threat is a sexist boss. Until a band of cartoony gangsters including nobodies favorite Stooge (Shemp Howard) try to steal the machine. Kitty falls for Richard, gets drunk, and uses her wit to outsmart the criminals. The Invisible Woman is amusing when you accept the lack of horror.

15. The Invisible Woman

Professor Gibbs and the Invisible Woman

Preceded by: The Invisible Man Returns & Followed by: Invisible Agent