Samson and Delilah brings the Bible’s most complicated love story to life. Before The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. DeMille directed another Biblical epic in full Technicolor (that my mom has always been fond of). The story of Samson can be found in the Book of Judges. As a Christian, I’ve always been intrigued by the famous Israelite. Since Samson draws strength from his hair and is arguably the greatest action hero in the Bible. Hercules is pretty much the Greek equivalent of Samson.
His feats of strength include killing a lion with his bear hands, fighting an army of Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, and toppling their temple after being stricken blind. Samson and Delilah makes every feat feel grand and epic. Earning the film 5 Academy Award nominations and 2 wins for Best Art Direction and Costume Design. Victor Mature of One Million B.C. fame portrays Samson. Although his long hair is usually tied back, Mature nevertheless captures the conflict in Samson. He devoutly prays to God for power, but he does make many mistakes.
Samson finds love from two distinctly different Philistine women. A problem since Danites and Philistines are mortal enemies. George Sanders and Henry Wilcoxon portray his most direct enemies Saran and Prince Ahtur respectively. Turns out Angela Lansbury was quite the looker in one of her very early film roles as Samson’s first lover Semadar. Except it’s Delilah who makes her intentions clear from the start. Hedy Lamarr perfectly captures her passion, deceitfulness, seduction, and need for vengeance. Although Samson and Delilah fall in love, she cuts his hair and leaves him vulnerable. Samson and Delilah is a powerful take on a seldom adapted Bible story.
Samson and Delilah
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the best of horror and comedy. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are an old fashioned comedy duo best known for their “Who’s on first?” routine. They were so popular in the 40’s that Universal-International allowed them to interact with their biggest monsters. I’m sure I would’ve been exposed to the comedians eventually, but Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein had to be my first introduction. My parents encouraged my brother and I to watch it when we were younger. Although I didn’t fully grasp the idea of Frankenstein’s Monster, Count Dracula, or the Wolf Man in comedic situations. Even The Munsters was difficult for me to imagine, but Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is an affectionate parody. It frankly gives the “big three” more dignity than they had in the more serious House of Frankenstein or House of Dracula. The movie appropriately begins with an animated opening. Abbott and Costello play a bumbling pair of baggage clerks named Chick and Wilbur.
I quickly caught on to Abbott being the straight man and Costello being the goofball. Their gags, slapstick, and zany antics are consistently hilarious throughout. Just as funny is every famous monster being played straight. Almost every actor surprisingly said yes. Lon Chaney Jr. is as tragic as ever while playing Larry Talbot. The Wolf Man makeup is a little sillier, but the werewolf is just as ferocious without killing anyone. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the only monster movie to bring Bela Lugosi back in the role that made him iconic. Dracula makes theatrical use of his cape, but he’s still more intimidating than anyone else who played the vampire. Animation is used extensively to bring Dracula’s bat transformation to life. Boris Karloff once again said no to returning, but at least Glenn Strange has more to do as Frankenstein’s Monster. He even speaks a few times. Unlike the House of… series, the monsters are actually allowed to interact. The plot follows Larry desperately trying to prevent Dracula’s coffin and the Monster’s crate from being taken to “McDougal’s House Of Horrors.” Wilbur is frightened by everything, but Chick is none the wiser.
Dracula plans to fully control the Monster with a more simple brain. Wilbur is just the simpleton for the job. Exotic beauty Lenore Aubert plays Wilbur’s deceptive sweetheart Dr. Sandra Mornay who’s secretly working with the Count. Chick is even more baffled when Wilbur is also pursued by undercover insurance investigator Joan Raymond played by traditional beauty Jane Randolph. They go on a double date to the house of Dracula where the spooky antics continue. Dracula turns Sandra and controls the clueless Professor Stevens in an attempt to secure Wilbur’s brain. The climax is hilarious, but it’s also a monster fans dream come true. Abbott and Costello are primarily chased by the Monster throughout the house. Meanwhile, Dracula and the Wolf Man engage in the first vampire and werewolf fight. The Wolf Man overpowers Dracula, but they both perish at the same time. The Monster goes out in a blaze of glory as well. Chick and Wilbur take a sign of relief, but the Invisible Man isn’t far behind. The Vincent Price cameo gives even more credibility to the horror comedy. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein gave the monsters one last hurrah before retirement.
Count Dracula keeps Frankenstein’s Monster away from Wilbur
Followed by: Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man
She-Wolf of London has nothing to do with Werewolf of London, and even less to do with The Wolf Man. It’s not explicitly part of the Universal monsters lineup, but its inclusion in the Wolf Man collection box set was good enough for me. Even though I knew nothing about the movie. She-Wolf of London deals with werewolves, but not the way you think. A young June Lockhart plays wealthy London heiress Phyllis Allenby.
She hopes to marry Barry Lanfield played by Don Porter, but everything goes wrong when a string of murders happen nearby. Scotland Yard detectives are convinced it’s a female werewolf. Phyllis lives with three other women. Her caring cousin Carol, mysterious gaslighting Aunt Martha, and observant maid Hannah. Along with a handful of dogs that bark every night. Martha convinces Phyllis that the family “curse of the Allenbys” means she’s the She-Wolf that comes out at night.
She-Wolf of London is different from other monster movies. It’s more of a mystery with an obvious outcome. I was immediately suspicious when I couldn’t find a single photo of the alleged Wolf Woman. Monster fans were no doubt disappointed to know there is no She-Wolf. The title is more false advertisement that was clearly chosen to sell the picture better. She-Wolf of London earns points for atmosphere, but it’s a deceptive waste of horror.
Phyllis Allenby examines her hands
House of Dracula is practically a remake of House of Frankenstein. The director is the same, the cast is the same, the crew is the same, footage is reused, sets are reused, and scores are reused. It was at this point that Universal Pictures made monster movies less of a priority. Although intended to be titled Wolf Man vs. Dracula, the studio wanted another “monster rally” with Frankenstein’s Monster involved. So the movie was retitled House of Dracula and retained the same basic structure. There’s Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man, Dracula, a hunchback, and a mad doctor just like the previous crossover. Yet the monsters still don’t directly interact. Universal intended to bring back Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff as Dracula and the Monster respectively, but that was long off the table. Only Lon Chaney Jr. consistently played the Wolf Man in all appearances.
House of Dracula is the final serious film to feature the “big three,” and it’s just as unceremonious as it was before. At least Count Dracula makes an early introduction this time around. Even if he is the less intimidating John Carradine version in a silly top hat with the cover name Baron Latos. He does the usual schtick of turning into a bat, sucking blood, and being repelled by a cross. For some reason Dracula wants to be cured of his vampirism. It doesn’t make nearly as much sense as Larry Talbot wanting to be cured of his lycanthropy. Both monsters are inexplicably alive with zero explanation. The not so mad doctor this time is Onslow Stevens as Dr. Franz Edelmann. His hunchback assistant is now a woman named Nina played by the lovely Jane Adams.
Neither character is particularly menacing compared to what came before. The other female lead is Edelmann’s nurse Milizia Morelle played by Martha O’Driscoll. Dracula becomes an obvious problem when he seduces Milizia, but he’s quickly killed once again when Edelmann exposes his coffin to sunlight. Larry’s usual pleas for help are always tragic, but they have gotten one note at this point. The Wolf Man’s werewolf transformation is exposed in prison, but Larry finally gets the cure he always wanted. Frankenstein’s Monster is kind of shoehorned in with Edelmann only becoming a monster through a blood transfusion with Dracula. Though he’s more Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde than vampire. Glenn Strange only lumbers around until the Monster is buried under a burning building at the last minute. House of Dracula blew its second chance at a monster mash.
Count Dracula seduces Milizia
Preceded by: House of Frankenstein
The Mummy’s Curse is so rushed that it came out the exact same year as The Mummy’s Ghost. Both movies are often mixed up, but they are direct continuations. In fact, every sequel that came out after The Mummy’s Hand has more continuity than any other Universal monster franchise. Even though it’s still the weakest by comparison. Much like The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Curse reuses footage just to fill an hour runtime. It starts out kind of different with the swamp from The Mummy’s Ghost being dug up by Southern stereotypes.
The cast is mostly cajun inspired despite the last two movies being set in Massachusetts. Then it gets repetitive again with yet another fez wearing High Priest reviving Kharis with those stupid tana leaves. Lon Chaney Jr. plays Kharis one last time and Peter Coe plays Dr. Zandaab. The only difference is an additional servant named Ragheb played by Martin Kosleck. The Mummy slowly kills more disposable characters in an effort to finally find his bride.
Princess Ananka returns played by Virginia Christine instead of the previous actress. She goes from mummy to beautiful amnesiac protected by Dennis Moore’s Dr. James Halsey and other female lead Betty Walsh played by Kay Harding. Kharis manages to take in his century old lover, but the same old betrayal ruins everything. Ragheb betrays Zandaab, Kharis betrays Ragheb, and the Mummy is buried once and for all. The Mummy’s Curse put a merciful end to the cursed Mummy franchise.
Kharis holds onto Zandaab
Preceded by: The Mummy’s Ghost
House of Frankenstein is the horror event Universal monster fans have been waiting for. Well keep waiting, because this is more false advertising. After their first “monster rally” Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man proved successful, Universal wanted all of their monsters in one movie. Chamber of Horrors would’ve featured an all-star cast and included Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man, Dracula, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, and even the Mad Ghoul. House of Frankenstein instead features Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man, Dracula, a hunchback, and a mad doctor. I was still excited to see the massive crossover, but it’s kind of a let down. House of Frankenstein is practically sectioned off with none of the big three monsters directly interacting. Boris Karloff returns, but he ironically plays a mad scientist instead of the Monster who made him famous.
Dr. Gustav Niemann is a wannabe Dr. Frankenstein who escapes prison with his hunchback assistant Daniel. He’s no Igor, but J. Carrol Naish does make an impression. He longs for a normal body that only Niemann can provide. Dr. Niemann swears revenge on those who imprisoned him and lays low after stealing a traveling horror exhibit. Count Dracula is finally revived when Niemann removes the wooden steak from his skeleton. Though it would’ve been better with Bela Lugosi, at least John Carradine knows what he’s doing. Anne Gwynne is the first female lead who gets seduced by Dracula. Rita Hussman is drawn to his ring and her grandfather’s blood is drained while Dracula is in bat form. Dracula is quickly killed by sunlight when Niemann and Daniel abandon him. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is directly referenced when they head to the village where the monsters fought.
The second female lead is Elena Verdugo as gypsy woman Ilonka who has an unrequited Hunchback of Notre Dame style relationship with Daniel. They travel to the flooded castle where Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man are frozen. Lon Chaney Jr. is always consistently good as the tormented Larry Talbot. Even in a movie that doesn’t give him all the attention. Ilonka falls in love with Larry instead of Daniel. Despite Larry’s need to rid himself of the werewolf curse. Niemann clearly cares more about unlocking the secrets of Frankenstein’s Monster. He plans to swap the brains of his enemies with the monsters, but the Wolf Man is quickly killed by a silver bullet. Daniel turns on his master, but the Monster breaks free to help him. Glenn Strange has the right look for the Monster, but his performance is too last minute for a movie named after him. The Monster runs from an angry mob, but he’s quickly killed like all the rest. House of Frankenstein could’ve been the ultimate monster mash if they only allowed them to interact.
Dr. Niemann awakens Frankenstein’s Monster
Preceded by: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man & Followed by: House of Dracula
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.
Preceded by: The Mummy’s Tomb & Followed by: The Mummy’s Curse
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.
The Invisible Man threatens Dr. Drury
Preceded by: Invisible Agent
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.
Count Alucard attacks Frank Stanley
Preceded by: Dracula’s Daughter & Followed by: House of Frankenstein
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.
The Phantom frightens Christine DuBois