The Universal Monsters have never been too far from the hearts of audiences — or the minds of studio heads. It was the 21-year-old Carl Laemmle Jr. who had an obsession with horror movies when he took over Universal Pictures in 1928, and that love led to the greenlighting of such pictures as “Frankenstein” and “Dracula.”
Movies like “The Mummy” and “The Wolf Man” followed. These and other horror movies pushed the boundaries of visual effects and entered new absurdist territory not seen before in films made for wide release. The period forever influenced cinema.
And Universal has never given up on these beloved monsters. The studio has brought them back time and time again for new generations, with projects such as 1999's "The Mummy," 2004's "Van Helsing," and 2010's "The Wolfman."
Now, the studio sees more potential than ever. Tom Cruise stars in this weekend's "The Mummy" — and it's kicking off a combined universe that already has the participation of actors Russell Crowe (Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde), Johnny Depp (The Invisible Man), and Javier Bardem (Frankenstein's monster), among others.
The new universe could introduce the Universal Monsters in the biggest way since they were originally birthed in the '30s and '40s. Whatever happens, the original movies remain classics of cinema and contain some of the best moments ever captured on film.
Here's a look at five of the best moments from Universal's long history of monster movies.
It's Alive! – "Frankenstein," 1931. Director James Whales' "Frankenstein" is still considered the best version of Mary Shelley's 1818 book. The mix of humor and horror made for a film with an energy not yet seen at the time.
The most memorable moment is, of course, when Frankenstein's monster is struck by lightning and brought to life. The manic energy that comes from the voice of the doctor as he exclaims, "It's alive!" is exactly what set this film apart. Part comic, horror, and scientific intrigue, "Frankenstein" helped launch a universe of movie monsters that have survived for over 80 years.
Friend ... Good, "Bride of Frankenstein," 1935. A remake of "Bride of Frankenstein" is already in development by Universal; Angelina Jolie is being pursued for the role of the monster's bride, while Javier Bardem is playing the monster itself. Bill Condon has been announced to direct.
One of the most quoted scenes from the movie again captures the absurdity of the "Frankenstein" pictures and their rare ability to find balance in the perfect mix of comedy and horror. In a thoughtful scene, Frankenstein's monster meets a blind old man — and learns why not being alone is so important.
I Am Dracula, "Dracula," 1931. Bela Lugosi defined Dracula when he brought the character to the screen in 1931. Every performance since has emulated some part of Lugosi's original effort, from the voice to the walk to the tiniest of mannerisms.
When Dracula is first introduced, it's the perfect setting. From Lugosi's accent and calm and collected manner to the surrounding spiderweb-infested mansion, we know something horrific is happening, and we know this is a man with a frightening history. Love him or hate him, Lugosi owned the screen as "Dracula" and created the most memorable universal monster with this film.
Wolf Man Transformation, "The Wolf Man," 1941. Just the mere act of taking on the task of a "transformation" scene in 1941 is something to be applauded. Werewolf movies since the original "Wolf Man" have relied heavily on the graphic nature of man's transformation into beast. We've seen skin ripped off, teeth fall out, bones break, and much more as visual effects have taken the lead — but this 1941 scene remains impressive all the same, more so for the fact that it has so little to work with and is still effective.
Much is left to the imagination — which is part of the horror. The fact that this could even be pulled off in any way in the '40s is astounding.
Sandstorm, "The Mummy," 1999. You cannot have a Universal Monsters movie list without 1999's "The Mummy," a film that has continued to gain respect over the years since its release.
The reason the Brendan Fraser-starring adventure flick is so important to the legacy of Universal's monsters is that it waved the banner for these characters when no one else would. Universal was in danger of losing its monsters in the '90s, as other studios were knocking out pictures about Frankenstein and Dracula with little regard for the studio that started it all. "The Mummy" successfully and lucratively reintroduced Universal's logo with a monster below it.
Writer-director Stephen Sommers smartly moved from the horror realm to "Indiana Jones"-style adventure territory. Two parts fun and one part horror, "The Mummy" was a smash hit that led to two sequels and four spinoffs. Sommers continued waving the banner for the Universal Monsters when he made 2004's "Van Helsing," a film that put the Wolf Man, Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, and vampire hunter Van Helsing all in the same story. While not as successful as "The Mummy," "Helsing" reassured audiences and other companies that Universal's monsters belonged on its studio lot.
The effects were most impressive in "The Mummy." Landing at the perfect time — when there were still limits to the technology (so everything wasn't a cartoon) — "Mummy" introduced a truly frightening CGI-Mummy to the world. The most memorable display of the then-new age effects was the sandstorm the mummy Imhotep creates to try to stop Rick O'Connell (Fraser) and the gang. It remains an impressive scene and one so beloved by fans that even the latest remake of "The Mummy" incorporated it and has displayed it in trailers.