Beginning back in 1923, it can be said a Universal monster legacy was born by the studio. Starring Lon Chaney, the legendary “Man of a Thousand Faces” in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. While his appearance as the misshapen and tortured Quasimodo brought shock and fright to audiences. I say it was a mere two years later when Chaney would portray The Phantom of the Opera that a true Universal monster legacy was birthed!
[Via] BFI Trailers
It was in fact, Gaston Leroux, the author of the novel we have to thank for this film. As well as then Universal Pictures President Carl Laemmle who was vacationing in Paris in 1922. The two men met and Laemmle admitted to Leroux he was enamored with the Paris Opera House. Leroux was of course happy to give Laemmle a copy of his 1910 novel.
However I have to also add that the Universal monster legacy that we know best. All came about in 1931. With Tod Browning’s film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in February. Then capturing lightning in a bottle again…so to speak…when Frankenstein was released that November.
Consequently Universal Pictures became known as the house that horror built. While of course many films by the studio could be considered thriller or macabre. The Universal monster legacy continued in 1932 with The Mummy. The titular role offering Boris Karloff another chance to show off the make-up effects of Jack Pierce!
From there it certainly seemed like Universal Pictures was on a roll. In 1933 you had The Invisible Man starring Claude Rains. April of 1935 saw the release of The Bride of Frankenstein. And while I have related my experiences with Frankenstein at three-years-old it is in fact James Whale’s 1935 sequel I hold as the better film.
1935 was also the year that the Werewolf of London stunned audiences. Followed by 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter and then 1939’s Son of Frankenstein. The Invisible Man Returns hit theaters in 1940 as well as The Mummy’s Hand and The Invisible Woman.
It was on December 12, 1941 however when Universal added a new icon to their Universal monster legacy. The Wolf Man starring the son of the actor who helped Universal Pictures begin said legacy. Lon Chaney, Jr.!
Perhaps when you have the time you might care to listen to episode 53 of the Saturday Frights Podcast – featuring The Wolf Man?
Together with more sequels as well as remakes like 1943’s The Phantom of the Opera. Universal Pictures sort of closed the curtain on that legacy with 1954’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon and its following two sequels.
I of course find that most of the creatures from the Universal monster legacy are sympathetic. I would stress that is what in fact makes them such memorable film icons. However with the likes of Dracula, Ihmotep (The Mummy), as well as the Invisible Man. There is some real terror, fear of the insane or the unstoppable. I will certainly admit that I have always possessed a fondness for these films as I think my shelves will attest.
On Friday, Universal Pictures is releasing the latest reboot of The Mummy starring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella as the titular character, Anabelle Wallis, and Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll. This is step one in Universal’s new Dark Universe, an attempt to revive these franchises in a shared cinematic universe. I will be quite honest as always. I’m kind of looking forward to this and I most certainly hope they can pull it off. However as the video below shows, the studio has NOT forgotten their…