Universal Monster movies have been a staple of spooky season TV viewing since the famous “Shock Theater” package hit in the late 50s. Hallmark horror films from the 30s and 40s, like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Wolfman (and their many sequels) hit the small screen, hooking kids immediately. Soon, local Horror Hosts like Vampira and Zacherley rose from the grave to introduce the delightfully frightening films.
Though Svengoolie on MeTV carries on this rich tradition, it’s harder to find a classic Universal Monsters film on TV nowadays. Never fear! The monsters continue to mash on streaming platforms. Here are some of our favorites and where to find them.
Silent Scares: ‘The Phantom of the Opera’
It’s essential for every monster kid to know their heritage. This one is where it all began for the Universal Monsters. Lon Chaney (“The Man of a Thousand Faces”) embodies the Phantom in this 1925 silent adaptation of the Gaston Leroux novel. Chaney plays his character with pathos, but the big reveal of his horrifying visage is absolutely iconic. Chaney’s makeup expertise left an impression on generations of F/X artists to follow. The Phantom can be seen stalking streaming for free on Pluto TV, Tubi Plex, as well as Youtube.
‘Dracula’ & ‘Frankenstien’… the Peanut Butter and Chocolate of the Universal Monsters
Director Tod Browning ushered in a new wave of gothic horror with 1931’s Dracula. starring the magnetic Bela Lugosi in the title role. Lugosi defined how generations of actors would play the most famous vampire, while the delightful Dwight Frye steals the show as Reinfeld. This essential Universal Monster movie is streaming free on Prime Video (with a subscription).
Meanwhile, director James Whale brought the chills later in 1931 with Frankenstein. Boris Karloff, with the help of make-up designed by Jack Pierce, brings the mad scientist’s creation to life. The block head, thick brow, hollow eyes and neck electrodes are burned into the eyes of every Universal Monsters fan. Colin Clive is terrific as the manic Dr. Henry Frankenstien, while Dwiight Frye once again sneak in to chew scenery as his lab assistant, Fritz.
Whale, Clive, and Karloff all return for 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein. Though decidedly more comedic than its predecessor, it’s actually more faithful to Mary Shelley’s novel. Plus, Elsa Lanchester’s turn as the Bride is electric, despite her limited screen time. Both of these Frankenstein films are streaming on Peacock and are free with a subscription.
The 40s Come Howling in… ‘The Wolf Man’
1941 saw the release of one of the most influential movie monsters. In 1941’s The Wolf Man Lon Chaney Jr. carries on his father’s legacy of horror. He plays Larry Talbot, who is bitten by a werewolf (played by none other than Bela Lugosi) and is cursed to walk the earth as a werewolf himself. Though werewolves had featured in previous Universal Monster movies, this one set the gold standard for lycanthropes. Screenwriter Curt Siodmak established many werewolf rules here that are still followed to this day (especially being nearly indestructible save for a vulnerability to silver). The iconic make-up design is once again handled by the prolific Jack Pierce. It reportedly took as much as six hours to apply. The Wolf Man can be streamed on Prime Video for free with a subscription.
50s Universal Monster Frights… The Gill-man
The 1950s saw more traditional monsters fall away for atomic age scares. However, 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon bridged the gap between the two eras. This film features scientists hunting for an amphibian missing link in the Amazon. Ricou Browning is magnificent as the Gill-man during the groundbreaking underwater scenes. The Gill-man suit, designed by Millicent Patrick, still ranks as one of the best monster creations to this day.
The Gill-man starred in two sequels, including one featuring Clint Eastwood in his first film role. The Creature from the Black Lagoon and the follow-up, Revenge of the Creature must be rented on Apple TV+ or Vudu to be streamed. The third installment, The Creature Walks Among Us, is streaming on Peacock.
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