Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931-1946
By Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas, John Brunas
1990, McFarland & Co.
I thought about saving this entry for the 2013 edition of Halloween Scream (even though I took a break in 2012…) but I figured I better talk about this book while it’s fresh on my mind. I can always link back to it later in October.
For the record, I’ll be discussing the 1990 first edition. A second printing was given to the book in 2007 and it apparently features extra artwork and movie posters not shown in the first edition. Either edition you have features some cool movie poster artwork, publicity photos and still shots from the films though.
At 600 pages plus, this book is not light reading but a great reference tool covering Universal Studios’ contributions during the golden age of horror. Despite the explosion of the internet and websites like Wikipedia and Internet Movie Database I still found this book full of useful information that I hadn’t read anywhere else. All of Universal’s horror movies from this time frame (and even some that could only very loosely fit under the horror umbrella) are represented and talked about at various lengths. Some of the information covered is fairly standard but in-depth: cast/characters, crew, running time, release date, etc.
Of course, all of the major Universal Monsters are covered: Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, Invisible Man, the Phantom of the Opera, the Mummy, etc. Then we have other offerings like the Ghoul, the Werewolf of London, the She-Wolf of London, Inner Sanctum Mysteries, the Ape Woman, the Man Made Monster, The Old Dark House, Rondo Hatton as the Creeper, the Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone and the Edgar Allan Poe films that starred Bela Lugosi and/or Boris Karloff (Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat & The Raven). Some of these things are not like the others, I’ll leave it to the reader to decide…
Quotes from the actors and crew regarding the production process and their experiences on the set are also offered up. The authors interject their own personal opinion from time to time. This only bothered me on a few occasions when I thought the authors were being too catty or biased for their own good but overall I actually enjoyed their personal quips and thought more than a few were pretty funny. I’ve read some reader reviews where complaints are made about the authors going off topic. While the authors do tend to wander at times, the topics still deal with old Hollywood so I didn’t see it as much of a problem so I was still interested in what they had to say.
My only real issue with this book is that they didn’t bother to include the movies that starred the Creature from the Black Lagoon (I’ve never been a fan of calling him “Gill-Man”) or the Abbott & Costello monster mashes even though these movies are referenced at one time or another throughout the book. But, I guess if they opened up the book to those movies they’d have to include all of the ’50s sci-fi/monster movies and everything would get way out of hand and they were already stretching the limits of what you could call “horror” with this book.
Then again, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein was released in 1948. I’ve always considered that movie to signify the “end” of Universal’s great horror run. I think ’48, instead of ’46, would’ve been a good cut-off point for the book.
Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931-1946 is essential reading for fans of the Universal Monsters and fans of the golden age of horror in general. It’s a well put together collection that is sure to please the Famous Monsters demographic of horror fans. Just don’t expect to get it cheap. It’s going for around $50 new or used on Amazon. Luckily, you can get it on Kindle for around $19.