Universal Classic Monsters Icons of Horror Collection – 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review

Universal Classic Monsters - Dracula

Dracula

To modern audiences, Dracula won’t scare them or even thrill them. After all, the film has some primitive special effects, an absence of graphic imagery or jump scares, and an archaic acting style. It’s rather remarkable that this kickstarted the era of the Universal classic monsters. Primarily because of its weak story structure and lack of suspense. Granted, this is a film that was made in the ’30s, and audiences were quite different back then. However, when you compare it to Frankenstein—which came out in the same year as Dracula—it’s hard to see why Dracula became such an influential classic.  

The answer to that lies with the legendary performance by Bela Lugosi. His suave, noble performance would become the gold standard for many imitators. Not to mention, his thick Hungarian accent brought in such a mortal sense of dread and fiendish intent that you can’t help but hang on to his every action. Although his career-defining performance would be the archetype for society’s vision of the Count, Lugosi would also typecast in similar sorts of degenerate aristocratic roles from then on. At the same time, the set design for Dracula is top-notch. The German expressionistic sets and use of lighting helped change the way horror was seen in Hollywood. Thus, the world of Transylvania and England became the basis for the look of many horror films, especially future adaptions of Bram Stoker’s novel.

Although most modern audiences would disagree, Dracula is still a milestone of cinematic horror. Its brilliant sets and stunning camerawork, along with Lugosi’s elegantly sinister performance, makes Dracula both a memorable and influential classic. However, it’s still a film that only film connoisseurs can truly enjoy. It’s not a film that would engage modern audiences, but if you’re willing to bypass it then you’ll discover its brilliance.

Movie Rating: 4/5 atoms

Video

Dracula hits Ultra HD Blu-ray with an HDR10 transfer and a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Films from the early 1930s can look quite grainy in high definition, but great care has been taken to maintain the film-like appearance of each movie. Though the masters seem to be the same ones Universal used for the previous Blu-ray releases, further clean-ups have been performed, so there are no discrepancies like scratches, flickers, or dust on any of the transfers. Unfortunately, the Ultra HD release of these horror classics also magnifies the film grain. As a result, the grayscale can start to look rather snowy at times, and that can be distracting to some viewers. At the same time, the shadows and silhouettes look deep throughout.

Video Rating: 4.5/5 atoms

Audio

Dracula hits Ultra HD Blu-ray with a 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio track. The audio has not been upgraded for this release, which isn’t surprising since the Universal Classic Monsters era of films are all really old. Realize that these are 80-90-year-old films that were released with monoaural tracks, and tinkering with these ancient tracks to fit a 3D audio mix wouldn’t benefit the film at all.

For the most part, the audio mixes are devoid of any discrepancies. There are a few hisses and sound harsh when the audio starts to clip. Regardless, the voices are clean and clear, and the score fills the soundstage nicely. Although they have their limitations due to the nature of the mixes, they are all quite impressive considering the age of these films.

Audio Rating: 4/5 atoms

Special Features

Dracula‘s Ultra HD Blu-ray disc has the following special features on it:

  • Spanish Version
  • The Road to Dracula
  • Lugosi: The Dark Prince
  • Dracula: The Restoration
  • Dracula Archives
  • Trailer Gallery
  • Monster Tracks
  • Alternate Score by Philip Glass – Performed by the Kronos Quartet
  • Feature Commentary with Film Historian David J. Skal
Features Assessment

The Spanish language version of Dracula can be found as a bonus feature instead of an alternate play option. It also comes with an optional introduction by Lupita Tovar Kohner, who played Eva. I recommend watching the introduction if you’re unaware of the history of the Spanish Version. Next, Road to Dracula is a comprehensive making-of doc hosted by Rebecca Isabelle “Carla” Laemmle. She’s the niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle. The documentary features many interviews, including film historians, relatives of cast members, and contemporary fans. Next, The Dark Prince is a lengthy retrospective about the life and career of the legendary Bela Lugosi. Dracula: The Restoration is a piece that guides you through the meticulous process of preserving this classic film through a comprehensive restoration of the film and sound elements.

The Dracula Archives is simply a collection of poster artwork, marketing stills, and other photos from the set. Monster Tracks is a trivia feature where a wide array of information about the film’s production is displayed in subtitle form. While it’s not generally well-received by fans, the alternate score track is an audio track composed by experimentalist Philip Glass and performed by The Kronos Quartet. Finally, the David J. Skal commentary track presents a wide array of academic and comprehensive discussions on the film. These include Dracula‘s history, its relation to Bram Stoker’s book, and the production’s lasting impact.

Special Features Rating: 4.5/5 atoms

Universal Classic Monsters - Frankenstein

Frankenstein

The most influential horror film ever made, this stark and stylish work has given us one of the most iconic cinematic monsters of all time. Despite the melodramatic moments between Victor and Elizabeth, the film is remarkably efficient with its storytelling. Even with its short runtime, director James Whale is still able to tell a complex and poignant tale in its hour runtime. Whale knew what Frankenstein needed. As a result, he gave us iconic scenes that would become part of our cultural lexicon.

Because Frankenstein created much of the cinematic language of horror films, it has often been imitated and parodied to seemingly no end. Today’s audiences may even come into the movie making the mistake of seeing the revolutionary things that it created as clichés. The mad scientist and his neo-gothic lab, hunched-back assistant, and heavy-footed dumb monster were all creations of director James Whale. 

Yet what makes the modern audience gravitate towards Frankenstein instead of Dracula is the tragic story of the title monster. The monster finds himself progressively misjudged by the society that created him. He never was a savage killer, but the mob fears him because he’s different and misunderstood. Boris Karloff gives one of the most enduring performances in cinematic history as Frankenstein’s monster. He plays the creature as both terrifying and touching. As a result, the Frankenstein monster becomes a character study on the nature versus nurture debate.

Overall, James Whale’s Frankenstein is a cinematic classic that’s as effective today as it was back in 1931. Many horror filmmakers of the era never fully understood the assignment, and the lack of inspiration in their work speaks for itself. Just take a look at the horror sequels in the post-Carl Laemmle era. Thankfully, Whale saw Frankenstein as something more and became a Hollywood classic.

Movie Rating: 5/5 atoms

Video

Frankenstein hits Ultra HD Blu-ray with an HDR10 transfer and a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Similar to Dracula, the grain is slightly more noticeable on this Ultra HD release than the picture’s clarity. That’s just the price you pay for a 4K release of a film that’s over 90 years old. Nevertheless, the picture clarity is still excellent. The background details are definitely sharper, such as the wrinkles on Dr. Frankenstein’s white lab jacket are more distinct. There will be some soft images in some scenes, but these are a byproduct of films of the era.

Of course, the best aspect of Frankenstein‘s transfer is just how expansive the greyscale palette is. There are more shades of gray, which in turn, produces more in terms of details. The surgical instruments radiate a brighter, more distinct shine, and you can see all of the fine details in Jack Pierce’s Frankenstein design.

Video Rating: 4.5/5 atoms

Audio

Frankenstein hits Ultra HD Blu-ray with a 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio track. Much like Dracula, the audio has not been upgraded for this release, which isn’t surprising since the Universal Classic Monsters era of films are all really old. Realize that these are 80-90-year-old films that were released with monoaural tracks, and tinkering with these ancient tracks to fit a 3D audio mix wouldn’t benefit the film at all.

For the most part, the audio mixes are devoid of any discrepancies. There are a few hisses and sound harsh when the audio starts to clip. Regardless, the voices are clean and clear, and the score fills the soundstage nicely. Although they have their limitations due to the nature of the mixes, they are all quite impressive considering the age of these films.

Audio Rating: 4/5 atoms

Special Features

Frankenstein‘s Ultra HD Blu-ray disc has the following special features on it:

  • The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster
  • Karloff: The Gentle Monster
  • Universal Horror
  • Frankenstein Archives
  • Boo!: A Short Film
  • Trailer Gallery
  • 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics
  • Monster Tracks
  • Feature Commentary with Film Historian Rudy Behlmer
  • Feature Commentary with Film Historian Sir Christopher Frayling
Features Assessment

The Frankenstein Files is a lengthy and comprehensive 45-minute featurette hosted by film historian David J. Skal. This documentary explores a myriad of topics perfect for fans of the film. Similar to Lugosi: The Dark PrinceThe Gentle Monster is a lengthy retrospective of the life and career of the legendary Boris Karloff. Universal Horror is a feature-length documentary that takes an in-depth and exciting look at the Universal catalog of monster films. 

Similar to Dracula ArchivesFrankenstein Archives is a 9-minute slideshow of the film’s marketing and promotional artwork. Boo! is a skippable short film that takes scenes from Universal’s monster films and spoofs them all. It may look like it was put together by an amateur editor during the YouTube era, but it’s real. Next, Restoring the Classics is another feature highlighting Universal’s restoration efforts in preserving their classic library of films. Unlike the Dracula version, this one is not Frankenstein specific. Much like Dracula‘s Monster Tracks, the Frankenstein version provides a wealth of information about the film displayed in subtitle form.

Frankenstein‘s two informative commentary tracks were pulled from a previous DVD release. The first track features film historian Rudy Behlmer providing loads of insight and the history of the production. The other track features historian Sir Christopher Frayling doing much of the same while adding a larger cultural perspective. Both are insightful listens for those eager to learn more about Whale’s classic.

Special Features Rating: 5/5 atoms

Universal Classic Monsters - The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man

Along with Frankenstein and Dracula, The Invisible Man was one of the classic horror movies made by Universal Pictures in the ’30s. Directed by James Whale, the film launched the Hollywood career of its star Claude Rains. Yet, much of the credit for the success of The Invisible Man goes to director James Whale. In his career, James Whale directed a slew of horror films, including FrankensteinThe Old Dark House, and The Bride of Frankenstein. He directed other films as well, but it’s the horror films that defined his career. 

It’s not that surprising since Whale had a childlike fascination towards the creatures he’s adapting. He liked to explore what it was like to be a nightmarish outcast in society. Thus, his affection is why The Invisible Man is such an innovative, goofy, and bizarre film. 

Working with his friend and frequent collaborator R.C. Sherriff, Whale was able to turn H.G. Wells’ novel into a delightful mixture of horror and black comedy. However, it’s that over-the-top nature of the film that may turn away those simply looking for a great classic monster film. Nevertheless, this is the kind of horror classic that appeals more to budding movie lovers.

At the same time, the special effects hold up remarkably well. It’s primitive by today’s standards, but in the ’30s, they were revolutionary. They are simple but effective and cleverly executed. It’ll make you wonder how they made the Invisible Man appear as a disembodied shirt or as a pair of pants dancing down the road during that era. 

Overall, The Invisible Man‘s combination of visual effects and Claude Rains’ masterful vocal performance are what make this a great flick. It’s not like the other monster classics that Universal has released, but it’s also the most playful out of the bunch.

Movie Rating: 4/5 atoms

Video

The Invisible Man hits Ultra HD Blu-ray with an HDR10 transfer and a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The film looks quite amazing in Ultra HD as well. While the rise in resolution for The Invisible Man highlights the limitations of the visual effects, the black levels and contrast for this title are excellent. This release has more shades of gray, which provides more details. That’s not to mention, the details such as textures on the bandages and gloves look crisp throughout. Similar to The Wolf Man, there’s less noticeable grain, and as a result, looks more natural and film-like.

Video Rating: 4.5/5 atoms

Audio

The Invisible Man hits Ultra HD Blu-ray with a 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio track. Much like Frankenstein, the audio has not been upgraded for this release, which isn’t surprising since the Universal Classic Monsters era of films are all really old. Realize that these are 80-90-year-old films that were released with monoaural tracks, and tinkering with these ancient tracks to fit a 3D audio mix wouldn’t benefit the film at all.

For the most part, the audio mixes are devoid of any discrepancies. There are a few hisses and sound harsh when the audio starts to clip. Regardless, the voices are clean and clear, and the score fills the soundstage nicely. Although they have their limitations due to the nature of the mixes, they are all quite impressive considering the age of these films.

Audio Rating: 4/5 atoms

Special Features

The Invisible Man‘s Ultra HD Blu-ray disc has the following special features on it:

  • Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed!
  • Production Photographs
  • Trailer Gallery
  • 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters
  • Feature Commentary with Film Historian Rudy Behlmer
Features Assessment

The Invisible Man Revealed is a 35-minute featurette hosted by film historian Rudy Behlmer. In it, film historians and notable guests delve into the original source material, the process of adapting him for the screen, the performances, the themes within the story, and the special effects. Production Photographs is The Invisible Man‘s version of Archives. It’s a nearly five-minute slideshow of posters, promotional artwork, production stills, and much more. 

Unforgettable Characters is a feature that shows off some of the most iconic characters from the Universal catalog—from their horror output and beyond. Although the Rudy Behlmer audio commentary track features are full of intriguing information, his monotone voice will definitely bore listeners to death. 

Special Features Rating: 4/5 atoms

Universal Classic Monsters - The Wolf Man

The Wolf Man

Evil doesn’t go away if we ignore it. Instead, it just hides within us all. That’s the fear we have about werewolves. They’re the monsters we might become. Even those of us who are inherently good could become evil. Thus, The Wolf Man was the right horror movie for the time. The film was born in the shadow of the overwhelming evil of Nazi Germany when good people became instruments of evil.

The Wolf Man is a far more nuanced and affecting film that works as a horror film and melodrama. Like The Invisible Man, there is no true villain here. Instead, it features a protagonist whose good nature has been derailed by unforeseeable circumstances. Those circumstances lead to everything that you know about werewolves today. The idea that werewolves can only be killed by silver or that they can transform against their will during a full moon is the creation of screenwriter Curt Siodmak.

To work as well as it did, The Wolf Man required an actor capable of conveying a slew of emotions. Enter Lon Chaney Jr., whose lumbering, pokey, childishly earnest performance is just what The Wolf Man needed. At the same time, he gets lost behind Jack Pierce’s masterful makeup as well. The image of a fanged, hairy Chaney walking like a beast is as iconic as the Universal classic monsters that came before him. Yet, Chaney’s emotions as his life begin to unravel are what Wolf Man is so heartbreaking. 

Overall, The Wolf Man is one of the best Universal classic monster flicks behind Frankenstein. Much like Frankenstein’s monster, Larry Talbot is a tragic and misunderstood character. At the same time, none of this would work without the gentle and personable performance by Lon Chaney Jr. It’s a performance that would make his legendary father proud.

Movie Rating: 5/5 atoms

Video

The Wolf Man hits Ultra HD Blu-ray with an HDR10 transfer and a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. If you own the original Blu-ray releases of The Wolf Man, then you know of the heavy print damage on the picture. However, the Ultra HD transfer takes care of the damage. At the same time, there is more depth to the picture than in the previous releases. The highlights look brighter, and the shadows are very dark. There’s less noticeable grain when you compare it to Dracula and Frankenstein, and as a result, looks more natural and film-like. Picture details are also a big plus. Details such as the werewolf hairs appear more coarse and scraggly, Ouspenskaya’s spangled necklaces and hoop earrings look more distinct.

Video Rating: 4.5/5 atoms

Audio

The Wolf Man hits Ultra HD Blu-ray with a 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio track. Much like The Invisible Man, the audio has not been upgraded for this release, which isn’t surprising since the Universal Classic Monsters era of films are all really old. Realize that these are 80-90-year-old films that were released with monoaural tracks, and tinkering with these ancient tracks to fit a 3D audio mix wouldn’t benefit the film at all.

For the most part, the audio mixes are devoid of any discrepancies. There are a few hisses and sound harsh when the audio starts to clip. Regardless, the voices are clean and clear, and the score fills the soundstage nicely. Although they have their limitations due to the nature of the mixes, they are all quite impressive considering the age of these films.

Audio Rating: 4/5 atoms

Special Features

The Wolf Man‘s Ultra HD Blu-ray disc has the following special features on it:

  • Monster by Moonlight
  • The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth
  • Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney Jr.
  • He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce
  • The Wolf Man Archives
  • Trailer Gallery
  • 100 Years of Universal: The Lot
  • Feature Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver
Features Assessment

Monster by Moonlight is a terrific and excellent 33-minute documentary hosted by John Landis (An American Werewolf in London). The doc presents a quick rundown of the mythology of werewolves in Hollywood. Of course, Moonlight focuses mostly on The Wolf Man, its production, and the film’s lasting legacy. Next, Ancient Curse to Modern Myth is a short 10-minute feature looking at Curt Siodmak’s script and his influence in establishing the werewolf legend we’re familiar with today. Just like The Dark Prince and just like The Gentle GiantPure in Heart is a lengthy retrospective of the life and career of the one-and-only, Lon Chaney Jr.

Although he’s not one of the legendary actors who portrayed these classic monsters, Jack Pierce, nevertheless, deserves a celebratory documentary of his own. That’s because Pierce is the makeup maestro is responsible for the classic looks of all of the Universal monsters. Similar to the other ArchivesThe Wolf Man Archives is a slideshow of the marketing and promotional artwork created for the film. Next, The Lot is a nearly 10-minute featurette that explores the classic Universal backlot.

Finally, the audio commentary track features film historian Tom Weaver who hands-down has the most entertaining commentary track in this set. Weaver brings contagious enthusiasm while delving into the history of the film, the performers, and the film’s legacy.

Special Features Rating: 5/5 atoms


Overall, the Universal classic monsters’ first foray into the Ultra HD realm is superb. The Universal Classic Monsters Icons of Horror Collection is a wonderful collection featuring pristine restorations of films between 80 and 90 years old. Although the audio mixes and special features were ports from previous releases, they’re things that can’t be improved on. If you’re a fan of the Universal classic monsters, then this is a must-buy for you.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5 atoms

Universal Classic Monsters Icons of Horror Collection is now available in stores on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

This Blu-ray was reviewed using a retail/advance copy/unit provided by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

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Mark Pacis
Mark Pacis 1721 posts

Self-proclaimed "Human IMDb" and comic book geek. Biggest Iron Man fan you'll probably ever meet.

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