Universal Classic Monsters Icons of Horror Collection 4K review

Oct 09, 2021- Permalink

Universal is home to some of the most celebrated horror icons of all time. Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Invisible Man, and the Wolf Man are all staples of pop culture and a constant go-to for Halloween costumes, movies, and TV shows. Universal has just released the aptly-named Universal Classic Monsters Icons of Horror Collection on 4K and I had a chance to review it. The set contains four classic movies: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and The Wolf Man.

1931’s Dracula stars Bela Lugosi as the titular vampire. The film, directed by Tod Browning was apparently a bit of a disorganized shoot, with cinematographer Karl Freund shooting some scenes which has led to some film historians listing him as an uncredited co-director. 1931 also saw the release of Frankenstein, with Boris Karloff in the role of the mad scientist’s stitched-together monster. Despite being layered below makeup, Karloff’s performance is stellar, moving from the monster’s innocent curiosity to frightened rage with ease. Moving ahead two years, Universal then released The Invisible Man, which starred Claude Rains in this adaptation of the H.G. Wells story. Hats go off to the early visual effects team that created the process to make the Rains invisible in the production. The final film in the set, 1941’s The Wolf Man, stars Lon Chaney Jr. in the titular role. Chaney’s legendary father was already a huge figure in Universal’s horror world, having starred in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera in the 1920s.

The 2160p HEVC / H.265 encoded native 4K transfers with HDR10 are presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. All of the films have benefited from some tender loving care to reduce scratches and other source defects. All of the movies have very evident film grain, especially the 90-year-old Dracula and Frankenstein, so if grain really bugs you, you might prefer the Blu-ray versions that are also included with the set. I think the grain is okay given that the real treasure in the 4K presentation is the enhanced clarity of the image, the deep inky blacks and the improved contrast and variations in gray that the HDR gives these films. Of the four, the “younger” two films are the best looking of the bunch.

On the audio side, each film features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack with a variety of additional languages dubs and subtitles available with each title. The mono tracks are clear except for some hissing in the high end but otherwise dialogue and musical scores are clear. I like that they didn’t mess around and try and jazz up 80+ year-old soundtracks with an Atmos mix.

The discs (four 4K UHD and four Blu-ray) are housed in a hardcover book with poster art and publicity stills inside a slipcase. Sadly, instead of individual spindles for each disc, the discs are in a slot at the end of each page. Getting fingerprints on the discs is therefore almost unavoidable. If you have a disc that skips in your player, check it for fingerprints. The set also comes with digital copy codes. The bonus materials are included on both the 4K and Blu-ray discs.

The Dracula disc is notable for the inclusion of the Spanish-language version, Drácula. At the time, Universal was making foreign versions of some of its projects. At the end of each day of shooting, a Mexican crew and cast were brought in and shot their scenes using the same sets. This version is slightly longer than Lugosi’s version. The disc also contains a couple of audio commentaries, an alternate score written by Philip Glass and performed by the Kronos Quartet, a 35 minute featurette with filmmakers and historians discussing the film’s influence, another lengthy piece on Bela Lugosi, a look at the film’s restoration, a slideshow of posters and promotional artwork, trailers for the film and some of its sequels, and an option to watch the film with trivia.

The Frankenstein disc comes with two audio commentaries from film historians Rudy Behlmer and Sir Christopher Frayling, a 45 minute piece hosted by historian David J. Skal which looks at the source material, its adaptation, the stage play and the characters, another lengthy featurette on Boris Karloff and his legacy in the genre, a 95 minute doc on the Universal horror catalog, a slideshow of promotional artwork, a parody short from 1932 titled Boo!, a collection of trailers, a look at Universal’s restoration work and a trivia option.

The Invisible Man’s disc comes with an audio commentary from film historian Rudy Behlmer, a featurette on the source material, its themes and adaptation, production photos, a trailer gallery, and a look at iconic characters in the Universal horror catalog.

Finally, The Wolf Man disc has an audio commentary by film historian Tom Weaver, a retrospective look on the film and its influence hosted by An American Werewolf in London director John Landis, a piece on the werewolf myth, a look at the life and career of Lon Chaney Jr., a piece on makeup artist Jack Pierce and his work on the Universal monsters, a slideshow of promotional artwork, a trailer gallery and a look at the famous Universal back lot.

The Universal Classic Monsters Icons of Horror Collection on 4K gives these movies excellent video and audio presentations and a great amount of bonus material. Whether you’re a collector, a film buff, or a fan of the horror genre, you’ll want to add this to your collection.