5 Classic Monster Films in Our Library’s Collection
During the summer’s excitement over the massive, new blockbusters, many older and more unusual films are neglected and ignored. These older monster films, though they lack the digital effects and huge budgets of more modern releases, are classics of their genre, with clever performances and intriguing plots. One day this summer, you may feel compelled to take a trip back in time and see some of these legendary movies for yourself.
The Mummy (1959 version)
This is not the classic Universal version of the Mummy, but rather British studio Hammer’s adaptation of Universal’s “Kharis series,” which consisted of The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost, and The Mummy’s Curse. Like those films, this one features a shambling, bandaged Egyptian horror menacing the innocent and seeking the reincarnation of his lost lover. Unlike those films, Hammer’s adaptation is a tightly-plotted thriller, devoid of plot holes and continuity problems, and featuring the great Christopher Lee as the mummy. This version of The Mummy, with its rich colors and creepy performances, is one of Hammer’s classic horror releases.
After the classic 1931 Frankenstein became a major box office success, Universal requested director James Whale make a sequel. Whale agreed, only on the condition that he be allowed to do anything he wanted with the new film—he believed that his earlier Frankenstein film was a completed story and wanted to make the sequel as unique an experience as possible. He succeeded in creating one of the iconic horror films and perhaps the best of all the classic Universal horror films. In this film alone, Karloff’s lurching, dim-witted Monster is truly given character development, becoming self-aware, capable of speech, and finally understanding the horror he evokes in the world around him, even from those he seeks to whom he reaches out. It was this film that established the Monster as a sympathetic figure and paved the way for Mel Brooks’ classic horror parody, Young Frankenstein. Sadly, later Universal films featuring the Frankenstein Monster reverted it to its original characterization as a mute, dimwitted murderer, forgetting all the character development it underwent during The Bride of Frankenstein and making the series more repetitious and unimaginative than Whale’s vision.
Dracula (Spanish Version)
In the earliest days of “talkie” films, subtitled Hollywood releases were extremely rare. Producers reasoned that audiences were paying to hear actors—not read dialogue as they did in the silent days, so why bother? The Spanish language version of Universal’s classic Dracula movie was filmed on the exact same sets as the English language version, but it features a completely different cast and director. Sadly, this means that the Spanish language version does not star Bela Lugosi as Dracula, but it does have its own unique directorial style that many horror fans believe is actually better than the English language version. This DVD includes both versions of the film, so you can watch both the English and Spanish versions and judge which is superior for yourself.
This silent film classic is the earliest film version of the Dracula story, and contains some of the most memorable visuals and rendering of the vampire count of any Dracula film. Here, the Count is portrayed not as a handsome nobleman but as a grotesque, rat-like creature with a hideously-distorted face. The poetic use of light and shadow make the viewer feel the impact of a visual language that was unique to silent film and was lost at the advent of sound. It was this film that also came up with the idea that sunlight was lethal to vampires—in Stoker’s original novel, Dracula’s powers were diminished by sunlight, but it was not fatal to him. Nosferatu was infamous in its time for being an unauthorized Dracula adaptation, to the point that Stoker’s widow attempted to destroy all the copies of the film. Luckily for horror fans and film historians, several copies survived.
Gojira (Japanese version)
Much of the American audience became familiar with the Kaiju films through the 1956 English language version Godzilla, King of the Monsters, which was an extensively edited version of the 1954 Japanese release Gojira. The English version, in addition to dubbing the film’s dialogue, also featured a number of scenes with actor Raymond Burr playing a reporter that were awkwardly grafted onto the original Japanese film. The Japanese original will come as quite a shock to audiences more familiar with the later series entries, which emphasized comedy and were aimed mainly at children. It features stark scenes of the fiery destruction of Tokyo and a relentless, brutal monster that couldn’t be more different than the friendly defender of humanity Godzilla would later become. This DVD includes both versions of the film, so you can watch both and contrast the changes that the American distributor made to the Japanese original.
These films are all excellent options to spend time watching on a hot summer night. Take an opportunity to watch them, and you’ll learn about the history of classic monsters and enjoy discovering the vintage thrills and performances of a lost age. These films were the pop cultural artifacts of their time, entertainment for an earlier, simpler age before audiences became obsessed with high definition and computer-generated effects. Yet, with their black and white simplicity and iconic creatures, they retain an eerie power and magnetism over audiences.