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The Universal Classic Monster Movies Are Essential Streaming for Any Horror Fan
Dracula and Frankenstein might not be “scary” to a modern horror audience, but they're definitely worth watching.
If you’re a horror fan in 2023, you have a downright frightening amount of options. There are scary recent releases like M3GAN, The Nun II, and The Last Voyage of the Demeter. There are so-called “elevated horror” movies like Hereditary. You’ve got gore-filled ‘80s movies, J-horror, and more slashers than you can, well, slash a knife at. With all of the options available to the scare-seeking horror fan, the idea of going back almost 100 years to the old black-and-white Universal Monster movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s might seem a little antiquated. But, even though movies like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man might not be “scary” to a modern horror audience, they’re essential viewing for any fan of the genre — and they are incredible movies in their own right.
The Universal Classic Monster movies — many of which are now streaming on Peacock, just in time for Halloween — haunted cinemas for a quarter-century, beginning with Dracula in 1931 and ending with The Creature Walks Among Us in 1956. With the exception of the late-coming Creature From the Black Lagoon, who made his debut in the ‘50s, the heyday of the era was the ‘30s and ‘40s. This is when movies like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, and many sequels came out.
All of those monsters have become pop-culture icons. Even the ones that originated in books like Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster became as ubiquitous as they are in large part because of the Universal films. They’re Halloween staples, riffed on in films like Monster Squad and featured in several remakes, including 2020’s The Invisible Man and two 2023 takes on Dracula: Renfield and The Last Voyage of the Demeter. If for no other reason than to get to know these monsters as movies, the classics are worth a stream.
They are also a tour through filmmaking history. Many younger movie-watchers sometimes bounce off of older movies. The style of acting was different, unfamiliar, and the general pace was much slower. This is all true of the Universal Classic Monsters movies, but they also have, well, monsters in them, which makes them an easier viewing experience than a non-genre movie of the era might be.
And those monsters are very cool! Dracula might not be scary in the sense that modern horror movies might make you jolt back in shock or have trouble sleeping due to nightmares, but there’s a palpable sense of dread. Bela Lugosi’s hypnotic eyes are haunting. The sequence in Frankenstein when the Monster unwittingly hurls a little girl to her drowning death is deeply upsetting. The manic laughter of the man driven insane by the sight of Imhotep in The Mummy is unsettling. The tragedy of the Wolf Man’s fate is saddening. Pure “scares” are just one aspect of horror, and the Universal Classic Monsters have plenty of emotion and artistry to offer, to say nothing of their foundational importance to the genre.
The Universal Classic Monsters weren’t just groundbreaking for the horror genre. There’s a case to be made that Frankenstein and Co. were the original cinematic universe. Some 65 years before Nick Fury walked out of the shadows to tell Iron Man about the “Avengers Initiative,” Frankenstein was meeting the Wolf Man in the 1943 film titled, what else, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. The various monster sub-franchises had their own continuity, of a sort, and it’s fun to see what would become such a staple of modern filmmaking emerge in these old films. Towards the end of the run, the Universal Classic Monsters also started playing with other genres, beginning in 1948 with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which had Bud Abbott and Lou Costello — at the time the highest-paid and most popular comedy duo in the world — face off against Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, and the Wolf Man.
So, as the spooky season begins, consider watching some of the Universal Classic Monster movies. To quote Dracula, “I bid you… welcome.”
The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), Werewolf of London (1935), Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1939), Son of Frankenstein (1939), Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), The Invisible Man Returns (1940), The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944), The Invisible Woman (1940), The Mummy's Hand (1940), The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Curse (1944), The Mummy's Ghost (1944), and The Raven (1935) are all streaming on Peacock, as are many remakes of Universal Classic Monster movies, including the 1999 and 2017 takes on The Mummy and this year’s Renfield.