Monday, October 17, 2016

In Praise of the Universal Monsters

With the creepy-crawly tendrils of Halloween fast approaching, and our thoughts focused on the best fright features to feast upon, it seemed a good time to cast a gaze backward at one of Hollywood’s most durable and beloved horror brands: the classic Universal Monsters, celebrating their eighty-fifth anniversary this year.

Now, given how familiar and, dare we say, cute and cuddly the images of Universal’s Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and friends have become to the generations of viewers who’ve known and loved them since their first theatrical runs—who’ve bought the action figures and worn the costumes and cuddled with the stuffed dolls—it’s easy to forget that the initial intent behind these denizens of the darkness was actually to scare the pants off unsuspecting audiences.

Of course that was long ago, during a simpler time when the bar for cinematic scares was significantly lower than it is now. But in an age when the horror genre has come to be almost exclusively defined by how many bucketloads of gore and viscera can be doled out, there’s something appealingly nostalgic about the gothic fright flicks that Universal made its stock in trade for the better part of two decades—thereby birthing not only Hollywood’s original horror franchise, but also moviedom’s very first shared universe.

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