DVD and Blu-ray Reviews

'We'll begin with a reign of terror...'

A few murders here and there

The Invisible Man posterDracula, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, these four movies seem to be the four always thought of when someone says Universal's "Classic Monsters". I'd seen all four along with probably the fifth most thought of in these terms, The Mummy.

Only last week, Universal released the Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection on Blu-ray and yesterday my copy finally arrived. Inside were three movies I had never seen -- The Invisible Man, The Phantom of the Opera and The Creature from the Black Lagoon -- and just because it was first chronologically, I began with The Invisible Man and wow, it's deliciously wicked.

Certainly the film has aged, the effects are far more "obvious" than today's, but if you're realistic about these kinds of things, the effects today are no less obvious than those of 1933. A man can't turn invisible today no more than he could 79 years ago. You'd be no more convinced a man actually disappeared in a film now than you would back then.

The key, as Rudy Behlmer says in the included documentary "Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed", is films, such as Invisible Man, pushed visual effects of the time to their limit "without ever losing the human element." The "human element" is what's missing from so many of today's films where we're asked to takeaway more than is actually there when a digital creation is seen on screen. Unfortunately, as is most often the case, films forget to work beyond their effects and only rarely do we get the emotional connection we get in the older classics, though Rise of the Planet of the Apes would serve as one of today's definite exceptions.

In The Invisible Man the effects are wonderful, but it's the performance of Claude Rains, whose face is only seen for a fraction of the film's 72 minute running time, that sells the effect more than anything. Whether it's his wild cackling that I have to assume inspired or at least informed some of Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight, or his reading of such lines as the following, his character is truly terrifying:

We'll begin with a reign of terror. A few murders here and there. Murders of great men, murders of little men, just to show we make no distinction. We might even wreck a train or two. Just these fingers 'round a signalman's throat. That's all.

Directed by James Whale (Frankenstein) and featuring performances by Gloria Stuart (probably best known for her Oscar-nominated performance in Titanic), the cackling comedy of Una O'Connor whom you'll either find hilarious or ear-piercingly annoying and even an early bit part by John Carradine, whom you'll see in the video below at the 6:17 mark. But before you scroll that far ahead, be sure and watch the opening as Rains delivers his plan as laid out in the quote above.

As for the look of the film on Blu-ray, I loved it and will certainly return to it again, likely before I return to any of the regular classics and I can't wait to see what Phantom of the Opera and Creature from the Black Lagoon have to offer.

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  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JoshP./ Josh P.

    I'm glad you liked this movie. I grew up with the "Universal Monsters" and they remain very dear to my heart, even if it's purely for nostalgic reasons. I have to say that, of all of them, The Invisible Man is my favorite. Claude Rains absolutely sells it, and while he may not have the striking physique as the other monsters, his intelligence and charm is what is far more frightening. Another chilling moment in the film for me is when he explains exactly what's going to happen to Kemp when he pushes the car over the cliff. To see that spoken so matter of fact and then to see the result, even when nothing graphic is show, was quite disturbing, especially given the time and the young age that I saw the movie.

    Personally, I do also like Phantom of the Opera and Creature from the Black Lagoon. At the same time, "Phantom", while beautifully designed and crafted, gets a bit slow in the musical numbers and doesn't really add too much to the Leroux story. And "Creature" is a fun yet typical B-monster movie.

    Another little side note is that Henry Travers, who plays Gloria Stuart's father in the film, was also Clarence in It's A Wonderful Life.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/RagingTaxiDriver/ RagingTaxiDriver

    I was a skeptic, seeing as I loved the book. But this was great film.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

    Been so long since I've seen these movies. Can't wait to get this box set. When I was young, I remember liking Phantom of the Opera and The Wolf Man as my favorites.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/cradleman/ Jonathan

    I need to get this collection. LOVE the universal horror films and this is the my favorite of them all (though The Wolf Man runs a close second). Really, Raines' Griffin has got to be one of the most chilling villains in screen history and he makes the film work so wonderfully well. Love the descent from scientist to somewhat disturbed wacko to full out evil. Just a brilliant film altogether.

  • JayRam

    I really don't mind that the visual effects of these movies have aged. The story came first and foremost, and it shows. Can't wait to buy this set.

  • William

    I love this movie, as I always was a fan of Raines, and more so after I watched this for the first time, and proud to have it in my collection....but I'm in the camp of people that's really annoyed by Una O'Connor, to watch the whole movie it's usually a strain for me to get beyond her scenes.