Looking for the perfect gift for that cinefile and/ or horror movie fan on your holiday list? Look no further than Universal’s impressive Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection box set that was released on Blu-ray earlier this year. This collection includes all the iconic Universal monster movies that shaped the American horror genre; Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), Phantom of the Opera (1943), and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). For the first time ever each film is presented in digitally restored 1080p High-Definition picture and DTS-HD Master Audio. Each film’s native aspect ratio (Full Frame 1:33:1 for all films other than Black Lagoon which was shot in Widescreen 1:85:1) and original audio format (2.0 Mono) is preserved and they all look and sound spectacular on Blu-ray.
I consider myself a fairly huge horror movie buff and I’d previously seen all these films multiple times on VHS, DVD, and even projected at 2nd run theaters. However, seeing these movies in digitally restored 1080p was, at the risk of sounding cliché, like seeing them for the first time. This box set is one of the best restoration jobs I’ve ever seen (and maybe the best black and white restorations currently available).
The crisp and clean high definition presentation brings so much extra detail and focal clarity to each of these classic films. Inky blacks in Dracula’s cape properly frame Bela Lugosi’s legendary performance within it, tangible mist swirls around the Wolfman while he stalks, deep shadows loom over the intricate equipment in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, and every nook and cranny of Jack Pierce’s influential Mummy makeup is visible. That said, the high def pendulum swings both ways and you will notice wrinkles and tears in set backdrops, plenty of effects wires (particularly in The Invisible Man), and if you thought The Creature of the Black Lagoon’s gill-man costume looks like plastic in standard def, wait until you see that bad boy in HD. Nevertheless, hats off to Universal for presenting these films in HD warts and all.
Although the original sound mix on all these movies was mono, the DTS-HD Master Audio on all the restorations are incredible. Gone are the hisses and pops present on previous releases. Clear, rich sound adds a whole new element of depth to these movies and brings a greater appreciation of the classic performances within them. Great picture and great sound gives all the movies in Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection box set new life.
Each movie is accompanied by a wealth of fantastic special features (although many of these features have been previously available on other releases). Some of the standout bonus features include a restored 3D version of Creature from the Black Lagoon (3D glasses not included), a Mummy commentary track that includes special effects wizard Rick Baker, a short but informative featurette about the restoration of Dracula, and the rarely seen Spanish language Dracula (which was filmed simultaneously with the English language version). Whether you’re looking for a holiday gift for a scarred horror veteran or a classic film fan, Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection is a must have box set.