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4K Ultra HD Review: Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection

October 31, 2021

By John Corrado

Nearly a century ago, Universal Pictures revolutionized the monster movie genre, and set the high bar for how iconic characters like Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and The Wolf Man would be portrayed onscreen.

Now the studio has released four of their classic monster movies on 4K Ultra HD in the Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection. The new set offers the chance to own arguably the four most famous of these films in crisp 4K, and I have to say that the upgrades presented here are quite impressive.

The first two films in the set are Dracula (1931), director Tod Browning’s original Bram Stoker adaptation starring Bela Lugosi in the title role; and Frankenstein (1931), filmmaker James Whale’s adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel starring Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein and Boris Karloff as The Monster. The next two films are The Invisible Man (1933), Whale’s adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel starring Claude Rains; and George Waggner’s The Wolf Man (1941), featuring Lon Chaney Jr.’s sympathetic portrayal of the lycanthrope.

I watched through all four films over two nights, and really enjoyed revisiting them. I was also quite impressed by the 2160p resolution and High Dynamic Range (HDR) found on the discs. The black and white cinematography of the films is highlighted by the format, allowing for plenty of deep shadows and some good contrast, especially during scenes in Dracula’s castle and Frankenstein’s lab. While a bit of softness and some heavy grain is noticeable at times (which is expected given the age of the source material), for the most part there is a nice, sharp cinematic quality to the images.

In general, the increased clarity of the 4K allows us to really admire details such as the backgrounds, costumes and makeup, most notably post-transformation in The Wolf Man. Though seeing the work done on Karloff and Lugosi (as well as his screen-piercing stare) in 4K is also a treat. And, despite showing their seams at times, the groundbreaking special effects in The Invisible Man are still quite impressive.

The 4K provides a noticeable upgrade for all four films, but I think the one that impressed me most is Frankenstein (a personal favourite of mine), which almost looked new to my eyes. As a final note, since it is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, I will say that Whale’s film holds up beautifully with its moody framing and cinematography, making it a timeless classic of the horror genre. Karloff’s growling but sympathetic portrayal of the monster remains compelling, and the scene with the little girl by the water is still just as tragic and chilling, as is everything that comes after.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

The 8-disc set includes both 4K discs and regular 1080p Blu-rays of each of the four films. The films are packaged in a sturdy DigiBook, with the discs slipped into cardboard sleeves on the edges of the pages, which are illustrated with poster art, black and white images, brief film synopses and lists of the bonus features. The DigiBook slips into a black and silver outer box, with embossed lettering on the front.

The 4K and Blu-ray discs each include a number of legacy bonus features to accompany the films, including the 1931 Spanish-language version of Dracula, which was shot simultaneously by director George Melford, utilizing the same sets. Codes for digital copies of all four films are also included in the package, which is a nice addition.

Dracula (4K and Blu-ray):

  • Dracula (1931) Spanish Version With Introduction by Lupita Tovar Kohner
  • The Road to Dracula
  • Lugosi: The Dark Prince
  • Dracula: The Restoration
  • Monster Tracks
  • Dracula Archives
  • Alternate Score by Philip Glass Performed by The Kronos Quartet
  • Feature Commentary by Film Historian David J. Skal
  • Feature Commentary by Steve Haberman, Screenwriter of Dracula: Dead and Loving It
  • Trailer Gallery

Frankenstein (4K and Blu-ray):

  • The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster
  • Karloff: The Gentle Monster
  • Monster Tracks
  • Universal Horror
  • Frankenstein Archives
  • Boo!: A Short Film
  • Feature Commentary with Film Historian Rudy Behlmer
  • Feature Commentary with Historian Sir Christopher Frayling
  • 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics
  • Trailer Gallery

The Invisible Man (4K and Blu-ray):

  • Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed!
  • Production Photographs
  • Feature Commentary with Film Historian Rudy Behlmer
  • 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters
  • Trailer Gallery

The Wolf Man (4K and Blu-ray):

  • Monster by Moonlight
  • The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth
  • Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney Jr.
  • He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce
  • The Wolf Man Archives
  • Feature Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver
  • 100 Years of Universal: The Lot
  • Trailer Gallery

Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s rated 14A.

Street Date: October 5th, 2021

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