Take a trip through the history of horror with these classic monster movies
Calling anything 'Essential' is just asking for trouble. But in this case, Universal has got it spot-on. In fact, given the quality films on offer - Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), Phantom of the Opera (1943) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – and the impact they had on cinema, you could argue that Universal is actually underselling this remarkable collection of movies.
Picture: The first six films in the set all feature black and white AVC 1.33:1 1080p encodes that represent massive improvements on any previously available releases. No, they aren't quite perfect. Some minor speckles, scratches and other signs of aging are still present, and there's also some traces of digital manipulation (including some obvious halos in The Invisible Man and restrained use of noise reduction across the board), but they all still look magnificent.
The Phantom of the Opera is the only colour title in the set (again framed at 1.33:1) and is arguably the weakest of the encodes, looking rather soft throughout and exhibiting a rather processed appearance at times. That said, its strengths still outweigh its weaknesses, particularly in the encode's handling of the film's lush Technicolor palette, fabulous black levels and unfaltering contrast.
Finally we come to Creature from the Black Lagoon. While a return to black and white, it's also the only widescreen (1.85:1) film in the boxset and the only movie to be presented in both 2D and 3D incarnations – and watching Creature… in 3D is a revelation. From a fossilised claw poking out of a cliff face to underwater foliage capable of hiding all sorts of unseen terrors, the film makes excellent use of the stereoscopic format and its many strengths have been beautifully recreated on this Blu-ray release.
Picture rating: 4/5
Audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mixes are the order of the day for all eight films on offer. For the most part Universal's audio experts have done a fantastic job cleaning up the soundtracks and restoring them to their original lustre. The one exception to this is Frankenstein, which still suffers from an ever-present background hiss on the track and occasionally tremulous dialogue. As these are clearly source-related issues though, it's difficult how you could hope for anything better.
Audio rating: 4/5
Extras: As a minimum, each of the films is partnered by a commentary, retrospective documentary, trailers, image gallery and one of the various 100 Years of Universal featurettes. However, several titles, feature much more.
These include additional featurettes about Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and the studio's in-house monster-maker Jack Pierce, an alternate score for Dracula, the 95-min Universal Horror documentary, brand new trivia tracks for Dracula and Frankenstein, and even a 1080p restoration of the Spanish-language production of Dracula that was shot at night on the same sets as the English-language version (and is actually a superior movie from a technical standpoint).
Extras rating: 5/5
We say: While not quite perfect, this Blu-ray boxset still comes highly recommended to all movie fans
Universal Pictures, All-region BD, £50 Approx, On sale now
HCC VERDICT: 4/5
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