Dracula/Frankenstein/The Mummy/ The Wolf Man: Complete Legacy Collections Blu-ray review

From the Avengers to Transformers, Jedi Knights to the Knights of the Round Table, it often feels like every other film Hollywood puts out is either part of an established franchise or the first step in trying to create a brand-new one. But if you think this focus on sequels, spin-offs and shared universes is a fairly recent phenomenon, think again.

Following a handful of successful silent shockers during the 1920s, the next decade saw Universal become Hollywood's preeminent home of horror, starting with 1931's double-header of Dracula and Frankenstein. In the two decades that followed, the studio introduced even more fiends to scare audiences out of their hard-earned cash, including the Mummy, the Invisible Man and the Wolf Man.

However, it was 1935's The Bride of Frankenstein that would shape the future of the studio's horror output; ushering in an era of sequels that would see Universal's most successful monsters return from the grave again and again to keep on terrifying cinema-goers.

With its striking German expressionist sets, the underrated Son of Frankenstein (1939) sees Henry Frankenstein's son Wolf (Basil Rathbone) returning to the family castle and trying to reanimate the comatose Monster (a returning Boris Karloff) with the aid of the demented Ygor (Bela Lugosi). Ygor and the Monster (now played by Lon Chaney Jr.) returned in the fairly run-of-the-mill The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), with the duo seeking the aid of yet another 'son of Frankenstein' (Cedric Hardwicke's Ludwig) in an attempt to make a more peaceful Monster. Naturally, neither plan goes as hoped, and both films climax with the Monster on another rampage.

Unlike Frankenstein's Monster, Count Dracula took a little longer to return from the dead. In his place, audiences were introduced to Dracula's Daughter (1936), with Gloria Holden playing the vampiric Countess Zaleska. Picking up immediately after the climax of Dracula, this surprising sequel offers a more psychologically-nuanced take on the subject matter that feels akin to the B-movies Val Lewton would produce for RKO the following decade. Unfortunately, it wasn't what audiences wanted, and so the Count returned to the screen in the confusingly titled Son of Dracula in 1943. This time around Lon Chaney Jr. puts on the cape and adopts the cunning pseudonym Count Alucard for a bleak slice of Southern Gothic involving a Louisiana plantation and a death-obsessed heiress.

With 1932's The Mummy being little more than a Dracula do-over with Egyptian trappings, Universal opted to reboot things with The Mummy's Hand (1940). In place of Boris Karloff in old-age makeup, this time out we have the mummified Kharis (Tom Tyler), who is kept alive with sacred tana leaves and tasked with killing those who despoil the tomb of Princess Ananka. More than anything else, this was the film that really cemented the idea of an immortal bandage-clad mummy in the public consciousness.

The Mummy's Tomb (1942) sees Kharis (now played by… guess who? Lon Chaney Jr.) head to the US to kill the survivors of the previous film, while the rather dull The Mummy's Ghost (1944) adds a young girl who may be the reincarnation of Princess Ananka to the mix. The equally lacklustre The Mummy's Curse (1944) finds both Kharis and Ananka return from their swampy graves and shifts the action to Louisiana, ruining the continuity with the previous films in the process.

Before long, Universal's monsters weren't just staying put in their own sequels. 1943's enjoyable Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man found the tragic Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) from 1941's The Wolf Man brought back from the dead and searching for a cure for his lycanthropy, only to run into Frankenstein's Monster (Bela Lugosi).

1944's House of Frankenstein and 1945's House of Dracula take things even further as they continue the story, throwing together the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.), Frankenstein's Monster (Glenn Strange) and Count Dracula (John Carradine) in a pair of episodic, but lively multiple monster mash-ups.

Universal resurrected this terrible trio one last time for 1948's charmingly silly Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, one of the comedy duo's better bigscreen efforts. Sadly, 1955's Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy failed to recapture the magic of its predecessor and struggles to come up with even one truly memorable sequence.

Fans have been clamouring for these sequels to be released on Blu-ray ever since Universal Pictures unleashed its wonderful Universal Monsters: The Essential Collection boxset back in 2012. The solution it has come up with is a quartet of Complete Legacy Collection packages collecting together all of the appearances by a specific character.

However, as well as repeating films from the original 2012 boxset, the new Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolf Man-themed 'Complete Legacy Collection' Blu-ray bundles all include House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, while the latter two sets also share Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. The Mummy boxset fares better, only sharing the original film with the 2012 package – and yet, ironically, this is the only one where all of the films have also been released simultaneously on separate Blu-rays.

With all of this in mind, we would recommend that fans would be best served picking up the Frankenstein and Mummy sets for the moment. Providing you already have the original 2012 boxset, this will mean that you are only missing Daughter of Dracula and Son of Dracula from the new vampiric Legacy Collection, and the unconnected (but not entirely without merit) Werewolf of London (1935) and She-Wolf of London (1946) that the distributor has used to pad out the Wolf Man set. And presuming that Universal does for these sets what it has done with The Mummy and its sequels, you should hopefully be able to buy both pairs of films as standalone double-feature Blu-rays at some point in the future.

Or: if you don't care about doubling (or tripling)-up on some films, then look online and you can probably pick up these sets with around 40 per cent knocked off the official retail prices quoted below.

Picture: We'll take it as read that fans are already familiar with the Blu-ray presentations of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and The Mummy, as these are the same discs that appeared in the studio's 2012 boxset.

Based on a series of new 4K restorations, the various sequels look equally good. Even the decision to cut costs by squeezing two (or in one case, three) of the films onto a single platter doesn't cause any problems due to their fairly short lengths. The combined running times of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula is just 211 minutes – which is still 16 minutes shorter than Lawrence of Arabia.

The exceptions to the above are Werewolf of London and She-Wolf of London, which are based on older HD masters that still exhibit minor print damage as well as some stability issues.
Dracula: Complete Legacy Collection – 4/5
Frankenstein: Complete Legacy Collection – 4.5/5
The Mummy: Complete Legacy Collection - 4.5/5
The Wolf Man: Complete Legacy Collection – 3.5/5

Audio: All films feature DTS-HD MA dual-mono soundtracks and, for the most part, they've been cleaned up very nicely. The exception (once again) is Werewolf of London, which is not only beset by obvious background hiss and pops, but suffers from a striking drop in the volume level around the 56-minute mark.
Dracula: Complete Legacy Collection – 3.5/5
Frankenstein: Complete Legacy Collection – 3.5/5
The Mummy: Complete Legacy Collection - 3.5/5
The Wolf Man: Complete Legacy Collection – 2.5/5

Extras: The previously released films still sport all of their (superb) bonus features. Sadly, the newcomers fare less well, only offering up trailers – although Son of Frankenstein can't even manage this as the trailer was believed lost until very recently. At least Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein gets its own chat-track and featurette.
Dracula: Complete Legacy Collection – 3/5
Frankenstein: Complete Legacy Collection – 3.5/5
The Mummy: Complete Legacy Collection - 2/5
The Wolf Man: Complete Legacy Collection – 2.5/5

Dracula/Frankenstein/The Mummy/ The Wolf Man: Complete Legacy Collections, Universal Pictures, All-region BD, £50 each

Dracula: The Complete Legacy Collection

Frankenstein: The Complete Legacy Collection

The Mummy: The Complete Legacy Collection

The Wolf Man: The Complete Legacy Collection