I Rank the Universal Monsters

Today I watched The Invisible Man’s Revenge from 1944, and with that, I have FINALLY watched EVERY movie featuring one of the classic Universal Monsters. I have no excuse for the fact that it has taken so long. I have deep, deep shame. But hey, I did it! And now that I’ve FINALLY absorbed every film in their assorted franchises, I’m going to rank them from my favorite to least favorite. Absolutely nobody will care about this ranking except me, but I’m going to share it anyway:

1: Frankenstein. Not a surprise, I’m sure. Everyone knows how much I love Boris Karloff as the monster. Many people probably also know that I consider Bride of Frankenstein to be Universal’s finest monster movie. And anybody who has ever talked to me for more than 17 seconds has probably heard me ramble on about the fact that Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is one of my five favorite movies of all time. Of course this was going to be on top.

2. The Wolf-Man. Lon Chaney Jr. only got one solo film as the Wolf-Man, but he went on to play the character in several “monster rally” films. He’s the only Universal Monster to have a consistent performer throughout the entire franchise, and he’s a wonderfully tragic figure at that. He’s just such a great character.

3. The Invisible Man. Pound for pound, the Invisible Man films are really entertaining, and the special effects are wonderful for the time period. The franchise is hurt a bit by the fact that there is NO consistency in the performer, that most of the films make no attempt at continuity with one another, and that two of them (The Invisible Woman and The Invisible Agent) make no pretense at being monster movies at all, but rather a romantic comedy and a World War II action movie, respectively. But the ones that are good (that would be the original, The Invisible Man Returns, and The Invisible Man’s Revenge) are REALLY good.

4. Dracula. This series would be higher than the Invisible Man if I was only judging by Bela Lugosi’s performance, but Lugosi only played the count twice: in the original and in the aforementioned Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The other actors who played the Count in the other films (even the beloved Lon Chaney Jr.) were…lacking. However, the franchise does get bonus points for the other 1931 Dracula film – the Spanish language version that was made on the same sets as the Lugosi movie at night after director Tod Browning wrapped for the day. The Spanish crew watched Browning’s dailies and made adjustments, often improvements, when filming their own scenes. The resultant film is not as well-known as the Lugosi movie, but may be even better.

5. The Mummy. I must stress here, I am ONLY speaking about the original series from the 1930s and 40s, not the Brendan Fraser series. That would be higher. But while The Mummy series started well, it got very repetitive very fast. The writers also got lazy after a while, not really trying to keep the films consistent with one another. For example, the Mummy rises from the grave after “decades” in two subsequent films, yet they still all took place in the 1940s. Then there was poor Lon Chaney Jr., who played the Mummy in the final few films and, frankly, was sleepwalking through them.

6. The Creature From the Black Lagoon. I should tell you, in case there is any question, that there is no Universal Monster I actually dislike, but somebody’s gotta come in last. The Creature’s trilogy is a fun burst of energy from Universal in the 50s, one last success at creating an iconic character long after the other franchises had been put to bed, but it was never as compelling to me as the others. The Creature comes across as more mindless, driven by pure instinct. It’s neither a beast driven by anguish or anger, and as such, I never really felt for him. It wasn’t until The Shape of Water (not an official Creature film, but come on, we all know) that this archetype really hit for me.


So that’s what I think about these guys. I love ‘em all, I do, and I’m terribly sad that Universal’s various attempts to bring them back in recent years have all fallen flat. I’m going to say it again: the best thing to do would be to bring back Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz as the O’Connells and use them as the cornerstone of a new Universal Monsterverse. But what do I know? All I did was watch all the dang things.

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure seriesOther People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. There are ghosts in it, if you like that kind of thing.

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How I would handle Universal’s “Dark Universe”

Universal doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do with its classic monsters. And while many would argue that we don’t really need a “Dark Universe” connecting them all, the monster rally movies did the shared universe before it was cool, and damn it, I want to see them do it again. So as often seems to happen, I’ve spent too much time thinking about how I would write stories for a property I do not own and could never officially write, and what the hell, I may as well share the ideas with you. 

First of all, you don’t start from scratch. You go back to what has already worked. And that means we gotta start with Brendan Fraser. Because everybody loves him and his Mummy movies are the best use of the Universal Monsters since the Creature From the Black Lagoon’s first splash. We canonize his films, as well as the Hugh Jackman Van Helsing, which had the same director and planned for them to be connected in the first place. 

So here’s what we do. It’s 1953. Rick O’Connell has long since retired. He and Evie are living a good life somewhere quiet, with a library for her to tend, their family to enjoy, and most importantly… no mummies.

Until the day a tour of artifacts from the Egyptian museum comes to town. 

Rick is reluctant, but Evie convinces him it would be fun to go and look at the artifacts for old times’ sake. As they do so, their young granddaughter Elsa happens across some hieroglyphics that have thus far evaded translation. The youngest O’Connell, however, has inherited both her grandmother’s brilliance and her grandfather’s recklessness, and quickly solves the inscription. As she does so, the mummy traveling as part of the exhibit awakens. The O’Connells flee, barely making it out alive and rushing back to Evie’s library to try to figure out exactly what little Elsa said. When they arrive, however, they find a young woman, packed to the gills with weapons and arcane artifacts, has broken into their home and is waiting for them.

Her name, she says, is Van Helsing. She is the latest in a long line of monster-slayers, and they’ve been keeping an eye on the O’Connells ever since that business with Imhotep. This new Mummy, like Imhotep, was a high priest. However, he found something far more powerful than anything Imhotep ever touched upon… the power of belief. The arcane and supernatural forces in the world are fueled by the belief that humans have in them – the more people who believe in them, the more powerful they grow. And the newest Mummy, awakened by Elsa’s careless words, has woken up to a world in which a new form of communication is in ascendance… television.

The Mummy visits a local carnival and manipulates the belief in the freakshow to bring two new acolytes to life: a wolfman and a gillman. Together, they take over a television station, preparing for that night’s big broadcast of the most popular television program of the age, I Love Lucy. The Mummy’s plan is to force someone at the network to break into the show with live footage of the monsters, showing millions of people the truth of their existence at once. The O’Connells and Van Helsing have to chase them down, having an adventure across the city fighting monsters of all types, trying to get to the broadcast headquarters before the truth of the monsters’ existence becomes so widespread that it will be impossible to get it back into the bottle. 

But they’re too late.

The broadcast goes out and, as people at home see the terrifying power of the Mummy and his minions, their power begins to grow. All over the world we see glimpses of creatures waking up – an enormous golem-like corpse in Eastern Europe begins moving, a malformed creature in France begins softly singing, the heir to the Griffin family finds traces of his ancestor’s legendary formula. All is lost.

Until Elsa commandeers the camera, reading off the cue cards to begin the planned live commercial for the evening. As she does so, people at home start to laugh at their own fear, realizing that they’ve just been watching a TV show, none of it is real. As they do so, the Mummy’s power fades, collapses, until the O’Connells and Van Helsing manage to slay the monsters in a triumphant finish. 

The world is safe again.

Until we see a tall, thin man watching the broadcast from somewhere else. He is as fiendishly handsome as he is evil-looking, and as he watches, he strokes his chin, pondering the possibilities of what he has witnessed. After planning all night, he notices that the sun is about to rise, and so he slips into his coffin, and closes the lid. 

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. If anyone reading this happens to be an executive for Universal Studios, you should know that he will work cheap.