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Universal Classic Monsters: Icons Of Horror Collection (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Finally, the OGs of cinematic horror, the Universal Classic Monsters, are seeing their time in the…moonlight…for the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray format. The original outings of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monsters, the Invisible Man and the Wolf Man arrived in the Icons Of Horror Collection on October 5th. Typically they’ve unleashed a bigger set for their debut, holding out on The Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Phantom of the Opera and The Creature From the Black Lagoon this time out. Hopefully they are still to come. But, the good news is Spanish Dracula snuck its way on here AND its in 4K Ultra-HD. So this set may boast 4 movies, but in reality it is 5. All previous bonus features are carried over and found on the 4K discs. If you find this review skimpy, its because I’ve covered the monsters plenty before in my writings. If you’re wanting some more detailed stuff you can find it on Why So Blu or my old blog Naptown Nerd. You can order yourself a copy of this set using the paid Amazon Associates link below.

Dracula (1931)

Tod Browning’s film began a phenomenon that has seen itself repeated in different ways through history. Its a stone-cold horror legend. Dracula was a landmark film that changed everything. Helping to take it above and beyond was its leading man, Bela Lugosi in the title role. His scenery chewing performance is iconic, to the point where kids who don’t even know this movie will probably do a Dracula impression cribbing his Hungarian accent. Not to be overlooked, but the Dwight Frye performance of Renfield is amazing descent into insanity. The film is a beauty to look at, a Gothic dreamlike atmosphere. Still spooky to this day. The introduction to the dungeon beneath his castle, with Dracula’s brides rising from their coffins and leering toward the camera is still creepy and to this day.

Spanish Dracula (1931)

Not to be overlooked, is the 1931 Spanish version of Dracula. Attached as a bonus feature here, it is quite an amusing discovery and interesting piece of study. For those unfamiliar, at this time in filmmaking, instead of dubbing a foreign language track for films, studios would sometimes just hire in an entirely separate cast and crew to film on the same sets with the same script for a foreign territory. Here is an example of that. Right off the bat, this film’s only weakness is Dracula himself. Lugosi blows this guy out of the water. Outside of that, the technique, camera movement and deliveries are mostly improvements or interesting alternatives to the Tod Browning film. The Spanish production had the advantage of watching to English dailies and seeing what would and wouldn’t work or seeking a different angle or line delivery as opposed to what they did. There is a much more active camera here, utilizing dolly movements and more. This version also uses the whole script and runs itself much longer than the more known version. Everyone agrees Lugosi is the best Count Dracula of the two actors, but many believe the Spanish film to be the better crafted of the two.

Video

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are taken from the standard Blu-ray disc, not the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.35:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: Dracula looks plenty astonishing in its debut on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray. Its an unbelievably crisp image with a gorgeous layer of grain intact featuring loads of detail and depth. It looks like a work of art in motion. Spanish Dracula looks immaculate in itself, but by nature of the condition of the source or dedication to the restoration, its a little bit of a step down from this. Regardless, both looks stunning on the format.

Depth:  Here’s possibly the most impressive nature of this new disc. Tod Browning’s film almost looks like you’re watching 3D without glasses. There’s a lot of depth and scale that comes off in grand fashion. Movements are smooth and filmic in appearance. No issues with motion distortions apparent.

Black Levels: Blacks are natural and quite lovely in its many shades, tints and the like. No issues come with hiding any sorts of information. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: N/A

Flesh Tones: Skin tones have nice shades and mixes of white and gray and are consistent from start to finish of the film. Skin textures and features are quite apparent from any reasonable distance with impressive things filling through the frame.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA, French 2.0 DTS, Spanish (Castilian) 2.0 Mono DTS, German 2.0 Mono DTS, Italian 2.0 Mono DTS

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin America), Chinese, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Japanese

Dynamics: Dracula returns its lossless mono track found on the Blu-ray version for its 4K debut. It also retains the version with the Philip Glass score performed by the Kronos Quartet. Its a very admirable restoration, though those who love tons of polish and cleanliness may not appreciate the analog hiss and pop present in the mix.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and as good as you could wish with a full sound through some analog hiss and pop.

Frankenstein (1931)

My personal favorite monster of this group, Frankenstein’s, was the film that took the good will and acclaim of Dracula and then exploded with popularity. Mary Shelley’s story didn’t follow the book to a T, but all elements would always be mined from in the films. The monster was given a brilliant performance from Boris Karloff (Billed only as “Karloff”), that only finds much meaning and appreciation over time. Its an incredibly spooky film and a thrilling study of power, obsession and madness while at the same time about struggling to understand one’s self and battling to fit in world that fears you. Frankenstein’s monster is a rageful being, and one that the other monsters like The Mummy and Gill-man would borrow from. If anything, this is a very primal beginning of what would become the 80s teen slasher villain monster. Today, James Whale’s film is just as haunting, scary and thoughtful (Maybe even moreso) as it was in 1931. A quick aside, I like to show my children classic horror films after Trick or Treating on Halloween. I attempted this one when he was 3 and we had to shut it off and switch to Dracula (Which he’d never seen) because the look of it frightened him. He fell in love with Dracula and then went back to investigate this one and has become obsessed with the monsters (Big Gill-man fan, he is).

Video

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are taken from the standard Blu-ray disc, not the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.35:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: Frankenstein drops in on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray with an impressive transfer, as is par for the course for these titles. The image contains a lot of detail and a well rounded image that is just beautiful to look at. Its been a magnificent journey watching this, and the others, grow from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray and now to immaculate 4K presentations that you have to wonder if the original film prints even looked this good.

Depth:  Pretty impressive depth on display here, really opening up sets like the laboratory and Frankenstein home. They look large and wide with nice push back. Motion is filmic and natural with no issues of blur or jitter.

Black Levels: Black levels are a beautiful contrast to the whites, crafting together with different shades. Shadows, tints and different levels of dark craft a haunting gothic image. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: N/A

Flesh Tones:  The skin tones keep a nice gray/white mixture to things and maintain a consistent appearance from start to finish of the film. Details and facial information impresses and it strongest in close ups and medium shots.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA, French 2.0 DTS, Spanish (Castilian) 2.0 DTS, German 2.0 DTS, Italian 2.0 DTS

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin American), Chinese, German, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Japanese

Dynamics: Frankenstein‘s audio remains the mono track that was presented in lossless form back on the standard Blu-ray. And that’s absolutely fine as its a pretty genuine, analog hiss and pops included, representation of the film. You’ve known what to expect from this and its a classy little way to accompany watching the film.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are quite audible and clear around the analog hiss and pop still present in the source.

The Invisible Man (1933)

James Whale not only gave us Frankenstein, but he’s the guy who launched The Invisible Man as well. This film still is impressive on a technical level and quite the marvel for its time.  It has probably our most unique protagonist(?) of all the monsters as he’s a bit of a tough pill to swallow. That’s just the character we have to be with, actor Claude Raines is brilliant in the role. There are things here with the film, maybe because its Whale at the helm, that start making the monster films feel a little redundant. Ideas, themes, scenes, characters and plot beats that all feel a little familiar and as if they’ve been done in the past. Considering we have a completely different situation, its odd, but its there. Regardless, this film still delivers, still is iconic and still wows with its special effects. This story would prove one of the most influential, as the film would be “remade” exactly per se, but a lot of films would grab inspiration from both its concepts and ideas.

Video

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are taken from the standard Blu-ray disc, not the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.35:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: The Invisible Man debuts on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray with another very great image, though maybe a hair of a step away from its counterparts. There’s still a lot of impressive things going on, including the snowfall and many of the rustic sets loading your eyes with texture and detail.

Depth:  Pretty solid depth on display here, though not as big and grand as the other three films in the set. Movements are smooth and natural with no issues of motion distortion.

Black Levels: Black levels work strong, with good flourishes to contrast and add good saturation abound for every frame. Fine information impressively comes through and no crushing occurs.

Color Reproduction: N/A

Flesh Tones: Skin tones have that gray and white look to them with no inconsistencies scene to scene for the whole film. Facial features and textures are quite apparent in any reasonable frame distance.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA, French 2.0 Mono DTS, Spanish (Castilian) 2.0 Mono DTS, German 2.0 Mono DTS

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin Amercian), Chinese, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Japanese

Dynamics: Again, no changes on the audio in this upgrade of The Invisible Man. But there was fine work to begin with. There’s good depth and layering in this mix among the analog hiss. Sound effects and such bring this to life and they rather mix in the Claude Rains vocals to a degree of feeling right at home with the actors in camera.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and carry good measure in a track that has a base layer of analog hiss to it.

The Wolf Man (1941)

While not the first werewolf in the Universal run of monster movies, he’s the one that landed. There was a film in the early 1930s called Werewolf of London, terrific in its own way, that came and went. But in 1941, with the advent of dynamite make up from Jack Pierce, the werewolf really became legendary when Lon Chaney, Jr. breathed life into it. A truly tragic and heartbreaking performance, the film really showcases his turmoil and battle with the unfortunate circumstances that have become him. Seriously, everything sucks for Larry Talbot. Not that he was that great of a guy before he returned to his hometown, but he seemed to be wanting to make things better in his life. The film really makes the wolf a force to be reckoned with and a sheer vision of terror. Lugosi even pops up here as another memorable side character, though  more of a cameo in the film. There would only be one more solo Universal werewolf movie down the line that had really nothing to do with this, called She-Wolf of London.

Video

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are taken from the standard Blu-ray disc, not the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.35:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: Granted, The Wolf Man is a bit of a younger film than the others, but its still of a certain age. The image is very crisp, clean and quite lovely. It has that 3D look to it that Dracula does as I mentioned above. There’s a light layer of grain and the details on here, especially wolf hair follicles, are quite remarkable.

Depth:  Depth of field and push back is quite impressive, especially in many of the forest sequences. There are things all about and camera dollies to flaunt how rich it is. Movements are filmic and smooth with no issues regarding motion distortions.

Black Levels: Blacks are quite natural and deep here. Its a lovely, intoxicating feature of shadows and nighttime sequences that hold strong in this image. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: N/A

Flesh Tones: Skin tones again have the gray/white blend and are consistent from start to finish of the film. Perhaps of all the films, you can make out details and facial textures the best.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA, French 2.0 Mono DTS, Spanish (Castilian) 2.0 Mono DTS, Spanish (Latin American) 2.0 Mono DTS, German 2.0 Mono DTS, Italian 2.0 Mono DTS

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin American), Chinese, German, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Japanese

Dynamics: The Wolf Man retains its original lossless mono track. This one features a much cleaner sound than its predecessor. Though, it does have a more faint analog hiss as a base layer for everything. Its a nice balanced blend of effects, vocals and music that really drives a nice, effective viewing experience for a film that is 80 years old.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp.

Extras

Universal Classic Monsters: Icons Of Horror Collection which also includes the standard Blu-ray edition for each film and a redeemable digital copy code.

Dracula

Audio Commentary

  • With Film Historian David J. Skal
  • With Steve Haberman, Screenwriter of Dracula: Dead And Loving It

Alternate Score By Philip Glass, Performed By The Kronos Quartet

Spanish Version Introduction By Lupita Tovar Kohner (HD, 4:15)

The Road To Dracula (HD, 35:02) 

Lugosi: The Dark Prince (HD, 36:06)

Dracula: The Restoration (HD, 8:46)

Dracula Archives (HD, 9:11)

Trailer Gallery (HD, 9:40)

Monster Tracks

Frankenstein

Audio Commentary

  • With Film Historian Rudy Behlmer
  • With Historian Sir Christopher Frayling

The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made A Monster (HD, 44:50)

Karloff: The Gentle Monster (HD, 37:57)

Universal Horror (HD, 1:35:20)

Frankenstein Archives (HD, 9:24)

Boo!: A Short Film (HD, 9:29)

Trailer Gallery (HD, 11:28)

100 Years Of Universal: Restoring The Classics (HD, 9:13)

Monster Tracks

The Invisible Man

Audio Commentary

  • With Film Historian Rudy Behlmer

Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed! (HD, 35:19) 

Production Photographs (HD, 4:28)

Trailer Gallery (HD, 5:46)

100 Years Of Universal: Unforgettable Characters (HD, 8:19)

The Wolf Man

Audio Commentary

  • With Film Historian Tom Weaver

Monster By Moonlight (HD, 32:36)

The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse To Modern Myth (HD, 10:07)

Pure In Heart: The Life And Legacy Of Lon Chaney Jr. (HD, 36:51)

He Who Made Monsters: The Life And Art Of Jack Pierce (HD, 25:00)

The Wolf Man Archives (HD, 6:44)

Trailer Gallery (HD, 10:56)

100 Years Of Universal: The Lot (HD, 9:27)

Summary

As one could have assumed, the Universal Classic Monsters debut on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray with the Icons Of Horror Collection is absolutely wonderful. Nothing new here in terms of extras or sound, but the restorations look even more stunning than before. Black and white on 4K Ultra-HD is truly something special as we are coming to find out. If you’re a fan, you obviously want to upgrade (And it is an upgrade). The only nit pick here being that you wish that it would have included more than just 4 (actually 5) movies.

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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