Escaping a monster takes guts. It takes strategy. It takes … a lot of garlic, at least for one bloodsucking creature of the night. Many more villains would gladly swallow you whole — seasoned or not.
The classic monsters we know today were introduced to American audiences on the big screen in the 1930s, when the country was looking for its own escape from the social and economic suffering of the Great Depression.
Fortunately for humankind, the writers and actors who brought these original cinematic spine-chillers to life also showed us all how to defeat them. Here’s a guide, in case you need to take on Dracula or wallop a Wolf Man this spooky season.
Dracula: The Quintessential Vampire
Dracula, a centuries-old vampire, was portrayed by Bela Lugosi as a charismatic and affable nobleman. With the power to transform into a bat, control minds and feed on the blood of the living, he is an enduring symbol of immortality and allure.
Dracula is known for his fear of sunlight, his ability to create other vampires and his intimate bites to the necks of his victims. Lugosi, who played Dracula, had a magnetic gaze that especially captivated female audiences at the time.
Frankenstein’s Monster: The Tragic Creation
Crafted by Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the Monster is a reanimated corpse pieced together from body parts. Boris Karloff portrayed him as a tragic and misunderstood figure, a robust being with limited speech who only wanted to be accepted and understood by humans. Despite a tremendous dose of makeup, Karloff found a way to communicate this deep tenderness — as well as fury.
The Mummy: The Past Resurrected
Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian priest brought back to life and wielding supernatural powers, yearns to reunite with his lost love. Wrapped in burial linens and fresh off his performance as Frankenstein’s Monster, Karloff plays Imhotep as another tragic figure with a taste for vengeance. Karloff spent about eight hours in the makeup chair to complete the look, yet only one scene in the movie shows him wrapped from head to toe.
The Wolf Man: The Inner Struggle
The Wolf Man grapples with a curse that transforms him into a ferocious creature during a full moon. This metamorphosis brings heightened strength, agility and an appetite for flesh. The character, portrayed by Lon Chaney Jr., explores the depths of inner turmoil and the battle between human and animal instincts. “The Wolf Man” was released in 1941, following Universal’s box-office flop “Werewolf of London” in 1935.
The Invisible Man: Unbridled Power and Isolation
Jack Griffin, a scientist who discovers a formula for invisibility, descends into madness and criminal behavior. As an unseen threat, he represents the consequences of unbridled power and isolation. The movie, which starred Claude Rains and is based on a novel by H.G. Wells, earned an Oscar nomination for its special effects.
Each of these monsters possesses unique characteristics, powers and vulnerabilities that represent different facets of the human condition and tap into the fear of the unknown.
To uncover the truth in the shadows, visual journalist Manuel Canales enlisted the help of a few brave souls. Javier Pulido, a horror cinema expert, advised on the details of this chilling cast of creatures. Julie Vitkovskaya, Chiqui Esteban, Bonnie Berkowitz and Jeremy Hester edited these terrifying truths. The book “Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror” by Michael Mallory provided more reference to these nightmarish entities.