How Well Do You Know Universal Monsters?


The horror genre often behaves like so many of its serial killers and monsters – just when you think its dead, a new glut of films breathe new life into it. Trends come and go, and horror tries its damnedest to stay on top of them. The best horror serves as a fun-house mirror of the current real-life fears of society.

But in its earliest days, the genre looked to the past. Old ghost stories and gothic castles with cavernous hallways kept children who snuck into a matinee up at night. The creatures of that era are so well-embedded in pop culture's collective imagination that we can hardly accept new incarnations. Dracula will always be Bela Lugosi stalking the grounds of a decrepit Transylvanian castle with a penetrating stare. Frankenstein's monster, though completely unfaithful to Mary Shelly's novel, will forever be Boris Karloff's stiff, giant shambling frame.

Even adaptations more faithful to the original works are balked at. Kenneth Branaugh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which featured a fully realized intellectual monster played by Robert De Niro was a miserable flop.

Today, we face a new series of films trying to re-invent the monsters. Robert Kurtzman and Robert Orci hope to create an Avengers-esque shared universe known as the Dark Universe and starting with The Mummy this summer. Given that this is the same team that has given us the Transformers franchise, one must be skeptical.

So how well do you know Universal's reign of monsters? Take the quiz to find out.

Question 1

What is considered the last of the Universal Monster films?

The final Universal Monster film was the second feature running alongside the British film The Brides of Dracula. In a way, it can be seen as a passing of the torch; Brides was produced by Hammer Studios, the company that took up the mantle of classic monsters. Christopher Lee had done his first Dracula film and was well on his way to being almost as iconic as Bela Lugosi as Dracula. It's one of a handful of Universal monster films to appear on an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

Question 2

In The Black Cat, why does Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi) hold a grudge against Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff)?

Vitus Werdegast is introduced travelling by train where he sits across from an attractive young couple on their honeymoon. After the carriage they share gets in an accident, he suggest they take refuge in his old friend Poelzig's house - an architectural wonder. Though the two greet each other kindly, there is clearly some animosity between the two. What is revealed in the course of the film is both unexpected and twisted. By the end, both men end up dead.

Question 3

What is the Gill-Man?

The Creature from the Black Lagoon tracks a group of scientists on a geological expedition deep in the Amazon. It's there they encounter the Gill-Man, the last of the famous monsters. But, like so many of Universal's monsters, he really just want to be loved, pining away for Kay Lawrence, assistant to the doctor in charge of the expedition. The film was praised for its groundbreaking underwater photography and creature design. A remake has been in the works for years, passing from director to director.

Question 4

In The Black Cat, how does Werdegast kill Poelzig?

In the course of the film, we learn that Poelzig is also a satanist who did steal Werdegast's bride, only to murder her and keep her in a glass case in the basement. He intends to do the same to the young girl taking refuge in his home that night. Werdegast goes mad and attacks Poelzig. Though the film was pre-code, the violence implied was more extreme than what audiences were used to. Since then, however, numerous directors, writers and artists have included it in their list of best horror films ever made.

Question 5

In Revenge of the Creature, what future superstar has a small bit role?

Revenge of the Creature takes place in a Florida aquarium, where a new group of scientists study him. The plot is strikingly similar to Jaws 3D (Revenge was also shot in 3D), particularly after the creature gets loose. Early in the film, a young assistant appears as a young scientist searching for a lab rat. He is jokingly dressed down by his superior when it turns out it was in his lab coat the entire time. Hilarity does not ensue. This was another MST3k entry.

Question 6

What Universal film has a Spanish version entirely different from the American?

The earliest Universal monster pictures are still considered masterpieces, however many regard the Spanish language version of this film to be superior. It was common then for studios to produce alternative versions of films using the same sets. While director the American director worked during the day, a second filmed the Spanish version at night. The Spanish language director had the advantage of watching the dailies of the work done that afternoon prior to shooting the same scenes. It was cost efficient.

Question 7

Who headed RKO's horror division, designed to compete with Universal's juggernaut?

Universal had cornered the market on monster films, but that didn't stop other studios from trying to capitalize on the craze. In 1942, RKO hired short this man to head up their horror department. They didn't have the budget to compete, so instead they relied on alluring titles like Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie and The Leopard Man. The producer's only limitations were the titles and a strict adherence to a runtime of 70 minutes or less. As a result, he took great liberties with the stories. I Walked With a Zombie is a loose adaptation of Jane Eyre.

Question 8

What film ends in a scene shockingly remniscent of King Kong's conclusion, released a year prior?

After King Kong, the beauty and the beast concept became all the rage in Hollywood, with many films duplicating it. This film is based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe – considered to be the first detective story. Though there is a scene in the film that almost directly translates Poe's story, the rest of the film is its own beast. The end of the film features an ape taking a woman across rooftops, with police firing from below. This was 1932. King Kong was released in 1933.

Question 9

Who played Dracula only twice?

This actor was a successful stage and screen actor long before he appeared as The Count. To this day, his turn in as the night stalker is the gold standard for vampires. His way of menacingly walking, combined with his classic deliver ("I never") and the icy coolness of hypnotic close-ups have never been duplicated or rivaled. The actor, however, resented this. He never intended to be typecast. He would play a vampire other than the Count only once in director Tod Browning's Mark of the Vampire.

Question 10

What event was responsible for the end of Universal's classic monsters?

Universal's classic, gothic monsters had a nearly 30 year run of success in theatres. It created some of the most iconic make-up and performances of any period of horror. After WWII and at the start of the cold war, however, a new fear was settling in the minds of America. Monsters no longer came from remnants and crypts of the past. More current fears begun to be exploited in the horror genre. Universal tried to cash in on recent world events, with marginal success. But the monsters of old were quaint compared to the horrors of the modern world.

Question 11

What scene in Frankenstein was NOT cut from the film in some states?

The ultimate ending of Frankenstein was added later to please Universal. Studios also had no problem with much of the film, but the religious belt of America, as well as parts of the midwest, took issue with a certain event mid-way through the film. It was considered extremely controversial and, though tame by today's standards, is still a fairly shocking occurrence. It does not occur in Mary Shelley's original novel, nor in other adaptations of the film. Kansas, in particular, was appalled.

Question 12

What actor played The Brute Man?

This actor was a soldier and journalist who served in WWI. He was a sportswriter before he was drafted. Soon, a disorder known as acromelagy – an excess in growth hormones – effected his appearance. His hands, feet and skull began to enlarge. Though studios claimed his appearance was the result of exposure to mustard gas during the war, this turned out to be false. He was noticed by a director in 1930 and reluctantly took small roles before he landed the lead as the monster in The Brute Man. His legacy lives on – The Rocketeer features a henchman made up to appear like him, and since 2002 the Classic Horror Awards have been held annually – the statue is his likeness.

Question 13

What Edgar Allen Poe adaptation led to temporary ban on horror films in Britain in 1935?

This film once again pairs Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi as a fugitive on the run from the police and a mad scientist with a torture chamber in his basement, respectively. The theme of torture was too strong for audiences at the time, though studios marketed the picture ingeniously. Pressbooks teased the Poe connection, posing the question, "Was Edgar Allen Poe a mental derelict?" Its extreme violence turned audiences away, and Lugosi was hit hard by the brief death of the genre.

Question 14

How is The Wolfman killed?

In Joe Dante's The Howling, an occult bookstore owner played by Dick Miller has fun with werewolf genre tropes, claiming a lot of them are Hollywood nonsense. This was a comment on how slipshod the subgenre can be with its own rules. The one constant seems to be the fact that silver kills a werewolf. After Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) realizes and succumbs to his fate of lycanthropy, his story approaches tragic proportions, and ultimately the human in him knows he must be destroyed. It is his father (Claude Rains) who ultimately does him in.

Question 15

What was the first well-known Universal Monster to appear onscreen?

The stable of well-known monsters for Universal's heyday is long and far-reaching. It all started, however, with an adaptation of this novel. Though there was a silent adaptation in 1921, this is considered my many to be the first. The film, however, is less an adaptation of the novel but instead of the 1924 stage play. Both share similarities, however the film compresses events of the play, combining characters and shortening incidents. After its success, Universal began mass producing other gothic adaptations at breakneck speed.

Question 16

According to the well-known poem from the film, what season can the wolfman transform?

The poem, said in the film to be an ancient legend, was in fact a creation by screenwriter Curt Siodmak. The poem appeared in nearly every Wolfman film under the Universal banner. There are changes to classic lycanthrope legend as well. The Wolfman is not only able to transform under a full moon, but when wolfbane blooms. Sequels, however, imply or make it clear the full moon is at least indirectly related. Later films featuring werewolves, even today, continue to play and tweak the legend.

Question 17

What was the first monster pair up?

Reportedly, the idea of pairing up two monsters and having them duke it out was based on a joke Siodmak made in passing. The first pairing was released in 1943. Like many team ups that have since followed, it was viewed as a cynical cash-in, a silly, contrived plot that lead to an absurd outcome. The team ups have paid tribute to the original however. In both Alien Vs. Predator and Freddy Vs. Jason, characters are shown watching the film on television in early scenes.

Question 18

What Universal Monster was shot in 3D?

3D was first a major trend in the 1950s and has since gone through several different, brief fads. In both the 1950s and 1980s, the gimmick was treated as such – there was rarely a good reason to throw things at the camera other than to show off the technology. The most obvious example of this is in 1953's House of Wax, in which a bit character stars playing with a paddle ball right at the camera. Rarely did 3D have anything to do with the plot. The new IMAX 3D, however, has tried harder to incorporate it organically, for better or worse.

Question 19

What Universal Monster film was decried for its simplified depiction of Eastern culture?

This film was accused of "othering" – the act of portraying other cultures as superstitious, less advanced lifeforms. The accusations aren't without merit, but audiences then didn't even know what whitewashing was. The film owed a lot of its success to recent events occurring on the other side of the world, but never bothered to explore the culture beyond making them extremely superstitious and uneducated. The film has since been remade several times, and the cultural blinders seem to still be on.

Question 20

In how many films did Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi appear together?

Karloff was largely unknown before he took the lead role in Frankenstein. He was hailed as the master of make-up, rarely acting without it. Lugosi was already an established actor prior to Dracula. Universal played their rivalry up in the press, but it was by most accounts a friendly one. The two even joined forces after The Raven to promote the Screen Actor's Guild, petitioning co-stars to join them. According to Lugosi's family, Martin Landau's Oscar-winning portrayal of Lugosi as a bitter morphine addict who harboured a deep hatred for his rival in Ed Wood is entirely inaccurate.

Question 21

How is The Creature from the Black Lagoon killed?

It could be argued that the Gill-Man is never killed, as the final film in the trilogy, The Creature Walks Among Us, shows the creature finally walking back into the ocean, this time alive and well. In the original film, however, the Gill-Man kidnaps the object of his affection, only to be taken down. He appears dead at the end of the film, floating lifeless underwater. In Revenge, however, this is retconned to show that he is knocked out by a gas and taken to Florida. After he rampages through the aquarium and heads for the ocean, he is again killed.

Question 22

How is Imhotep the Mummy destroyed?

After Imhotep has wandered modern Egypt in disguise for years, he kidnaps who he believes to be the re-incarnation of his deceased, his intention is to mummify her, bringing his love back. He intends to use the Scroll of Thoth to do perform the ritual. The scroll is entirely fictional, though inspired by the Book of the Dead. Thoth is known as the Egyptian God of Knowledge. There is also no evidence that ancient Egyptians believed in re-incarnation through mummification.

Question 23

In the upcoming remakes, set in the Dark Universe, who is tapped to play Frankenstein's Monster?

After The Mummy, the next film slated is Bride of Frankenstein, skipping over the original and, thus, an origin story. This actor is set to play the monster. Angelina Jolie is the studio's first choice for the Bride. The film is to be written by Spider-Man and Jurassic Park scribe David Koepp. So far, at least casting-wise, this is the best news the Dark Universe has offered. The actor's towering frame makes him perfect for the role. Assuming the Universe gets that far.

Question 24

Who will play Dr. Jekyll?

Javier Bardem passed on the role of Dr. Jekyll. This actor took it on and will appear in The Mummy. According to producers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, Jekyll will serve as the Nick Fury of the shard universe – the character responsible for bringing the various monsters together. A recent featurette released online has shown that Jekyll will, at some point, transform into Mr. Hyde – though the make-up on display is less than impressive. It could just be an incomplete effect - one would hope.

Question 25

Who will play the Invisible Man?

This actor has been selected for the role of Dr. Jack Griffin, who falls victim to his own experiment with invisibility. The script is to be written by Ed Solomon. The actor's willingness to undergo heavy make-up and bizarre, eccentric performances suggest the film could go either way. Nevertheless, if the Dark Universe makes it this far, it's one of the more interesting prospects that Kurtzman and Orci have offered. It's dependent on the success of The Mummy. Here's hoping it pays off.

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