Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review: 'The Monster Movies of Universal Studios'


When I was a Monster Kid, there was nothing I liked to check out from the school library better than books about classic horror movies. They gave you the basic rundown of what made flicks like Dracula and The Wolf Man so boss and delivered plenty of B&W photos to back it up. Today, works such as Gary D. Rhodes’s Tod Browning’s Dracula and David J. Skal’s The Monster Show take a more scholarly and/or critical look at the classics. The Monster Movies of Universal Studios falls somewhere between the kids and film criticism library shelves.

Author James L. Neibaur zips though the 29 movies he covers too swiftly for the book to qualify as scholarship, and his writing is simple enough for any Monster Kid to grasp (Neibaur is an Encyclopedia Britannica contributor, and his affectless writing would not be out of place in an encyclopedia), but he does make room in each roughly 5-to-10 page chapter to get into a bit of plot synopsis, a bit of criticism, and a bit of background history. For those of us who’ve consumed what’s already out there, chapters on well-examined films such as Dracula and The Wolf Man are redundant, but ones on items such as The Invisible Woman and The Mummy’s Tomb are fresher—if not exactly revelatory— and more likely to stimulate Neibaur’s critical side. That latter observation is not a sly criticism of Neibaur, since the Monster Kid in me appreciates his unabashed love of Dracula, a delightful film too often run down in contemporary criticism, and since analysis is not the author’s primary goal.

Neibaur limits his discussions to films that deal with the big six monsters of Universal (or Universale, as he repeatedly spells it for some reason) —Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and The Creature—which means that both Chaney and Rains’s Phantoms and Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde get left out of the chat, as do non-Monster horrors such as The Black Cat and The Old Dark House. So The Monster Movies of Universal Studios isn’t exactly the definitive book on the topic, but I bet some modern-day Monster Kids might still enjoy checking it out of their own school libraries.
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