U is for Universal
Universal was always the poor man’s studio that churned out B Pictures. MGM had the stars; and the high-end productions; Warner Bros. had the social conscience and pretty much created the crime thriller; Fox had the quality melodramas.
Universal had Dracula. And Frankenstein’s monster. And the Wolf Man. And the Mummy.
The creature features became a staple of the studio, and were profitable enough to justify sequel after sequel.
Eventually the monsters began showing up in each other’s franchises.
Eventually, when the series became dull enough, or they’d beaten the dead horse for too long, they tried crossovers with Abbott & Costello.
The studio was founded in 1912 and during the Silent Era it was home to many of Valentino’s films. Visionary producer Irving Thalberg got his start there, and before its cycle of horror movies, the studio was actually known for prestige dramas like All Quiet on the Western Front.
But the box-office success of horror films like Dracula and Frankenstein ensured that – in spite of those films’ artistic merits – the studio would always be associated with relatively low-budget shlock.
While many actors participated in Universal’s horror flicks – including Claude Rains and Elsa Lanchester – three names will forever be associated with the genre: Bela Lugosi (Dracula); Boris Karloff (Frankenstein’s monster); and Lon Chaney Jr (The Wolf Man).
*An earlier version of this post erroneously included King Kong among Universal’s monsters. The great ape was in fact at RKO