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By Paul J. Salamoff | May 19, 2004

I know this might sound a little odd, but thank God for Van Helsing!!! Why? Because if it wasn’t for this film, we wouldn’t have three of the best DVDs released this year.

I give credit to the marketing Department at Universal for dreaming up this tie-in as a way of promoting their summer tent-pole flick. They have given us the definitive collections of three of the cinema’s classic Horror franchises: Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. Packaged as The Legacy Collection, These three handsome 2-disc sets encompass the entire breadth of these origins of classic horror.

Growing up, I saw most of these films Saturday mornings on Creature Double Feature (channel 56 in Boston). Unfortunately, they pretty much stuck to showing only the venerable classics and every once and a while they’d throw you a bone with “Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein”. Also, to say that quality of the presentation left a little to be desired is an understatement. So, because of these collections, I finally got to see some of these films for the first time.

Say what you will about the lapses of continuity between films and the reoccurring “motifs” (if I see another angry mob burns something owned by a relative or a neighbor of Victor Frankenstein, I’m gonna start torching things myself), these films have genuine charm. This made it a pleasure to immerse myself in each collection and track the progression of some of these franchises.

Frankenstein: The Legacy Collection also includes the superior “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935), “Son of Frankenstein” (1939), “Ghost of Frankenstein” (1942) and “House of Frankenstein” (1944).

We all know that “Bride” is considered the creme de la creme of all the Universal Monster pix, but special props have got to be given to “Son of Frankenstein”. At a running time of almost 100 minutes, it is by far the longest of the group. This gives the movie time to breathe and develop as well as allows the viewer ample time to take in the marvelous sets and german-expresionist lighting style. But really, how can you go wrong with the addition of Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi who steals the movie as the revengeful Ygor. My only complaints with the Frankenstein Films are that the monster seems less and less physically involved as the sequels pile up (He barely gets 5 minutes of “wakey” time in “Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman,” which is a Frankenstein flick, no matter how many times Chaney howls at the moon) and Victor keeps acquiring progeny who evidently don’t speak to each other about their plans to further sully their namesake’s already spotty reputation.

The Wolf Man: The Legacy Collection also contains “Werewolf of London” (1935), “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” (1943) and “She-Wolf of London” (1946).

The Wolfman will always be one of my personal favorites because of the truly atmospheric settings and the way Lon Chaney Jr., in full Jack Pierce make-up, skulks about the fog-drenched woods is truly badass. What was of particular interest in the Legacy collection was seeing “She-Wolf of London” and especially “Werewolf of London”.

I had forgotten that Universal had made a werewolf film prior to “The Wolfman”. Unfortunately, the “Werewolf of London” is a little on the dull side and if it wasn’t for Warner Orland’s menacing performance as the nemesis of Henry Hull’s cursed biologist, I probably would have just skipped through it. It’s interesting to note that the invention of the gypsy curse and the silver bullets did not appear until “The Wolfman” in which they truly began to solidify the Werewolf mythology as we know it today.

The Dracula: The Legacy Collection also contains the Spanish version of “Dracula” (1931), “Dracula’s Daughter” (1936), “Son of Dracula” (1943) and “House of Dracula” (1945).

To be honest with you, I was a little intrigued by the Spanish version of “Dracula”. Not only is it filmed with the same sets and an identical script, its running time is almost a half hour longer! (When does that ever happen, “Exorcist: The Beginning” not withstanding). After viewing it, I’ve got to be honest and say it was not too bad. I’ve never been a big fan of the original “Dracula”, so this was fun to watch and it seemed to have a better look and visual style.

As far as the other three sequels, “Dracula’s Daughter” had some creepy moments (as well as a dollop of lesbian subtext), “Son of Dracula” was a tad too campy for my tastes, and “House of Dracula” (the last of the Universal classic monster movies before they turned them into parody Abbott & Costello style) is a little more coherent and it’s always a treat when you get all three monsters in one flick.

Each of these sets includes comprehensive documentaries, insightful commentaries by noted film historians, trailers and a new featurette hosted by director Stephen Summers on how each iconic Monster “inspired” his film Van Helsing.

For those of you who bought the original releases of the Universal Monsters DVDs (I am included amongst you) know that Universal Home Video has gone out of their way to make re-buying these worthwhile. Not only have they done an exceptional job packaging the collections (being a DVD packaging w***e, I appreciate the care that was taken and the superb graphic quality of the sets), they are reasonably priced at under $30.00 a piece. The fact that you get, not only the original masterpieces, but all the sequels, more than justifies the re-buy.

The sound for “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” and “The Wolf Man” has also been remastered for these sets and sounded incredible on my top of the line Bose surround system.

The Legacy Collections are a must for any fan of Horror movies or classic cinema. As for me, I’ll certainly be saving some space on my shelf for “The Mummy: The Legacy Collection,” “The Invisible Man: The Legacy Collection” and “The Creature From The Black Lagoon: The Legacy Collection” (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink Universal Home Video).

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