The Original Monster Squad – Tearing it up 1930s Style

Deadly Movies | Connections

Back in the 1930s and 40s Universal Studios assembled a collective stable to be reckoned with, often mimicked but never matched, these were the Universal Monster Squad. Comprising of Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, The Wolfman, and (to a lesser extent) The Invisible Man, these guys knocked out over 11 movies in under a decade and ruled the gothic horror box-office. Each of these iconic literary and movie icons will forever be remembered and attached to the actors that made them synonymous with terror: Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster, Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, and Lon Chaney Jr as The Wolfman. However synonymous these actors are with their respective characters, there existed a fair amount of role-reversal-musical-chairs. By the time the 40s came around you could walk into a cinema and see the unthinkable; Bela Lugosi as The Monster, Lon Chaney Jr as Dracula, Karloff in a Frankenstein movie but not as The Monster. There was a strange playfulness to the swapping of these roles, one that makes revisiting the Universal Horror’s an extra special experience. Let’s have a look at who played what and when:

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The Originals:

Frankenstein (1931): Starring Boris Karoff as The Monster

Dracula (1931): Starring Bela Lugosi as Dracula

The Wolf Man (1941): Starring Lon Chaney Jr as The Wolf Man (also featuring Claude Rains aka The Invisible Man 1933 and The Phantom of The Opera 1943)

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The Straight-up Sequel:

Bride of Frankenstein (1935): Boris Karloff returns as The Monster

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The Crossovers:

Son of Frankenstein (1939): Boris Karloff appears for the final time as The Monster, Bela Lugosi appears in a Frankenstein movie for the first time as hapless assistant Ygor.

The Kansas City Shufflers:

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942): Lon Chaney Jr swaps The Wolf Man for the title role of The Monster, Bela Lugosi reprieves his role as Ygor.

Son of Dracula (1943): Lon Chaney Jr wasn’t contempt with playing The Wolf Man and The Monster, he now has a stab at Dracula, and boy does he look like a weird Dracula.

Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943): Hold onto your hats it’s getting complicated. Lon Chaney Jr reverts back to The Wolf Man, Bela Lugosi swaps cape and fangs for The Monster’s flat top and bolts. Bela Lugosi as the Monster! (He never held the role of The Monster in very high regard).

House of Frankenstein (1944):Glann Strange comes into the Monster Squad playing The Monster for the first time. Likewise John Carradine comes in for his first attempt at Dracula. Lon Chaney Jr reverts back to The Wolf Man and Boris Karloff appears in a Frankenstein film for the first time in 5 years, NOT as The Monster but as Dr Gustav Niemenn. Weird!

House of Dracula (1945): John Carradine and Glen Strange reprise their respective roles as Dracula and The Monster. And of course Lon Chaney Jr shows up as The Wolf Man.

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Hats off to Lon Chaney Jr who never gave up the fight of appearing in as many Universal Horrors as humanly possible.

Considering the backlash often aimed at the slasher genre of the 80’s for its constant production-line of sequels, this type of franchised movie making was pretty radical stuff back in the day. This group of films can probably lay claim to being the first example of a modern-day horror franchise, and for that us horror fans can all be truly grateful.

Also see: The Invisible Man (1933), The Phantom of The Opera (1943), Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

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