Join Date: Jun 2011
Location: The End of the Beginning
The 'Universal Classic Monsters Essential Collection' takes most of the top tier titles from Universal's classic horror library of the 30's, 40's and 50's and puts them all together in one box set. These films have not just been remastered in 1080p but have also been meticulously cleaned up with much work done to both video and audio. The end result is an eye opening revelation for all the fans of these films.
(PLEASE see the very bottom of my review for info on the current state of disc defect reports regarding the 'Creature' disc)
To call these movies "classic" is really somewhat of an understatement for fans. These are basically the gold standard for horror films and Universal has finally given them their due. I was fortunate enough to borrow a review set for 2 days in anticipation of receiving my own set that was pre-ordered the same day it was announced. One week to go and I can watch them again! I made notes as I watched and spent a great two days and nights with this set.
With that said, this review will focus on the video/audio quality of the set and not the films' content. Basically, what everyone is wanting to know is whether or not this upgrade is a major step up from the legacy series DVD sets. Other than containing the more popular top tier titles and only one of the sequels (Bride of Frankenstein) the answer is YES this is a HUGE upgrade. In fact, once you see these transfers on a properly calibrated display you will NEVER want to watch them any other way. I simply can not imagine them looking any better when first released (other than a few missing frames here and there these days) and the audio is most definitely the best it has EVER sounded. Major kudos and hats off to the team at Universal that did this fantastic job of restoration.
The included booklet is very nice but doesn't contain anything the more than casual fan doesn't already know. Still, it is nice to have and looks great. Unfortunately the US set has the cardboard sleeve design of the new 'Indiana Jones' set and as such is going to receive numerous complaints about disc scratching, etc. The Box itself looks great and even the discs look really good. It is a shame Universal opted for the slide in/out disc storage system. Spindles and hubs would have been SO MUCH better! Due to time constraints I had no time to view any special features and just watched the films. (ok, I admit to watching both 'Bride" and 'Dracula' twice!)
***** Since writing this review I have received my UK Coffin version set. I am still blown away by the video and audio quality and have now had a chance to check out many of the special features. Seems almost all the special features from the Legacy sets have been ported over, unfortunately still presented in SD video. Still, it is a tremendous value and die hard fans will of course be holding on to their legacy sets until the remaining titles are released on Blu. (if ever)
The coffin packaging is very nice, but as another reviewer has pointed out, the disc case that holds the gate-fold disc holders , booklet and art cards is a BIT too small and constantly removing it might eventually cause the coffin to split. To solve this I am keeping the "Swag" in the coffin and the discs in the inner case just next to the coffin on my shelf. I can't figure out why they wouldn't notice this before producing large production runs but that's just the way it is. The discs themselves are much better protected in the UK packaging as they sit on hubs instead of those annoying cardboard sleeves so many are worried about. So basically, the CONTENT is stellar on either set but the packaging on BOTH sets leaves just a bit to be desired overall, albeit for different reasons. *****
If you don't know by now, here are the titles that are included in this collection:
Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein (1931 and 1935)
Dracula/Spanish version of Dracula (1931)
The Mummy (1932)
The Invisible Man (1933)
The Wolf Man (1941
Phantom of the Opera (1943)
and last but not least
Creature From the Black Lagoon 3D+2D (1954)
All titles are presented in their original Black and White other than 'Phantom' which was shot in color. Each film other than 'Creature' (widescreen format) is presented in their original 4:3 aspect ratios and sporting nice healthy bit rates for each film and VERY nicely restored sound presented in DTS HD Master Audio stereo, although each film is actually a mono track with identical sound output on both sides.
THE VIDEO QUALITY:
So how does the video quality fare you ask? Absolutely Stupendous! The grain structures are INTACT and for the most part that is a VERY good thing! You will see things as you have never seen them before. You will see things you wished you hadn't seen before such as the crudely painted warped/rippled backdrop during the graveyard and ending scenes in 'Frankenstein'... Various black wires and threads are now clearly visible during effect shots of 'The Invisible Man' , etc. I for one am glad the restorers saw fit to only remove print damage such as scratches and white specks and left the original productions alone as much as possible.
Details and fine texture abound. Equipment in Frankenstein's lab reveals every nuance and texture, fabrics and set decorations become crystal clear, even shaving bumps are visible on Colin Clive's face and there is so much more added detail to Jack Pierce's makeup jobs that it would take a 5 page review to document all the new things I noticed and could see clearly for the very first time. At first I constantly A/B'd the new transfers against the legacy DVD collections to check for any discrepancies but soon realized I was dealing with something that was so much improved it was a useless exercise. These are flat out gorgeous to look at and some of the best vintage black & white restoration jobs I have seen. If you have watched these films over and over like I have on both VHS and DVD, you will be extremely excited about these new renderings.
For those that insist the video quality is no better than the Legacy DVD sets, I suggest perhaps some may have their players connected to a standard video connection or SDTV , or perhaps for some reason just can't appreciate what high end restoration/scanning rendered in 1080p has done for these films. There is NO comparison between the Legacy sets and these transfers and that goes for video AND audio. I have kept my Legacy sets to hold on to the missing titles for each parent film. (ie: Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein and the ever popular Mother-In-Law of Frankenstein, etc.)
Rather than go through each and every film in great detail I will just pick out a few moments that stood out for me personally. I was absolutely floored when I began watching 'Frankenstein' where light and shadow resolved as never before. Each and every scene was vastly improved to the point where I found myself actually cheering out loud as I watched. It truly is eye opening. I did notice a slight glitch between scenes where the video just stopped for a fraction of a second. This had nothing to do with a layer change and appears to be an encoding/editing error as my DVD's do not display this pause. (occurs at the end of the meeting between Victor, Elizabeth and Dr. Waldman before they show up at the lab)
During the early scenes in 'The Mummy" the detail revealed in Boris's bandages is extraordinary. You can truly see the extent that makeup man extraordinaire Jack Pierce went to with this makeup, actually achieving the look of an ancient and rotting mummy. These details were lost to both the VHS and DVD version and only now can you see them perfectly clearly. With the massive increase in detail comes an increase in involvement while watching the film. I guarantee you will be sucked into the story like never before!
'Dracula" has been so improved that it deifies description. Yes it is a very old film and problematic in certain areas but the picture quality presented here had me almost having to pick my jaw off the floor. Renfield in 1080P? It just doesn't get any better than this! Bela's eyes actually gave me the creeps and I have seen this movie a good 50 or 60 times over the last 50 some odd years. It is simply outstanding! And YES, Dracula does groan at the end after Van Helsing whacks the stake for those that were wondering. (Renfield screams too which seems to be cut on some earlier DVD versions)
'The Invisible Man' stands out for me as one of the best transfers. Maybe I only think that because it is a personal favorite. Still, I found it to be almost on par with the new Casablanca 4K scan for overall balance and detail. I really enjoyed watching it and I was very happy to see that one of my favorite titles turned out so very well! (ok, maybe not as good as the new Casablanca scan, but pretty darn close)
I have only viewed 'The Creature' in 2D and can not comment on the 3D rendering. (vision problem precludes me from evaluating 3D in my reviews)
I can definitely say this of the 2D version, it is by far the clearest, most detailed rendering I have ever seen of this movie and unfortunately betrays clearly just how fake the "Creatures" suit really is. On the other hand, Julie Adams is even more of a dish than ever before in 1080p so this transfer certainly DOES have it's advantages. (hard to believe she ended up selling Real Estate in Cabot Cove. Maine!)
Another real standout is 'The Wolfman" with both contrast levels and detail being absolutely fabulous. A tiny amount of EH causes just a smidgen of 'ringing' in the video but it is so little only the most picky would EVER notice it. And the fog/mist is handled very well in this transfer, something that normally is a sore point with digital. It looks REALLY good. There are many instances of depth in this movie and actually in ALL of them during their respective running times. When I first put on 'Frankenstein" and noticed perceived depth I was totally astounded. DEPTH from a movie shot in 1931? Nothing short of amazing! Universal Monsters on Blu Ray rocks! I'm here to tell ya!!
Yes, there are a few soft shots here and there, but nothing egregious and at least 90% or more of the time the image is flat out brilliant.
Noise reduction is either not used or used so judiciously that you can not see it happen. Edge enhancement was not even needed and if used I can not notice it. Picture flickering has all but been eliminated using some very sophisticated digital tools. At times it still fluctuates just a bit on the older titles but shows up mainly on the character faces. It is so small and infrequent that only the truly obsessive (like myself) will even notice it. Still, most annoying defects of the past are now history.
Scratches, tears and white specks have been sent packing. GREAT!
THE AUDIO QUALITY:
Each and every film is an auditory revelation. Gone are the crackles, pops, hiss and wow and flutter that has plagued each home release before this one. With all these undesirable elements finally removed, the dynamic range seems much greater and the full frequency spectrum, such as it is for these older films is given a chance to really shine through. Of course there is no LFE or surround activity and the mixes are the original MONO minus the sonic aberrations that started from the very first playback of the original source. Simply put, the audio on this set is superb considering the source elements. I highly doubt it could have been done any better by anyone.
Bottom Line: If you are a fan of these films this purchase is a no brainer. You simply can NOT go wrong here folks. I purchased them all, first on VHS, later on DVD, then remastered versions of the DVD's, the entire legacy collections, etc. This was well worth the wait and almost every film in this collection will see multiple viewings.
The only thing really lacking here is the exclusion of all the sequels, especially the Frankenstein and Wolfman series sequels. I also wish the 'Werewolf of London' along with 'The Old Dark House', 'The Black Cat' and a few others could find their way to Blu Ray in the future. But for now, this is what we get and along with the legacy DVD sets (for the sequels and extras) this collection of horror classics on Blu Ray is a real gem. I do think it is just a BIT overpriced but things have a way of coming down in price over time and this will be no exception. However for me, it is a MUST HAVE day of release purchase and I will never regret it.
(From what I have seen, the UK packaging is nicer..both for the standard set and the collectible coffin version which is what I have ordered and since received now)
Marty G's most HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION for this set!
******I have noticed a few people have complained about the "Creature" 2D disc. It appears that at least some of the US discs for 'CFTBL' MAY HAVE a serious manufacturing or authoring error causing it to freeze around the 59 minute mark. I personally own the UK set and can play the entire disc without incident. If this turns out to be a large pressing-wide problem then Universal will need to step up and begin a disc replacement program for that one title similar to what CBS is having to do with 4 discs from the Season 1 set of Star Trek-Next generation on Blu. So be aware, if you order THIS set sold here on Amazon US there is a chance your 'Creature' 2D disc MAY be defective. It is too early to tell if they ALL are. Yours may play perfectly or may freeze. Once more info is known about the problem and a solution presented I will post.
This MAY even be a problem that presents itself only on certain brands of Blu Ray players or with certain firmware versions.******
****** UPDATE: Just saw that SOME users of the UK set are ALSO experiencing this problem. Since some people have 'Creature' discs that work and others do not, it must be a manufacturing error and not an authoring error or ALL of them would be bad. Let's hope Universal get s DISC REPLACEMENT PROGRAM going really quick here for those that received a bad 'Creature' BD ! For 112 bucks, this should NOT be happening!
The above review is taken from an Amazon.com review by Marty Gillis. Apparently there may be issues with the some of the 'Creature' discs out there. Check your discs and make sure your player's firmware is up to date.
Last edited by zbinks; 10-11-2012 at 03:56 PM.