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Film Appreciation Episode 4: The Universal Monster Cont. (Themes and Styles of the Universal Monster)

Alright so in the previous episode we talked about the talkies era and the boom of the musical during the 30’s and also started to touch upon The Universal Monster. Here we’ll quickly just go through the narrative, themes and styles of the universal monster that made horror a major genre in Hollywood.

Like I’ve mentioned before Universal Pictures started putting out horror films during the 30’s because the CEO at the time Carl Laemmle, Jr wanted the studio to thrive and the only way to do this was to tap into the horror market. These were also largely inspired by the silent era horror movies of the German Expressionism movement. Let’s have a look at their themes and styles. Themes and Styles of the Universal Monster: Universal made horror films that were filled with characters that had exotic accents, had period clothing and the setting was some exotic land (remember this was during the Great Depression and World War 2, so further the escapism took the audience the better). The films drew on classic horror and gothic fiction and even adapted some of those classic literature characters, who are now cinematic horror icons like Dracula and The Mummy. Mood: Universal new that they needed to set a mood for their films that would unsettle the audience, create an air of terror but also have long lasting impact long after viewing. They had set designs that were highly artistic and the gothic influences were detailed. The German Expressionism movement influences were clear in how the lighting was used, light and shadow played a great role in the mood of the films. Still being influenced by the silent era the monster movies would use sound to create their atmosphere but this was also way for them to move their camera because back in the day you really couldn’t have dialogue and a moving camera at once, they hadn’t progressed that far. This can be seen in Dracula, whereas in Frankenstein it was the complete opposite, there was a lot of dialogue with little camera movements but the set design made you forget all of that as everything was grand scaled.

The Creature:

The film was usually named after the creature because duh the creature is the star hence (creature feature). The creature usually ended up dying in the end but people couldn’t help but stan the creature because within this creature was all of our personal fears, and the creature would eventually win our empathy because by the end we realized that there’s a monster within us all. I’m including the mad scientist character here under creature because every creation has a master.


The Love Triangle:

The whole human boy, human girl and monster love triangle trope was probably invented by The Universal Monster. The monster was usually used to kidnap the girl and inspire some hero complex in the boy but later on the films became more complex where as much the couple would find their way back together after defeating the monster, the impact of the entire experience if felt by all parties involved including the monster who learns about his/her owns humanity and the humans are changed in ways that they now understand that the real monster is humanity. And yes in some films human girl does fall in love with monster.


The Universal films played on the audience’s fears about death and damnation, they dug deep and presented them with stories about death and being eternally damned to become a creature of the night whose sole purpose was to cause destruction. That’s why the settings were exotic and fantastical like only to have the monster try to destroy that.

That’s it for Film Appreciation Episode 4: The Universal Monster (Themes and Styles of the Universal Monster), in the next episode we might look at one or two very influential film movements can you guess which?

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