The Universal Monsters movies, released predominantly in the 1930s and ‘40s, have left an indelible mark on North American horror. These films borrow qualities of Germany’s Expressionist movement, from the chiaroscuro mise-en-scene to their sense of pathos and melancholy, creating a collection of Monsters that feel more real and complex. Jack Pierce’s designs have come to define these Monsters in the popular imagination, and his make-up inspired later SFX wunderkinds like Rick Baker and Tom Savini. When we revisit these pillars of early horror cinema, it’s striking how clearly they reflected Depression-era society’s fears back at them, and we can’t help but wonder: which of the Universal Monsters would win in a fight?
We don’t get to see all of them brawl, but we can theoretically compare their abilities to draw conclusions. I imagine this fight taking place in one of the vaguely Eastern European settings where most of these films seemed to take place, usually on a foggy, rocky terrain with a few scattered bushes or trees.
While Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was released the same year as both Frankenstein and Dracula, the film is disqualified for being released by Paramount. Mr. Hyde would be more likely than the others on this list to fight dirty, probably outlasting some of the weaker monsters by taking cheap shots. I imagine he’d be fun to watch since he’d enjoy the fight for its own sake, and since Frederic March won an Oscar for his unhinged and unsettling performance, but he can’t participate because he exists in another universe.
The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of the Opera was released a bit too early to qualify, and thus is often left out of discussions of the Universal Monsters. He poses a threat to superstitious artists, but mainly because he’s mysterious and spooky, not to mention that he lives in a secret labyrinth. Outside of his lair full of weird traps, he’s not much more than a regular guy. You’d have a hard time getting him to leave his Opera anyway, so he and The Hunchback of Notre Dame will hang out in Paris and leave the rest to their contest.
Something of an anomaly in this group, Ardath Bey is a lover, not a fighter. While we all have fond memories of the ‘90s reboot, the original Mummy isn’t much of an action flick. The titular monster is more interested in resurrecting his one true love than fighting, spending years just hanging out in Cairo looking for her. He has the lowest body count of the Monsters, and his life force is tied to an old scroll. Besides, he seems pretty dry and fragile – I don’t think he’d be able to hold his own in this brawl.
The Invisible Man
Obviously his invisibility is an asset, but to take advantage of it, he’d have to fight naked. He might be able to sneak up on some of the Monsters and choke them unexpectedly, but I’m not sure how many of them actually need to breathe. Carrying any sort of weapon would undo his only advantage, and he doesn’t have any other superhuman abilities, so his best hope would be of escape.
The eponymous Creature from the Black Lagoon would be the obvious victor in a fight in the water, but it seems unlikely that he’d be able to get the rest of these guys onto his terrain. Like the Phantom, he really needs his home ice advantage to pose any real threat. Out of the water, he’s stronger than a human (and displays the ability to think and plan attacks), but he’d basically be about as strong as an animal with very sharp claws. Against actual supernatural monsters, I think he’d put up a good fight, but eventually be taken down.
Poor Larry Talbot. He only wants to die and be rid of his curse. Usually, I’d bet my money on a werewolf, but the original Wolf-Man isn’t as ferocious as some modern (or literary) iterations. And it’s not his fault – censors and limited SFX capabilities mean that he can’t tear people apart the way they do today. While he suffers a bite, we never see him use his teeth or claws – he mainly just seems to choke people. To add insult to injury, in the first movie he’s taken down by tiny Claude Rains with a big stick. This Wolf-Man may be supernaturally strong but his brute strength might not be enough to win this contest.
The Monster and The Bride
Speaking of brute strength, Frankenstein’s creations seem evenly matched to the Wolf-Man when they first meet and fight. Where the Monster has a potential advantage is in his (almost) mate, who nearly matches him for size and presumably strength. If they worked together, they could easily dispose of the werewolf. It seems unlikely that they would work together, but even so, in their first appearances it takes a collapsing, flaming building and an exploding laboratory to immobilize them. And the original Monster survives both fates anyway. That’s way more hardcore than surviving a silver bullet (or a silver cane). Both Monsters are behemoths possessing unknown strength, who can take a lot of damage and keep going, since they’re half-dead already. They would be extremely difficult to take down.
We don’t really get to see Dracula fight, since he has minions for that – but I think that’s the key to his potential victory. The Wolf-Man and Frankenstein Creations are physically strong but mentally weak, and Dracula has the ability to manipulate minds. It would be nothing to turn one monster against the other, and simply wait for them to kill each other. He’s also got more capability for rational thought and strategy than most of the Monsters, and might be more inclined to look for advantages in the terrain. The Count’s arrogance could put him at a slight disadvantage, but as long as he stays out of direct sunlight and none of the others thought to bring a wooden stake, I think he’d come out on top.
Abbot and Costello
Improbably, Abbot and Costello are the only ones to have escaped death at the hands of nearly all of Universal’s heavy hitters. It seems clear that they possess secret powers, but what they are, I can only speculate. Maybe they can manipulate probability in their favour to overcome impossible odds, or else are wizards of some kind. If the Monsters are all fighting each other, Abbot and Costello could quietly slip out of the fray and wait for the sun to rise, taking out Dracula. Their presence could completely alter my predictions though – who knows how their bumbling incompetence would affect the outcome?
Given that they’re wild cards and I can’t accurately gauge their power levels, I’m forced to declare Bud Abbot and Lou Costello our winners! Agree or disagree? Let us know @roguesportal!