Universal Pictures made the best horror films of the Golden Years of Hollywood. British talent was behind most of these films of the 1930s and 40s. DAVID SAUNDERSON tips his lid to some of them…
Elsa Lanchester (1902-1986) was born in Lewisham, London, England.
- What was she in? The most iconic woman in all-time horror history, Elsa Lanchester was the Bride of the Frankenstein with all his glorious frizzy hair and body-covering bandages. Her career was long and varied but this title role is what has made her immortal.
- Why should I applaud her? While most woman in horror are used as window-dressing for the male actors to act around, Lanchester held her own and added depth with her hissing and monstrous performance.
- How many claps? Huge round of applause for literally the original first lady of horror!
Sir Basil Rathbone (1892-1967) was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, to English parents.
- What was he in? Baz is most famous for starring as Sherlock Holmes throughout the 1930s and 1940s, but he also took the title role as the Son of Frankenstein and the evil Richard – Duke of Gloucester – in Tower of London.
- Why should I applaud him? Rathbone was equally good at playing heroes as he was as villains (though he pretty “owned” the character of aristocratic bastard during his career!)
- How many claps? Mord (Boris Karloff) says to Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Rathbone) in Tower of London: “You’re more than a king, more than a man. You’re a god to me!” Let’s leave it at that.
Charles D. Hall
Charles D. Hall (1888–1970) was born in Norwich, England.
- What was he in? Nothing but his set designs defined the look and feel of Universal.
- Why should I applaud him? When you think of Frankenstein looking up on an lightning storm and seeing the amazing array of weird electrical equipment, you have Charles D. Hall to thank for all that.
- How many claps? Huge thunder claps until your hands go sore!
Boris Karloff (1887-1969) was born William Henry Pratt in Dulwich, London.
- What was he in? Basically any Universal Horror Film worth mentioning – starting with Frankenstein (1931) and on through the 1930s and 40s.
- Why should I applaud him? The reason there are Universal Horror Films is because there lived a man named William Henry Pratt, aka Boris Karloff. Others were involved but he sold the tickets.
- How many claps? Start clapping now and we’ll get back to you in a year or two to ask you to stop. That’s how many claps this man deserves!
George Zucco (1886-1960) was born in Manchester, England.
- What was he in? Born to a Greek father and a English mother, Zucco often played the foreign, sophisticated villain in a range of Universal Horrors , most notably the Mummy series in the 1940s.
- Why should I applaud him? He was quoted as describing himself as “Hollywood’s unhappiest actor because I am always being cast a blood-letting, law-breaking evil old man.” It’s not cool that he was unhappy but being a blood-letting, law-breaking evil old man is pretty cool to us.
- How many claps? A big “mummy’s” hand of applause for this suave character actor!
Evelyn Ankers (1918-1986) was born in Valparaíso, Chile, to English parents and brought up in England.
- What was she in? The Wolfman (1941), Hold That Ghost (1941), Son of Dracula (1943), The Mad Ghoul (1943), Weird Woman (1944), The Invisble Man’s Revenge (1944), The Frozen Ghost (1945)
- Why should I applaud her? She was Universal’s leading lady of horror during the early 1940s. Maybe only The Wolfman (1941) could be considered a classic – though Son of Dracula was significant – she was in more Universal Horrors than most on this list.
- How many claps? A hip, a hip and another hip before hooray is acceptable with a nice quiet pattering of applause. No wolf whistles, please.
Claude Rains (1889-1967) was born in Camberwell, London.
- What was he in? The Invisible Man (1933), The Wolfman (1944) and Phantom of the Opera (1943).
- Why should I applaud him? Claude Rains appeared in an entire film (except for the last few seconds) covered in bandages with only his voice to scare us. He also took a silver-topped cane to his own son in The Wolfman. Ok, he should have stopped there because Phantom of the Opera did him no favours – but for HG Wells’ The Invisible Man alone (which was a very English film) – Claude Rains is a champion of Universal Horror.
- How many claps? A thunderous round of applause with some stamping of the feet will do.
Lionel Atwill (1885-1946) was born in Croydon, Surrey, England.
- What was he in? Son of Frankenstein (1939), Man Made Monster (1941), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945)
- Why should I applaud him? He’s Son of Frankenstein’s Burgermeister with the wooden arm Mel Brooks lampooned in Young Frankenstein. He was also in a stack of great non-Universal Horror films too – like Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), Murders in the Zoo (1933) and Mark of the Vampire (1935).
- How many claps? He deserves a hearty cheer and a slap on the back, but we’ll leave it for you to decide after you read our scandalous Lionel Atwill expose!
Colin Clive (1900-1937) was born in Saint-Malo, Brittany, France, to an English father.
- What was he is? Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
- Why should I applaud him? He is the original Frankenstein. Not the Monster – the man who said “It’s alive! It’s alive!”. Clive – a direct descendent of Clive of India – returned only once to the role of the mad scientist for The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and appeared in only two Universal Horrors – but you could not have asked for more significant roles.
- How many claps? Although he died an alcoholic at the young age of 37, I shall ask that we raise our glasses to Colin Clive and say “Cheers!”
Una O’Connor (1880-1959) was born in Belfast, then Ireland.
- What was she in? The Invisible Man (1933) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
- Why should I applaud her? Because she is one of the most recognisable faces in Universal Horror. You probably didn’t know her name, but this Irish character actress is the scared old woman, who gets us laughing in The Invisible Man and The Bride of Frankenstein with her comic carrying on.
- How many claps? As many as you like – she was a favourite of director James Whale and she’s a favourite of ours!
Charles Laughton (1899-1962) was born in Scarborough, Yorkshire, England.
- What was he in? The Old Dark House (1931)
- Why should I applaud him? He was the star of the original Haunted House horror comedy, as well as being the husband of the Bride of Frankenstein herself, Eliza Lanchester. He went onto to star in non-Universal horror classics Island of Lost Souls (1932) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).
- Who many claps? Give him a hearty bravo and a tonne of claps as he was not only a star of Universal Horror but won the Best Actor Oscar for The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933).
James Whale (1889–1957 was born in Dudley, England
- What was he in? He wasn’t in anything, but his presence as director of Frankenstein (1931), The Old Dark House (1931), The Invisible Man (1933) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) can still be felt to this day.
- Why should I applaud him? He only directed four horror films, but they were the most influential horror films of all time. He had a 100 per cent success rate!
- Who many claps? We’ll you decide but if you’re hands aren’t sore at the end, you’ve done the man a disservice.
We included a lot of British Universal stars here but we know we’ve probably missed someone – tell us in the comments section below!