Where to Watch/Stream Classic Universal Monsters
When I was a kid in the late 1970s/early ’80s, films featuring monsters from Universal‘s classic era of horror movies (roughly between the late 1920s and early ’50s) were in frequent rotation on local horror movie shows. You could count on regularly seeing Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Gill-man and other legendary creations on TV.
These days, Universal’s classic monsters are harder to find on the tube. They certainly are less likely to just turn up on one of your local channels some weekend; if they do air somewhere, it is likely via an infrequent appearance on a cable channel like TCM.
Ricou Browning as the Gill-man, one of Universal’s classic monsters, in Revenge of the Creature
A number of the titles featuring these monsters are available on streaming services, but even there, the movies having various different copyright holders/ownerships of these movies can make things confusing. You might think, for example, that they would all be available on Peacock, which is Universal’s streaming service. And while a number of them are, some notable ones are not.
I recently undertook a monster hunt for some of the most popular movies featuring these beloved and beastly Universal characters to see where they can be streamed, or even watched on a television broadcast, during 2023’s Spooky Season. Below are my findings, which are current as of this posting (Oct. 14, 2023).
WHERE TO WATCH/STREAM UNIVERSAL MONSTERS — OCTOBER 2023
(Note: I stuck to the major Universal monsters and some of their offshoots, and have not included more general horror titles from Universal’s golden period, like “The Black Cat” or “The Old Dark House,” etc. I also realize that in my searching I may have missed some places where these titles are airing/available to stream; if you’ve found some other places where they are available, please let us know in the comments! And one note on the TCM titles: If you miss their broadcast date, sometimes the movies remain available at the Watch TCM site and on the TCM app for a period of time, so check out those areas, as well.)
SILENT ERA UNIVERSAL HORROR
The legendary Lon Chaney leads this silent horror classic as the title “phantom” in what is one of the earliest and still most renowned film adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s novel, which had only been published 15 years before this movie’s release. Chaney’s horrifying, self-devised makeup used for this role is justifiably famous, but he goes beyond just letting the makeup do the work. His embodiment of the deformed (emotionally as well as figuratively) phantom haunting the Paris Opera House effectively makes him the first Universal monster, even if he is sometimes left off the list with others like Dracula, Frankenstein’s creation and the Wolf Man.
Mary Philbin and Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera
UNIVERSAL DRACULA FILMS
The Stanley Theater in Jersey City, New Jersey, going hard with the hype for its showing of Dracula in 1931
Dracula (1931) — Streaming: Prime Video (free, with subscription); Buy/Rent on Apple TV+, Redbox, Vudu
While still a worthwhile watch largely for Bela Lugosi‘s iconic performance, which still informs how most of pop culture envisions Count Dracula, I find this production to be fairly slow overall, and it feels like watching a stage play. I’ve heard good things about the Spanish-language version of this film, which was shot using the same set during evenings. It sounds like it flows more dynamically, even if its Count may not be as effective as Lugosi. I’ve not been able to find that version anywhere, but would love to see it; it seems like it would have been pretty amazing if Lugosi had been put in that production instead.
Of course, any other version would be hard-pressed to have a Renfield who tops Dwight Frye‘s performance:
Dracula’s Daughter (1936) — Streaming: Peacock (free, with subscription); Buy/Rent on Apple TV+, Vudu
I remember this film airing during some of the local monster movie shows when I was a kid, and I may have seen it then but really cannot remember. So I checked it out just a few weeks ago on Peacock, and I’ll say that I think it’s a better film than Dracula. There’s more going on, and Gloria Holden does a great job in the title role, as a character struggling (not very successfully) to get past her vampire lineage, with Otto Kruger also turning in a nice (and non-villainous) performance. It was made just a few years into Hollywood’s production code, so as I understand it some scenes were edited/reshot, but, frankly, I was pleasantly surprised by what managed to get past the censors of that time.
You can hear more about it in the video at this link, which is hosted by Antonia Carlotta, whose great uncle Carl Laemmle cofounded Universal and produced the studio’s early horror classics in the ’20s and ’30s (her YouTube page has stories about other old-school Universal monster movies, too).
Dracula’s daughter (Gloria Holden) tries to burn away her father’s monstrous legacy
Son of Dracula (1943) — Streaming: Free on Fawesome, Plex, Tubi; Buy/rent on Apple TV+, Vudu
Lon Chaney Jr. is best remembered as Universal’s Wolf Man, but he also stepped into the roles of a number of other of the studio’s monsters: the mummy, Frankenstein’s monster and even Dracula, who he plays in this film. This tale is set in the United States, where the vampire shows up in Louisiana using the very clever alias of “Count Alucard” (“Dracula” spelled backwards).
UNIVERSAL FRANKENSTEIN FILMS
Frankenstein (1931) — Airing on TCM Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, at 8pm ET, and Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023 at 3:45pm ET. Streaming: Peacock (free, with subscription); Buy/Rent on Apple TV+, Redbox, Vudu
This timeless adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel made Boris Karloff — the fourth-billed actor on the movie’s poster — into a household name, despite the fact that he was hidden beneath lots of brilliant Jack Pierce makeup effects as Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s (Colin Clive) creation. Karloff’s transformative acting, guided by James Whale’s masterful direction, helped make audiences feel some empathy for the lonely “monster” as he made his way through an unwelcoming world.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) — Airing on TCM Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, at 9:30pm ET, and Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023, at 5pm ET. Streaming: Peacock (free, with subscription); Buy/Rent on Apple TV+, Redbox, Vudu
Whale was back to direct this sequel, which is arguably even better than the first film. Elsa Lanchester plays both the titular Bride and also Mary Shelley in the film’s opening segment.
Elsa Lanchester and Boris Karloff in The Bride of Frankenstein
Son of Frankenstein (1939) — Streaming: Peacock (free, with subscription); Buy/Rent on Apple TV+, Vudu
A number of elements spoofed by Mel Brooks in Young Frankenstein (1974) are found in this film starring Basil Rathbone as Henry Frankenstein’s son, Boris Karloff back as the monster and Bela Lugosi as Ygor.
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) — Streaming: Buy/rent on Apple TV+, Vudu
Cedric Hardwicke plays another Frankenstein son, who is blackmailed by Lugosi’s Ygor into reviving the monster (played here by Lon Chaney Jr.).
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) — Streaming: Peacock (free, with subscription); Buy/Rent on Apple TV+, Redbox, Vudu
This first of Universal’s “monster rallies” of the early ’40s, which brought together two or more of its famous creatures, is pretty fun. Mostly a Wolf Man movie, it has a memorable opening, where grave robbers unwisely break into the crypt of a supposedly dead Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) at night during a full moon. Its closing fight between the title characters is pretty cool, too:
House of Frankenstein (1944) — Streaming: Buy/rent on Apple TV+, Vudu
House of Dracula (1945) — Streaming: Buy/rent on Apple TV+, Vudu
Carradine, Chaney Jr. and Strange reprise their roles from House of Frankenstein in another “monster rally.”
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) — Airs as the first movie on MeTV’s Svengoolie Classic Horror & Sci-Fi Movie Double Feature on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, at 8pm ET. Streaming: Buy/rent on Apple TV+, Redbox, Vudu
1948's Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein reignited the comedy duo's popularity, introduced a new generation to classic Universal monsters (including Bela Lugosi as Dracula for only his second, and final, time in a movie) and influenced similar spooky/funny films to come.
UNIVERSAL MUMMY MOVIES
An archaeologist (Dick Foran) gets an up-close look at The Mummy’s Hand as Kharis (Tom Tyler) attacks
The Mummy (1932) — Streaming: Prime Video (free, with subscription); Buy/rent on Apple TV+, Redbox, Vudu
This terrific original installment of the Mummy franchise features Boris Karloff in his iconic performance as Imhotep/the Mummy.
The Mummy’s Hand (1940) — Streaming: Peacock (free, with subscription); Buy/Rent on Apple TV+, Vudu
Universal brought back the Mummy movies with this entry that introduced Kharis as the title monster, played here by Tom Tyler, and in the next three installments by Lon Chaney Jr. I remembered watching these Kharis movies as a kid and seem to recall liking them, but I gave them a rewatch recently and I regret to say that I found them a bit boring. The Mummy’s Hand has the most going for it (aside from a wise-cracking jackass from Brooklyn, a character type who seems to pop up in a lot of ’40s movies). The other Kharis movies each run just about an hour long, and a good 10 minutes or so of their openings involves recaps of previous movies. I do like that these movies mostly have settings beyond Egypt, in places like the Louisiana bayou.
The Mummy’s Tomb (1942) — Streaming: Peacock (free, with subscription); Buy/Rent on Apple TV+, Vudu
The Mummy’s Ghost (1944) — Streaming: Peacock (free, with subscription); Buy/Rent on Apple TV+, Vudu
The Mummy’s Curse (1944) — Streaming: Peacock (free, with subscription); Buy/Rent on Apple TV+, Vudu; Available for purchase only on Prime Video
What I do like about the Kharis Mummy movies is that they are introduced by my all-time favorite Universal Pictures intros (seen in the video below). I always got excited when I saw this intro during a monster movie show when I was a kid; the fanfare would play out and then lead right into the opening credits of a cool ’40s creature feature, accompanied by a blasting musical score from a composer like Hans J. Salter.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955) — Streaming: Buy/rent on Apple TV+, Redbox, Vudu
The last of the Mummy movies, and the last of Abbott and Costello‘s movie meetups with classic monsters, came when the comedy duo faced off against the mummy “Klaris” in this picture.
UNIVERSAL WEREWOLF MOVIES
Lester Matthews (on bottom) meets the Werewolf of London, played by Henry Hull
Werewolf of London (1935) — Streaming: Peacock (free, with subscription); Buy/Rent on Apple TV+, Vudu
While The Wolf Man is more remembered, this underrated, and maybe even unknown by many, film that came out six years earlier was Universal’s first werewolf movie, and I think it was probably the first werewolf movie overall. It is really well done and interesting, and even has some sci-fi in it; the title character is a scientist who, among other things, has a way of seeing who is at his door on a video screen in his basement lab — like a Ring doorbell about 80 years before that was a thing.
The Wolf Man (1941) — On TCM Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023, at 6:30pm ET. Streaming: Prime Video (free, with subscription); Buy/Rent on Apple TV+, Redbox, Vudu
The original classic, led by Lon Chaney Jr. and Claude Rains.
UNIVERSAL GILL-MAN (“CREATURE”) MOVIES
Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) — On TCM Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023, at 11:45am ET. Streaming: Buy/rent on Apple TV+, Prime Video, Vudu
The Gill-man was the last of Universal’s classic movie monsters, and he happens to be my favorite, largely thanks to Ricou Browning‘s amazing performance wearing the Creature’s costume underwater and the musical score by Hans J. Salter, whose main theme seems to be blasted every other minute in the film (and I’m not complaining).
Revenge of the Creature (1955) — Streaming: Buy/Rent on Apple TV+, Vudu
The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) — Streaming: Peacock (free, with subscription)
UNIVERSAL INVISIBLE MAN/WOMAN MOVIES
Claude Rains and Gloria Stuart in The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man (1933) — On TCM Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023, at 1:15pm ET. Streaming: Prime Video (free, with subscription); Buy/rent on Apple TV+, Redbox, Vudu
Though we understandably do not see a whole lot of his face, Claude Rains gives an amazing physical and vocal performance in this adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel, which boasts special effects that are still quite impressive.
The Invisible Man Returns (1940) — Streaming: Peacock (free, with subscription)
Vincent Price plays a man wrongly convicted of murder who is injected with an invisibility formula by the brother of the original Invisible Man, and uses his newfound ability to try to find the real killer before the formula makes him as insane as it did the first guy.
The Invisible Woman (1940) — Streaming: Peacock (free, with subscription)
This interesting blend of sci-fi and screwball comedy stars Virginia Bruce as a fired department store model who undergoes a test that makes her invisible, which she uses to get revenge on her former boss. She then finds herself using her ability to thwart some gangsters (with one of the thugs played by Shemp Howard!)
John Barrymore and Virginia Bruce in The Invisible Woman
Invisible Agent (1942) — unavailable (?)
This was the only Universal monster title that I could not find anywhere (not saying it isn’t; I just did not find it). I would like to see it, since it sounds cool, if not very “monstery.” It’s more of a World War II action spy thriller, with Jon Hall playing the titular invisible agent, who battles Axis villains, including characters played by Peter Lorre and Cedric Hardwicke.
The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944) — Streaming: Peacock (free, with subscription)
Jon Hall is back playing a different, and less heroic, Invisible Man here. His character is an escapee from a psychiatric hospital who goes on a crime spree after being injected with an invisibility serum by a scientist (John Carradine, in yet another one of the seemingly one thousand films he made).
Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951) — Streaming: Buy/rent on Apple TV+, Redbox, Vudu
Bud and Lou star in this sci-fi comedy with yet another Invisible Man.
Son of the Invisible Man, A Spiritual Cousin of the Universal Monsters
Even Abbott and Costello’s take on the Invisible Man isn’t anywhere near as funny as Son of the Invisible Man, a film-within-the-film that appeared in the 1987 Universal comedy Amazon Women on the Moon. The movie features a series of vignettes of varying quality — the title refers to a 1950s sci-fi movie parody that is very funny and one of the film’s highlights.
The standout moment of the film for me, though, is in the vignette seen in the video below, a pitch-perfect parody of old Universal monster movies, complete with the studio’s intro and a great title sequence. If you saw that opening and didn’t know this was a parody, you might assume it was actually some 1930s Universal horror film (I’m honestly surprised Universal never actually made a movie with that title back in the day).
This vignette shows how much the creators loved those old-school Universal creature features, that they put so much thought and effort into making what is not only a hilarious, but also a loving, parody of this genre. And it’s something that all of us Universal monster fans can continue to appreciate and enjoy almost as much as the originals.