Underrated History: The First Cinematic Universe


Mikayla Zarate and Viktoria Zarate

I think we can all agree that humanity is pretty amazing. It might be hard to remember with social media, riots, and the pandemic that we truly are a unique species that has done many wonderful things. Maybe you wouldn’t believe it when you look back on history and only see wars, evil people, bad philosophies, and oppression. However, history isn’t just the doom and gloom. While it’s true a lot of things worth remembering are from the dark sides of history, there are many elements of history that are often overlooked and are wholesome, interesting, admirable, and sometimes downright hysterical. They might not deepen your understanding of the world, but they will remind you that humanity is good, sometimes petty, and overall hilarious. Even in the Shakespearean tragedies, there is something good or funny to be discovered. So join me in my final year of high school as I write about random people, things, and events that you probably didn’t know about. I hope that along the way, I’ll either make you appreciate humanity or bust your gut with laughter. Either one works.

In the very first article of this series, I got to talk about the life of Nikola Tesla. An amazing man who helped spread the standard use of AC Electricity, and invented many of the technologies that we still use in our homes everyday, and all for the love of humanity instead of greed. If you read and enjoyed that article, I hope this one will also interest you. However, this time I’ll be talking about amazing movies you can watch this… well… interesting Halloween! 

From the overlooked to the hilarious to the stupid to the mislead: this is Underrated History!

The First Cinematic Universe

When you hear the words ‘Cinematic Universe’, chances are 10 out of 10 of you would first think about Marvel and it’s MCU, and to be fair, that would be valid. After all, the MCU has dominated the box office along with POP culture for years, and is seen to be the Gold Standard on how to effectively plot out a Cinematic Universe, unlike its many failed counterparts. However, if I were to ask you which was the first cinematic universe, you probably would be surprised to learn it wasn’t the MCU. Far from it, actually. The idea of a shared universe across multiple movies that weren’t spinoffs or sequels has actually happened before… all the way in the 30s and 40s. That’s right! The first Cinematic Universe, at least from what I could tell, was the Classic Universal Monster Movies!

As the story goes, Universal had been turning out their Classic Monster Movies, like Frankenstein and The Invisible Man, and their dozens upon dozens of subsequent sequels for years due to the fact they were basically box office gold. When one day during a luncheon, screenwriter Curt Siodmak made a joke to producer George Waggner that he had a great idea for a movie title that would help pay for a new car: Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. Not long after that the producer called him and said ‘Go and buy that car, you’ve got a script to write.’ And the first movie that officially, and canonly, connected the Monster Movies under one roof was born! Following that movie which had decent success were the two films known as the ‘House’ Movies, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. Where characters from all across the different movies got to interact with each other. To be honest, none of these were all that great but that’s beside the point! The point is that it sucks that not only are these movies going down in popularity lately but that one of their biggest accomplishments is completely forgotten! 

Universal has been trying for years to bring back their Classic Monsters but at every turn, they have failed. I honestly would love to see these movies done again, especially since my biggest complaint when I actually sat down and watched all these movies was that they didn’t have enough time. These movies are only an hour-long so they weren’t able to go as in-depth or as scary as they could have with some of these characters and that sucks. Sadly, there isn’t much we can do about this…

But, with Halloween just around the corner, and most of you probably not going to be doing anything but watching movies all night anyway, why not take a dive through a little bit of history and watch a few of the Classic Monster movies? My sister and I spent 3 weeks watching 19 out of the over 30 Universal Monster Movies, yes I’m serious, and we decided to rank and quickly review our 5 favorites. My sister even helped me write a lot of these, so kudos to her. These movies really are amazing, and impressive. They’re worth watching at least once. Onto the ranking!

5) The Phantom of the Opera (1943)

Reviewed By: Mikayla Zarate

In a way, I almost feel bad for putting this movie on the best list and leaving other movies like The Wolfman (1941) and The Mummy (1932) off to the wayside. After all, when you hear ‘Universal Monster Movies’ Phantom of the Opera is probably not the first movie that comes to mind, but in my opinion, this movie can’t be ignored just because it only counts as a technicality. Also, The Phantom from the 1923 silent film version makes it onto all the monster lineups even though no one really talks about him and so I’ll count it! 

Out of all these movies that we had to watch, this one is probably the most ‘normal’, and what I mean by that is the movie is close to 2 hours long, and it’s in color (the only movie out of the bunch in technicolor, in fact!) but I liked it for way more reasons than that. It’s simply a really fun movie! The monster, aka the Phantom, is wonderfully deranged with a decent body count. The plot is simple and easy to follow, and all the characters are really having fun with their material. My favorite part of the whole movie was the rivalry between two of the leading male characters. Overall, a great movie. The only reason why its number #5 is because it is such an outlier in comparison to others, and because of the fact that the first half an hour is honestly pretty boring. If you get past that though, you have a wonderful movie totally worth watching if you want something that’s more fun than scary.  

4) Dracula’s Daughter (1943)

Reviewed By: Mikayla Zarate

My sister and I had to watch a lot of sequels in order to make this list and to be honest, most of them were not all that great. They were mostly boring and dull, but some were actually pretty great! The Frankenstein sequels were all pretty solid (except Son of Frankenstein in our opinion), and of course, this one definitely deserves to be remembered. The movie takes place directly after the movie Dracula (1931), and it follows Countess Marya Zaleska, also known as Dracula’s daughter, as she hopes that her father’s death means that she’ll be able to live her life as a human. She meets a human man and begins to fall in love with him, but soon she learns that she is still a vampire and that she might not be able to fight off her vampirism.  The story is really interesting as it explores the characters’ wishes and wants. The only real problem with this movie is that it is far too short for all the ideas it wanted to tackle, but seeing as one hour was the standard at the time, I can’t complain too much. It’s a great movie if you are more into interesting ideas with a dark ending. 

3) The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Reviewed By: Viktoria Zarate

Often seen to be the crown jewel of the Universal Monsters, Bride of Frankenstein is a great sequel to the original Frankenstein.

I like how this movie picks up straight after the first one, and how they explore not just the doctor’s mental state after creating the monster but also the monster itself too. I loved the scene where the monster finds a friend who is blind and how the monster learns how to speak, along with simple things like drinking and smoking (hey, those are the basics!). And of course, I like the Bride of Frankenstein too. She only shows up for a few minutes in the end, sadly, so I just wished that they explored with her more but she truly is iconic. You’ll never forget her. I personally like the original Frankenstein more but it was the best monster movie sequel out of the bunch.

2) Frankenstein (1931)

Reviewed By: Viktoria Zarate

Everybody knows that Frankenstein is considered to be a monster classic. I knew that Frankenstein is everybody’s favorite, so watching this gave me higher expectations than the other movies but this one met those expectations and actually freaked me out at times. I loved how they paid attention to the story and centered it around the scientist rather than the monster like people would expect. The scientist, Victor Frankenstein, was a crazy man but you wind up feeling bad for him when you see how miserable he is by the end. But the actual star of this movie is obviously the monster…you know I realized that he never gets a name, that is sad. Anyway, Borris Karloff plays the monster and he really commits to the idea of a literal human being that has been a stitch-up from nothing. It’s heartbreaking and sad to see the monster trying to understand everything around him and people immediately wanting to kill him. He kills the assistant for attacking him and drowns a girl by mistake. At times it really did creep me out how good Borris Karloff acting was. If I had one complaint, maybe I wished that there was more time to really get in the mind of Frankenstein and his monster but that is like asking me to go back in time, that was just how movies were back then. But with the writing, the settings, and everybody giving 100 percent into their acting, Frankenstein is a movie that lives up to name as a Halloween classic. 

The Invisible Man (1933)

Reviewed By: Viktoria Zarate

Besides the Phantom of the Opera movies and Hunchback of Notre Dame (yes that was also a movie), The Invisible Man was the one I had heard the least about. Yes, people include the Invisible Man in the monster line up but people don’t talk about it the same way they do with Frankenstein and The Mummy. Heck, I’ve heard more people talk about The Creature from the Black Lagoon than The Invisible Man. But in my personal opinion, I would consider the Invisible Man to be the best one of, if not the best, Monster Movie out of the bunch. It was just so unique compared to the other ones. The others are gothic, dark, and tragic, and then you have this one which is a cheesy, fun horror flick. All of the extras are fun to watch, the settings are incredibly interesting, the effects while cheesy are impressive at the same time, and the story keeps you interested until the very end. A lot of the fun of this movie has to go to the actor who plays The Invisible Man, Claude Rains, who makes this whole movie ten times better. He is fantastic playing a psychopath (he also played The Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera (1943).) who seems himself as a god. I can’t help but love how crazy he is. And out of all the monsters, he has the highest body count which makes him even more fun to watch.

Overall, if you’re looking for a fun, old-school horror movie then I highly recommend this as a monster classic!


If you are interested in watching any of these movies then click on the titles of each of the movies before the reviews and it will take you to a free, legal website where you can watch them! We hope you have a wonderful, wonderful Halloween, even with all the horrible things going on! Thank you for reading!