Today I was lucky enough to be able to go to a double feature of classic Universal monster movies: The Mummy followed by Creature from the Black Lagoon. Neither film is considered to be top-tier Universal monster material, but I've always liked both of them.
One thing that struck me watching them both back to back is how each movie arrives at a similar destination by a completely different route. Karl Freund, the director of Mummy, was a famous cinematographer for directors like Lang and Murnau, so it makes sense that his horror movies for Universal would have a strange, poetic, "artistic" quality about them, along with his signature tracking shots (there's a shot in The Mummy in which the camera floats from a shot of Karloff sitting by his magic pool, up, over, and eventually straight down into the pool that must have been very tricky to accomplish back in the early 30s). But Creature is a much more workmanlike affair, directed by Jack Arnold with a quaint-but-muscular 50s monster movie / amusement park ride atmosphere - which makes it all the more remarkable that there are sequences in it, particularly the underwater scenes, that are pure poetry.
I'm talking specifically about the scenes of the Gill-Man stalking his prey from under the water. Check out the way the creature moves - graceful, like a monster that's lived under the water his whole life WOULD look. And yet it isn't really "scary" in the normal sense, more like ballet or something. Even more impressive is the way Creature stands on its own as a "new" Universal monster movie, despite coming two decades after the series' heyday AND lacking a great central performance that would serve as an equivalent to a Karloff, Lugosi, or Chaney.
Speaking of which, let's talk about Boris Karloff in The Mummy: This has to be one of his best roles, right? His Imhotep / Ardath Bey is genuinely menacing and creepy, even though he doesn't do much besides speak quietly and perform some ancient Egyptian spells. And in classic Karloff form, there's a real (yet mostly unspoken) sadness to the character. And he does a great job conveying Imhotep's supernaturally advanced age, creeping around like he can barely walk upright (which is of course something that you'd see for real in Karloff's later movies, although he was only in his 70s rather than thousands of years old).
Oh, one more note on Creature: I got to see it in 3D, as it was originally intended to be shown. I'm not a big fan of 3D, and my eyes still hurt hours after it ended, but the underwater scenes are pretty spectacular in the format.
Anyway, nothing says Halloween like the Universal Monsters. These two aren't the best of the bunch, but they're definitely worth checking out especially if you haven't seen them in a while.