There is something to be said about seeing the old Universal classic monster films on the big screen. As many times as we’ve seen them on our TVs, it still doesn’t have the same impact of seeing them projected on a huge screen, inside a theater with a bunch of like minded film fans. There really is something magical about it and is something that every fan of these wonderful films should have the chance to experience that way. Well, if you’re anywhere near Canton, Ohio in October, then you will have the chance to do just that.
Now that is one name that most of us horror fans do not recognize. But if wasn’t for Mr. Umann, we might not have ever got to see Universal’s Son of Frankenstein, as well as the monster films that followed thereafter. But what exactly did Mr. Umann do to cause this resurgence of the Universal Monsters?
In 1938, with The Bride of Frankenstein now already 3 years old, it seems that Universal had pretty much given up on their monster heritage. Sure, they were still making horror pictures, such as The Raven, The Invisible Ray, and such, but not a lot of them and those familiar characters from just a few years ago were now seemed to have been put to rest. This is where Emil Umann came in to the picture. He ran the Regina-Whilshire Theatre in Los Angeles and on August 5th, 1938, he started a triple bill of Dracula, Frankenstein, and Son of Kong, getting the rentals from the studio for only $99 for 4 days. But much to his surprise, the screenings were selling out and he was getting lines down the block. The triple bill was so popular, he was running them almost 24 hours a day. He even got in contact with Bela Lugosi, who was not in the best financial situation at the time, and hired him to make appearances at the screenings. This not only put the monsters back in the limelight, but Lugosi himself. Lugosi even told the press “I owe it all to that little man at the Regina Theatre. I was dead, and he brought me back to life.”
Once Universal heard about this and the business the theater was doing, they immediately ordered 500 more prints of Dracula and Frankenstein and started renting them out around the country for a double bill. Of course, these rentals were at a much higher rate, so much higher that Umann couldn’t afford to keep them pass the original commitment. In fact, Universal reported in making over $500,000 in new film rentals. So nice of Universal to show such gratitude to someone who showed them how to make so much money. And it was because of this newly discovered interests in these movies that Universal quickly rushed another entry in the Frankenstein series, which would become Son of Frankenstein. Not only would it be the last time Karloff appeared as the creature, but it would also give Lugosi a chance to give one of his best screen performances on his career, as Igor, the twisted-neck friend of the creature.
So to people like Emil Umann, we here at the Krypt salute you for what you did, bringing back the Universal Monsters from their grave.