Welcome back to FRIGHT FIGHT FRIDAY! Today is the first fight of our Classic bracket, featuring only “Universal Classic Monsters!” That means they must be from the classic films released by Universal Pictures during the decades of the 1920s through the 1950s! Universal created the first “shared cinematic universe” with these films, decades ahead of the MCU!
These classic horror characters have tons of lore and backstory to them. Some even have conflicting and or alternate versions. Many of these characters originated from novels and I will take all lore into account when considering powers, abilities, and backstories, but I want it to be clear that the classic films are what got them here! This is a horror movie series, after all. That being said, let’s get into it!
Based off a 1922 screenplay that was in turn, based off of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel of the same name, the film Dracula was released in 1931. It also takes inspiration from Nosferatu, the first known although unauthorized film adaption of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In fact, the scene where Dracula is attracted to the blood dripping from Renfield’s pricked finger and subsequently halted in his tracks by a crucifix is straight from Nosferatu and is not in Bram Stoker’s original novel. (It is worth noting that heavy inspiration for Dracula was also taken from Count Vlad III Dracula, also known as Vlad The Impaler.)
Dracula was the first voiced monster film from Universal and they're third in line behind The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera. It was a huge success and to this day, Dracula is one of the most iconic monsters of all time!
Count Dracula, as a character, has a fascinating backstory. A Transylvanian nobleman who claims he descended from Attila the Hun, he was rumored to be a great man in “life.” He is said to have been a heroic soldier, leading troops against the Turks. He was a statesman and was well studied in the black arts and magic, architecture, alchemy, and many other things. It is even said there was no knowledge of his day that he had not essayed. Well-mannered and cordial but known to fly off into fits of rage. When enraged, his eyes flash a burning red.
Aside from his superior intelligence and mass wealth of knowledge attributed to living for centuries upon centuries, Dracula has many supernatural abilities as well. These were supposedly acquired through “dealings with the Devil.” In the novel, Van Helsing is quoted as saying that Dracula has the strength of 20 strongmen. Immune to physical attacks, most weapons are of no use against him and pass through his body as if not even there. He can levitate and even scale walls, lizard style. He has superhuman agility, balance and senses and of course can create vampires out of his victims. He also possesses a certain level of necromancy, being that his victims are reanimated to do his will.
Dracula can change from his human shape to several different animals, including but not limited to bats, rats, cats, and wolves. He can also shapeshift into mist or vapor and seep between small crevices or even travel as elemental dust within the light beams of the moon. He possesses the power of persuasion over his victims and has been shown to exhibit hallucinatory capabilities, bending and shaping illusions at will. He can even disappear and reappear in other spots. If he knows the path. In some cases, he has been shown to be able to influence animals, such as rats, to do his bidding.
His body casts no shadow and has no reflection in a mirror. He is very wealthy and commands a pack of Gypsies and Slovaks, said to help him transport his coffin. It is implied in the novel that the more blood he consumes, the younger he looks. He first appears as an older man, and as the novel progresses, becomes younger and more handsome like in the film.
Dracula, as powerful as he is, does have several weaknesses and limitations. Despite what many people think, he can not be harmed by sunlight. His powers are nullified when the sun is up though. Also, he can only shapeshift at dawn, noon, and dusk. He can do so freely at night or when near his grave or other unhallowed ground. He may only enter a dwelling if invited in and he can not cross bodies of running water unless it is at low or high tide. Even by boat. He must be carried across, hindering his traveling capabilities.
At the sight of blood, he will go into a “frenzy” known in many adaptions as “the thirst.” He is disgusted by garlic and a crucifix or sacramental bread will stop him in his tracks, calming his blood lust. The branch of a wild rose placed on top of his coffin will render him incapable of escaping and a sacred bullet fired into it could kill him, causing him to remain true-dead. He must also have Transylvanian soil packed in his coffin, for if not, his powers will cease. He also does not seem to regenerate when he is harmed, bearing the same scar from being hit on the head with a shovel throughout Bram Stoker’s original novel. In the 1932 film, a wooden stake to the heart by Van Helsing kills him, however, in the original novel he is decapitated while his heart is pierced with a bowie knife. A charismatic and charming character, he often says that even he too can love.
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
Gaston Leroux's novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra from 1909, has been adapted many, many times. A silent film came out in 1925 y Universal, and another in1942. Known simply as Erik in the novel, in the 1942 film his full name is revealed as Erique Claudin.
Abandoned by his mother who couldn’t bear to look at him, he traveled to several countries at an early age, where he studied science and arts from the various regions. It is even said he spent time in a freak show where he and his ghastly deformity were exhibited as “Lemort Vivant.” He later worked as an architect in Persia and was commissioned to build a palace for its ruler. The palace was so good, the ruler ordered Erik blinded, so that no one else could ever have a palace such as his. Later, he decided that Erik might be able to build one from memory and ordered him imprisoned.
He escapes with the help of “the Persian” and flees to Constantinople. He works there as a builder until once he again, he must flee.
Eventually he starts to long for a normal life and starts building normal type houses for normal people. He is contracted to work on the Paris Opera, where he builds several secret passageways and trap doors. He also constructs a secret lair for himself within its walls and works on his masterpiece for 20 years.
He falls for a woman named Christine, helping her from the shadows while portraying a phantom. Eventually, he kidnaps her but ends up letting her go as long as she promises to wear his ring. Long story short, he is tracked down and killed in his lair and killed. Christine returns his gold ring as promised and buries him where no one will find him. It’s a tragic story, more of a gothic romance than horror.
In the original novel, as well as in the original film, Erik is a ghoulish sight. Described as being as skinny as a skeleton and with no nose, his face resembling a decayed corpse. The main differences being that in the film, his deformity is the result of acid being thrown in his face and not a part of him since birth as in the novel.
In the 1986 musical version by Andrew Lloyd Webber, his deformity is limited to half of his face, thus birthing the iconic half-mask.
The Phantom of the Opera has no supernatural abilities. He was only masquerading as a ghost. He does, however, possess extremely high intelligence and an acute knowledge of his surroundings. He would know every nook and cranny in any building he resided in. He is a master at setting traps and is extremely cunning. His weaknesses are the fact that he is mortal and has a strong, overbearing fear of rejection and a deep need to be wanted. (This guy’s got serious mommy issues.) He’s also a sociopath. I mean, come on. Who kidnaps a girl then gives her a ring?
What the Phantom lacks in physical fighting abilities he does make up for in brains. His vast knowledge of architecture allows him to maneuver buildings easily and make secret passages and traps around every corner. Plus, dude can sing!
Her evening gown is stunning. Long, flowing and red. He watches from the shadows as it moves ever so slightly in the breeze. Her hair flows around her shoulders, her shoes are the same exact color as her dress. She is beyond beautiful, and tonight she is in rare form.
Her bright outfight stands out against the dark colors worn by most of the patrons in line. Including her date. Like a ruby amongst stones, he thinks to himself as he skulks back into the building unnoticed.
It will be a full house tonight, and rightfully so. For tonight will be the night he confesses his love to her. Here, for all to see. After so long of watching from the shadows, he will finally ask for her hand, and she will say yes! Because if she does not, he will bring this building down with the wrath of a hundred angry god’s!
He knows this building with the intimacy of a lover. Every nook and cranny, every creek in the aging wooden floors, all familiar to him. After all, he did build the place. Including the secret passageways that he now had stuffed and crammed full of explosives. He didn’t expect her to bring a date, but no matter. What could he do to stop him?
The people enter the building, ready for a night at the opera. They find their seats and chat with their neighbors until the lights dim, then the crowd quiets.
He spots her, sitting with the man in black in the front row…
“I’m sure you will love this one. I’ve seen it 3 times.” He leans in towards her, speaking softly. His English is great but bears an eastern European tone. He’s tan and strikingly handsome. Not young and not old, he is distinguished. A gentleman and a scholar. The type of man you bring home to mother. Her type of man and she could listen to his accent forever.
“I’ve been hearing all about it. I hope it’s as good as they say! I can’t imagine the small fortune you must have spent on the tickets.” The lights dim and the chatter around them dies down. The curtain comes up as the man reaches over and takes her hand in his. Tonight, she will be his.
A spotlight shines bright on a rotund woman, center stage. The noise that bellows from within her is heavenly. It rises in tone until it fills the room, bringing the entire theatre to their feet. Then, the lights go out. In an instant, the room is black and silent. The people are left standing, waiting for what’s to come.
The spotlight comes back on, revealing a man, horribly disfigured. His face resembles a skull, his cheeks sunken in. His nose is all but missing. His cranium covered only by a few frail wisps of hair. The woman with the angel’s voice, nowhere to be seen.
The crowd gasps at the sight of the man, and he shrinks back for a moment, feeling their judgmental gazes upon him.
He looks out to them and then calls out to her by name. “Jennifer!” He reaches his hand out to her from up on the stage. His crooked, bony fingers cast a claw-like shadow against the wall. “My love, take my hand.”
She looks around, confused at first. Realizing the man is speaking to her, she leans over to her date and asks, “Is this part of the show?”
“I’m afraid not.”
The man calls to her again, louder this time, his voice full of anguish. “Jennifer. I have waited to reveal myself to you. Waited for the right moment. I have watched from the shadows and have grown quite fond of you.” He stretches his hand out to her again, touching the tips of his cold fingers to hers.
She shrinks back, repulsed by the ghastly stranger’s touch. “Stay away, you monster!”
“Do not judge my heart by the measure of my deformity, my lady. I only wish to love you.” He reaches out again. The man in black raises his arm, grabbing his date’s assailant by the wrist.
“I believe the lady asked to be left alone.” He looks deep into the stranger’s eyes, his fingernails cut into the soft flesh around the man’s wrist.
“The lady can speak for herself.”
“She can, and she did. I won’t say it again.”
Many of the patrons, picking up on the fact that this was not part of the opera they came to see, head for the exits fast.
A drop of blood oozes down the thin, lanky arm of the Phantom. Immediately, it catches Dracula’s eye. His temper quickly worsens as a thirst builds inside his mind.
“Jennifer…” The Phantom speaks her name again. There is a sadness in his voice.
Dracula’s eyes glow red with anger, his voice becomes as loud as the rotund woman from earlier, filling the room in the same way.
“Fool!” He shouts. “I even gave you a chance.”
Jennifer faints from the sight of her Prince Charming turned primal killer. What’s left of the patrons disperses quickly, fleeing in fear for their lives. The Phantom pulls loose, and flees to the back of the stage, disappearing through a trap door.
Dracula leans down, placing his fangs gently into Jennifer’s neck. He put too much work in to lose this one. She was his. He follows after the Phantom, enticed by the smell of his blood.
It doesn’t take him long to sniff out the trap door, leading to a passageway between the walls. “She was supposed to be mine,” a voice echoes in the distance. “You weren’t supposed to be here.” The sound of a lock clicking into place follows.
Dracula reaches the end of the passageway, amused by the locked door. His body vanishes, dissipating like vapor. It seeps between the cracks of the door on all four sides, regaining the shape of a man on the other side.
The room is large but barely lit. 3 large candles on the wall provide the only light. Dracula casts no shadow on the wall as he passes by them.
The Phantom appears, seemingly out of nowhere, and with the speed of a young fighter wraps his Punjab lasso around Dracula’s neck.
This is of little use as the rope phases through Dracula, leaving him unharmed. He grabs the Phantom by the throat, lifting him off the ground. He tosses him to the side like a raggedy old doll. “You’re no match for me, mortal. Look at you!”
Dracula vanishes, then reappears behind the Phantom, lifting him off the ground once again and slamming him to the wooden floor. The Phantom rolls to the side and gets back to his feet, then scurries to the passageways.
With Dracula in tow, he runs to another hidden room, filled with explosives. The candles on the wall cause the light to flicker and dance.
“I’ll end you one way or another, demon.” The Phantom grabs a candle from the wall, holding it out toward the vampire. He moves his arm toward the pile of dynamite, intent on lighting it.
The candles go out, all out the same time as a frigid air blows through the room. An ominous laugh chills him to the bone as the room goes black.
He feel’s a sting on his neck as the master vampire descends upon him, feeding off the lifeline of his jugular vein. Then another sting, only this one was much worse. It was worse because he knew it was the teeth of his love, Jennifer bearing down on him now. He couldn’t see, but he knew it all the same. His last thought is bitter-sweet, as a deep sleep envelope’s his body. “All I wanted was for her to be mine, and in the end, it is I who am hers.”
- FIN -
I had to come up with a way for these two to meet. SO, I thought what if the Phantom never fell in love with Christine and instead, fell for a patron of the opera. Then, what if on the day he was going to confess his love to this patron, she showed up with Dracula on her arm?
For me, there was just no way The Phantom was taking down Dracula. I’m not saying the Phantom is a slouch, he could beat several monsters on our list. Not Dracula though. The supernatural elements Dracula brings to the table put him in a different class. The Phantom is mortal. No matter the scenario, it always ended with Dracula victorious. He’s too powerful of a foe for our beloved Erik. Sorry Phantom, better luck next time!
What do you think? Do I have it messed up? Does the Phantom pull the upset over Dracula? Yell at me in the comments! See you next Friday for round #2 of our Classic bracket, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde VS the Invisible Man! That’s it for now folks! Until next time, keep on geekin’ on, my friends!
Joshua “Prometheus” Scafidi