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Hollywood gothic Images of scary monsters created by Universal Studios decades ago continue to influence today's pop culture

They are called the Universal Monsters after the studio that created them, but the creatures in such classic movies as "Dracula," "Frankenstein," "The Wolf Man" and "The Mummy," are also universal monsters: They remain the iconic images still associated with these creatures today.

If you find that hard to believe, check out the Halloween decorations in your favorite store. A flat-headed, green-faced creature with what appear to be bolts sticking from the side of his neck adorns everything from napkins to candles and soap dispensers.

Recognize the image just by that description? Sure, it's Frankenstein, right?

Not if you're referring to the creature described by a teenage Mary Shelley in her book, "Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus." (The title character of her story, by the way, was the scientist, not the creature.)

The image we associate with Frankenstein is the one created by the masterful makeup artist Jack Pierce for Boris Karloff to wear in Universal's 1931 movie, "Frankenstein."

The fanged vampire with dark hair merging into a widow's peak on his forehead? Bram Stoker's literary Dracula was an old man with a long white mustache and a unibrow. It's the exotic Bela Lugosi's portrayal of the Prince of Darkness that has been emulated for decades.

The influence of the Universal Monsters on modern pop culture doesn't stop there.

"I wouldn't be the kind of writer I am today if it weren't for the early horror movies, especially Universal," author Ray Bradbury says in the documentary, "Universal Horror."

The Universal movies fueled the creative fire within a young Rick Baker, who went on to win Oscars for his extraordinary makeup effects for "An American Werewolf in London," "Men in Black" and "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

"I wanted to be Dr. Frankenstein. I wanted to be the guy who made the monster," Baker says in the documentary, "The Frankenstein Files."

Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Stephen Sommers ("The Mummy") are among the filmmakers who were inspired by these films. (Before entering the Horror Make-Up Show at Florida's Universal Studios, you can watch a video of Sommers discussing the challenge of "re-imaging these icons for the 21st century" for his movie "Van Helsing.")

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the release of "Dracula" and "Frankenstein," two of the most recognized of the Universal Monsters. In celebration, the studio has carted out 75th anniversary DVD sets ($26.98 each, Universal Home Video), along with "Monsters: A Celebration of the Classics from Universal Studios" (Ballantine Books, $29.95). The gorgeous picture book showcases the stunning black-and-white imagery from Universal movies including the 1925 Lon Chaney silent masterpiece, "The Phantom of the Opera," the film considered to be the studio's first horror movie.

The Universal Monsters may not horrify today's film audiences used to watching people being tortured and mutilated in graphic detail on screen. But they remain alive and will continue to do so because they did much more than scare audiences -- they struck an emotional chord with viewers watching creatures who were feared for the way they looked or caught in tragic circumstances beyond their control. There was always a humanity within the monster.

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