Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Everyone have a nice holiday weekend! Gorge, and be merry!
(Really, though, why the hell isn't Batman at the head of the table? Superman is a dickbag. Also, try to ignore the way the Atom is prancing around on the table like he's auditioning for Dancing with the Stars.)

Happy birthday to Boris Karloff!

I had this ready yesterday, but with all that was going on, I forgot to post it. Oops!

Boris Karloff, my all-time favorite actor, was born on this day(yesterday, now) in 1887. Best remembered today for his iconic performance as the Frankenstein Monster, Karloff created a seemingly endless assortment of unforgettable characters throughout his long career. One of his greatest assets as an actor were his sad, expressive eyes, which helped him bring a touch of pathos to even the most despicable characters. Even someone as thoroughly evil as Karloff's Hjalmer Poelzig in 1934's The Black Cat is not entirely without sympathy, and Karloff is one of the only people who could have pulled that off.
Today, take a moment and remember this wonderful actor, or better yet, watch one his classic films!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Son of Dracula (1943)

I'm back to help you through hump day with a look at Universal's 1943 Lon Chaney Jr. vehicle Son of Dracula!
 By 1943, Universal had clearly positioned Chaney as the heir to his famous father's role as the "Master Character Creator, and their top horror star. Having already originated the role of the Wolf Man, and subsequently tackling the roles of the Frankenstein Monster and the Mummy, it was perhaps inevitable that he would don the black cape of the vampire king Count Dracula.

The mysterious Count Alucard journeys to New Orleans at the invitation of Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton). Colonel Caldwell (George Irving), Katherine's father, dies soon after Alucard's arrival, leaving his plantation to Katherine, while her sister Claire(Evelyn Ankers) inherits his fortune. Katherine soon spurns her boyfriend Frank Stanley(Robert Paige), marrying Alucard. During a confrontation, Frank tries to shoot Alucard, but the bullets pass through the Count and hit Katherine. Mortified, Frank runs away.
 Frank goes to his friend Dr. Brewster(Frank Craven) for help. When Brewster pays a visit to the couple, he finds Katherine seemingly alive and well. Alucard and Katherine inform the doctor that their days are consumed with their new scientific research; thus, they will only accept visitors at night. With the arrival of Professor Lazlo(J. Edward Bromberg), the vampiric nature of Alucard is revealed, and the three of them realize that Katherine has become a vampire as well. Ominously, Lazlo realizes what name is revealed when "Alucard" is spelled backward...
 Son of Dracula is not a particularly well-liked film. Most viewers take issue with Chaney's casting as Dracula, feeling that the burly, thoroughly American actor is not suited for the role. Honestly, it's tough to disagree. However, the film takes on a new dimension, and Chaney seems less miscast, if you consider the possibility that his character is an imposter. He claims to be Dracula, but there's no evidence presented to substantiate this claim. There is a very real possibility that Alucard is simply a vampire who has usurped the dreaded name of Count Dracula to boost his reputation. I find that the film is more enjoyable if viewed with this in mind. The script does call Alucard's true identity into question, so it's not coming completely out of left field. Many of the problems people have with the film, and the characterization of Alucard in particular, disappear when watching it from this point of view.

The cast is good overall, but the standout is easily Louise Allbritton's Katherine. She ranges from  feigned innocence to seductive persuasion to coldly manipulative with ease, becoming the films most interesting character. As the film nears its conclusion, she has usurped Alucard as the most dangerous threat to the other characters in the film.
Tightly scripted by The Wolf Man scribe Curt Siodmak, and ably directed by his brother Robert Siodmak, Son of Dracula is an atmospheric thriller that ranks among the best horror films of the 1940s despite its flaws. The New Orleans setting lends it a unique quality among the classic horror films, and the Universal horrors in particular. The film notably features the first time a vampire transforms into a bat onscreen, an effect achieved by Academy Award-winning visual effects guru John P. Fulton. Ultimately, Son of Dracula may be only a minor classic in the Universal canon, but this often-overlooked film is a gem that is well worth spending 80 minutes with.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Frankenstein (1910)

I intended to get this up during the day today so those of you who read during the workday would have a little something extra to get you over the hump, but life kinda got in the way of that today. Still, a few hours late ain't too bad! Today, we'll be looking at a film that was once considered lost, 1910's Frankenstein!
Thomas Edison's film company produced hundreds of films, most of which clocked in around the ten-minute mark. Frankenstein was no exception, running about 13 minutes. The film was shot in three days by director J. Searle Dawley at Edison's New York film studio in the Bronx.

Young Dr. Frankenstein(Augustus Phillips) departs for college, leaving his father and fiancee(Mary Fuller) behind. Frankenstein becomes obsessed with discovering the secrets of life and death. His ambition is to create the perfect human being, but the fruit of his labors is a horrific creature(Charles Ogle) that threatens all that Frankenstein holds dear.

None of the actors' careers survived the silent era. (Fuller, in particular, had a tragic life.) Ogle makes a distinct impression as the Monster, even with his limited screentime. The Monster makeup, which Ogle reportedly designed himself, has a design which has echoed through the decades in many of the Frankenstein Monster designs we've seen in all the years since. Most notably, the Monster's large, square forehead is one of the physical traits most strongly-identified with the Frankenstein Monster in pop culture. (It seems nearly impossible that Jack Pierce wasn't partially inspired by the Ogle Monster when designing Boris Karloff's makeup for Universal's version of Frankenstein in 1931. This is just conjecture, however.) The visually intriguing creation sequence, which must have absolutely floored audiences at the time, was accomplished through the use of a papier mache figure of the Monster. The figure was burned, and the footage was shown in the reverse in the film, so the Monster appears to be growing from the ether.
 As mentioned previously, the film was believed lost for decades until its rediscovery in the 1970s. A print had been purchased by a film collector in the '50s, who revealed its existence after he became aware of its rarity. A new 35MM print was made, and the film has since been given a DVD release.
Although it jettisons nearly everything from the source novel, Frankenstein remains the first film adaption of the famous story. The film feels rather stagebound, as only a couple of sets are seen; this was typical of many films of the era(when outdoor locations were not utilized, small sets were used instead). Today, it's probably more of a cinematic curiosity than genuine entertainment for most people, but what a curiosity it is! Frankenstein remains a landmark in film history, particularly for the horror genre. With its brief running time, and its status as a public domain film that is easily found on sites like Youtube, there's no reason not to watch it. In this film, you will see the embryonic form of one of the most enduring icons of our culture.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thanksgiving season is upon us!

Everybody likes to eat(fashion models aside), and there's no better celebration of all things culinary than Thanksgiving. The blog won't be taken over by Thanksgiving like it was with Halloween, largely because no other holiday is as awesome as Halloween, but it's still nice that we have a holiday devoted to gathering the family and eating until it hurts, and it will not pass unnoticed. We'll be looking at a few Thanksgiving-themed movies and such over the course of the next few weeks, along with the usual horror-related content. I still haven't made a final decision on what the regular Monday feature will be now that Halloween is over, but every Wednesday is movie day, so come back and check it out in two days. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Post-Halloween wrap-up

So, how was everyone's Halloween?  Here are a few clumsily touched-up Halloween photos! You could see my face beyond the eyeholes with the flash from the camera, so I covered 'em up with my meager photo-altering abilities.
 I hope you all enjoyed the blog this past month. It wasn't easy putting together an entry every single day of the month, but it was fun, and I'm glad I did it. Don't be surprised if you see me doing it again next year!
Entries on classic horror movies aren't going anywhere, though. I'll still be doing them, just not every day. I have a couple of horror movie-focused pieces coming up, as well as a multi-part feature on the Bela Lugosi-starring serial The Phantom Creeps that should be fun.
I'm taking the week off, but I'll be back Monday, so swing back by and check it out! I'm not going anywhere!