Archive for the universal creature features Category

The Universal Monster Marathon – Frankenstein (1931)

Posted in Uncategorized, universal creature features, universal monster marathon on 10/03/2011 by vincentstark

How different this movie could have been – Bela Lugosi was originally intended to play the part of the monster, and indeed the actor even filmed screen tests in a make up that was far less effective than Jack Pierce’s groundbreaking final make up. It is believed that the footage of Lugosi as the monster has been destroyed, but film historians live in hope that one day this footage will turn up. What we know about Lugosi’s monster comes from an advertising poster that was produced before he left the project,and it is clear from this poster that it would have been a very different movie had Lugosi remained with the project.

These days the Boris Karloff make up has become so universally recognised that this monster remains the definitive version of Frankenstein’s creation. This is partly due to the effective make up as well as Karloff’s excellent performance which made the monster sympathetic as well as terrifying. The famous lightning eyes poster can be seen to the left – not the monster does not have the now famous flat head and seems to resemble the creature from an earlier stage play.

“We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation – life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even – horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now’s your chance to – uh, well, we warned you.

Those words were spoken by actor, Edward Van Sloan before the movie played – this was done for two reasons – firstly Universal were building anticipation in the audience, but also there was some genuine concerns that much of the imagery in the movie would prove too much for the audience. Indeed there were reports in the New York press after the premiere of several audience members fainting and more than one person was reported to have fled the cinema screaming.  The movie received universal acclaim from critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1931, and indeed it is listed (rightly so) among the best movies ever made. Even today the film hasn’t aged, apart from Colin Clive’s overly theatrical performance, and it rewards viewers with a still stunning cinematic experience. Today’s gore soaked, CGI horror movies could learn a lot from this little masterpiece.

Over the years the film has suffered much censorship – most famously the scene where the monster innocently tosses the little girl into the lake, was not show fully until 1986 when the movies was fully restored by Universal.

The cuts originally made to the movie were:

  • Frankenstein’s line, “Now I know what it feels like to be God!”, was obliterated by a clap of thunder on the soundtrack.
  • Some footage of Frankenstein’s assistant Fritz taking sadistic glee in scaring the monster by waving a lit torch near him while the monster is shackled in chains.
  • Close up of needle injection was removed.
  • In the scene of the monster and the little girl tossing flowers into the lake, the second part of the scene was cut, beginning at the moment he extends his hands to pick her up

The version currently available on DVD as part of the Universal Creature Features Collection is the complete movie with all cuts reinstated. The film is part of a double pack with the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein. Both movies are all time classics and belong in the collection of any self repsecting horror fan.

 

 

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The Universal Monster Marathon – Dracula (1931)

Posted in Uncategorized, universal creature features, universal monster marathon on 10/01/2011 by vincentstark

“Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.”

When viewed today Tod Browning’s Dracula seems plodding and overly theatrical, but upon its original theatrical release audience members were reported to faint away in sheer terror. The movie had originally been intended as a vehicle for Universal’s top horror star, Lon Chaney but when the star succumbed to throat cancer the production was thrown into disarray.

The famous source material, namely Bram Stoker’s novel had already been filmed unofficially in 1922 as Nosferatu but Universal’s remake would be official and permission was obtained from Stoker’s estate. However with the death of Lon Chaney the producers found casting the title role to be problematic – Paul Muni, Chester Morris,  Ian Keith were all considered. Director Todd Browning was not at all interested in Hungarian actor, Bela Lugosi who had played Dracula in the successful Broadway play based on the  novel. However against the tide of studio opinion, Lugosi lobbied hard for the part and ultimately won the executives over, thanks in part to him accepting a paltry $500 per week salary for seven weeks of work, amounting to $3,500.

The shoot was apparently troubled with the director finding himself unable to garner much interest in the movie. He had originally intended the project to be a collaboration between himself and his friend, Lon Chaney. And the loss of the actor seemed to sour the entire project for the director who would often delegate much of the work to cinematographer Karl Freund  who actually directed much of the movie. In fairness Freund should have been credited as a co-director, but it was the disinterested Browning who gained the kudos for the movie.

The film though benefitted greatly from Bela Lugosi and he is arguably the best thing in the picture – perhaps the fact that the film was shot in a theatrical style suited the actor who was able to transport his stage performance into the movie. Parts of the movie reflect Browning’s greatness as a director of silent movies and much of the acting is done in the style of the silents, which again can make the film a tough viewing experience for the modern audience. But the movie is definitely worth sticking with and is a true classic of the genre. It was a massive hit for Universal and kicked off the cycle of creature features for which the studio is forever known.

The film finally premiered at  The Roxy  Theatre  in New York on Feb. 12, 1931.  Dracula was a big gamble for a major Hollywood studio to undertake. In spite of the literary credentials of the source material, it was uncertain if an American audience was prepared for a serious full length supernatural chiller. Nervous executives breathed a collective sigh of relief when Dracula proved to be a huge box office sensation. Within 48 hours of its opening at New York’s Roxy Theatre, it had sold 50,000 tickets.

There are several DVD editions of the movie available but by far the best is the Universal Monsters collection in which the film was released as a two disc package along with The House of Dracula which starred John Carradine as the bloodsucking vampire. The set contains a wealth of special features including both a commentary and an all new documentary.

The Universal Monster Marathon – Dracula in Good Old Blighty

Posted in universal creature features, universal monster marathon on 09/30/2011 by vincentstark

‘Mr Lugosi, is it true you suck blood oranges?’ one reporter asked.

‘All the time. I often eat six at a time.’ replied Lugosi with  a mischievous grin.

‘And raw steaks?’ the reporter continued.

‘When I can get them,’ Lugosi laughed.

The time was 10 April 1951 and Bela Lugosi was visiting England with his fourth wife, Lillian.

‘I was born in Translavania where the Dracula myth came from,’ Lugosi told reporters. ‘Though I never went down into our cellar. It was full of bats.’ Lugosi also revealed the he played football, as goalkeeper for the Translavania team.

Everywhere Lugosi went he was mobbed by both fans and the press – this surprised the actor who had not been a big name for over a decade, and he gave many interviews and posed for countless photographs. Whenever Lugosi signed autographs he would use his own special pen which contained blood red ink.

Privately Lugosi cursed his success as Dracula, claiming that the role had limited him, but in public he lived up to the image, often dressing as the Count when he went out and about. The Brighton Newspaper at the time carried an amusing story of how one man was terrified when he saw Dracula walking towards him after emerging from a public house one night.

‘I left my country in 1920 and have never gone back. I could not live under a dictatorship. I am an American citizen now.’ Bela Lugosi

‘Horror is my business – it pays off best. But I am tired of gore and I hope that over here I will find an intelligent producer who will think, let’s give Lugosi a comedy.’ Bela Lugosi

‘I do not scare the children. They known I am a pussy cat at heart.’ Bela Lugosi

The main reason for the trip to England was because of the stage play, Dracula – the first performance was on 16th June 1951 at the Royal Theatre in Brighton.

The play was not a great success and closed after a limited run.

Lugosi died in 1956 with his best days now long behind him. He was buried in the cape he wore in Universal’s Dracula.

The Universal Monster Marathon – introduction

Posted in HORROR MOVIES, universal creature features, universal monster marathon on 09/30/2011 by vincentstark


Do not adjust your thingie…are you sitting comfortably?…Good then welcome to the Universal Monster Marathon.

Each day this week here on Scary Motherfucker we will be reviewing a Universal Creature Feature, looking at selected movies in the canon from 1931’s Dracula to 1948’s Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Expect an in-depth feature on all of the key movies.

Universal Pictures effectively invented the horror movie when, in 1925, the studio produced a cheap shocker starring Lon Chaney – that movie, The Phantom of the Opera was a runaway hit for the studio and started the studio’s association with horror movies. Earlier in 1923 the studio had scored a surprise hit with its gothic version of, The Hunchback of Notre Dame which also starred Lon Chaney but Phantom was the first real all out horror movie. Both of these movies are today in the public domain and can be viewed at the Internet Archive.

 

However it was not until the 1930’s and the great depression that the studio made their true footprint in the world of cinematic horror, and even today many fans (myself, included) consider the Universal Monster Movies to be among the best horror movies ever made. The studio didn’t have any big name stars when the horror cycle truly began with 1931’s Dracula, but they did have a lot of contract players on their books and so the studio took many of these contracted stars and turned them into superstars. So successful was the studio in creating stars that today many of the biggest names, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, John Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr remain true icons of the genre.

 

The cycle of horror movies – Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, Gill Man, The Invisible Man – are responsible for many of the conventions of the genre that are still in use today. the creaking staircase, the cobwebs, the swirling mist and the mobs of peasants pursuing monsters with torches all came from the Universal classics.

 

The Universal Classics are available on DVD, with the more iconic titles featuring hosts of special features including all new documentaries and archive footage. And of course the films are subject to the highest quality digital remastering making them, when viewed on a large screen TV, a superior viewing experience to that of the original cinema audience. Keeping popping back this week as Scary Motherfucker takes your hand and leads you through the world of the Universal Monster Movies, making suggestions along the way, offering trivia to amuse and delight and hopefully releasing you safe and sound at the end of our journey.

 

 

The entire history of Horror cinema in one go

Posted in b movies, bela lugosi, drive in horror, frankenstein, HORROR MOVIES, killer b's, STEPHEN KING, the creature, universal creature features on 05/16/2011 by vincentstark

No other site would even attempt it, no else would be so bold, but here at Scary Motherfucker we are not known for a lack of boldness, nor common sense, and so in one post, a few minutes reading, we will present the entire history of horror cinema in one go.

Readers with weak nerves are asked to leave this site now.

You have

been

warned!

Horror has been around since the dawn of cinema – in 1910 the Edison Company produced an unofficial version of Frankenstein called Der Golem. Der Golem like Baron Frankenstein was concerned with the creation of life . Shit let’s call a spade a spade, it was actually a copyright avoiding version of the Frankenstein story.  Nosferatu (1922) used the vampire mythos, borrowing from Stoker’s Dracula, and is perhaps one of the best remembered silent horror movies.

However it was the coming of sound that brought in the Golden Age of horror films. King Kong in 1933 showed what could now be done with the wonders of the motion picture camera. The 30’s and 40’s were indeed a special period with Universal’s mostly excellent series of creature features, as well as countless cheap and cheerful drive-in shockers, keeping fright fans happy. There are several all time classics among the many films Universal produced, Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman to name but three.

The 50’s was the age of paranoia and horror cinema reflected this – creatures were no longer spawned by the occult but by this new terror called radiation, and the Communist threat came not from Russia, but from outer space.  British studio Hammer did however continue to make money with the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein and other monsters of the golden period. Interestingly Hammer also produced sci-fi/horror hybrids with the Quatermas films being among them.

The 60’s was a far more cynical time in terms of horror – Hitchcock gave us environmental horror with the Birds, Rosemary’s Baby brought the supernatural into the real world. Roger Corman was the king of the low budget horror flick and produced a string of Poe adoptions usually with Vincent Price. British shockers, Hammer were at this time in their most inventive period and 1966’s Plague of the Zombies is a classic. It was during the early part of this decade that the blueprint of the slasher movie was set down with Hitchcock’s Psycho. Another notable film of the decade was Romero’s Night of the Living Dead – a low budget masterpiece that defined cinema zombies.

The 70′ s saw taste go out of the window and demons come back into the room. The Exorcist heralded a slew of demonic films – The Omen being only one in a series of movies based on the concept of the Antichrist. Speilberg took horror to the seaside and invented the event movie with Jaws. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) brought in a new wave of violent horror. And the Italians were reinventing the horror movie, as they had previously with the western, and selling it back to us. At the tale end of the decade John Carpenter gave us the classic  Halloween – surely the best of the modern slasher movies. The decade was also notable for birth of the Stephen King movie with Carrie which was a massive success and ever since movie makers have not been able to leave Stephen King books alone. Indeed Stephen King is now the horror author with the most films made from his work.

The 80’s was a period of technical highs and repetition – many classics came from this period – Evil Dead, The Thing, The Elm Street Series. There were more serial killers at work in the cinema during this period than ever before and horror film sequels became the order of the day. The decade also saw big name directors such as Steven Speilberg and John Landis working in the genre. The 80’s also saw the rise of the home video market and the video nasty scare – that’s something for a future article.

The 90’s – post-modern time, folks.
Scream parodied everything else and then itself. Seven dressed itself up in class so as not to appear like a horror film. Frankenstein and Dracula became respectable in the hands of Francis Ford Coppola and Kenneth Branagh – shit De’niro even took over the old Karloff (Karloff was better, though.) role and Gary Oldman made a cool Dracula but again Christopher Lee was better. Silence of the Lambs dominated the box office and although not marketed as a horror movie it was certainly structured  like one.

The 00’s brought us more remakes, some good, some bad and a fair few classics – The Orphanage was astounding, as was The Ring. And the Blair Witch Project told its story in a minimalist fashion  and scooped the big bucks as a reward. There was also gentle horror with The Six Sense but Saw brought back the gore by the bucket. The decade also saw some inventive and original twists on the zombies on the rampage genre – 28 Days Later took it all seriously and gave us hyped up zombies, while Shaun of the Dead gave us one of the most entertaining brain munching films ever.

And that’s it folks – with more than a million omissions, the entire history of horror cinema. There’s no telling what the future will bring for the genre but one thing is certain – there will always be horror movie….

Posted in b movies, the creature, universal creature features with tags on 05/16/2011 by vincentstark

Now that’s a cool  double bill – The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the 1954 creature feature that introduced the Gill-Man and it’s 1955 follow up Revenge of the Creature – the latter which featured a small role by the then unknown Clint Eastwood.

It’s interesting to note that prior to starting his remake of King Kong, director Peter Jackson was actually considering doing a remake of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. That he opted for King Kong instead is telling, since both movies rely on a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story in a fantasy/horror setting.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon, at age 15 million years old, is the last survivor of its species – a mixture of amphibian and man. When his habitat in the Amazon is disturbed, he attacks those who try to capture it.  Unlike Frankenstein and Dracula who had their roots in Gothic literature, the gill-man was an all original creation by Universal Pictures. Actor Ben Chapman played the creature in the land scenes and  Ricou Browning played the creature for the underwater scenes –  but neither actor achieved the same level of name awareness as other stars of the Universal horror movies, names such as Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Maybe because the Gill-Man required a suit rather than extensive and inventive make-up techniques. That’s not to rubbish the suit, though – the creature looks stunning and has been referenced many times in pop culture. The Gill-Man was also the first screen monster known to teenagers in the 1950’s, since earlier creations like Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and The Mummy had long since finished their cinema runs and not yet made it to television.

The DVD of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, part of the Universal Creature Features Collection – my edition comes as a double pack, alongside The Mummy. Watching the film these days on a decent set up and you’re actually getting a better viewing experience that original cinema audiences. Back in the day they wouldn’t have had the crisp digital picture and booming soundtrack. The disc comes in 2.0 Mono but put through a surround system really delivers. And the black and white transfer in incredibly crisp.

The disc is also heavy with special features with a great all original documentary and a fascinating commentary from film historian Tom Weaver.

But what about the movie?

Well modern viewers will either love it or find it too corny – but if you can sit back and allow yourself to become lost in the movie, a great experience is waiting. The acting style is very much of its period, bigger than modern screen acting and almost theatrical, the locations used like a stage set. That the film was largely made on a Universal back lot doesn’t show and the Amazon of the movie truly looks like a dark and mysterious place. Most of the underwater scenes were filmed in Florida because of the clarity of the water.

One famous scene where the monster swims unseen below the lovely Julia Adams is very daring and almost simulates lovemaking. The scene in excellently out together and it is this scene maybe more than any other that humanises the Gill-Man.

Lead actor, Richard Carlson is very affective as the 1950’s square jawed, heroic scientist and there’s a lot of this character in Indiana Jones and indeed both Spielberg and George Lucus have both mentioned the influence of this movie on their creation. Spielberg’s Jaws also owes a lot this this all time classic and the early appearances of the giant shark are presented in the same way as Gill-Man in introduced – first we get the odd shot of a webbed hand or a fin before eventually seeing the full magnificent creation.

The original movie was in 3D and it’s a pity we can’t see it this way today – hopefully one day a 3D version will be released onto DVD or Blu-Ray.

Revenge of the Creature which hit cinemas a year later – by the same director, Jack Arnold it doesn’t quite match the original but it’s a good enough movie. The law of diminishing returns seemed to have applied even way back then.

It’s basically the same plot – creature gets the hots for attractive young woman and goes on a hormone fuelled rampage. Only this time the creature is at loose in the big city.

As mentioned previously Clint Eastwood turns up early in the movie – he may have been a future superstar but back then he was unknown and his small scene is unremarkable. It, like the original movie, was also shot in 3D but the current DVD release is the standard version.

There was also another movie – 1956’s, The Creature Walks Among Us – as of yet I’ve not seen this movie, but have just ordered the box set from Amazon so expect a review here soon.

The original is the best but both movies hold up well (indeed the ecological subtext is perhaps even more relevant today)  and the creature is truly an important part of fantasy cinema. They sure don’t make em like this anymore…more’s the pity.

The essentials – Frankenstein (1931)

Posted in frankenstein, HORROR MOVIES, universal creature features on 05/14/2011 by vincentstark

William Henry Pratt

A name can conjure up an image of a person – Take Troy McClure from The Simpsons for instance. With a name like that he could be nothing other than a square jawed, clean living hero. Similarly Dickens’ Bill Sykes could be  nothing other than a brutal low life.

But what about William Henry Pratt?

That was the name Boris Karloff was brought into the world with – In 1909, Pratt travelled to Canada and began appearing in stage shows throughout the country; and some time later changed his professional name to “Boris Karloff”. Some have theorized that he took the stage name from a character a mad scientists no less,  in the novel The Drums of Jeopardy  called “Boris Karlov”. However, the novel was not published until 1920, at least eight years after Karloff had been using the name on stage and in silent films.

It was James Whale’s 1931 classic, Frankenstein that made Karloff a star, but this movie came at the end of a decade and more of backbreaking stage work, silent movies and menial labour.

We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation – life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even – horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now’s your chance to – uh, well, we warned you.

Bela Lugosi was originally slated to play the creature but the actor, then a considerable star after the success of the Dracula movie, wasn’t happy to play a part with no dialogue, and so he quit the production. “I was a star in my own country,” Lugosi told reporters. “I will not be a scarecrow over here.”

Indeed plans for Lugosi in the role were so advanced that advertising posters, feature the actor in the role, had already been released. Take a look at the poster here which shows how different Lugosi’s make up would have been. Lugosi actually went through several make up tests before leaving the production. Of course Lugosi would play the role years later in Frankenstein meets the Wolfman.

Karloff though was brilliant in the role and all these years later it is impossible to think of anyone else bringing the creature to life in the way Karloff had. Bela Lugosi couldn’t do it, nor could Christopher Lee, Robert DeNiro or any of the others who have tried over the years.

In Karloff’s hands the creature created by Frankenstein went in a direction even the film’s director, James Whale couldn’t imagine. It became a sympathetic character – this patchwork creature made from the dead was childlike, innocent as it shuffled upon ill coordinated limbs. Immediately Karloff’s representation of Frankenstein’s monster became firmly lodged in the collective consciousness. Even today artists and film makers use Karloff’s monster as the blueprint for any new creation. For instance think of the TV show, The Munsters – Herman certainly wasn’t based on Christopher Lee’s version of the monster and even sebsequent editions of Mary Shelley’s novel used a Karloff-alike figure on the covers.

So how does the  movie hold up now? Is it watch-able by the post slasher film fan? Well yes – it has a charming quality all of its own but it still has the ability to suck the viewer in so that the story becomes very real, and for the duration of the movie that slightly creaky monochrome world exists within our imagination.

A classic of the genre that no serious fan can do without.

Even now, in the age of hi definition and Blu-Ray – “It’s alive.”