Favorite Horror Films of the 1940s: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

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A&cfrank

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

This film might seem like an unusual choice for my series on horror films, especially since it is primarily a comedy, but I do have a fond place for this movie in my heart for several reasons.

As a youngster, I loved the hosted horror films shows that often appeared on Saturday afternoon, and I saw most of the Universal Studios horror films on those shows.  Also, I heard several times from my parents that they saw this movie when they were on their honeymoon in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, it is an extremely funny movie.

Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)

(https://commons.wikimedia.org)

This film, made in 1948, was the completion of the Universal classic horror movie cycle, and it included the big three monsters of the Universal pantheon: The Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, and the Wolfman.  One of the signals of the end of a film genre cycle is when it reaches parody, and this film qualifies.  Horror very often is a reflection of the concerns of the larger world, and with World War Two completed, the fears of the world had changed and would be seen more in new science fiction films. (I examine some of these movies in my series on Science-Fiction films.)

Bela_Lugosi_as_Dracula,_anonymous_photograph_from_1931,_Universal_Studios

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

The premise is silly and features Dracula attempting to revive the Frankenstein Creature, and Larry Talbot, the wolfman, trying to find a cure for his lycanthropic infection. I should add that this is one of the finest performances by Lon Chaney Jr. despite the comedic tone of the movie.  Of course, Abbott and Costello are brilliant in their comedic routines. This movie never fails to make me laugh, no matter how many times I have seen it. Bela Lugosi plays Dracula for the last time, and Glenn Strange takes his turn as the Creature.

wolfman

(https://ils.unc.edu/dpr/path/horrorfilms)

If you have not seen this movie and you enjoy the classic Universal Studios horror films and you love slapstick 1940s comedy, then you should watch it! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

 

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Favorite Horror Films of the 1960s: The Birds

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alfred-hitchcock-393745__180

(https://pixabay.com)

After Psycho in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock directed and produced his other masterpiece of horror in 1963: The Birds. Both of these movies place Hitchcock in the forefront of filmmakers, not only in America, but in the history of world cinema. The Birds was based on the short story by Daphne Du Maurier, and starred Tippi Hedren in her first featured role, Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette, and Jessica Tandy, an extraordinary cast.

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(https://pixabay.com)

The movie follows an unexplained series of attacks that centers on a small California coastal village of Bodega Bay. That the attacks come without warning are crucial to developing a central theme of this film: that nature can strike back at humanity without warning. It is a mid-20th century movie that posits an ecological warning to the world that we are not alone and our actions are not without potential consequences. Certainly, this might not be the only way to view this film, but I suggest it is a central and deeply important theme.

As such, the ecologically horrific implications transcend the horror film aspect of the story, which is very powerful and effective, even nearly 53 years later. Hitchcock creates great tensions and frights throughout the film, often alternating sense of sparse filmic density with overloaded density of visual images to create impact. For example, the scene of the attack on the school begins with Melanie Daniels, Tippi Hendren, going to check on her friend, the schoolteacher. Daniels realizes that a class is still in session in the very quaint, old-fashioned schoolhouse, so she goes to smoke a cigarette. Remember, this is the 1960s, when most people smoked. She sits on a bench with a hill behind her, a schoolyard, and a wide expanse of sky. It is peaceful, serene, and visually calm. Then, in a classic moment of dramatic irony, we see the jungle gym behind her slowly filling with crows.  By the time Daniels notices the coming birds, the schoolyard is filled with them, creating a vast threatening menace. Without going into all the details of what happens, in case any of you have not seen  this film, it is a powerful and terrifying sequence.

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(https://pixabay.com)

The film was a very expensive production for that time, costing between 2.5 to 3 million dollars, and it brought in over 11 million.  By any standards, it was highly successful and has elicited many forms of critical academic reaction, but all, or almost all, agree that it is a masterwork.

I give this movie my highest recommendation. If you love cinema, American movies, or horror films, you need to see it.

Favorite Horror Films of the 1960s: Psycho

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Psycho_(1960)

(https://it.wikipedia.org)

It is time to both revisit and move forward with my series on horror films. Psycho (1960) is a Paramount Film that was both produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock and was based on the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch.  This movie stands as one of the best, not only horror but American, films as a whole. Hitchcock is, without a doubt, an auteur, one of the great Masters of American cinema, and this film had huge influence on the creation of slasher films and psychopathic villains in films.

The film revolutionized the way the public viewed evil; it did not have to be supernaturally based nor a radiation caused event; rather, Hitchcock established that the human mind and life experience could create more frightening monsters than vampires and werewolves. These are people who suffered horror, and their creators were other people, at least in most cases of psychopathology.

Psycho_gip

(https://it.wikipedia.org)

Psycho had an exemplary cast. Among the actors were Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam, and Vera Miles. All gave extraordinary performances in this movie.  From the deeply disturbing opening sequence of the murder in the shower to the end revelation of Norman Bates’ level of insanity, the film is a masterpiece of cinema.

Hitchcock’s cinematic formalism is evident in his complete control of every detail of each shot. This is a film that is created with the planned brushstrokes of a master artist. The power of the murder scene in the Bates Motel bathroom is so strong that many people watch it and believe they have seen much more than they actually have.  Hitchcock never shows the killer’s knife entering the body of Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh.  Hitchcock’s use of careful angles and reaction shots as the young women is being murdered makes the viewers perceive more than is being shown on the screen.  The effect is far more powerful than later films which would rely primarily on gore to have an impact and not on story and cinematic technique.

Hitchcock,_Alfred_02

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

It is also interesting to note that the first victim, Marion Crane, was a woman who had committed a crime, in the theft of a substantial amount of money from her boss.  Hitchcock would establish this pattern that was too often used to the point of becoming cliched that the so-called “bad” girl was the one to be killed.  Additionally, if Norman Bates is also viewed as a victim of the circumstances of his own life, then the film focuses primarily on the impact of these crimes on the young.  This is certainly not exclusive; others who are older are also attacked, but Hitchcock seemed to be exploring the effect of this horror on the younger generation. Perhaps he also understood that group was the primary audience for his film.

Psycho made an extraordinary profit at the box office, and it was nominated for several Academy Awards.  Its legacy is well established. Norman Bates is a character who has grown past this film and entered into the public’s awareness through other remakes and adaptations, and many of the motifs of horror/slasher/gothic films are derived from this movie.

Psycho must be seen as one of the best films in American cinema, and Hitchcock is one of the American film masters. If you have not seen this movie and are prepared for powerful images and shocks, then I recommend it highly. It is one of the best films of all time.