In 1932, Universal studios followed up on its enormous success with Dracula and Frankenstein with the release of The Mummy. Riding the crest of his popularity at the box office, Boris Karloff starred, Karl Freund directed, and Carl Leammle Jr. produced the film. The movie was another financial success for the studio and further solidified its power and standing in the cinematic and entertainment world.
The plot of the film featured a curse on an Egyptian tomb and the resurrection of Im-Ho-Tep who had been buried alive as a mummy in ancient Egypt. The film capitalized on the public awareness and excitement about the discovery of the tomb of King Tut and the supposed curse on that burial ground. We see Karloff in the full mummy makeup and costume for only a short period in the film, then he appears as the mysterious character Ardeth Bey who is searching for the reincarnation of his lost love.
The film is atmospheric and an excellent story, but it is distinctly different from the barrage of sequels that were very loosely based on this particular movie. In those films, a monster, often not very bright, and always in full mummy costume and makeup, would trample around and cause terror and destruction until it is stopped. This film focuses on the characters and the story more than overt horror. Additionally, along with The Bride of Frankenstein, this film is arguably one of the finest examples of creative cinematography of all horror films. The influence of German Expressionism, with its strong use of heavy dark and lights and clearly defined shadows is evident and important in The Mummy.
Jack Pierce created the makeup and continued to establish himself as the finest and most important makeup artist in all of Hollywood. His dual creation of the mummy in costume and full monster makeup and of Ardeth Bey is powerful and visually compelling.
If you have never seen this movie, you should put it on your viewing list.
Thank you so much to Roberta Eaton Cheadle for creating another entry into the U. L. S., the Underground Library Society! The U. L. S. is an unofficial group of people who are dedicated to the preservation of books and in complete opposition to censorship. The idea is based on the Book People from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
The Invisible Man is a science fiction novel by H.G. Wells that was initially published as a series in 1897.
This book examines human nature and the temptations of immorality to humans. Essentially, the author explores how he believes people would behave if there were no consequences to their actions.
The story starts with a stranger arriving at Iping, a small town in the United Kingdom, and taking lodgings at the Coach and Horses Inn. Mrs. Hall, who runs the inn, is pleased to have the stranger’s unexpected business in the “off” season and gives the stranger, called Griffin, a set of rooms, despite his peculiar attire. Griffin is dressed in a heavy coat, gloves and a hat, and his face is entirely covered by bandages except for his nose. His eyes are hidden by large blue glasses. He doesn’t remove his coat or hat even after Mrs Hall lights a warm fire for him.
Griffin proves to be a rude and selfish guest, but Mrs. Hall tolerates him because of the money he is paying her. He breaks things and demands to be left alone in his rooms while he works with a set of chemicals and laboratory apparatus. He is also never seen without his coat and hat. Mrs Hall decides to ask him to leave as soon as the warmer weather arrives, and other paying guests start arriving.
Griffin continues to live at the Inn for a few months and becomes a topic of speculation by the local people. He is visited by the local doctor, Cuss, who is shocked when Griffin accidentally removes his hand from his pocket and his sleeve is completely empty.
Griffin runs out of money and is unable to settle his bill with Mrs. Hall. They have words and that evening the vicarage is burgled. The following day Griffin pays his bill and Mrs Hall is suspicious.
The villagers confront Griffin about the burglary, and he removes his bandages revealing a black cavity in place of his face. The local police constable attempts to arrest Griffin, but he escapes and starts on a rampage of theft and vengeful behaviour through the countryside. Griffin believes that as he is invisible, he cannot be caught, and he is free to do anything he pleases.
As Griffin descends further into his role as a ‘man on the role’ he becomes more and more aggressive and wild in his behaviour. He also comes to realise that he cannot achieve his dream of dominating other men on his own.
He seeks to gain assistance from firstly, a tramp called Thomas Marvel, and secondly, a doctor and fellow scientist from his days at University College London. Griffin reveals the story of his journey to invisibility to Dr Kemp, as well as his plan to impose a “Reign of Terror and to institute “the Epoch of the Invisible Man.” Dr Kemp is horrified by the level of immorality Griffin has sunk too.
I have selected a few quotations from the book to demonstrate the themes:
Freedom, Anonymity, and Immorality:
“My mood, I say, was one of exaltation. I felt as a seeing man might do, with padded feet and noiseless clothes, in a city of the blind. I experienced a wild impulse to jest, to startle people, to clap men on the back, fling people’s hats astray, and generally revel in my extraordinary advantage.”
The future versus the past:
“And there it was, on a shabby bed in a tawdry, ill-lighted bedroom, surrounded by a crowd of ignorant and excited people, broken and wounded, betrayed and unpitied, that Griffin, the first of all men to make himself invisible, Griffin, the most gifted physicist the world has ever seen, ended in infinite disaster his strange and terrible career.”
Greed and self-interest:
“He is mad,” said Kemp; “inhuman. He is pure selfishness. He thinks of nothing but his own advantage, his own safety. I have listened to such a story this morning of brutal self-seeking…. He has wounded men. He will kill them unless we can prevent him. He will create a panic. Nothing can stop him. He is going out now — furious!”
Skepticism vs. Belief:
“I wish you’d keep your fingers out of my eye,” said the aerial voice, in a tone of savage expostulation. “The fact is, I’m all here:head, hands, legs, and all the rest of it, but it happens I’m invisible. It’s a confounded nuisance, but I am. That’s no reason why I should be poked to pieces by every stupid bumpkin in Iping, is it?
Humans, Science and Nature:
“I went over the heads of the things a man reckons desirable. No doubt invisibility made it possible to get them, but it made it impossible to enjoy them when they are got.”
The Invisible Man is an important book to preserve because it demonstrates that greed and self-interest become corruptive forces. Griffin goes from being a young and enthusiastic scientist with a scientific interest in the possibility of using light and optics to turn a living thing invisible, to someone who uses his invisibility for personal gain and power.
Given the greed and corruption that still blights humanity and human interaction, this book is useful in understanding the process of corruption and the degeneration of decency.
Please be sure to visit Robbie at her wonderful blogs:
One of the more interesting and unusual horror films of the 1930s is The Invisible Man, directed by James Whale and produced by Carl Laemelle Jr. for Universal Studios (1933). This film is based on H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name, and it is a reasonably close adaptation of the book. Some changes were made to the story line, notably the addition of a love interest and moving the time from the Victorian Era to the 1930s.
The film was unusual in the caliber and sophistication of the special effects, which still hold up to contemporary scrutiny. It is important to remember that these filmmakers were not using computer generated images to create their effects; rather, they were forced to create from ingenuity, creating new techniques in cinematic art. The end result shows visual images that are still powerful and compelling.
The story is well told and excellently acted. Claude Rains stars as Dr. Griffin, the Invisible Man, and he does a superb job in his performance. He creates a convincing character of the scientist, who much like Victor Frankenstein, exhibits hubris in his research. He succeeds in finding the way to invisibility but goes insane as a result and becomes homicidal. The film ends with his character being chased down and killed, and before perishing, he admits he should not have explored forbidden areas of science. Again, this reinforces the theme earlier seen in Frankenstein.
Another interesting theme that is hinted at in this movie is the danger of drug abuse, as also show in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Griffin uses a drug identified as “monocane” in his formula, and the consequences are his becoming dangerously insane. While he does not use the drug as an addict might, he still ruins his life through its usage.
The film did well at the box office and is considered by many critics, including me, to be one of the best horror films of the 1930s.
“Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” (The Wolfman)
This is the well-known saying that is at the heart of the 1941 Universal Studios film The Wolfman. This film completes the quartet of monsters that are at the heart of the Universal horror franchise: the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, The Mummy, and the Wolfman. While there were certainly other creatures and monsters in the films in this time period, these are the four most prominent.
While we see science run out of control and ancient evils in the other films, in The Wolfman, we view a story of tragedy that is focused on an ordinary man, Larry Talbot, who is swept up in unfortunate events beyond his control. Because he is bitten by a werewolf while trying to save a girl and lives, Larry Talbot is fated to become such a beast himself.
The director and producer was George Waggner, and the writer was Kurt Siodmak. Most of our contemporary views about werewolf behavior do not come from ancient traditions or medieval European beliefs but from the mythology that Siodmak created for this movie. Siodmak created the idea that the time of the full moon is when a werewolf takes it form and that to become one, a person must be bitten by a werewolf and survive.
More importantly, he included elements of classical tragedy, of a man fated to murder and to be destroyed, despite his desire to be a good person. The incantation the gypsy woman Maleva intones over Larry Talbot after his death illustrates this theme:
“The way you walked was thorny through no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end. Now you will have peace for eternity.” (The Wolfman)
Siodmak also addressed contemporary issues, specifically the idea of a star marking the next victim of a werewolf, much like a star marking the Jewish people of Europe by the Nazis. Siodmak was a German Jew who had been successful as a writer but had to flee Germany with the take over by the Nazis. While the reference is not direct, it is still a clear metaphor for the horrors of the Nazis. The film demonstrates that evil is both natural and human created.
In addition to excellent writing, the cast was also of the very best. Along side the star Lon Chaney Jr. were Clause Rains, Ralph Bellamy, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Evelyn Ankers. Jack Pierce, as in the other main Universal horror films, created the unforgettable makeup that is the foundation for all other filmic and literary werewolves.
Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from 1886 , which gave the world the epitome of the double, one of the central characteristics of the Gothic genre, this 1932 film is one of the best horror films of that decade or any other time. Robert Mamoulian directed and Adolph Zukor produced the film for Paramount. Fredric March played Jekyll and Hyde and won the 1932 Oscar® for Best Actor. The film was expensive, coming in at approximately one half million dollars to make, and it was also a financial as well as critical success, making about one and one quarter million dollars–a huge amount of money in those days.
The film is an excellent adaptation of the novella, something I rarely say about any film. I love films almost as much as I do books, but almost any adaptation of a film is inferior to the book. The novel has the ability to speak directly to the reader, and the reader’s mind creates images that go much further and deeper than the particular aspect of a director’s vision, at least usually. Stevenson’s novella is oddly short and would have benefited from begin developed in much more depth. I can speak to that in another post in the future. This film develops much of what is only hinted at in the Victorian era novella and is one of the few examples of when a film is superior to the book on which it is based.
The book hints at being a metaphor for drug addiction and the concurrent behavior of addicts, when their worst selves emerge. This film, in a manner that is overt for the early 1930s, visually makes these suggestions. When Jekyll transforms for the first time, Mamoulian uses Jekyll’s POV (point of view) and shows us the images whirling through his mind. Rather than eliminating his negative and evil impulses, he manages to bring them out to the front, and Mr. Hyde indulges his desires.
The book and the film also speak to the issue of the misuse of science and the unguarded pursuit of knowledge. This hubris, always punished by the gods in Greek Drama, was seen earlier in Frankenstein, and it is an issue that will continue to haunt us not only in contemporary films such as Jurassic Park but also in the very real world of scientific research. Atomic weapons immediately come to mind as an example of how science can produce terrible as well as wonderful ends. This film, in Gothic fashion, speaks to the problems of scientific hubris, uncontrolled by ethics.
Fredric March was one of the great leading men of the time. He had a long and extraordinary career, including winning the Best Actor Oscar® two times. Arguably, his performance in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was his best work of his career.
If you have never had the opportunity to watch this film, I recommend it highly.
The next installment in this series is what I consider to be one of the very best horror films ever made: The Bride of Frankenstein.
I also want to mention that I have taught this novel, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus several times at both Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA and the Department of Graduate and Continuing Education at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA.
It is also interesting that the sequel The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) to Universal Studio’s Frankenstein (1931) is a far better film and more faithful adaptation to Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic novel than was the original movie. James Whale directed and Carl Laemmle Jr. produced this film.
The movie opens with a sequence in which Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Mary Shelley appear, which is a nod to the summer of 1816 in which the three writers shared time together and decided to writer ghost stories. Mary Shelley’s contribution was a short story about a young doctor who reanimated a corpse, and which she later expanded into the famous and deeply important novel. In this scene, Mary explains that the story did not end, as shown in the first movie, with the death of the creature in the burning windmill.
Whale imbues this film with both highly religious symbolism, as when the creature is captured and tied to what looks like a crucifix and to references to important sections from the book. The creature famously finds a friend in the blind man, who is able to befriend the creature because he cannot see his deformities. This is a clear reference to stereotyping and bigotry.
In the novel, the Creature demands that Frankenstein create a mate for him, so that his loneliness can be alleviated. In this film, Elsa Lancaster, who also plays Mary Shelley in the opening scene, plays the bride. But as would be expected, it does not go well when she rejects the Creature’s advances, and he says the powerful line, “We belong dead.”
As with Frankenstein, there is a heavy influence of German Expressionism in the cinematography.
Jack Pierce again did the famous makeups, and Boris Karloff starred again as the Creature.
Hello everyone! This may sound like an odd request, but on Thursday 10/14/2021 I am participating in #PitDark on Twitter, a day long event in which authors tweet a pitch for a book to agents.
If any of you have Twitter, please consider retweeting my pinned tweet, which I will put up tomorrow morning.
My Twitter handle is @French_C1955
This is also important–do not like the pitch–that is for agents to let writers know they are interested in your work.
The tweet will be for my novel The Ameriad: The Monastery of Knowledge. I will have the tweet up at 8 A. M. EST.
It will look something like this:
THE FIFTH SEASON X PARABLE OF THE SOWER Lignne knows who she is, what she wants, and faces likely death. Climate disaster puts Earth into dark ages; she wants to be the first female graduate in the Monastery, but murderous treachery threaten her success and life. #A#PitDark#PA
Joe R. Frinzi is a talented author who has created a wonderful series of books, both on Film and especially for children. If you have a little one in your life, please consider giving one of these lovely and entertaining books.
Cathy Bednar is the author of the Myra Carter books on the list!
In this post, I will continue my series on favorite horror films, now focusing specifically on movies of the 1920s.
Another brilliant horror movie of the 1920s is Robert Weine’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari — The German title is Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari — (1920). The plot of the film centers on a mad scientist, Dr. Caligari, a hypnotist, played by Werner Krauss, who exploits a sleepwalker, Cesare, played by Conrad Veidt, to commit murder. It is one of the earliest horror movies and ushers in a decade of greatness in film-making, especially in German cinema.
The true power of the film is in its cinematic style, that of German Expressionism, which is based on the artistic movement of the same name. German Expressionism uses sharp angles, deep shadows, heavy use of darks and lights, and distorted forms to explore the psychological impact of visual images. In this art, the world is often not as it seems to be, and the artists explore distortions that lurk under the surface of apparent normalcy. What is perceived is often deeply disturbing and challenging.
Weine employs these revolutionary cinematic techniques to disorient, frighten, and interrogate the audience. Cesare is a common man, forced by an arrogant authority to become a murderer, which is clearly a commentary on the dark forces at play in Europe in the early parts of the 20th Century, some suggested by contemporary writers. As Weine suggests, the mass of people in Europe would, in the coming decades, be manipulated into creating the horror of Nazism and the Holocaust. I am not claiming that Weine somehow could see into the future, but that he perceived the traumas occurring in Europe, and those distortions appear in his film. Like Weine, other writers, such as Franz Kafka, also saw such coming disturbances.
While only some of Franz Kafka’s brilliant and disturbing literary works had been published at this point–“Metamorphosis” (1915)– is the best example, Kafka’s treatment of the darkness and alienation in society could be an influence on this movie. While it is not certain, I believe it is the case. Regardless of if this is true or not, Weine creates a deeply disturbing movie, one that maintains its power to this day, one that I recommend for all lovers of film.