Favorite Horror Movies: Part 3–Dracula

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Bela_lugosi_dracula

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

When I first considered doing an examination of my favorite horror movies, I thought that going decade by decade would be sufficient, but I realized that some periods have far more excellent films than others.  A simple examination of 2-4 movies from the 1930s will not work, so I am going to look at one film at a time for that decade. I will begin with Dracula, a film I love, and which I have taught in college classes such as Literature and Film and Gothic and Horror.  I also hold the novel to be an excellent and very important book.

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

Dracula, made in 1931, and released for Valentine’s Day–a nice touch–was a huge success and established Bela Lugosi as a top box office star. This production was itself based on the very successful theatrical play Dracula by Hamilton Deane and James Balderston. Stoker’s novel did not see great success during his life, but after his death and the success of the play, it became one of the best selling novels of the 20th Century–worldwide.

Carl Laemmle Jr, capitalized on the story’s growing popularity and produced the movie.  Tod Browning, who had directed Lon Chaney Sr. in several movies, directed this piece. This film is highly atmospheric with a Gothic set and influenced by German Expressionism. Lugosi was brilliant with his authentic Hungarian accent and menacing presence. His performance and voice set the standard for the image of Dracula and vampires for decades to come. Dracula was a sensation and terrified people; today’s audience would probably find it slow and not at all frightening, but that reflects our jaded views that have been glutted with gore as the staple ingredient of contemporary horror.  This film depended on story telling, atmosphere, and acting. The film’s success created an era of classic horror films through the 1930s and part of the 1940s with Universal studios leading the way.

Additionally, Dracula is generally accepted by most film critics as one of the best horror films made.  I certainly consider it to be one of the best and most important.

dracula_spanish_big

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

It is an interesting and little known detail of film history that in addition to the English language version, Universal also made a Spanish language film at the same time.  The  two films shared the same sets, and the same basic scripts, but with different actors and a different director: George Melford directed, and Carlos Villarías stared as Dracula.  While not as well known, an argument can be made that this is a better film than the more established English language version.  If you ever have the opportunity to see it, I recommend that you do.

 

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Books That Have Influenced Me: Dracula

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I have ready many books over the course of my life, and books have become a central part of who I am. I read books for pleasure, for study, and for examination. I teach books in my literature classes, I write about them in scholarly work, and I write novels. As I was considering the topic for this post, I started to think about what books have influenced me the most in my life.

I do not mean that I want to explore what books are the most meaningful or the most important literature. That is a completely different discussion. Certainly there can be crossover in my choices, because I will not eliminate a text on its literary value, but I am interested now in which books had a part to play in my development as a human being, which ones helped to form me into the person I now am.

So many come to mind and are possibilities for discussion, especially when I think of some of the books I read as a youngster in high school. Among these novels are Dracula, The War of the Worlds, A Tale of Two Cities, Frankenstein, The Lord of the Rings and Fahrenheit 451.  Certainly, there were many more books that I read at that time, and I have always been a voracious reader, but these books, in a variety of ways help to shape my interests and some of my directions in life.

Today, I will focus on Dracula by Bram Stoker and what its influence on me was and is. This was one of the first Gothic novels I had read, and its power caught me immediately. I was drawn to the images of dark castles, terrible villains, and the supernatural. That I love Gothic is still clear, because not only do I teach Gothic literature, but also I write it.

Dracula, however, had a much deeper impact on me that simply the horror aspect; I was drawn to the idea of the need for good people to oppose evil.  It is a theme that, on the surface, might seem simplistic, but a person need only look at the history of the 20th Century into our contemporary time to see that evil does exist, especially in the form of people who would oppress, torment, exclude, and bully others. Of course, I am not making an argument that the supernatural evil in this novel exists, but that human evil certainly does.  The Nazis demonstrated that human horror in its full capacity.

In this book, a fellowship of human beings is created, and they decide to fight a creature that is far more powerful than anything they could have imagined, and they do so at the risk of their lives.  This act of defending others, even if the people do the battle are put at risk, became a central part of my ethos.  There will always be those who would bully and oppress others, and they must always be opposed.  While in early high school, Dracula helped to form that idea in my mind.

In the next entry in this series, I will discuss a book in which the idea of fellowship is a central theme.

draculabook

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

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Who Is Your Favorite Horror Writer?

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I have been enjoying doing this series on favorite writers, and I hope you have all been liking it also! For this entry, I wanted to mention my favorite horror writers. This, like with the other genres of writers, is difficult because there are so many excellent authors.

stephen_king,_comicon

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

I will begin with Stephen King, the writer I think is the consummate horror writer, in addition to working in many other genres. I realize that as an academic, I risk having the Gods of the Academy shoot lightning bolts at me for saying making this claim, but I think King is one of the best writers of our time, and his work rises to stand along other great literary figures. Among his best horror novels are The Stand, The Shining, and It.

Anne_Rice

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

Anne Rice is my next choice. With her vampire series, she rejuvenated what had been a tired approach to a classic monster. Almost all writers who have explored vampires since then owe a debt to her for showing what was possible. I am pleased that she has returned to  her vampire series after a hiatus of quite a few years. Some of her best novels are Interview With The Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and Prince Lestat.

 

Bram_Stoker_1906

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

My next choice in the horror genre is Bram Stoker, the author of the classic novel,
Dracula.
While I will not make a claim that his other novels rise to the level of this book, Dracula is so powerful and so important that his writing of it makes him one of the most important horror writers of any era.

I ask all of you: who is your favorite horror writer?

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

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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: The Horror of Dracula: Revisited

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I am returning to my series of examinations of horror movies through various decades.  After the great horror  cycle of movies from Universal Studios in the 1930s and 1940s culminating in the Abbott and Costello spoofs, serious horror movies vanished for a period. They were replaced by the spate of giant critter movies spawned by the fears of nuclear fallout post World War Two and the ominous threat of nuclear armageddon of the Cold War.

Dracula1958poster

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

In 1957, Hammer Studios, a British film company initiated a new cycle of horror films with the release of The Curse of Frankenstein. Following on the success of that film, Hammer then produced its new version of a filmic adaptation of Dracula by Bram Stoker: Horror of Dracula (the American title) or Dracula (the British title).  This film not only allowed this film studio to emerge as a major force in horror films, but also it, along with The Curse of Frankenstein, spawned a new cycle in horror that would span nearly two decades. The film starred Sir Christopher Lee as Dracula, Peter Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing, and Michael Gough as  Arthur Holmwood and was directed by Terence Fisher.

Christopher_Lee_at_the_Berlin_International_Film_Festival_2013

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

This film dramatically changed the course of horror films.  Prior to Horror Of Dracula, most horror movies, especially  the classic Universal films were shot in black and white; this film was in vivid color. Also changed noticeably from the 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi was the pacing and the level of over sexuality and violence. This movie moved at a very rapid pace with condensed action and compression of characters from the book.  A very lively film score added to the tension and feeling of almost constant movement.

 

220px-Dracula_1958_c

(https://fr.wikipedia.org)

Christopher Lee brought an imposing physicality to the role and played the count with a noble British accent. He showed great strength and mobility in his performance. And this film introduced  the vampire with fangs and blood.  When he emerges in full fury after the vampire girl has attacked Jonathan Harker, he is a demonic image.  This was a representation of the vampire that was entirely new and very powerful.

In Britain, this movie received an X rating because of its, what was for the time, overt sexuality and violence. The women sometimes wore low cut gowns, and Dracula’s attacks carried a not too subtle sexuality, although by today’s standards, this shocking sensuality certainly would be tame or almost quaint.

Horror Of Dracula was a success both financially and critically. Hammer studios would make numerous sequels to this film and would also base the release of other movies, principally on Dr. Frankenstein , on their good fortune. If you enjoy horror films and have not seen this particular movie, I recommend it.

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Favorite Horror Films: The Wolfman: Revisited

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The-wolfman

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“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 poem 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.

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(https://pixabay.com)

More importantly, he included elements of 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.

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(http://allencentre.wikispaces.com/)

In addition to excellent writing, the cast was also of the very best. Along side the star Lon Chaney Jr. were Claude 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.

It was a film that was excellent in every level of production, and it maintains its excellence today.

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Gallows Hill can be found here in ebook.

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An interview about Gallows Hill can be found here.

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Please follow the following links to find my novel:

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Doc Chuck’s Recommended Readings–Revisited

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This blogpost was written several years ago, but I thought it was worth revisiting, especially because I love to suggest books for people to read.

I had the good fortune this week of delivering a talk at the Muhlenberg College Board of Associates Meeting on the topic of Great Books.  I spoke with the audience for about 20-25 minutes about what I consider to be great books and why they matter. The main argument I made about the importance of books is that they connect us as people.  I am an unreserved humanist; I believe that human beings have the power to improve themselves, that education is crucial to develop of an informed  society, and that books allow readers to experience the worlds of others.

The audience was one of professionals from many fields but very few English Literature majors; however, their interest in reading and books was heartening for me.  They wanted to hear suggestions about what books I would recommend.

In my classes, I sometimes do something I call — Chuck’s recommended readings.  I ask the students to write the title and author and then tell them that what they do with that information is entirely up to them.  Since several of the attendees of this talk asked for further suggestions, I decided to put together a list, very abbreviated I admit, of books I would recommend.  Some of them I consider among the best and most important books ever written, and some I simply found to be wonderful and entertaining.

Now, the list:

Doc Chuck’s Recommended Readings
Agee, James and Walker Evans. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits.

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451.

Brown, Larry. Fay.

Cervantes, Miguel De. Don Quixote.

Delaney, Frank. Ireland.

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities.

Doyle, Roddy. A Star Called Henry.

Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose.

Gaiman, Neil. American Gods.

Grass, Günter. The Tin Drum.

Helprin, Mark. A Soldier of the Great War.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . The Pacific and Other Stories.

Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom The Bell Tolls.

Homer. The Iliad.

. . . . . . . The Odyssey.

King, Stephen. Hearts In Atlantis.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . The Stand.

Lee, Harper.  To Kill A Mockingbird.

Poe, Edgar Allan.  Complete Works.

Rice, Anne. Interview With the Vampire.

Rowling, J. K. The entire Harry Potter series.

Shakespeare, William. The Collected Works.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein.

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings.

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Zafon, Carlos Ruiz. The Shadow of the Wind.

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief.

I am certain there are many books I have forgotten to mention.  This is neither intended to be all-inclusive, nor is it meant to be authoritarian.  I hope that someone may find a book or books from this list, read them, and enjoy them.

Happy reading!

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Please follow the following links to find my novel:

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