Favorite Horror Films: Part 7 — The Invisible Man

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The-Invisible-Man

(en.wikipedia.org)

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.

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(en.wikipedia.org)

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.

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Favorite Horror Films: Part 6 — Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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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.

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

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.

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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.

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Favorite Horror Movies: Part 5–The Bride of Frankenstein

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It is 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.

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(Richard Rothwell, 1840)

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

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.”

Jack Pierce again did the famous makeups, and Boris Karloff starred again as the Creature.

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(https://commons.wikimedia.org)

This movie was successful financially and critically. It is one of the rare times when a sequel improves on the original film. The Bride of Frankenstein is the best film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel.

It is, in my opinion, a cinematic masterpiece!

 

Favorite Horror Movies: Part 4: Frankenstein

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The movie that I will discuss in this installment is Frankenstein.  This 1931 film was directed by James Whale and produced by Carl Laemelle, Jr. Universal Studios was following up its huge success with Dracula earlier in the year, so this film seemed like a natural choice to make.

While the title and characters come from the 1818 Mary Shelley novel, it is a loose adaptation of the text.  Interestingly, the sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein, is a much more faithful treatment of the novel than this first film. This movie, one of the most important in horror film history, introduces Boris Karloff as the Creature. Karloff gives an impressive performance as the lost and lonely being who is unsure of who he is and his place in the world.  This sounds like so many teenagers and young people, and while frightening, Karloff also gathered empathy from viewers in his nuanced performance.

Bela Lugosi had been offered the part of the creature but apparently turned it down because of its lack of speaking lines.  Lugosi made a terrible career choice, because Karloff would supplant him after this film’s success as the top box office star and would continue to dominate Lugosi’s subsequent film career.

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The movie is powerful and atmospheric and is highly influenced by the artistic movement German Expressionism that had a stylistic impact on cinema especially in the 1920s and 1930s. Whale used large Gothic structures in the set and deep slashing shadows in creating the atmosphere of the film.

Jack Pierce designed the Creature’s distinctive makeup, which was an ordeal to apply and remove from Boris Karloff each day before and after filming. It is a work of design masterpiece, but it is completely different from the Creature’s appearance in the novel.

For those familiar with the novel, it is significant that not only the Creature’s appearance but also his personality and level of intelligence are vastly different from that of the character from the book. In Mary Shelley’s work, the creature is one of the narrators and is both intelligent and self-educated.  Both of those characteristics are missing from the inarticulate and not very bright film Creature. This kind of vastly different portrayal of characters and themes is something that is, unfortunately, typical of many horror films, or should I say, many film adaptations of books. That, however, should be the topic of another post.

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The film was very successful financially for Universal Studios.  It is also considered by many cinema historians and critics to be one of the most important films made. It spawned numerous sequels and parodies, not limited to movies.  From Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein to the character of Herman Munster in The Munsters to Young Frankenstein, the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation have been fertile ground for satire and spoofing.

If you have not seen Frankenstein, then you should. I recommend it highly.

Frankenstein_poster_1931

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

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Favorite Horror Movies: Part 3–Dracula

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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.

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(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.

 

Favorite Horror Movies! Part 1: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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October is one of my favorite months of the year for several reasons: it is the true beginning of Autumn weather, my birthday is this month, and so is my favorite holiday–Halloween!  This month, I will do two series that fit well with the spirit of Halloween: favorite Horror movies and favorite Horror novels! I will begin with horror films.

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I have been a fan of horror movies since I was a child. I grew up watching Universal movies from the 1930s and 1940s being shown on various themed TV shows with horror hosts. As an adult, my love for these films has not waned; in fact, it has grown and helped to feed my scholarly interest in film. I use these films in some of the classes I teach in college.

Several films, in particular, stand out to me from the 1920s.  Two starred Lon Chaney Sr., the Man of a Thousand Faces, and were made by Universal Studios.

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

The first film is The Hunchback of Notre Dame, (1923) based on the Victor Hugo novel, and it is an extraordinary piece of cinema that stands up today. It was a very expensive production at the time.  Estimates range in the $1,250,000 to $1,500,000 range.  Given the year, that is a huge sum of money. The movie accurately reflects Hugo’s examination of the capacity of human beings to be intensely cruel to each other and of the abuse of power by those in positions of authority.  Wallace Worsley directed the film, and Lon Chaney Sr. gave a magnificent performance as Quasimodo.  It is also important to remember that Mr. Chaney created all of his own makeups.  If all you know of this story is the Disney version, you need to see this production.  I would consider it one of the best and most important films ever made.

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) starring Lon Chaney Sr. is based on Gaston Leroux’s novel and was a huge success. Chaney played the deformed writer who falls in love with a singer and who becomes her kidnapper. This tale of horror and love has been redone numerous times, including the well known stage musical, but none of those productions have reached the sterling height of this extraordinary film.  As with the Hunchback, Chaney created this makeup, and his performance is sublime.  Again, if you have not seen this film,  I recommend it highly.

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Please follow the following links to find my novel:

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An interview about Gallows Hill can be found here.

 

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Dining With Characters, Part 2 — Revisited

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For the next installment of this series, I wanted to focus on a few characters out of Shakespeare with whom I would like to spend a couple of hours eating, drinking, and talking. I have loved Shakespeare’s plays and poetry for much of my life. I have acted in and directed some of his work, and I have studied and taught his writing both at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA and in the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, so I would be thrilled to be able to speak to some of his characters.

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I would have Hamlet, Henry V, and Macbeth as my guests. I imagine we would meet in an English tavern and have a basic meal and beer.  I hope that my royal attendees would not mind not having a grand meal; I am reasonably sure that Henry V and Hamlet spent a fair amount of time in such modest places before their respective plays begin, and as a Scot and a warrior, Macbeth probably was used to basic accommodations while in the field.

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I would ask them about their views of leadership and the responsibilities of a leader and about their portrayals in the plays.  Henry V and Macbeth are both based on historical persons, while Hamlet is perhaps based on a real person–that is a debate for another day, so I wonder what they might have to say.

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I think this would be a lively and deeply fascinating discussion.

With whom from the world of drama, not necessarily Shakespeare, would you choose to invite to dine and speak?

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