Favorite Horror Films: 9: The Mummy

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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.

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

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.

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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.

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Favorite Horror Films: 5: The Bride of Frankenstein

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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.

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(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.”

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.

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This movie was successful financially and critically. It is, in my opinion, a cinematic masterpiece!

If any of you have interest either in horror or cinema, this is a film that you should see.

Favorite Horror Films: 3: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

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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.

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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.

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“The Prophet” Woodcut by Emil Nolde: 1912

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

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.

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

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.

Favorite Horror Films: 2–The Phantom Of The Opera

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The Phantom of the Opera (1925) starring Lon Chaney Sr. is based on Gaston Leroux’s novel and was a huge success. This movie was a Universal Pictures production and was directed by Rupert Julian, although some film historian offer the possibility that Chaney himself was an uncredited director also.

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.  If you are a fan of any of the more recent productions, you certainly should take the time to view this extraordinary movie. It is a piece of cinema history.

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As with the Hunchback, Chaney created this makeup, and his performance is sublime.  The unmasking sequence, in which the imprisoned singer’s curiosity overtakes her, and she removes the mask covering the Phantom’s face, remains a moment of terror and excellent acting.

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In my opinion, The Phantom Of The Opera Again, is not only an excellent horror film, but also it ranks as one of the best and most important works in American cinematic history. If you have not seen this film,  I recommend it highly.

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A New Addition To The U.L.S., The Underground Library Society: Ashley Clayton and her book of choice, Jane Eyre

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I want to welcome Ashley Clayton as the newest member of the U. L. S., The Underground Library Society. This is an unofficial organization dedicated to the preservation of books, and it was created in one of my First Year College Composition Classes at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.  It is based on the Book People from Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrentheit 451.  To join, a writer creates a post about a book he/she would become if they needed to in order to save it. They do not actually have to memorize it though.

When I first watched Jane Eyre[1] by Charlotte Brontë several years ago, I felt I had stumbled upon a pearl necklace left on a tree branch. I had never heard of the novel before, surprisingly—and I still wonder why it wasn’t included on my school reading lists, alongside The Scarlet Letter and Crime and Punishment. Jane is a protagonist I closely relate to, while still finding her differences complex and intriguing. We’re both introverts and artists, we tend to observe humans from afar and would prefer our own company over most people. Jane is also compassionate and does not let her circumstances overcome her fortitude—qualities I greatly admire in other people.

Jane is orphaned as an infant and grows up in an emotionally (and sometimes physically) abusive home. Her Aunt Reed is jealous of the girl and tends to overlook her plights while doting on her three spoiled and vindictive children. After Jane is struck by her older cousin John and she defends herself, she is sent to the red-room in the mansion—a scene which introduces the supernatural theme found throughout the novel. This is the room reportedly haunted by Jane’s dead uncle, and she begs to be released. Abandoned and injured, she falls ill and faints from her panic.

An apothecary is called to the home to see to Jane. Actual physicians, you see, were reserved only for the immediate family—Jane and the servants only saw the apothecary. The man recommends Mrs. Reed to send Jane away to Lowood Institute—an act disguised as charity while tidily securing the girl’s education and ongoing care, and thus eventual livelihood. This is the turning point of Jane’s young life.

Lowood was a harsh and cold place, the food poor and scant, but here Jane is given a chance to learn and develop her talents and abilities. Jane would adapt well and excel in her studies, while learning to survive within the austere school. Jane was already a resilient child from living with her aunt and cousins, and this trait became sharper at Lowood. After her classmate (and only friend) Helen dies, Jane is left alone to navigate the rest of her years at the school.

After Jane finishes her education and teaches at Lowood, she advertises for outside employment and is accepted to work at Thornfield Hall as a governess— “a fine old hall, rather neglected of late years perhaps” as Jane is told. Here she meets the estate’s proprietor, her master—a Mr. Edward Rochester. His life parallels in some ways to Jane’s: he lost a parent (his mother) early in life, his now deceased father was distant and neglectful, and he only inherited the estate after his elder brother’s untimely death. He is also the ward of a Ms. Adèle, a young French child who becomes Jane’s pupil—the third central orphan of the story.[2]

Jane Eyre is a story of injustices, sorrows and resiliency—a story filled with complex moral decisions and vulnerabilities. It is a story of characters struggling along in unfortunate circumstances, trying to find an existence where some sliver of hope and light might be found. Mr. Rochester and Jane find this hope in each other, but only after fire, tragic death and mutual forgiveness. The ending of Jane Eyre is not perfect—the author does not allow for a perfect ending. But the reader is left with a glimpse of a hopeful future and a sense of redemption for mostly everyone involved. And Jane considers herself “supremely blest” at the close of her story.

Jane Eyre is often categorized as a romance novel. While romance is a central theme of the story, I do not believe that is all Jane Eyre should be considered as. And perhaps that is why the novel was not included on my school reading lists. No, Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece is, I believe, one story about what it means to be human and to find yourself in imprisoning circumstances, and ultimately how to live through continued suffering, albeit imperfectly. Charlotte knew these things well herself—her mother, too, died when she was a child and two of her elder sisters died from tuberculosis contracted at school, just as Helen did at Lowood. Jane Eyre is a story of one woman’s strength as she discovers what love, grace and forgiveness truly entail. It is a novel I want alongside me in my life, preserved always for future generations. It is, by no exaggeration, one of the greatest works of literature ever written, and greatly appreciated by myself.

Thank you for reading.

[1] Specifically, the 2006 BBC miniseries starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens.

[2] It is unclear who Adèle’s father is and whether he may still be alive. Her father may be Mr. Rochester, or more likely, another man who Adèle’s mother was involved with during (or shortly after) she was Mr. Rochester’s mistress. Either way, I still consider Adèle an orphan, if not legally, then spiritually.

Thank you to Ashley Clayton for joining the U. L. S.

Please be sure to visit her website A. R. Clayton.

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Kubrick’s Monolith: The Art and Mystery of 2001: A Space Odyssey by Joe R. Frinzi: A Review

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I am pleased to be able to offer a review of this extraordinary book by film scholar Mr. Joe R. Frinzi.

Joe R. Frinzi’s work, Kubrick’s Monolith: The Art and Mystery of 2001: A Space Odyssey, is an excellent book of film criticism, and it should establish Mr. Frinzi as a top level scholar on Stanley Kubrick and his seminal film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In this masterful treatment, Mr. Frinzi details the creation of the film and the social and cinematic importance of this work by the auteur, Stanley Kubrick. It is deeply researched, demonstrates a masterful understanding of cinema, and confirms Mr. Frinzi as a top film scholar.

If you are interested in film, if you love science-fiction, and if you appreciate Stanley Kubrick, then this is a book you must have.

Mr. Frinzi’s work is on the level of a Ph.D. thesis.

I recommend this book to all lovers of cinema, and I give it 5 stars!

Mr. Frinzi’s book is available here: Amazon

and here: McFarland

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Favorite Holiday Movies: Part Three: The Man Who Invented Christmas

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I have several Christmas movies that carry great meaning to me and that I have loved over many years. I have written about them before in this blog, and I will continue to do so. Now, however, I want to make a new entry into my list of favorite Christmas movies.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is an extraordinary film that was released two years ago. It is a wonderful movie  that explores the creative process of Charles Dickens as he wrote the classic novel, A Christmas Carol. The director is Bharat Nalluri, and this work is marvelous! We get a direct entrance into Dickens’ mind as he struggles with his writing. His characters appear and talk to him, which is an excellent touch.

The film is based on the book by Les Standiford, and the stars are Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, and Jonathan Pryce. The entire cast, without exception, give extraordinary performances. Christopher Plummer as Scrooge is especially brilliant. Dan Stevens should be recognized as one of the finest actors today.

This film delivers the message of Dickens’ masterpiece, that humanity should be the business of everyone, that money should not be the focus of our lives, and that we should all try to help each other. It will capture your heart and soul, and it is a film I recommend completely! On a system of 5 stars, I give it five!

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Please, do yourself a favor, and watch this movie!

Favorite Holiday Movies: Part Two

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There are so many aspects of this holiday season that are wonderful to me: getting together with loved ones, friends and family alike (although this year on a very limited basis); the spirit of giving that I hope continues to grow; celebrations; the holiday music; and the memories of happy times.  Among the favorite memories I have are a few specific Christmas movies.

The movie I will talk about today is Scrooge with Albert Finney as the star; he does a magnificent job in his performance as the miserly and misanthropic loan-shark. This musical version of A Christmas Carol is one of the finest filmic adaptations of the classic Christmas Eve ghost story and morality tale.  This film follows  the story closely with Scrooge being visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, of Christmas Present, and of Christmas Future. Among the movies best songs are Scrooge singing “I Hate People” which clearly shows his despicable and greedy nature,  “Thank You Very Much” in which a tap dance is done on Scrooge’s coffin in the future, and “I Like Life” in which the ghost of Christmas Present teaches Scrooge about experiencing life as well as having empathy for others.

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This movie does an excellent job of showing Dickens’ critique of a greed based society and one that did little or nothing to help alleviate the enormous difficulties of the poor.  When first confronted by the ghost of his dead partner Marley, Scrooge tells him that he was always a good man of business.  Marley’s ghost responds, “Mankind should be our business.”  This is a sentiment that stands today.  We should be putting the good of humanity above the pursuit of greed.

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I was a teenager when this movie was first released in 1970, and I loved seeing it with two of my closest friends.  We were captivated by the music and the story, and it remains as powerful to me as when I first saw it. If you have never had the opportunity to see this particular film, I give it my highest recommendation.

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I also remind all of us, in paraphrasing the Master Charles Dickens, that we must always remember to make the good of others our business.

Favorite Holiday Movies: Part One!

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This season is one of my favorite times of year, and I love doing this series on Christmas movies. Throughout the month of December, I will post on several of my favorite Christmas films.

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White Christmas, the 1954 film about two former soldiers who turn song and dance men and who help their former commander as he attempts to run a floundering ski resort, has special meaning to me. It stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney and was directed by Michael Curtiz. It features the songs of Irving Berlin.  As a major piece of American film history, that would be enough to be of interest to me, but it has a much more profound connection.

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My parents were both of “the greatest generation,” which is a description with which I agree. They were born and raised during the depression and were part of the multitudes of America who fought and supported World War II. My father was a Marine, and my mother worked in the Signal Corps.  This group of Americans had a toughness that was forged in the fire of great tumult, both national and international. They understood that the connection to country meant service and a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good.

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(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signal_Corps_%28United_States_Army%29)

My mother loved this movie, and it was a tradition in our family to watch it when it aired on television, which was, if I remember correctly, every Christmas Eve. If not that night, then it was always on a nearby night. Of course, as a child who was born a while after World War II, it was all ancient history to me then, but for my mother and father, it spoke directly to their lives and to their hopes and dreams.

Both of my parents have been gone for quite a while now, over 20 years–they were married for 48 years and died within 2 years of each other. As I have become older, I have learned to appreciate what my parents did for us, which, I have to admit, when I was young and stupid, I did not. To paraphrase Mark Twain, –it is amazing how smart my parents got as I got older. And I appreciate and try to continue some of the family traditions, including watching White Christmas, but now with my beloved wife. And now my granddaughter is old enough to begin to appreciate and enjoy these films. I still feel the connection to my Mom and Pop when I watch this movie.  This movie speaks to the connection of people, of hope, of joy, of happiness, and of the power of music.

And I wish we would have a white Christmas, and I hope it will happen this year.

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Favorite Horror Films: Part Eleven: The Horror of Dracula

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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.

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In 1958, Hammer Studios, a British film company initiated a new cycle of horror films with the release of 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 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.

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(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.

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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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