Favorite Horror Films: The Curse Of The Werewolf: revisited

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Curseofthewerewolf

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

The decade of the 1960s saw the production of many horror films, some fairly standard offerings and some innovative. In 1961, Hammer Studios continued the re-imagining of classic horror characters, which they had begun with The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Dracula, in the release of The Curse of the Werewolf. 

Movie audiences in 1961 were still very aware of the image of Universal Studios’ The Wolfman and its assorted sequels with Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, the unfortunate and reluctant lycanthrope. Talbot, a good man, was cursed to become a killing monster after having been bitten by a werewolf while attempting, unsuccessfully, to save a girl from its attack. This cinematic image was one that would be very difficult to alter for the horror viewing audience.

While not making viewers forget Lon Chaney Jr. and Larry Talbot, The Curse of the Werewolf, directed by Terence Fisher, did establish new cinematic territory in this often overlooked, but important, film. This film, unlike its Universal predecessors, which were made primarily in black and white and influenced heavily by German Expressionism, is shot in color and features an almost blond werewolf in an extremely effective makeup and, for the time, a great deal of blood.

The star of this film, in his first movie, is Oliver Reed, who would go on to have a long and productive career as a film actor. Set in 18th Century Spain, the film bases its lycanthropy  on the juxtaposition of two events: Leon is the result of a peasant girl being raped, and he is born on Christmas Day, which was considered a very unlucky event. Leon is raised by a kindly man, but when puberty hits, besides the normal changes in his body, he becomes literally a monster.  What would Freud have to say about that?

Just as religion plays a part in his curse, so does it in his death. His step-father, a kindly man becomes the agent of his release. His step-father has a silver bullet made from a cross.  He shoots Leon with it, while his step-son is in the form of the monster; thus, he  destroys the werewolf and release’s Leon’s soul, but it also fills his step-father with deep grief.

Like the previous Hammer productions, this film continues with its exploration of sex and violence, going further than that which had been seen in the Universal films. While tame in sexual depictions by our contemporary standards, it was shocking to many audiences of the time.

From a critical perspective, this film also introduces an element of class critique. The young woman who is raped at the beginning of the film comes from abject poverty at the lowest level of the class structure, and the man who puts her in the cell, setting up the circumstances for the attack, is a Marques, a Spanish nobleman. Clearly, the film indicts the abuse of power and the class inequity of that time. If this were an academic paper, I would focus heavily on the class critique, but I simply wanted to draw attention to it briefly in this post.

The Curse of the Werewolf was another successful entry in Hammer Studios’ new cycle of horror films, although unlike the Dracula and Frankenstein movies, it would not generate a run of sequels. On its own, however, it rates as a film of importance in the horror genre.

Overall, if you have not seen this film, I give it a very strong recommendation.

agree-2028633_960_720

(https://pixabay.com)

 

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Favorite Horror Films: The Horror of Dracula: Revisited

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Dracula_1958_a

(https://commons.wikimedia.org/)

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 Bride of Frankenstein: Revisited

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Brideoffrankenstein

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

In honor of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, I want to reblog this post about the horror film that is, in my opinion, the closest to the original novel.

I also want to mention that I have taught  this novel several times at both Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA and the Wescoe School of 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.

RothwellMaryShelley

(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.

Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)

(https://commons.wikimedia.org)

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.

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Favorite Horror Films: The Wolfman: Revisited

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The-wolfman

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

“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.

full-moon-415501_960_720

(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.

yellowstar

(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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A Reposting of “5 Twilight Zone Episodes That Influenced Modern Horror Film” by Dawn Keetley

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I am honored to repost this essay from Horror Homeroom by Dawn Keetley. Horror Homeroom is a site that examines horror movies, television, and books.  I have to say that Dawn Keetley is not only the author of this post and one of the editors of this site, but she is also one of the best English professors I have had the good fortune of knowing and taking classes with.

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5 Twilight Zone Episodes That

Influenced Modern Horror Film

The Twilight Zone (1959-64) is not only one of the most acclaimed TV series but also one of the most influential on artists of all kinds, but especially on the creators of horror. The list below identifies five episodes that in my view powerfully shaped some of our best modern horror films. There are undoubtedly more, but this is a beginning.

  1. “Mirror Image” (s. 1, ep. 21; February 26, 1960) and Psycho

Written by Rod Serling and directed by John Brahm, “Mirror Image” stars Vera Miles as Millicent Barnes, a 25-year-old unmarried woman who is waiting for a bus to take her to a new job. She is clearly an unencumbered woman who is looking out for herself, not for a man. In one of the most enigmatic of Twilight Zone episodes, however, she soon catches a glimpse of her double in a bathroom mirror—and then on the bus to the new job. A would-be fellow passenger in the bus depot strikes up a conversation with Millicent, but gets so concerned about her wild talk about doubles that before long, he has her carted off by the police.

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Millicent in “Mirror Image” and Lila in Psycho (both played by Vera Miles)

Despite the fact that Millicent is played by Vera Miles, who will soon star as Lila in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), she more closely evokes Lila’s ill-fated sister Marion (Janet Leigh), a character who is similarly traveling, trying to improve her life, not securely ensconced in marriage and domesticity. Marion also has a troubled relationship with her mirror image. After she steals the money, she is unable to look at herself in the mirror–her reflection detached. Her mirror image becomes, like Millicent’s, an uncanny double, one that prefigures her doom despite her decision to return the stolen money. Lila, too, almost becomes alienated from her mirror image, catching herself unawares in Mrs. Bates’ bedroom mirror and momentarily horrified by her “double.” In the end, though, Lila recognizes herself and retains her singular selfhood.

 

  1. “I Am the Night – Color Me Black” (s. 5, ep. 26; March 27, 1964) and Night of the Living Dead

The relationship between “I Am the Night” and Night of the Living Dead (1968) is a little more oblique than some of the other connections I’m making here. This season 5 Twilight Zone episode, written by Rod Serling, concerns a town’s dark desire for vengeance against a man who was convicted (unjustly) of killing a bigot in self-defense. A minister (played by Ivan Dixon) preaches mercy to the townspeople, but they become one of those irrational mobs, driven by hate, that features more than once in The Twilight Zone. One shot of the mob closing in on the condemned man visually anticipates George A. Romero’s mob of ghouls, and it’s hard not to believe Romero wasn’t influenced by this episode in his shots of ghoul violence–as well as by the angry mob in the season 1 episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (1960).

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(Mob scenes in “I Am the Night” and Night of the Living Dead)

With the mob scene in “I Am the Night,” the episode shifts into the supernatural as the dawn fails to come and the town is plunged into an unnatural darkness that is clearly metaphorical, embodying the townspeople’s hate; the episode then cuts to a scene of people huddled round a radio listening to reports of a similar “darkness” breaking out in other towns. It is stunningly evocative of the scenes in Night of the Living Dead in which the survivors in the farmhouse listen to reports on the radio of outbreaks of “mass murder” and cannibalism.

 

  1. “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” (s. 5, ep. 15; January 24, 1964) and The Stepford Wives

“Number 12 Looks Just Like You” is a classic Twilight Zone episode written by John Tomerlin and based on a 1952 Charles Beaumont story, “The Beautiful People.” It follows the struggles of Marilyn Cuberle against her society’s decree that when she reaches adulthood she must undergo a transformation, becoming a specific numbered body type. (The episode also clearly influenced Scott Westerfeld’s 2005 novel, Uglies.) As in many Twilight Zone episodes, this plot device highlights conformity, as Marilyn vehemently insists she does not want the transformation: she doesn’t want to look just like everyone else, and she thinks she looks fine as she is. Marilyn’s alleged “choice” to undergo the transformation is an illusion, however, and she is chased down a corridor and forced / coerced (we don’t see how it actually happens) to endure the process. The change is not only physical but also mental: after the transformation, Marilyn gazes mindlessly and happily in the mirror at herself. (There may be an interesting contrast here with the alienating experiences that independent, rebellious women like Millicent in “Mirror Image” and Marion in Psycho enjoy with their mirror images.)

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(“Number 12 Looks Just Like You” and The Stepford Wives)

The parallels with The Stepford Wives (1975) are obvious, although the experience is gendered in Ira Levin’s novel and Bryan Forbes’s film: the struggle for autonomy is not the individual’s struggle against society but women’s struggle against men. The film’s penultimate scene ends with the newly “transformed” Joanna staring blankly at the mirror brushing her hair—an evocation of Marilyn’s final adoring and yet empty gaze at herself. Women who conform—to societal dictates, to men, to normative standards of beauty—enjoy a vastly more untroubled relationship with their mirrors, it seems.

  1. “Stopover in a Quiet Town” (s. 5, ep. 30; April 24, 1964) and The Cabin in the Woods

Written by Earl Hamner, Jr., “Stopover” is in my view a seriously underrated episode and should rightfully appear in any top 10 list of Twilight Zone episodes. It opens with a young married couple, Bob and Millie Frazier, who wake up in a small town with no memory of how they got there. They wander around the town, which is utterly deserted, trying to figure out where they are, why no one is around, and how they can get away. They find and board a train with relief but, minutes after leaving, discover that the train has just circled back to the point of departure. At the end of the episode, a gigantic hand descends, revealing that the couple is merely a toy in the games of others. There is a reality behind their own reality of which they were profoundly unaware.

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(The endings of “Stopover in a Quiet Town” and The Cabin in the Woods)

It is this ending of this episode in particular that marks its undeniable parallel to Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods (2012), which similarly ends with a giant hand that utterly shifts the frame for characters and viewers. All the characters in Cabin in the Woods are—and always have been—pawns in another’s drama. There is an earlier moment in “Stopover,” too, when the couple sees a squirrel on a tree only to discover that it, along with the tree and the grass, are fake—just like the simulated  nature in Cabin in the Woods. (This scene also evokes the uncanny moment in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening in which the fleeing group encounter a house filled with plastic plants and fruit.)

As another aside, at one point in “Stopover,” Millie and Bob wander into the empty town church—a scene that anticipates the moment in Children of the Corn (1984) when Vicky and Burt arrive at a similarly deserted town and enter a similar eerily empty church. Both Vicky and Burt, like Millie and Bob in “Stopover” and the characters in Cabin in the Woods, will be sacrificed to forces greater than themselves.

  1. “The Trade-Ins” (s. 3, ep. 31; April 20, 1962) and Get Out

I have written elsewhere on the connection between the season 3 episode “The Trade-Ins,” written by Rod Serling, and professed Twilight Zone fan Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017). (Peele is slated to helm an upcoming revival of the series for CBS All Access.  The entire premise of the episode, which follows an elderly couple, John and Marie Holt, as they explore “trading in” their aging and sick bodies for new lifelike robot bodies, anticipates Get Out’s Coagula procedure, in which aging white people hijack young, healthy African American bodies. Reading “The Trade-Ins” back through Get Out reveals the power and privilege inherent in such body-swapping technologies (something The Stepford Wives also puts front and center). Systemic power and its abuses is not what preoccupies The Twilight Zone, which focuses instead on love and the ethical choice John Holt confronts about whether he should enjoy a young pain-free body alone or remain in his aging one along with his wife. Institutional power and oppression shimmers into view, though, in light of Peele’s revisionary film.

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(The Holts look at the replicas in “The Trade-Ins” and the Armitages party guests scrutinize Chris in Get Out)

I’m definitely interested in hearing about what other Twilight Zone episodes you think influenced modern horror. I did write a post a little while ago about how the season 3 episode, “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” uncannily anticipates the trope in recent horror film of characters waking up in a strange room with no idea how they got there—Cube (1997), Saw (2004), and, especially, Circle (2015).

Once again, thank you to Dawn Keetley and Horror Homeroom !

Favorite Horror Films of the 1920s: The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Revisited

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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.

For this series, I will try to limit my choices of film to 2-4 representative examples.  Two films, in particular, stand out to me from the 1920s.  They both starred Lon Chaney Sr., the Man of a Thousand Faces, and were made by Universal Studios.

Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame

(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.

phantomoftheopera

(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.

thumbup

https://pixabay.com

 

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Happy Birthday to Bram Stoker!

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Bram_Stoker_1906

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

Today is the 170th anniversary of Irish writer Bram Stoker’s birthday. As the author of Dracula, a book I consider one of the finest Gothic novels ever written, he has had enormous impact on the worlds of writing, theater, and film.

To commemorate this day, the wonderful librarians at Lehigh University’s Linderman Library organized a showing of the classic film Dracula (1931) and starring Bela Lugosi. I was asked to give a short presentation about the film, which I enjoyed doing.  Given the opportunity to talk about this book and film, I always grasp the chance.

draculaposter

So I wish Bram Stoker a happy birthday!

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Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I by Charles F. French is available for purchase on Amazon either as an ebook or a print book!

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