Favorite Horror Films of the 1940s: Cat People: Revisited

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Cat_People_poster

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

In 1942, producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Torneur, advanced the making of horror films by expanding the possible topics and boundaries. This extraordinary film is not one that relies on a standard “monster”; instead, Torneur employs psychological suspense and subtle development of terror.

This film offers a sophisticated and understated treatment of sexuality and its impact on people. The main character, Irena, a fashion designer, born in Serbia, and played by Simone Simon combines the modern world of high fashion in New York City with the old world beliefs that she is descended from people who are shape-shifters and who turn into big cats when sexually enticed and aroused. Torneur builds a new variation on the established theme of lycanthropy, in which a male changes into a wolf. Additionally, the film demonstrates the tension between science and superstition, the modern era versus the medieval times, and religion versus secularism.

While to a contemporary audience, this movie might seem dated and subdued, I believe it still carries great impact in its study of horror that is felt rather than seen, slowly created rather than visceral, and suggestive rather overt.

Cat People did very well at the box office, but it received a mixed range of reviews at the time. Since the 1940s, it has come to be seen as one of the more important horror films of the 20th Century.  If you have the opportunity, I recommend watching Cat People.

Jaguar

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

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Gallows Hill can be found here in ebook.

Gallows Hill in paperback can be found here.

An interview about Gallows Hill can be found here.

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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.

TZR-Mirror-Image-Marion-in-mirror

 

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.

TZR-Mirror-Image-Marion-in-mirror

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).

TZ-collage-I-Am-the-Night-NOLD

(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.)

TZ-collage-number-12-and-Stepford

(“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.

TZ-collage-Stopover-and-Cabin

(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.

TZ-collage-Trade-ins-and-Get-Out

(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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Gallows Hill can be found here in ebook.

Gallows Hill in paperback can be found here.

An interview about Gallows Hill can be found here.

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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!

Please follow the following links to find my novel:

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Science-Fiction Films of the 1930s: Frankenstein

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frankenstein-394281_640

(https://pixabay.com/)

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. I have posted on Frankenstein before in my series on horror films, but like its namesake novel, it can also been seen as early science-fiction.

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.

boris-karloff-399188_640

(https://pixabay.com/)

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.

mortality-401222_640

(https://pixabay.com/)

This movie incorporates the stuff of science-fiction, and we see Dr. Frankenstein and his then advanced technological equipment as he attempts to capture the essence of life. In fact, there is more such machinery in the film than exists in the book. So, is Frankenstein horror or science-fiction? I argue it is both.

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.

 

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

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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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Please follow the following links to find my novel:

ebook

Print book

Thank you!

The book trailer:

Maledicus:Investigative Paranormal Society Book I

My radio interview:

interview

Favorite Horror Films of the 1940s: Cat People

Standard

Cat_People_poster

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

In 1942, producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Torneur, advanced the making of horror films by expanding the possible topics and boundaries. This extraordinary film is not one that relies on a standard “monster”; instead, Torneur employs psychological suspense and subtle development of terror.

This film offers a sophisticated and understated treatment of sexuality and its impact on people. The main character, Irena, a fashion designer, born in Serbia, and played by Simone Simon combines the modern world of high fashion in New York City with the old world beliefs that she is descended from people who are shape-shifters and who turn into big cats when sexually enticed and aroused. Torneur builds a new variation on the established theme of lycanthropy, in which a male changes into a wolf. Additionally, the film demonstrates the tension between science and superstition, the modern era versus the medieval times, and religion versus secularism.

While to a contemporary audience, this movie might seem dated and subdued, I believe it still carries great impact in its study of horror that is felt rather than seen, slowly created rather than visceral, and suggestive rather overt.

Cat People did very well at the box office, but it received a mixed range of reviews at the time. Since the 1940s, it has come to be seen as one of the more important horror films of the 20th Century.  If you have the opportunity, I recommend watching Cat People.

Jaguar

(https://en.wikipedia.org)