Archive for October, 2012

TCM Double Feature (10/24/12): Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 25, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

TCM Double Feature of Universal’s “Frankenstein” (1931) and “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935).

Today I spent the afternoon with a good friend of mine, reliving my childhood and watching two of my all-time favorite Universal Horror flicks! AMC theaters ran a one day only showing of “Frankenstein” and “The Bride of Frankenstein” featuring Boris Karloff. Te prints were restored to their original brilliance and aspect ratios and were accompanied by commentary from TCM’s Host Robert Osborne as well as an interview with Bela Lugosi Jr, Sarah Karloff and modern make-up master Rick Baker. The interviews were fun but hardly enlightening if you have already scene the extras on the respective Legacy box sets. Even so, it was familiar and added to our growing anticipation for the films.

Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster (1931).

Finally, once the films began, I was at once thrilled with the fact that I was seeing them on a large screen for the first time ever. I saw details which had never been noticeable before, such as the boil or growth on the back of the Baron Frankenstein’s neck, or the row of skulls in Dr. Waldman’s office. The alternating pathos and fright-factor of Karloff’s monster was amplified on the silver screen and Elsa Lanchester was stunning, both as the author Mary Shelley in the movie prologue, and as the Bride of the Monster.

The lovely Elsa Lanchester touches up her make-up.

The lush Gothic sets and sweeping soundtrack (in the case of Franz Waxman’s score for “The Bride…”) just seemed all the more grandiose and romantic in this theatrical format, however, what stood out the most for me was being able to see the faces of the extras for the first time. The expressions on the faces of the villagers as little Maria’s father walks her limp body through town bringing a sudden halt to the wedding festivities, or noticing for the first time just how cute Elizabeth’s brides maids were had me enthralled. When the lights went up after three hours on this glorious Gothic film-making I felt like I’d just spent the afternoon with old friends and hated getting up to leave my seat.

The Hunchback of the Morgue

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 20, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

As much as I love the original portrayals of the classic monsters of the silver screen, every once in a while someone will come along and do an interpretation that is so outlandish and uncharacteristic that it cannot be ignored. Such is the case with Spanish Horror actor/screenwriter/director Paul Naschy (nee Jacinto Molina) and his reinterpretations of the classic Universal Monsters, his most famous incarnation of course being the werewolf Waldemar Daninsky, whom he has brought to audiences twelve times over the last forty-odd years.
He has also, however, brought his unusual mixture of Exploitation and Gothic Fantasy to the time honored characters of Dracula, Dr Jekyll & Mister Hyde, the Frankenstein Monster and, as in this case, the Hunchback. The hunchback of this story is known as Gotho, and works as a sort of servile lackey (a la Igor of the Universal Frankenstein films) of the unorthodox Dr Orla at the morgue of the Feldkirch hospital in western Austria, prepping bodies for dissection. Here he is pushed around a lot by the other morgue attendants who look down on him because of his disfigurement and simple-mindedness.

Spanish poster

Like Quasimodo of the Notre Dame story, he falls in love with a pretty girl, Ilse, whom he grew up with and has always been nice to him but unlike the sympathetic creature of the Victor Hugo tale, whenever he is teased or mistreated he lashes out violently. Where this really comes out is when his beloved Ilse succumbs to some malady of the lungs and the other morgue attendants try to steal a gold cross necklace from her cadaver. Gotho goes ballistic and kills them both, even decapitating one with a single swing of a hatchet, which just happened to be handy in the prep room.
Realizing what he has done, he then takes Ilse’s corpse and goes into hiding in a secret chamber below the hospital which apparently is a leftover torture room from the Inquisition, replete with an acid pit, which comes into use later on in the film. As police go around questioning hospital employees about the whereabouts of Gotho, who is their prime suspect in the murders, the hunchback attempts to enlist the help of Dr Orla to revive her. Orla, who definitely falls within the “mad doctor” category, agrees to help Gotho if he will let him use his hideout as a lab to work on his unconventional experiments, which the hospital board members have barred him from continuing on site. Gotho agrees to allow this and to help him as a gofer if it will mean the re-animation of his beloved Ilse.

Dr Orla feeds his creation body parts (El Jorobado de la Morgue_1973_lobbycard_German).

Orla, however, is not as concerned with reviving Ilse as he is creating his own life form which requires the sacrifice of living organisms to aliment the creature growing in his enormous glass beaker. Eventually the creature will grow big enough where it breaks the beaker and needs to be kept in a cell behind a large wooden door with a slot for the doctor to occasionally peep through to check on its progress or when he feeds it live human beings. On these occasions nothing is shown but a nasty gnarring is heard which causes the doctor to wince, insinuating that whatever lies behind the door must be nasty indeed. Orla believes that the creature is an example of primordial man and sites references to such beings in alchemical and other occult treatises and even name drops the Necronomicon of H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos. Gotho struggles with wanting to please the doctor, so he will bring back his Ilse, but not wanting to hurt anyone else if they don’t deserve it. The rest of the movie deals with the police investigation, the race to reanimate Ilse before her cadaver completely rots away and the unexpected addition of an attractive female doctor who develops a crush on Gotho because of his kindness and devotion to his departed sweetheart. Her crush at first is rebuffed by Gotho, but he eventually gives in to her advances and they make love in a scene which was heavily censured back in the day. Even though this scene was filmed in alternate nude and non-nude versions, the censors ordered the nude scene to be destroyed because of its offensiveness. Basically, the censors must have gotten bugged out by seeing a shirtless hunchback getting it on, and so only a fragment of that scene survives to this day.
Another scene which I find much more disconcerting but which was apparently okay with said censors involves what appears to be a slew of rats actually being set on fire. Basically, the rodents swarm Ilse’s body while Gotho is away and when he sees them gnawing on Ilse’s face upon his return he takes a torch to the lot as they leap at him and scurry frantically about the dungeon squealing in agony—the things one could get away with in the days before PETA.

Gotho takes a torch to the rats (El Jorobado de la Morgue_1973_German lobby card).

The movie is full of such shocking scenes and charnel shenanigans and that is what makes this such a ghoulish treat for Horror fans who like a little exploitation thrown in the mix. If you are curious, and have a strong stomach, the DVD by Mya is a decent print with the unedited scenes spliced in. Although these scenes are obviously from a different source, I didn’t find the difference in quality as distracting as other reviewers have. The photo gallery seems to be comprised of random screen-caps, but the gallery of original promotional materials is interesting to look at.

Mya DVD

Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad

Posted in Uncategorized on October 12, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

After almost twenty years of unjustifiable procrastination, I have finally gotten around to reading “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”, by the British master of the modern ghost story, Montague Rhodes (a/k/a M.R.) James. First published in 1923, it is one of his most celebrated tales and is generally regarded as a masterpiece of the genre. I have been aware of its existence for decades and even own a copy of Dover’s edition of James’ seminal collection, “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary”, but I have put off reading it in favor of the more Gothic fare I love and know so well and have left my copy sit in a box in my storage facility to gather dust and mold.

Dover edition of “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary”.

Recently, however, I came across the tale in a British paperback series at work, published by Penguin, and called the “Read Red” series, which features some classic Horror and Supernatural titles in mass-market sized editions with predominantly yellow and black cover art that brings to mind the “giallo” titles of Italy. The slender volume (number 3 in the series) is called “The Haunted Doll’s House” and features a handful of James’ most famous tales including “Count Magnus”, “Casting the Runes” and “Lost Hearts” among others.

“The Haunted Doll’s House”, in which I recently found the story.

Once I made the decision to pick it up, I dove straight into the opening story, which just happened to be the one featured in this review. True to its reputation, it was subtly engrossing and disturbing, lulling one into thinking it was going to be a droll little story about a priggish young professor who has a misadventure a la Ichabod Crane, from Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, but instead the story becomes quite nightmarish in its depiction of the very unique haunting visited upon him.
Without giving too much away, the story tells of an uptight young professor of ontography (a branch of anthropology) named Parkins who is a precious opinionated fellow with no sense of humor and zero tolerance for any talk of esoterica or of the supernatural. The story opens with a conversation at the “hospitable hall of St. James’s college”, where Parkins and his colleagues are seated for a feast. Here James sets up the events which will lead Parkins to his spectral visitation. At the prodding of his peers, Parkins reveals that he intends to take a working holiday on the coast at the town of Burnstow which, according to Wikipedia, is a fictionalized version of Felixstowe in Suffolk. While there, he intends to work on some of his papers and hone his golf technique. An unnamed colleague asks if he would mind checking out the site of the Templar’s preceptory (a sort of headquarters) to see if it would make a good place to have a dig in the summer. Wary at first, Parkins agrees to have a look, since he will be staying at a nearby hotel, as it was the only one that still had a room available. In fact, he claims that the room he got is “double-bedded”, since nothing else was available.
Another colleague then asks if he might share the room for a day or two out of the time Parkins is occupying it. Parkins, put on the spot, tries to weasel out of it and the fellow laughs and says “It’s all right. I promise not to interrupt your work; don’t you disturb yourself about that. No, I won’t come if you don’t want me; but I thought I should do so nicely to keep the ghosts off.” This is where it is explained in no uncertain terms that Parkins does not believe in the supernatural and has no tolerance for any talk of such things. This scene is rewritten and expanded in the TV adaptation from an episode of the show Omnibus back in 1968 (re-titled as “Whistle and I’ll Come to You”) to include a whole philosophical tirade where he comes off as very dismissive and condescending. The Parkins in the story isn’t quite as haughty (nor is he as old), but it is fascinating to watch Michael Hordern’s eccentric performance as Professor Parkins.

An older professor Parkins finds the fateful whistle in the 1968 adaptation from “Omnibus”.

Moving forward a bit, Parkins eventually gets to the site and discovers a tube of some sort, which he pockets and takes back to his room at the hotel. After cleaning it out and dusting it off he realizes that it is a whistle and that it contains two graven inscriptions written in Latin along its shaft: “FLA FUR BIS FLE” and “QUIST EST ISTE QUI VENIT”, the former translating to “Thief, you will blow, you will weep” and the latter “Who is this who comes”. Parkins, being a little rusty in his Latin, ignores the warnings and blows, which sets him on the slow yet inexorable path to his infamous confrontation with the unusual bogey of this renowned ghost story. I am being purposely vague here so as not to ruin the surprise but you may surmise from some of the illustrations what transpires in the story’s climax. If you like ghost stories you’d be hard pressed to find any author worth their salt who doesn’t concede a debt of some kind to M.R. James and you’d be as equally hard pressed to find a story as original and creepy as “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”. If you are curious you can find the whole story on Wikisource: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/%27Oh,_Whistle,_and_I%27ll_Come_to_You_My_Lad%27 and if someone hasn’t taken it down by the time you read this, you may also see the entire Omnibus episode from 1968 of “Whistle and I’ll Come to You”.

British DVD of the Omnibus series episode.