Archive for Boris Karloff

August Derleth’s “Mr. George”

Posted in Arkham House, August Derleth, Boris Dolgov, Boris Karloff, Ghost Stories, Mr. George and Other Odd Persons, Stephen Grendon, The Mask of Cthulhu, Thriller TV Series, Weird Tales with tags , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I recently discovered that the Internet Archive has scans of many classic issues of Weird Tales magazine which you can download for free…which I did. Most of the stuff I like from that era has become available through specialty publishers like Hippocampus Press or Chaosium books and over the years I have been able to find collections of stories by Weird Tales luminaries such as H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, etc. but the one great omission has been the work of August Derleth, especially his non-mythos tales. The only collection which I’ve seen around, and then only in cheap no-thrill paperback editions, is The Mask of Cthulhu.

The Mask of Cthulhu by August Derleth [1958, Arkham House]

Most of his non-Lovecraftian tales are out of print, if not all. Occasionally something like The Drifting Snow will appear in an anthology, but that’s it. So imagine my surprise when I found the original runs of stories Like Colonel Markesan or Mr. George. Prior to finding this I had considered investing in a collectible copy of one of his Arkham House collections, but had held off because they’re so expensive. The first story I read was Mr. George, which was adapted in 1961 for Boris Karloff’s Thriller. For fun, I re-watched the episode (I own the complete series box set) and read the story for comparison. Here are my thoughts…

March 1947 issue of Weird Tales

Mr. George was first published in the March 1947 issue of Weird Tales under the pseudonym Stephen Grendon. Oddly enough, the story is advertised as being by Derleth on the front cover, but inside it is attributed to Stephen Grendon, with an asterisk leading to a note explaining…

“Through a regrettable error, this story is announced on our cover as by August Derleth. Mr. Derleth acted as agent for Mr. Grendon’s story, and someone in our office confused the agent’s name for the author’s. The error was discovered too late to stop printing of the cover.”

I am not sure why Derleth used pseudonyms for the same market, and have not seen an official explanation anywhere that I can recall. Anyway, Mr. George is the story of little Priscilla, an orphaned 5 year old living with her sanguinary adult cousins whom wish to do her in so they can collect on her sizeable inheritance. She is, however, protected by the spirit of the kindly Mr. George whom her cousins speculate may not only have been her late mother’s lover, but could possibly even be the girl’s father.

Priscilla seems to be a very sweet and very independent little girl, but even within the framework of the story it seems a bit unrealistic that a 5 year old girl would be aware enough to ride a trolley by herself to the other side of town, which she does in order to visit the grave of Mr. George. She talks to him there and leaves a note requesting he come back home to help her handle the cousins, who are always plotting her demise. He complies and the bulk of the story features the little girl barely escaping from the clutches of death as the unseen Mr. George turns the murderous siblings traps against them, thus taking out the prospective killers one by one.

Boris Dolgov illustration for Mr. George depicting the scene where cousin Laban (named Jared in the Thriller adaptation) lures Priscilla to the attic. [Weird Tales, March 1947]

Thriller’s adaptation of this tale, as with the other Derleth tales they adapted, seems to make some minor changes which streamline and vastly improve the flow of the stories. In Derleth’s tale there is a woman, Laura Craig, a friend of the Mr. George’s family who acts as an intermediary between Priscilla’s cousins and the brother of Mr. George. She keeps tabs on the well-being of the little girl, and seems to genuinely care for her; a sentiment which is reciprocated by Priscilla. This brother is never actually seen in the story and really superfluous. In the Thriller adaptation, she is Mr. George’s sister, and there are no extraneous siblings. Derleth also had a tendency to use obscure names, but Thriller changed a few of the more distracting ones especially when they don’t come to play in the story. Also, Priscilla as portrayed by 10 year old actress Gina Gillespie, was a few years older and more credible than the way she was delineated in Derleth’s story.

Priscilla (child actress Gina Gillespie) addresses the spirit of her late friend in the 1961 Thriller adaptation of August Derleth’s Mr. George. [image retrieved from http://athrilleraday.blogspot.com/2010/10/mr-george-season-1-episode-32.html%5D

Thriller went on to adapt several of Derleth’s tales including A Wig for Miss DeVore, The Extra Passenger (as part of director Ida Lupino’s Trio of Terror), The Return of Andrew Bentley, and Colonel Markesan (filmed as the Incredible Doktor Markesan), all of which were arguably improvements on their source material. Mr. Derleth was a prolific but journeyman author who wrote in many genres, Horror only being one of them. He lacked H.P. Lovecraft’s dark vision, or C.A. Smith’s poetic flair, but his tales were interesting and simple enough in their concepts and construction to be easily adapted to television, and that is most likely why Thriller used them so often for their show and not the tales of his more celebrated compeers.

The titular story for this episode can also be found in the Arkham House collection Mr. George and Other Odd Persons (1963) under the pen name of Stephen Grendon.

Mr. George and Other Odd Persons_1963_Arkham House_Stephen Grendon

Mr. George and Other Odd Persons by Stephen Grendon (a/k/a August Derleth) [1963, Arkham House].

James Whale’s “The Old Dark House” (1932)

Posted in "Benighted" Book, Black Comedy, Boris Karloff, Charles Addams, Ernest Thesiger, J.B. Priestley, James Whale, Kino DVD, The Old Dark House, Uncategorized, Universal Horror Movies with tags , , , , , , , on July 29, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas
"Benighted", by J.B. Priestley, 1927 London: William Heinemann, London, 1st edition.

“Benighted”, by J.B. Priestley, 1927 London: William Heinemann, London, 1st edition.

I finally got around to watching my DVD of “The Old Dark House” (1932) in it’s entirety. I’ve had it for years and have started it once or twice before, but always seemed to get distracted early on in the film and put it off for later. I’m glad I did finally see it to the end though, because it is well worth being patient and wading through the darkly shot scenes and muffled soundtrack for the great performances and the clever dialog. In the audio commentary of the Kino DVD, James Curtis, author of the James Whale biography “A World of Gods and Monsters”, claims that the screenplay by Benn W Levy is more or less faithful to the book, but Whale’s direction changed the tone visually which, along with in the cast’s delivery of the dialog, created a humorous slant which is not evident in the book, “Benighted” by J.B. Priestly on which it was based. The film is a black comedy about some travelers who seek shelter from a storm in an old house in the boonies of Wales. The family inside are all looney and vile and hide dark secrets, which unravel during the course of the night. Directed by James Whale, it features a host of great actors (Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Melvyn Douglas, Eva Moore, etc) and is notable for being one of the few pictures to feature the character actor Ernest Thesiger. In fact, Thesiger really makes the movie with his eccentric performance as Horace Femm, the host of the house.

Screencap of Ernest Thesiger from "The Old Dark House".

Screencap of Ernest Thesiger from “The Old Dark House”.

Horace’s repartee with his sister Rebecca (played by veteran actress Eva Moore) is one of the most amusing parts of the film. She is supposedly hard of hearing and always asks of her brother what everyone is saying, but if he glosses over something or lies about it she always seems to know and calls him out on it.

Screencap of Moore & Thesiger.

Screencap of Moore & Thesiger.

One of Moore’s best scenes, however, is when she harangues the film’s ingenue, Margaret Waverton, portrayed by the lovely Gloria Stuart. When Margaret asks for a private room to change out of her wet clothes Rebecca tells her some of the sordid family history then turns on her saying, “Your wicked too, young and handsome–silly and wicked! You think of nothing but your long straight legs and your white body and how to please your man. You revel in the joys of fleshly love, don’t you?” Pointing to her silky undergarments and fair skin she continues, “That’s fine stuff, but it’ll rot. That’s finer stuff still, but it’ll rot too, in time.” Of course, Margaret is horrified and screams “Don’t! How dare you?”  She leaves her then, but catches up with her later on to further brow-beat her when she is innocently making shadows on the wall with her hands. Unfortunately, this poor girl cannot catch a break, as she is also later stalked by a drunken Morgan.

Morgan grabs Margaret.

Morgan grabs Margaret.

Even though he got top billing, following his success with Frankenstein, one forgets that is is Boris Karloff underneath that scarred hairy visage. Universal even saw fit to put a disclaimer to this effect pointing out that it is indeed Boris underneath all that make up.

Screencap of pre-opening credit disclaimer .

Screencap of pre-opening credit disclaimer .

He lumbers about menacingly enough, but his grunted dialog seems to be dubbed. Even so, Karloff’s portrayal of the frightful, hulking manservant Morgan, is noteworthy and was also Chas Addams’ inspiration for Lurch from the Addams Family.

Boris Karloff as Morgan, the mute butler.

Boris Karloff as Morgan, the mute butler.

In fact, in an early conception of Lurch (and Morticia) he even sports a beard and looks very much like Karloff’s Morgan. The only image online I could find, which was large enough and crisp enough to bother sharing, however, is in Italian:

Bearded Lurch from an early Chas Addams cartoon. Caption translates to "Vibrationless, noiseless, and a great time and back saver. No well-appointed home should be without it."

Bearded Lurch from an early Chas Addams cartoon. Caption translates to “Vibrationless, noiseless, and a great time and back saver. No well-appointed home should be without it.”

Boris acknowledged the tribute in an introduction to Addams’ collection “Drawn and Quartered” (1942) a scan of which I found online:

Edit from Karloff's introduction to "Drawn and Quartered" by Chas Addams.

Edit from Karloff’s introduction to “Drawn and Quartered” by Chas Addams.

The film opened strongly in the States but petered off quickly. Across the pond, however, it performed very well in the Capitol Theatre, in London, where it broke house records. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Old_Dark_House#Reception retrieved 07/28/2015)

A remake was made in 1963 by William Castle in conjunction with Hammer Films. An odd, but potentially promising pairing, no doubt, yet it seems to have only yielded a slapstick comedy of little merit which has none of the mood nor cleverness of the 1932 original.

UK poster for the 1963 remake.

UK poster for the 1963 remake.

“The Old Dark House” was in danger of being lost until it was saved by television and movie director, and James Whale enthusiast, Curtis Harrington, who befriended Whale in his later years. There is a brief interview with him on the Kino DVD wherein he tells the story of how he came to love horror movies and especially the movies by James Whale. He tells of his acquaintance with Whale and how he rescued the surviving print from Universal’s vault, where it was literally rotting away, and helped restore it through Eastman House. I, for one, am glad he did.

"The Old Dark House" DVD from Kino Video.

“The Old Dark House” DVD from Kino Video.

 

Ramsey Campbell’s “Ancient Images”

Posted in Ancient Images, Bela Lugosi, book review, Boris Karloff, Ramsey Campbell with tags , , , , on October 5, 2013 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Just finished reading “Ancient Images” by Ramsey Campbell. It’s a slow burner which is heavy on the atmosphere but light on the action; a well told fright tale, with shades of “The Wicker Man”, but the ending is a little anti-climactic. A young film editor, Sandy Allan, goes to a friend’s house to see the film he unearthed which is reputed to be a lost film by Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Upon her arrival she finds her friend’s residence in a mess, the film gone, then looks out the window just in time to see her friend leap off of the rooftop across the way. Offered time off from work to mourn, she decides to look for the film to vindicate her dead friend who is being lambasted by a bitter film critic for trying to dig up such a nasty old film, which the critic claims doesn’t really exist anymore anyway.  On her hunt to find the film, Sandy finds that many of the people associated with the film either died under questionable circumstances or totally disassociated themselves from it after the fact. Her  journey eventually leads to Redfield, a country town not unlike Summerisle from “The Wicker Man”: a seemingly quiet community with dark pagan secrets and killer scarecrows.

Promotional still from the Universal film

Promotional still from the Universal film “The Black Cat” (1934), featuring Boris Karloff (left) and Bela Lugosi (right).

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi made many classic Horror films together for Universal Studios in Hollywood, during the 1930’s, when this missing film is supposed to have been made; why they would have gone to the English countryside to make what was basically an independent film with a no-name director is beyond my comprehension, and when would they have found the time? This premise doesn’t sit well with me and the execution of the book is lackluster for this grandmaster of the Horror genre; worth a read if you’re already a fan, but if you haven’t read Campbell already, I wouldn’t start here.

“Ancient Images” 1990 Charles Scribner’s Sons / SFBC

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.

Robert E Howard’s “Pigeons from Hell”

Posted in Boris Karloff, Pigeons from Hell, Robert E. Howard, The Dark Man and Others, Thriller TV Series, Virgil Finlay, voodoo, Weird Tales with tags , , , , , , , on July 28, 2011 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Title card from the “Pigeons from Hell” episode of Thriller (1961).

Not so long ago, I read “Pigeons from Hell”, by Robert E Howard (creator of Conan the Cimmerian) and loved it. I had held off from reading his stuff for years because I wasn’t interested in his usual swords & sorcery stuff, but this Southern Gothic tale of voodoo and vengeance is one of the scariest and atmospheric things I’ve read in a while. The pigeons of the title are more of a gimmick from what I can see, as they don’t figure prominently in the story. Supposedly, they represent the lost souls of some of the previous inhabitants of the haunted plantation where the protagonists (some New Englanders on a car trip through the Deep South) decide to camp, thus beginning their horrific misadventure into a world of voodoo, zombies, assassin snakes and hatchet wielding hags.

Illustration for Weird Tales’ May 1938 publication of Pigeons From Hell by Virgil Finlay.

Just a note to readers unaccustomed to reading stories written before the enlightened Post-Civil Rights era: there are some very offensive racial slurs in here. There are many words used here to describe people of color and none of them are nice. I am not sure whether they were added for period authenticity or if Howard was actually a bigot, as many were in those days, but it might be shocking to someone in this current age of political correctness to see such a proliferation of racial epithets in one place, especially in an old fashioned horror tale. Unfortunately, this was not so unusual back then, as H.P. Lovecraft was guilty of almost xenophobic descriptions of foreigners and people of different races in his stories, although he did apologize for this later in life, and even Agatha Christie has had her works cleaned up posthumously because of some insensitive titles and such. That being said, this is an awesomely creepy yarn and well worth a look-see.

In fact, this story is so good it was made into an episode of Boris Karloff’s Thriller series back in the early 60’s. The episode is pretty faithful to the story and even shows some fairly bloody scenes for that time period. If you can get a copy of the Thriller box set, it is the penultimate episode of Season 1.

May 1938 edition of Weird Tales that first featured “Pigeons from Hell”.

Pigeons made it’s first appearance in the May 1938 issue of Weird Tales, and was later reprinted in 1951. It eventually found it’s way into the Arkham House collection The Dark Man and Others (1963), which now is unfortunately out of print, however it has been included in several collections since.

“The Dark Man and Others” (1963, Arkham House).

In 2009 Dark Horse Publications released a graphic novel sequel penned by Horror legend Joe R. Lansdale, which oddly kept the original title.

Volume 1 from the 4 volume sequel by author Joe Lansdale and artists Nathan Fox and Dave Stewart. (2009 Dark Horse comics).

For a link to the story see here: http://classic-web.archive.org/web/20080513211605/http://arthursclassicnovels.com/arthurs/howard/pighell10.html