Archive for Hammer Horror

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

Posted in Amicus, Frankenstein, Frankenstein: The True Story (1973), Hammer Horror, James Mason (actor), Jane Seymour, John Polidori, Mark Maddox, Mary Shelley, The Vampyre (1819) with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2019 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Spanish poster for Frankenstein: The True Story.

As I am sure I have mentioned before, I have been a life-long fan of all things Frankensteinian. Growing up I watched any movie or TV show that featured Mary Shelley’s monster. Over the years there have been a few that professed to portray the definitive faithful adaptation of the influential novel, but none have truly depicted the story as it was written. One such production is the two-part TV miniseries Frankenstein: The True Story (1973).

Add for 1st episode, presumably, from TV Guide.

Adapted by novelist Christopher Isherwood, it does portray events and characters from the 1818 novel not usually portrayed in other filmic adaptations, but it still takes several liberties with the story. One of the biggest changes was the inclusion of Dr. Polidori, who seems to be a stand in for the character Dr. Pretorius, from Universal’s The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Dr. John Polidori, in reality, was Lord Byron’s personal physician and traveling companion, and he was present during the fateful evening at the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva in Switzerland when 18 year old Mary first conceived of the grisly tale which has fascinated scholars and fans of macabre and fantastic fiction for centuries. Polidori, only 21 at the time of the celebrated soiree,  was hardly the gaffer portrayed by English actor James Mason. He is known nowadays mostly as the author of The Vampyre (1819) “the progenitor of the romantic vampire literary genre” (, retrieved 02/21/2019).

John William Polidori, by F.G. Gainsford (floruit 1805-1822), given to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1895. ( retrieved 03/05/2019).

It’s been decades since I read Ms. Shelley’s novel so I couldn’t quite cite specifics, although there are some obvious ones which bear mentioning. For starters, the role of Victor Frankenstein’s boyhood friend Henry Clerval (played by a young David McCallum, a/k/a “Ducky” from the TV series NCIS) who for some reason in the mini series is the instigator for Victor’s experiment and the source for the creature’s brain. In the novel, he is just a good friend who is later murdered by the creature. There is also the creature itself who in the miniseries starts out as a handsome young man then deteriorates into a gnarly walking corpse. The biggest change I think is the bride, who in the novel never gets created. In the mini series, she is created using parts from Agatha, daughter of the blind man the creature befriends. The bride here is played by actress Jane Seymour, who looks stunning and plays the bride as a rather coquettish, bourgeoning femme fatale. Her death scene is the one bit that stuck in my head from when I first saw it as a boy on it’s original run.

Jane Seymour as Prima (the Bride).

Overall, I can tell what the makers of Frankenstein: The True Story were going for, but I think they missed their mark by a longshot. They had an all star cast but the script was weak and some of their plot choices are befuddling to say the least. There are some interesting ideas and images, however, and I can now watch it will a little less antipathy than I was wont to in the past.

DVD for Frankenstein: The True Story.


Apparently, the fanzine Little Shoppe of Horrors The Journal of Classic British Horror Films, which specializes in Hammer Horror, Amicus and related Gothic Horror films, featured an in depth article on the making of Frankenstein: The True Story in their 38th issue. The artwork by Mark Maddox is quite striking.

Detail from artwork for The Epic Untold Saga Behind Frankenstein: The True Story by Mark Maddox for Little Shoppe of Horrors #38.







Watercolor Macabre

Posted in Classics Illustrated, Edgar Allan Poe, Horror Art, Jerusalem's Lot, Night Shift book, Stephen King, The Raven and Other Poems, watercolor painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas

While rummaging through my storage locker, I found a plastic bag which contained some watercolor paintings I had done in the 90’s. Prior to that, I hadn’t played with paints since I was in grade school, and I am not 100% certain what prompted me to take it up at this moment, but I did and the results were interesting, if not spectacular, and definitely macabre in theme. Unfortunately, the best of the lot, a depiction of Madeline Usher in the climactic scene from Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher”, seems to be missing. My parents had it hanging on the wall of their study for years but it seems to have been misplaced and they could not locate it last I asked them about it. The eight remaining paintings are a mixed bag, but each have their things to recommend them. The first is “The Conqueror Worm”, inspired by the Poe poem of the same name. I believe somewhere in the back of my mind was the Gahan Wilson illustration for the same piece, from the Classics Illustrated version of “The Raven and Other Poems”. Looking at it now, it also brings to mind the worm from Stephen King’s “Jerusalem’s Lot” story in “Night Shift”.

“The Conqueror Worm”

Next is “Kiss of Death”, inspired a little by “Death and the Maiden”, which I believe was an alternate idea for a title name. Note the blood smear on the young maid’s lips; she has just received the fatal smooch. Kiss of Death Here is another graveyard scene. I think “Ascension” when I see this one, although it’s really just a ghost rising from a fissure in the cemetery grounds.


This one is called “The Monster & the Crucifix”. It was inspired by something I’d read about a scene which was never shot for James Whale’s “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935), with Boris Karloff. In it, he has just escaped imprisonment and is racing through the local graveyard when he comes across a life-sized crucifix. Seeing the crucified Jesus, he runs to help him and pull him off the cross. The censors said “no”, but I said “yes”. I made the monster look different because I wanted to make it my own interpretation. Besides, I wasn’t sure I could do ole Boris the proper justice in reproducing his image.

“The Monster & the Crucifix”

This one is called “The Lair” and was partially inspired by the Munster’s pet dragon, Spot, which lived under their stairwell. In the lead-in to the show I believe they have a flash of his eyes lighting up as he breathes fire in the darkness.

“The Lair”

This one I think I’ll call “Vampyre”. I realize this is the second redhead to appear here, but they do not represent anyone in particular. It was partially an aesthetic choice because red contrasts better with some of the other colors I used in the paintings. Also I believe I had in mind the idea that in the Old World, redheads were usually associated more with witchcraft and the supernatural. I think this one has a bit of the Hammer Horror feel to it. My vampire here looks like she could be one of the Hammer Glamour Girls with her red hair, colorful cloak and dress, as well as her prominent cleavage. Her victim is an attempt at portraying myself as I looked at the time. I never get me right.


This next one is pretty gruesome. I suppose I’d call it “Burn”. For some reason I was going to do a series of paintings related to dungeons, torture, and execution,  and this was the first. The most notable things I see here are the thickness of the flames and the detail of his eyes having been burnt. Perhaps he saw something he wasn’t supposed to?


The last painting, “Inferno” is probably the most striking one. Intended as part of my aforementioned series, I decided to make it take place in some underworld dungeon. The victim is hanging upside down, suspended by a chain which is held by nothing. The torturer is blue, perhaps a demon of some sort. He is expressionless. The victim seems to be smiling, but I intentionally made his muscles droop to show he’d been hanging in that position for a very long time. His parchment yellow skin was inspired by an early promotional photo of the group Iron Maiden taken in the torture room at Madame Tussaud’s  Wax Museum, where a corpse in a gibbet sports a similar hue.


Of course, aside from the shocking full-frontal torture scene, the most striking thing to my eye is the fiery backdrop. I made a point of making it look as hot and bright as I could. The rights to all of these images are mine, so if you want to re-post them, just ask for permission and let me know what you intend to use them for, and I shall be glad to give my consent. In the same batch of artwork I found some colored pencil illustrations I did for various poems of mine, here are links to their respective pages:

“The Author” another botched attempt at drawing myself (the author) and some of the creatures from my poetry. Featured here are my “Flower of Evil”, “Gargoyle”, “My Friend Boris”, and the symbol from “Conjunctio” an esoter-otica poem I am too skittish about to publish publicly.

Flower of Evil:

Early Poems (Coup de Corps / The Necromancer / My Friend Boris):

TV, Monsters and Me

Posted in Black Light Verse, Carolyn Jones, Chiller Theater, Count Chocula, Creature Feature, Dark Shadows, Don't Touch That Dial, Dr Paul Bearer, First Studio, Franken Berry, Frankenstein, Goth Girls, Groovie Ghoulies, Hammer Horror, Lara Parker, Mistress of the Dark, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Morticia Addams, Richard Bledsoe, Scooby Doo, The Addams Family, The Dark Young, The Grimoire of the Dark Young, The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, The Munsters, Trish Justrish, Under Television Skies, Universal Classic Monsters, Vampira, You'll Die Laughing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas
Ad for Shock!

Ad for Shock!

In 1957, Universal Studios gave leave to allow their films to be shown on national television stations distributed in their Shock! package which included sixty odd films from their archives, including such classics as Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, et al. as well as their respective sequels. Thus began the monster craze of the 60’s, which has never died out completely ever since.

The Chiller Theater opening segment. The hand would rise from the pool of blood and drop the letters spelling "Chiller".

The Chiller Theater opening segment. The hand would rise from the pool of blood and drop the letters spelling “Chiller”.

When I grew up in the 70’s, I lived for monsters. I didn’t care about sports athletes or super heroes, I lived and breathed monsters. My cousin Jason and I would watch shows like Chiller Theater and Creature Feature, which featured movies from the aforementioned Shock package along with some other monster movies like the Toho Kaijū films (i.e., “Godzilla” and “Mothra”) from Japan, but I always preferred the Gothics. Creature Feature was hosted by Dr. Paul Bearer, who started my interest in Horror Hosts and whose bad puns and macabre humor can be found in my current stage persona.

Dr Paul Bearer host of Creature Feature on WTOG St Petersburg, Florida from 1973-1995.

Dr Paul Bearer host of Creature Feature on WTOG St Petersburg, Florida from 1973-1995.

My cousin was obsessed with Dracula, and I Frankenstein. We ate Count Chocula and Frankenberry cereal, watched Scooby Doo and the Groovie Ghoulies and collected anything and everything monster related, especially if it featured one of our two favorite monsters.

Monster trading card from the You'll Die Laughing series featuring Lon Chaney Sr in the Phantom of the Opera (1925). Notice that Mary Philbin's face has been replaced witn an unknown. I have read that this was done for copyright reasons, but it only seems to be on this run of cards from the 70's, as the later versions did not seem to do this.

Monster trading card from the You’ll Die Laughing series featuring Lon Chaney Sr in the Phantom of the Opera (1925). Notice that Mary Philbin’s face has been replaced with that of an unknown. I have read that this was done for copyright reasons, but it only seems to be on this run of cards from the 70’s, as the later versions did not seem to do this.

When I rediscovered “Dark Shadows” in the 90’s, my mother informed me that I used to watch the original show with her back in the day and even had a thing for a witch, whom I can only assume must have been the character Angelique, played by the lovely Lara Parker.

The lovely and mysterious Angelique, as portrayed by Lara Parker on the original Dark Shadows series.

The lovely and mysterious Angelique, as portrayed by Lara Parker on the original Dark Shadows series.

One crush I do recall, however is Morticia Addams, as portrayed by the exquisite Carolyn Jones. Even before I knew what sex was, I found her mesmerizing. Morticia Addams paved the way for my infatuations for Vampira, and Elvira, and, to this day, I hold her directly responsible for my fixation with Goth Girls.

Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams, circa 1964.

Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams, circa 1964.

Aside from my obsession with it’s matriarch, the “Addams Family” show was also a lot of fun, better than the broader comedy of “The Munsters”, which I also liked to some extent, and I really took to heart the Addams Family message of acceptance; it was okay to be eccentric and to walk on the dark side without being outright evil. Herman Munster always tried to get his family to fit in with their neighbors, whereas the Addams Family embraced their weirdness.

Along with my dark interests and fetishes, I can trace my entire creative persona to one children’s show. On my return visit to my beloved Boston in 2010 to record the vocal tracks for the long overdue sequel to the debut album by my old band, the Dark Young, our drummer, my good friend Geoff Chase, showed me a video of a Canadian children’s show called “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein”. The main premise was that the Count, a vampire, and his trusty servant, Igor, had been banished from Transylvania, and could only return when the Count revived Bruce, a Frankenstein monster. Every show they would try, to no avail.

What is significant about the show are two featured segments. Now anyone who knows what I do, or more importantly, what I’ve done, is aware that since the late 1980’s I have been creating what I call, my Black Light Verse; essentially, light verse on dark topics and have honed my craft as a performer, mostly during my tenure with the Dark Young, doling out these dark ditties with servings of dry humor and droll anecdotes. During my stint with the Dark Young, I created an onstage persona, a sort of Gothic Alistair Cooke, with my long hair spilling out over my velvet burgundy smoking jacket, sporting a cravat and a pentacle, I would sit in a chair with a cloth-bound tome, the Grimorium Iuvenis Oscurum (the Grimoire of the Dark Young), from which I would read my poetry and tell my stories.

Me onstage with the Dark Young, circa 1994.

Me onstage with the Dark Young, circa 1994.

Well, as I watched the show, I was surprised to find that I was already familiar with it. Memories of watching it as a child flooded back very quickly. Then came shocker number one, when Vincent Price came on (his spot was a regular feature on the show) and recited a bunch of spooky poems in his usual witty and urbane manner, the possible progenitor to my Black Light Verse, then came shock number two, when “the Librarian” came on.

Billy Van as the Librarian from the show "The Hilarious House of Frightenstein".

Billy Van as the Librarian from the show “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein”.

Played by Billy Van, who also played the Count as well as various other characters on the show, the Librarian was an old man with a shock of long white hair, and a mustache, who wore a suit and sat in a chair to read cute little nursery rhymes and fables in a dreadful tone. The joke being that he found them terrifying, and couldn’t understand why no one else was moved by them. So there on this children’s show, which I had all but forgotten, was the template for my adult stage persona; it was alternately a blow for my ego and a piece of the puzzle put in place.

Over the years, I have continued in my love for monsters, graduating from the iconic Universal Monsters to the Hammer Gothic exploitation films of the 60’s and 70’s, but it wasn’t all monsters and femmes fatales for me. For instance, Monty Python’s Flying Circus is mostly responsible for my love of wordplay and mixing high brow culture and low brow humor. In fine, if it weren’t for television in general, I might not have become the black bard that you all know and loathe today.

Ad for show

On January 16th, 2015, I read this entry to an audience at the First Studio in downtown Phoenix. It was for an event called “Don’t Touch That Dial”, which tied in with the art exhibit “Under Television Skies”. Host Richard Bledsoe and several local poets and performers read works and performed pieces which celebrated the early days of Television.  Below is a picture taken by Mr Bledsoe during my set, and next is a photo of me helping out with artist Trish Justrish.

Me, stressing a point.

Me, stressing a point.

Trish Justrish and Me

Trish Justrish and Me

The Karnstein Trilogy Part 3: “Twins of Evil”

Posted in Carmilla, Hammer Horror, Karnstein Trilogy, Peter Cushing, Twins of Evil with tags , , , , on July 18, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Twins of Evil poster (1971).

“Twins of Evil” is the last installment of the so-called “Karnstein Trilogy”, by Hammer Films. It bears little resemblance to the series’ original source material, J.S. Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” but rather seems to try to portray a sort of “prequel” to the infamous tale. Despite its place in said series, it is actually a slight improvement over its predecessor, “Lust for a Vampire”, which was arguably risible. What saves it is an interesting plot concept and good supporting actors. Well, that and of course the Collinson Twins.

October 1970 issue of Playboy featuring the Collinson Twins.

Madeleine and Mary Collinson are identical twins from Malta whom, jointly, had made a splash as Playboy’s first twin Playmates of the Month for their October 1970 issue. Apparently, producer Michael Style saw their layout in said issue and approached writer Tudor Gates about changing their Current project, “The Vampire Virgins” (a/k/a “Village of the Vampires”, a sort of Witchfinder-General-meets-the-Karnsteins story) and convinced him to tailor the script to include the twin sisters.
What we end up with is an interesting juxtaposition of the evils of deviltry and debauchery compared to the evils of austerity and religious zealotry. The story opens with Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing in the most intense role of his career), a sort of Witchfinder General and leader of a band of Puritan zealots in nightly raids where they accost young women on the roads at night or invade the homes of people whom they deem as devil worshippers (i.e., mostly unmarried women who are sexually active) and “…purify their spirits so they may find mercy at the seat of the Lord—by burning them!”

Lobby-card for “Twins of Evil” (under its Stateside title of “Twins of Dracula”) featuring a young woman being “purified” by Weil and his band of miserable men.

The one person they cannot seem to touch and yet want the most is the Count Karnstein, who is openly debauched and defiant but is protected by the emperor. He is also a descendent of the great cacodemonic Karnstein clan (try saying that quickly three times in a row!) and pines for the bygone days when his ancestors were worshiping Satan and wreaking havoc on the land with impunity. His manservant, Dietrich, tries unsuccessfully to find amusements for his “Excellency”, but always seems to come up short.

Ultimately, he presents him with a faux-satanic ritual, which is interrupted by the Count himself, who denounces it as a charade and the participants as charlatans then sends them all away, minus the sacrificial peasant girl whom he sacrifices for real in an off-the-cuff oblation to the Lord of Darkness, after giving Dietrich a quick verbal lashing and family history lesson about the infamous depravity of his ancestors before dismissing him for the night.

Initially, his offering seems to go unrecognized, but after he gives up and retires to sit by the hearth, he is visited by none other than his foremother, Mircalla (a/k/a Carmilla) Karnstein, who makes love with him (does that make her an “in-cestor”?) and turns him into a vampire then disappears from the rest of the movie. This cameo role was offered to Ingrid Pitt who so notably portrayed Carmilla in the first entry in this series, 1970’s “Vampire Lovers”, but she refused it, which is a shame, as I believe that she would have given it a gravitas that actress Katya Wyeth does not seem able to impart to the role, brief though it is. Even so, the scene depicting her transmogrification from wisps of smoke rising from the sacrificial slab into the shrouded specter which assails the dejected and unwary Count is quite effective.

A shrouded Mircalla Karnstein is sent in response to her descendent’s entreatment.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town…

Gustav Weil comes home from a night of burning innocent women to be greeted with the sight of his fashionably attired nieces (the Collinson twins, with vocal overdubs—their Maltese accents were apparently too thick for Hammer’s liking– as Maria and Frieda Gellhorn) who have come from Venice to stay with him and his wife Katy (actress Kathleen Byron, who is renowned for her role as the insanely jealous Sister Ruth in 1947’s “Black Narcissus”, taking things down a notch for this role as the worrisome aunt) since the death of their parents. Upon seeing them in their matching green velvet dresses and feathered hats he says “What kind of plumage is this…for birds of Paradise?” After which he proceeds to admonish them for not showing more respect for the memory of their recently deceased parents, reminding them of the 4th Commandment’s advisement to honor one’s parents. Maria, the gentler of the two is obviously hurt by the whole incident, but Frieda is defiant setting up the dynamic for the rest of the film. Essentially, Frieda quickly tires of walking on eggshells around her overbearing uncle and decides to seek out Count Karnstein and live the wanton life she hears her Uncle Gustav railing against to Aunt Katy in the kitchen at night, whilst sweet and demure Maria cowers under her bed sheets.

Mary confronts Frieda upon her return from Karnstein Castle.

Frieda gets what she wants and becomes a vampire and runs amok with Count Karnstein draining everything that crosses their paths but keeps her conversion a secret from Maria and gets her to lie for her when she is found to be away at night. Maria even pretends to be Frieda and gets two beatings (one intended for Frieda and one for letting Frieda sneak out). Eventually, once Weil gets wise that one of his nieces is a vampire, Frieda tries to swap places with Maria so that she can keep from being executed but the village schoolmaster/heartthrob, Anton, falls for the sweet Maria and tries desperately to tell Weil that not only does he have the wrong girl, but he is going about things the wrong way…

“Burning purifies!” shouts Weill.

“Not if you know anything about vampires!” counters the schoolmaster, before schooling him on the varied ways to dispose of the undead.

Gustav takes Frieda’s head.

Eventually, Weil takes his advice when he confronts Frieda, the Count and his mute bodyguard, Joachim, and although he does seem to have a moment of clarity near the end of the movie, neither he nor his most dedicated cronies get away scot-free with all of the suffering they caused with their witch hunting.

All in all, the movie is successful as an entertaining Gothic yarn if not entirely as a sequel to the original “Karnstein” franchise and especially not as a historically accurate account of the era. To my knowledge, there was no notable Puritan community in Austria, as they were British in origin and were marginalized after the Great Ejection of 1662. Puritanism was alive and well at this time, however, across the Atlantic, in New England, where Cotton Mather (of Salem Village) was unsparingly sending convicted “witches” to the gallows.

However, if you can suspend your belief for the duration of the 90 odd minutes it takes to get through this final entry in the Karnstein Trilogy, I am betting you will have a fun time marveling at the Collinson Twin’s coy portrayals as the very embodiment of Sigmund Freud’s Madonna-Whore Complex, and the overall Gothic atmosphere of one of Hammer’s last great films before they fizzled out a few years later ere the close of the decade. Synapse Films has just released a handsome Blu-ray/DVD combo with a restored and remastered print of the movie which is full of extra goodies and for you folks that like to read your movies, in 2011 British Horror writer Shaun Hutson wrote a novelization of the screenplay, which seems to have gotten some decent reviews.

Synapse Films Blu-ray / DVD combo set for “Twins of Evil”.