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Ghoulish Guests: John LaRue’s Five Favorite Movie Monsters

If you watch enough horror, eventually you start to realize that a monster isn’t just a monster. The supernatural is always a conduit for something completely natural in the real world, something still terrifying but blown into monstrous proportions by screenwriters, directors, make up geniuses, and special effects mavens. When Steve asked me to put together a list of my five favorite monsters, he surely didn’t realize he’d be getting a list straight from Durkheim or Foucault. But there you have it. Here are my five favorite movie monsters, and their contextual sociological meaning.

Romero zombies5. George Romero’s Zombies
The zombie genre has been overrun with a lot of brain-dead films. But at their very best, zombies are a wonderful vehicle for social commentary. Of course, sometimes this can be used in outrageous and embarrassing ways (see: White Zombie, 1932, and its interpretation of tribal culture). For George Romero in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, zombies reached their apex of sociological meaning. Granted, it isn’t subtle but that’s not the point. Its lack of subtlety endows the film with gobs of humor as Romero mercilessly skewers 20th century America and its suburbanized mass-consumer culture. The timing was perfect, coming just as the baby boomer generation was departing the free-wheeling, rebellious hippie era and entering the United States of Reagan. With one brilliant decision- placing his film in a mall- Romero asks his generational cohorts, “What happened to you guys, man? You used to be cool.” Lousy yuppies.

4. Godzilla
The original Gojira (1954), and really all of the classic radioactive monsters cooked up by Toho Studios, areGodzilla Sociology 101. In the post-World War II film world, Italy nurtured neo-realism to illustrate that, despite their involvement with Hitler, they too suffered on the homefront. The French fixated on the horrors of the war. However, in Japan, something else was brewing. Because of the atomic bomb, they took on real life horrors that no other civilization had ever witnessed. If ever a situation needed to be shrouded in metaphor before reaching the big screen, it was Japan in the post-World War II era. Enter Godzilla, a radioactive monster who arrives from the sea, then cuts a swath of destruction that includes several islands, the navy, and finally reaches the mainland. In other words, Godzilla was the US military, and the radioactive pollution is tied directly to it. Godzilla and the Monsters (which sounds like a band name created by Gary King) were a brilliant snapshot of exactly what terrified Japan in the 1950s.

Frankenstein 33. Frankenstein’s Monster
What I find fascinating about the cinematic Frankenstein’s monster is that he has strong roots in at least two other places. The first and most obvious is Mary Shelley’s novel, which the film borrows from thematically quite a bit. The second is the classic Jewish golem. Both involve taking inanimate matter and re-animating it into new life. And in both instances, the new life wreaks havoc, most notably on the maker. The only major step from golem to Frankenstein’s monster is the involvement of science- in particular, the science of cutting open corpses and seeing how they tick in the 19th century- with just a dash of a God complex.

Both of those concepts were absolutely horrifying to people from the 19th century on into the early 20th century when James Whale brought the monster to life on the big screen. It resonated especially in America, a very devout Christian country whose moral sensibilities would rock to their very foundation at the notion of a mad scientist playing God. And tying medical science into the equation doubles down on fears of the era. While medical science had progressed reasonably well in the 18th and 19th centuries, it wasn’t until doctors started opening up bodies and using corpses that real progress was made. To the average schmoe on the street in the late 19th and early 20th century, this is a horrific concept- taking a loved one and ripping apart their entire earthly being for corporeal knowledge. “MEDICAL SCIENCE IS ALIVE! IT’S ALIVE! AND NOW IT’S GOING TO DESTROY US ALL!!!”

2. Japanese Ghosts
Ok, ok… a ghost isn’t a monster, per se. But it’s still a fun and scary enough concept to make someone go Ju-Onboom boom in their britches. The beauty of the Japanese ghost story is how deeply rooted it is in Japanese culture. Unlike Godzilla and the radioactive monsters, there was no natural disaster that created the folklore of Japanese ghosts. No, these supernatural beings are actually quite natural. They’re tied to the importance of family in Japan. Traditionally, Japanese families are protected by their deceased ancestors as part of a social bargain. The living family gives the deceased a proper burial, with proper funereal rites, and the deceased return to keep harm away from their living ancestors. If the dead aren’t given a proper burial, however, or if they die violently, all hell breaks loose.

As you can see, this process leaves a massive chasm open for ghosts in Japanese culture. They can be protectors, they can be harbingers of doom, and they can wreak havoc. And the entire theme is tied to something that every family deals with quite regularly. Everyone dies (not just in Japan, but everywhere, except for maybe Batman), and everyone must face the mortality of their family members at some point. It makes the whole concept enormously relatable. Since the Japanese have been perpetuating this mythos for centuries, they understand the entire ghost genre better than anyone. There’s a reason that 95% of the Japanese ghosts you’ve seen wear white and have jet black hair. It’s a practice that goes back centuries, and has continued on through classic Japanese ghost films like Kwaidan (1964) and Kuroneko (1968) and even on to modern films like Ju-On (2002).

The Wolf Man 11. The Wolf Man (and werewolves in general)
I could write for days about the genius of The Wolf Man (1941). The entire film was allegorical for the Nazi regime. It was written by Curt Siodmak, a Jew exiled from Germany during the rise of the Nazi state. Thematically, it’s all about the way that his seemingly normal German neighbors and friends turned on him almost overnight. They were completely normal when the sun was up. But on the full moon, they turned hideous, seeking to destroy whoever bore the “mark of the beast.” It just so happens that the “mark of the beast” in Siodmak’s film was a pentagram, purposely designed to look like the star of David that marked Jews in Germany during the era.

Digging deeper, it’s biblical. It’s about faulty genes. It’s about the sins of the father, and his father before that, and his father before that, being visited upon the sons. Go another level down and you’ve got the heart of why I love werewolf films in general. They’re metaphors for transformation, for finding the deep, dark, terrifying parts of our own souls that we didn’t even know existed. These aren’t just monsters. They’re humans, wrestling with the better angels of their nature and ultimately losing in appalling ways. In Wolf (1994), it’s the depths that he’ll go for survival and success. In Ginger Snaps (2000) and quite a few others, it’s the shocking journey through puberty into adulthood. It’s a delicious built-in character arc that makes the characters more enticing to us, the viewer… and ultimately reminds us that the scariest thing out there is the damage that we can cause all by ourselves.

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Ghoulish Guests: MonsterGirl’s Five Favorite Movie Monsters

5 MONSTERS IN SEARCH OF AN EXISTENTIAL CRISIS

Steve Habrat (Theater Management) over at Anti-Film School has graciously given me the opportunity to join their 3rd Annual Horror Movie Spooktacular in time for Halloween. And I get to chat about five movie monsters that I consider to be my favorites. If you know me by now, you’ll understand that asking me to narrow down anything to a mere 5 is quite a challenge. But I venture to say that if I did cheat and mention a few who would have made the list, angry villagers won’t be hurling flaming torches at my porch if I do… but I promise to be good.

When you think of existentialism, well, when I the MonsterGirl nerd of all time, thinks of EXISTENTIALISM, Camus, Sartre & Kierkegaard immediately come to mind. When Steve asked me to think of 5 movie monsters that endeared themselves to me, I started to think of what it was, that essence of the thing, that impressed itself upon me so much about each monster’s character. It’s that they are Monsters in Search of an Existential Crisis.

EXISTENTIALISM

Descarte said “I think, therefor I am.”  Existentialists say “I am, therefore I think.”

This philosophy emphasizes a radical skepticism and the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience, an individual who is inhabiting an indifferent universe. Existentialism regards human existence as unexplainable and completely free. In this universe there is no guiding Dogma that can help us. We’re all faced with equally unfortunate choices which ultimately lead to doom and despair. All human endeavors are meaningless and virtually insignificant, so when faced with the fact that existence, humans feel despair. Existential angst is when we are aware of the awful pointlessness to our existence. So life is an unknowable concept with strange forces that spring from this mysterious existence, with nothing that has any meaning, and fighting it is futile. Cheerful stuff…

What is it about monsters that we love? What truly remains with ‘us’ classic horror fans is something deeper and eternally soldered into our collective psyche’s. Something about ‘the monster’ has either caused us to ‘identify’ with them or has triggered a profound fear response that lasts a lifetime.

All monsters, you could say are inherently existential figures because they come from a place of alienation, the unknown and live outside the realm of perceived normalcy. ‘5 Monsters in Search of an Existential Crisis’ seeks to understand how these particular characters are either the epitome of the existential ‘deviant’ (not to suggest deviancy in the context of being perverse but in the sense that they deviate from the norm of ‘accepted’ human nature, like a freak or a sword swallower or a drag queen), or have been placed in the middle of an existential environment.

When you think of the quintessential films that introduced themes of existential alienation into the narrative I think of Jack Arnold’s masterpiece The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) written by the late Richard MathesonDon Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and of course William Cameron Menzies’Invaders from Mars (1953).

Without further ado, here are our 5 monsters stuck in an existential landscape of despair, angst & searching for an identity in a cruel cruel universe.

My 5 Favorites are…! (the curtain lifts)

Frankenstein’s Monster, ‘The Gill Man’ from Creature From the Black Lagoon, ‘The Fire Demon’ from Curse of the Demon, ‘Tabonga The Tree Monster’ in From Hell it Came & ‘Giant Land Crabs’ from Attack of the Crab Monsters!

#1 PHOTO-Frankesteins-Monster-an-existential-man

#2 PHOTO-The Creature From The Black Lagoon

#3 PHOTO curse-of-the-demon

#4 PHOTO-Tabanga

#5 PHOTO Crab Monster

For me the quintessential existential man/monster, (and that’s not a pants monster ) is Mary Shelley’s literary Prometheus re-imagined by Jame’s Whale’s flagrant masterpiece. A man made from the scraps of robbed corpses and brought to life by the electrical secrets of heaven. Yes, Frankenstein’s Monster portrayed by the great Boris Karloff manifested a truly complex enigma of conception, creation, and existential angst who’s both fearsome yet sympathetic.

We can sympathize with the monster, as with Frankenstein, & The Gill Man from Creature From the Black Lagoon. We can find our involvement (at least I can), as one viewed with empathy toward the monster’s predicament. Depending on how much the film constructs it’s viewpoint which leans toward creating pathos in the narrative. Usually permitting these monsters to express human desires, and then making sure that those desires are thwarted and frustrated and ultimately destroyed. ‘The Outsider Narrative” can be seen so clearly in the horror/sci-fi hybrid Creature From The Black Lagoon. Film monsters like The Gill Man form vivid memories for us, becoming icons and laying the groundwork for the classical experience of good horror.

I think Creature From The Black Lagoon is quite a perfect film, as it works on so many different levels. The most obvious is that scientists have invaded a unique creature’s habitat only to force their domination and belligerence on him. And in the midst of this evolves a sort of a skewed Romeo and Juliet romance. The Gill Man never intends to threaten Julie Adam’s character Kay Lawrence. Quite the contrary, it’s the two opportunistic men who tote phallic harpoons around like extra penises on hand to fight each other about questions of ethics, how to conduct scientific research and over Kay like spoiled children.

1.) FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER: As portrayed by the great Boris Karloff

“Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!”- Henry Frankenstein

Boris Karloff’s poignant yet terrifying transformation into the Frankenstein’s monster, thanks to the great make-up artist Jack Pierce is the most memorable, indelible ‘classic monster’ for me. Boris Karloff said in 1957 Jack’s words still echo in my mind: ‘This is going to be a big thing!'”

Mary Shelley created a transfixed symbol of existential angst..The gentleness that Boris Karloff imbued his character with will always touch my heart so deeply. Most memorable for me is the scene with the blind priest who breaks bread and shares his humble shack with his new ‘friend’ in Bride of Frankenstein my favorite of the three films where Karloff portrayed the monster.

From Wikipedia-Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is a novel written by Mary Shelley about an eccentric scientist Victor Frankenstein, who creates a grotesque creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Just a brief mention in regards to the literary source, Victor

The opening narrative of the film goes like this: “We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation.; life and death”

#6 PHOTO Henry & his monster

Victor Frankenstein possessed great hubris. As many a mad scientist seeking the secrets of life tend to be. I suppose you must have that kind of insane drive to push back against the boundaries of the knowable to discover what lies beyond. BUT, when a man tries to act as God himself, one who creates life from the dead, challenging the biological fact that it is ‘women’ who give birth, who produce that life in the end. Ultimately, Victor Frankenstein’s monster is an existential failure. He justifies his work to Dr Waldman “Where should we be if nobody tried to find out what lies beyond? Have you never wanted to look beyond the clouds and stars, to know what causes trees to bud and what changes darkness to light? But if you talk like that people call you crazy…! Well, if I could discover just one of these things, what eternity is, for example, I wouldn’t care if they did think I was crazy.”

That scene is shattered with the imposing first sight of the monster. Jack Pierce’s, extraordinary make-up onBoris Karloff combined with the actors facial expressions and gestures are sheer brilliance.

Boris Karloff conveys a dead man’s angst who’s brought to life by a heretical scientist, inhabits his new world with such wonder, conflict and rage, so exquisitely it’s actually painful to watch as he is scorned and tormented as a ‘thing.’ who never asked to be created in the first place.

For the sake of brevity I’ll call him Frankenstein although he is ‘the monster.’Frankenstein has become an accepted name for Victor’s/Henry’s in the film version scientific yet unorthodox achievement.

And like that of Grendel, Frankenstein is the ultimate existential monster and Karloff gives him a child like quality that wrenches at your heart with pathos. Born into an unknown world, unaware of his purpose in life, why he was created and essentially who he is.

Karloff recalled “I don’t think the main screenwriter Bob Florey, really intended there to be much pathos inside the character. But Whale and I thought that there should be. We didn’t want the kind of rampaging monstrosity that Universal seemed to think we should go in for. We had to have pathos, Whale wanted to leave an impact.” And they certainly achieved that with Karloff’s performance and Whale’svision.

And I say this because he is born a black slate, tabula rasa. Only to have men of science and the surrounding community, some inherently belligerent, some like Henry’s assistant Fritz who are abusive and brutal who torture the monster, defining who he is because of his ‘difference’. It’s after Frankenstein’s first rampage that the monster evokes our sympathy.

At first the monster is like a new born infant. Henry tells him to sit down, but he doesn’t understand the word yet. He follows the doctor’s gestures and hand signals.

Again Karloff,“Whale and I saw the character as an innocent one {…} Within the heavy restrictions of my make-up I tried to play it that way. This was a pathetic creature like us all, had neither wish nor say in our creation and certainly didn’t wish upon itself, the hideous image which automatically terrified humans whom it tried to befriend. The most heart rending aspect of the creature’s life, for us was his ultimate desertion of his creator-it was though a man in his blundering searching attempts to improve himself was to find himself deserted by God.”- from Karloff More Than a Monster- Stephen Jacobs

This sentiment is at the essence of why Frankenstein is such a profoundly existential character, his crisis of alienation and detachment from his creator. In Cynthia Freeland’s book, The Naked and The Undead she cites Gregory Mank: “From the beginning Karloff’s approach to his ‘dear old monster’ was one of love and compassion. To discover and convey such sympathy was an outstanding insight.-considering that rarely has an actor suffered so hideously by bringing to life a character.”

#7 PHOTO Boris The Bride of Frankenstein

The hours of make-up and constructing the heavy suit Karloff had to endure, wearing it on the set during long days of shooting eventually crippled his legs, and left him extremely bow legged and in immense pain.

Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Cliveand his assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) go to a graveyard and steal a body. The fanatical Dr. Frankenstein believes that life can be created from death. He challenges the systems of morality for an ambiguous crack at being God like. We therefore shift our allegiance and empathy toward the monster who becomes the central figure of the story. And now that he’s been forced into existence he wants Henry to create a mate for him and why not! All god’s children got a girl…

Again if I could have had a few more choices The Bride would have been on my list in a flash of lighting! I adore Elsa Lanchester and Franz Waxman’s score is perhaps one of the most evocative themes I just can resist becoming ebullient when ever I hear it!

With his bizarre experiments Henry defies the laws of nature, and the mortal contract with the universe and dares to try to give birth to his own creation. When he sends his assistant to steal a brain, the cruel knucklehead mistakenly takes a criminally insane brain without the Dr. realizing it. Shutting himself off from the outside world and his fiance Elizabeth (The gorgeous Mae Clarke) she arrives at the castle to see what’s going on. Meanwhile, the constructed body from scraps, sewn together from various bodies of several dead men is strapped to the slab and raised up into the violent electrical storm. Lightening surges into the body of the monster and soon… “Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive… It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!” – Henry Frankenstein.

#8 PHOTO- Frankenstein smoking

Frankenstein emerges from his electrifying awaking into a dire world he did not ask to come into. To be shunned and controlled and reviled within only a few moments of his awareness. He has no chance to make his own choices or choose his own journey, He’s automatically an outsider who threatens those who perceive him as different thus dangerous.

Frankenstein is an ‘object of the grotesque’ in this typified mad scientist /monstrous creation movie where a scientist is obsessed with the ‘secrets of life itself’, his creation turns out to be a monster, the assistant is deformed in some way and often is antagonistic to the monster setting off a provoked rampage, and the lab is fabulous with scientific regalia and various apparatus in an isolated setting.

Ken Strickfaden’s designs or ‘special electrical properties’ buzzing light shows knobs and bottles and tubes in Henry Frankenstein’s lab are astounding. Charles D Hall’s art direction & set aides in the creation of an ambivalent scenery where science and morality conflict. The outside world is lenses as an ordered world, stylistically counter posed to the clandestine dark and unorthodoxy of Henry’s laboratory. James Whaleinjected a lot of camp into the Gothic sensibilities.

Frankenstein is labeled a ‘monster.’ Therefor, he causes suffering to others and perpetuates the idea that he is in fact ‘a monster’ But most of us can see him as an existential anti-hero. It is the law of the existential philosophy that says HE must be responsible for his actions. Actions that have justification but still have no bearing on the violent things he does. We are conflicted because we sympathize with his dilemma. Like a confused child who asks where do I come from?. Why am I here? Who is my creator? Why have they abandoned me and what is friendship? Watching Frankenstein journey through a hostile landscape is painful for me as he’s chased by angry villagers with flaming torches.He only wanted to see the little girl float like the flower… He’s strung up on a cross like an obvious Christ figure, beaten, chained, drugged and sought after to be deconstructed, he is a figure in an eternal existential crisis. A monster who doesn’t understand if he’s a man or truly a monster.

Interesting noteBela Lugosi turned the part of the monster down because he didn’t want to grunt and John Carradine refused to play monsters at all, also rejected the offer to play Frankenstein.

2) THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)-THE GILL MAN

” There are many strange legends in the Amazon. Even I, Lucas, have heard the legend of a man-fish.”

An amphibian man driven out of his home by otherizing anthropologists must defend his realm. Ethnocentric colonialist men who dare study a guy who was just lazing around, dreaming with the fishes and suddenly falls for the beautiful Julie Adams. Chaos ensues. How can he adapt to the intrusion of the outsiders, since his world has become disordered and his sexual desire has been awakened. The films stars Richard Carlsonas David Reed and Richard Denning as Mark Williams. The two men who invade The Gill Man’s quiet life.

Ricou Browning portrayed the creature in the water, and Ben Chapman played the creature on land.

The Gill Man remains in the warm existential depths of the water… the lagoon his endless cycle of existence, thriving until he is invaded by scientific hubris. While in the lagoon he is connected to the creator of his world, remaining bound to a body of water that is symbolic of the eternal maternal womb. He is then forced out of his habitual life where he then becomes ‘otherized’ his crisis begins. With an ‘Outsider’ narrative the familiar then becomes monstrous. Our perceptions are focused on how this ‘being’ shatters the mold of normalcy. He transforms the ordinary world into something provocative and forces the outside world to define him, once again as with Frankenstein, he is perceived as a thing, as a creature.

#9 PHOTO Creature From the Black Lagoon & Kay

A film like Creature from the Black Lagoon can suggest to us the recognition of our notions of conventional sexuality and gender as well. The Gill Man has no genitalia, Ooh I said that word in a Movie Monster post. He’s similar to a frog ( I love frogs) yet has the stance of a man who begins to have sexual designs on the heroine.

While he is placed in a role that sees Kay as the ‘object’ of his affection, he’s sort of an androgynous amphibian, and yet he suggests that there are alternatives that exist in the realm of desire. The film has sexual symbolism throughout, as the outside world intrudes on an ambiguous sexual being living in the womb of the water, now unleashed as a sexual threat to women.

Phallic harpoons abound. The scene where he swims a slight distance away from the object of his desire, under the murky waters while Kay unaware, moves through the water with pleasure above him, barely hinting at an erotic intimacy between the two. Under the water the creature is not a threat to Kay, he’s almost shy, as he barely touches her leg yet swims off as if he’s conflicted with uncertainty about this new experience. William E Snyder is responsible for the striking underwater footage, that creates an erotic spacial world of shimmering light.

#10 PHOTO The Creature swims with Kay

The creature shows a fascination toward Kay, and she sort of shares a kind of bond, as both are threatened by the domination of the two male scientists. She tells the men to leave him alone, that it won’t bother them. Mark wants to capture the creature as proof of his discovery, rather than just study him in his own habitat. Mark wants both Kay and the creature, to possess them as objects. There are several scenes where Kay and the creature stare at each other as if they see something in common within themselves. Harry Essex wrote the screenplay, hated the script at first so he added the Beauty and the Beast theme, to give the creature more of a sense of humanity.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon is relentlessly sexual. Inhabited by mostly male characters, scientists who travel to the deep Amazon in search of undiscovered animal life. Hoping to find fossils they confront The Gill Man instead. The creature reacts violently to their intrusion into his quite domain, but he quickly becomes attracted to Julie Adams character Kay, the only female on the expedition who looks smashing in a one piece bathing suit and swims like she’s in the water follies.

The Gill Man evokes our sympathy who has become an ‘object’ to be controlled, dominated and assaulted by the outside world. It’s the scientific men who become the ‘aliens’ the bad guys and the creature another existential anti-hero.

#11 PHOTO creature-from-the-black-lagoon-1

3.) CURSE OF THE DEMON (1957) – THE FIRE DEMON

“It’s in the trees!”

The incredible Jacques Tourneur directs Curse of the Demon, a well staged monochromatic cerebral fairytale of the uncanny. An existential romp into the dark corners of the human psyche. Reminiscent of the RKO Val Lewton shadow plays of the 1940s, like Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, and The Leopard Man all directed by Tourneur. We are trapped inside a claustrophobic environment woven from a story about the natural world conflicted with the unreality of myth, superstition and paranoia.

Summoned by a wicked man, corrupted by a feeling of primacy Dr. Julian Karswell (with a brilliant performance by Niall MacGinnis) who has learned how to conjure up an authentic demon and ancient powerful forces when he translates a book called The True Discoveries of Witches and Demons. The term ‘Casting the Runes’ based on the M.R James story, refers to Karswell’s ability to telegraph long distance curses by using runic symbols on parchment paper. Karswell’s cult is named The Order of the True Believers.

The Fire Demon is the manifestation of Karswell’s existential angst. And now, the demon must do what he is fated to do, taunt and hunt down the chosen one who holds the runic parchment. Going down the railroad tracks of life like a fireball in the sky, or as musical icon Kate Bush would say from Hounds of Love, “It’s in the trees.”

#12 PHOTO- fire-demon-in-the-trees

Karswell’s own hubris, trying to control not only the natural world but the unnatural world at first puts him in a place of extreme power. His first victim Professor Harrington (Maurice Denham).

Harrington pulls up the to grand estate called Lufford Hall. There he pleads with Karswell who is quaintly playing a game of cribbage with his mother, to stop the curse. It’s interesting the juxaposition of the film’s portrayal of the two sides of Julian Karswell, The nobleman adapted to a quaint and elegant way of life, and the more sinister leader of a devil cult. Harrington begs him, “Stop this thing you’ve started and I’ll admit I was wrong and you were right.”

Mother offers Harrington some tea, which Karswell promptly says “It won’t be necessary.” The chilling affirmation that it’s too late for Professor Harrington. The clock strikes nine, and Karswell pretends he will do whatever he can. When Harrington moves out into the impenetrable darkness, arriving home, thinking he is safe, an odd swirling sparkling cloud begins to take shape. Lit from behind, it becomes more distinct until we see the figure with smoke bursting from it. As Harrington tries to escape by getting back into his car, he crashes into a set of power lines which fall down on the car with sparks flying. The Professor is illuminated in black silhouette as he scrambles to get away from the wreckage.

It is then we see in close up, the face of the fearsome beastie baring his demonic horns, vicious teeth and threatening, drooling expression. Although assumed that the downed electrical cables killed Harrington. we see a giant foot stomping down on him as he dies screaming.

Karswell, a magician, leader of a cult of devil worshipers and all around mommy’s boy, lives in fear that he will be exposed publicly as the leader of a devil cult, threatened by the press and an over zealous skeptic Dr, John Holden played by Dana Andrews who is on a mission to bring Karswell’s doings into the open.

Holden “Well, what do you expect me to do? Nobody’s free from fear. I have an imagination like anyone else. It’s easy to see a demon in every dark corner. But I refuse to let this thing take possession of my good senses. If this world is ruled by demons and monsters we may as well give up right now.”

He muses, “I know the value of the cold light of reason… but I also know the deep shadows that light can cast.”  this is a paradoxical statement for a man who challenged superstition as a young boy, purposely walking under ladders and not scampering away from the sight of a black cat.

Karswell curses Holden, by slipping him the parchment that decries “time allowed 3 days” Holden must cut loose the ties that bind his rigid skepticism. He must now secretly pass the parchment back to Karswell reversing the curse and marking the summoner of the Fire Demon who will eventually be torn to pieces by the winged demon he has invoked.

The Fire Demon reminds me of a cat. which is why I love him so much… beyond his imposing presence and title I think he’s sort of cuddly and toothsome, though smoke doesn’t emanate from

their little furry bodies thankfully, my Siamese Daisy does drool… And at times Mishka & Vera Belly do sort of raise hell.

Here the demon while being the central focus of the title, is as much an existential monster as is the film’s villain who creates an untenable landscape of angst, despair and conflict within the parameters of freedom and self-will. In keeping with the idea of existentialist thought there really is no God, good or evil that can protect you. Karswell alone, makes choices which ultimately lead to his destruction, diminished by his lack of control, though he thinks he lives in a world of his own making. Karswell creates an existential exploration for all the characters involved, it is his magic that conjures the anxiety that floats around the heavy air in the story.

Dr. Julian Karswell: “Listen, mother. You believe in the supernatural. I’ve shown you some of its power and some of its danger.”
Mrs. Karswell (Athene Seyler): “Yes, Julian

Dr. Julian Karswell: “Well, believe this also. You get nothing for nothing. This house, the land, the way we live. Nothing for nothing. My followers who pay for this do it out of fear. And I do what I do out of fear also. It’s part of the price.

Mrs. Karswell: “But if it makes you unhappy. Stop it. Give it back.
Dr. Julian Karswell: “How can you give back life? I can’t stop it. I can’t give it back. I can’t let anyone destroy this thing. I must protect myself. Because if it’s not someone else’s life, it’ll be mine. Do you understand, mother? It’ll be mine.”

I particularly love the film’s envisioned demon who does resemble ancient text illustrations though infused with less of a historical accuracy and possesses more dramatic exaggerated flare. His presence does have more of an impact when he is barely seen as he descends from the sky through the trees as a ball of fiery gas, sparking the night with fury and dread.

What gets incorporated into the plot’s existential nature as well is Freud’s concept of The Uncanny, which also represents the field of an unknown world. “Uncanny is what one calls everything that was meant to remain secret and hidden and has come into the open… there’s no doubt that it belongs to the realm of the frightening of what evokes fear and dread” -Freud

#13 PHOTO-the-fire-demon-on-the-train-tracks

#14 PHOTO-chasing-the-runes

The Fire Demon is an unknowable character attached to a mysterious sphere, subject to the summoning of an ambitious yet ruthless magician who tinkers in the black arts. The Fire Demon finds himself manifested in the natural world in order to fulfill the contract of a curse where the victim is marked having been given possession of a runic spell cast on a piece of parchment paper.

He is another character being used as an ‘object’ this one of an awesome fear & execution, Though we see very little of him, his presence is felt in the way the air seems to tingle wet and heady as if it could spark just before an electrical storm. The smell of sulfur, the crackle and hiss of electricity in the air. The effusive smoke, then the fireball that lights up the trees is magnificent. The Fire Demon is summoned to kill, then recedes back into the nether regions, an unknowable place in our consciousness.

An uncanny beast beyond the limits of our natural world he lives in the moment when he acts as killer. An existential nightmare where man in this case Karswell makes up the meaning yet all the actions are meaningless in the end. As what comes with his responsibility to command his place in the order of things, he realizes he has now power, and collides with the consequences of his actions, leading to anxiety, panic then ironically his own death at the hands of The Fire Demon. Karswell grows too self important and his hunger for freedom from the bonds of conformity. Karswell lives in an anxious state of empowered narcissism but is very aware that his grip on control is a tenuous one.

From Soren Kierkegaard 1813-1855 Freedom and Dread

“Utter self-reliance, however, is a frightening prospect. Although we are strongly inclined to seek human freedom” Kierkegaard noted that Contemplation of such a transcendence of all mental and bodily determinations tends only to produce grave anxiety in the individual. Genuine innocence entails an inability to foresee all the outcomes, which thereby renders one incapable of gaining control over one’s own life.”

The use of sound in Curse of the Demon which is it’s U.S release title, the British being Night of the Demon, is especially evocative and effectively connected to the feeling of dread and danger the imagery creates. Arthur Bradburn was the sound engineer and Charles Crafford the dubbing editor.

Thanks to Jacques Tourneur’s experience working with Val Lewton who produced a collection of classical, cerebral shadow plays the film’s atmosphere is sheer perfection. And we can’t forget the breathtakingly evocative cinematography by Ted Scaife. Tourneur uses the shadows to cause dread. With wonderful special effects by Wally Veevers.

In a universe filled with unexpected and unknowable truths, The Fire Demon hails from a place of mystery. The unknowable and awesome realm of the netherworld. He is also out the reach of reason, an ‘otherworldly other.’

From {Cinefantastique Vol 2 #4 Summer 1973} Jacques Tourneur –“I wanted at the very end, when the train goes by, to include only four frames of the monster coming up with the guy and throwing him down. Boom, boom- did I see it or didn’t I?…But after I had finished and returned to the United States to English producer Frank Bevis, made this horrible thing, cheapened it. It was like a different film”

So is The Fire Demon otherworldly nonsense or I read somewhere it was referred to as “eerie hokum”? The debate can go on as to whether making the demon visible to us lessened the dramatic aspects or cheapened the film as Tourneur stated. Critics agree with Tourneur that seeing the demon ruined the picture. Apparently it’s a common assertion that the scenes with the visible demon were inserted into the film against Tourneur’swishes by producer Hal Chester. That his insistence on showing the actual demon was exploitative and crude. Dennis Gifford says that it wasn’t so much that Tourneur didn’t want to show the demon, it’s that he didn’t want to use it as the predominant feature, as a ‘hammer’ to hit the audience over the head with.

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From my perspective as someone who loves the classical horror genre, the expectations of showing the demon immediately in the prologue just sort of satisfies our journey as cinematic voyeurs that there is a palpable and imminently frightening force at work in terms of the graphic context of the film. Then we can sit back and take in the beautiful subtlety of the camera work with it’s use of light and shadow. The long shots of the corridors, the sound effects, the bursts of light in the trees in the darkest night, the visual cues that distort reality at times, bring about a very menacing quality to the film even with the literal use of the demon. The screeching iron sound of the train mixed with the whirring flapping of fiery wings is astounding. I remember that moment as the demon is assailing the screen, almost as if he were riding atop the train, both hurling at us at an incredible imposing speed and force.

Script writer Charles Bennett who had collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on several films & actor Andrewsfelt that seeing the demon in a literal way, pulled you out of the subtle atmosphere of the film. After seeing this film about a hundreds times, I have to disagree. The film is balanced with the right amount of atmosphere with the few scenes where the demon manifests, and in it’s way, reinforces the idea that the world is a mysterious playground filled with things to be feared and acknowledged. It still holds up today as a classical piece of artistic horror.

The Fire Demon’s fearsome visage was drawn by special effects master George Blackwell, (Masque of the Red Death 1964, The Abominable Dr. Phibes 1971) who took his inspiration from wood carvings of medieval depictions. It gives the film a few moments of graphic savagery rather than the understated hostility that bubbles under the surface of the urbane yet cherubic Karswell.

Curse of the Demon possesses an eerie charm and sense of noirish dread. Tourneur having directed the noir masterpiece Out of the Past (1947) I personally love to see the demon materialize out of the cloud of fiery vapors. The phosphorescent glow of a train, it’s thunderous motion, coincides with Karswell’s brutal death at the hands of his own demon. Full close up, claws, fangs horns and snout, snarling clawing, thrashing the chosen victim till he’s a lifeless rag dolls left on the railway tracks of an existential life…

There are so many incredible moments to Curse of the Demon. Not only is he one of my favorite film monsters, but the film itself is on my top ten classic horror list. I’ll be writing more extensively about the film itself with the plot summary and overall impressions and all, but for the sake of this piece, I’m focusing on the ‘monster’ and not the film itself. Just quickly-One of my favorite scenes when Holden and Joanna (Peggy Cummings (Gun Crazy)who plays Prof. Harrington’s daughter) arrive at Lufford Hall where Karswell is entertaining children for a Halloween party and to spar with Holden’s infuriating skepticism conjures up an old fashioned wind storm. It’s a marvelous scene in a film that possesses some of the most striking images and psychological horror, throughout with the usage of darkness and light as only Jacques Tourneur can envision.

4.) FROM HELL IT CAME (1957) – TABANGA TREE MONSTER

“They called it Tabanga!”

Kimo (Gregg Palmer) was just an ordinary island prince until his jealous brother in law wanted the to rule the people of his village.. Stabbed thru the heart with a tribal dagger, Kimo puts a curse on the people who betrayed him. But he also dooms himself to walk the earth as a tree monster. (I love trees.) And this guy in particular is cheeky, cheesy and down right hilarious to watch. As he bounds through the island terrain condemning those who put him to death, left  wandering, with his pulsing heart. The Tabanga has no deep thoughts about his roots, he lives in the moment on a mission, the old superstitions of the island have freed Kimo of death, a freedom that pulses within a tree trunk and ravages the young island girls.

A man now transformed into a menacing ‘monster’ his world is now alien to him and he has chosen to wreak vengeance on those who betrayed and tortured him to death. He is transfixed as a figure outside the realm of the natural world. While not as sympathetic as Frankenstein or The Gill Man, watching Tabanga trundle through the terrain with his satirical expression carved in wood? is just too hilarious not to be beloved.

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An atomic research group goes to a pacific island to treat the ‘natives’ ( gosh I hate that phrase but they loved to use it in the 50s it was so cinematically anthropological of them… right) for burns and a disease caused by radiation fallout that was drifting from the local U.S. A-Bomb tests off the Nogasa atoll.

The local witchdoctor Maranka (Baynes Barron) blames the Americans and uses this to incite conflict within his people, in order to control them. He has the chief, Kimo killed accusing him of conspiring with the Americans to make his people sick from the ‘Black Plague’ that has been afflicting his tribe. Prof. Clark: ‘He’s afraid of losing his patients to modern medicine. He wants to keep them steeped in their centuries-old superstitions. They worship him like some kind of high priest!”

Before Kimo is killed, he vows “I will come back from the grave to revenge myself... in death I will be stronger than you in life.”

They stab him through the heart with a dagger, pounding it into his chest and placing him in a tree and he is buried. Soon after, assuming the radiation has been effecting the environment of the island, Kimo comes back to life as Tabanga the legendary Tree Monster of his tribal folklore. He goes on a murderous rampage.

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Linda Watkins is the highlight of this film as Meg Kilgore. Watkins always brings a comedic edge to her sassy nature. Here as Meg Kilgore she embodies a farcical ‘hysterical woman’, she adds an anxious cheekiness to her role.

She sees Kimo’s murder and is almost killed herself. She tells the scientists at the compound what happened. They need to find a cure for the plague before the islanders will trust them.

Paul Blaisdell designed this kooky monster though he didn’t construct him. The film blends island magic and science, fear of ‘natives’ as savages who equally fear ‘outsiders’ as invaders who bring about death to their culture and their people.

Again we have the “Outside Narrative” as the Americans intrude and Tabanga while not sympathetic as a silly walking stump with a face right out of Mel Blanc’s imagination, is now living in an even more hostile world.

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When scientists Dr. Bill Arnold (Tod Andrews) and Dr. Terry Mason (Tina Carver) see an odd stump like growth protruding out of the ground around Kimo’s grave, Norgu a friend of the murdered prince tells them about the legend of an earlier chief similarly slain by his enemies. He was buried with seeds and the chief became a tree monster. Lightning tore it loose from the ground and it killed many “They called it Tabanga…the Tabanga vanished into the forest. Some say it went into the quicksand.”

Kimo’s death dagger is jutting out of the stump. Highly radioactive the stump has a human heartbeat and oozes a greenish substance similar to blood. Norgu warns them to pull the thing out by the roots and throw it in the quicksand. Prof. Clarke ( John McNamara) tells him “What you fear is scientifically impossible.”

“You know what... Terry shudders, I have an eerie felling this thing knows what we’re saying.”

Of course they’re told by Washington to study the Tabanga.That night the doctors uproot the tree and perform an operation. Bill bumps into the dagger which pushes it further into the heart causing it to stop beating. But Terry transfuses the tree man with formula 447 to keep him from dying and he winds up going on a rampage wrecking the lab and seeking out those who betrayed him.

“Why don’t we psychoanalyze the monster? Maybe it’s mother was scared by an oak tree” Bill jokes.

Even the islanders can’t destroy Tabanga that easily, they lure him into a covered pit, and set fire to him, but he rises up. Grendel clearly recognizes his existential condition, he doesn’t know if he’s a monster or a hero. Kimo was a good man betrayed by his woman and a few power hungry men, now as he has transcended his body he is compelled to fulfill his destiny as the Tabanga.

Kimo is faced with the same philosophical question? Am I a man or a tree monster? You could also say that Kimo died for trusting the outsiders, and their culture. A tragic existential figure in the guise of a comical monster that’s a scream… And he’s not just throwing apples as in The Wizard of Oz, The Tabanga tree throws women into quicksand. What a symbolic eternal death.

5) The Giant Land Crabs- ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS

” Once they were men…. Now they’re land crabs!”

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In Corman’s fabulous romp Crab Monsters devour their victims assimilating their consciousness so that they may nourish themselves as well as speak. They crumble the island down around them as the scientists are left with hardly any stitch of land to stand on. All the while taunting them with the disembodied voices of their friends who have fallen victim to these giant crustaceans. Personally I don’t eat crab, but these guys are delicious fun. As the humans who now inhabit the monstrous shelled mutations, as they think about life in new terms.

Near a remote South Pacific atoll, they are doing atomic tests. Turbulent tidal waves smash against the island destroying buildings and causing the inhabitants to go missing. The storm subsides and a group of scientists are sent there to study it’s radioactive conditions on the island and uncover what might have happened to the previous McLean expedition who vanished.

Professor Jules Deveroux a geologist says “Strange… you can see only a small part of the island from this spot, yet you feel a lack of welcome. Lack of abiding life eh?”

Ed Nelson in his first film appearance as Ensign Quinlan says “I felt the same when I came here before, to rescue your first group. I not only knew they were gone, but that they were lost, completely and forever. Body and soul” In an act of premonition Jules answers “Maybe their bodies are gone but who can tell of their souls, eh?” He stops and ponders then, “Maybe if I call to them, they will answer. Their ghosts will answer.” Once he calls out McLean’s name flocks of seagulls scatter. A haunting moment that prefigures the rest of the mayhem.

The scientists prepare their gear in the renovated house. Quinlan goes back to oversee the supply raft’s arrival. A sailor falls off the boat. Underwater, a darkly moving shape opens it’s eyes. We hear him scream in horror. The other two men pull up a headless body.

The cheekiness of the film inhabits the landscape ironically with ordinary little land crabs moving about their business, crawling around on the sandy shore. Richard Garland plays Dale Drewer, Pamela Duncan plays Martha Hunter, Leslie Bradley plays Dr Karl Weigard, Russell Johnson is Hank Chapman and Richard Cutting is Dr. James Carson.

They discover McLean’s journal that notes an unidentified piece of flesh like that of a worm measuring twenty four by eight inches, making the creature almost 5 feet long. The flesh also resists any cutting.

One of the memorable moments of the film is when Dale and Martha are in the house, when a ‘clicking’ noise creates a creepy, eerie leitmotif. It also signals when the giant crabs are closing in. When Martha and Dale go scuba diving for specimens a large ‘rock’ she was using as a landmark vanishes. Dale mentions that he had seen a large black shape moving closer, but except for the land crabs and seagulls, there is no sign of life on the island.

Suddenly Jim calls to the group to show them a deep pit where there used to be a path.The island has been experiencing odd tremors since they arrived.

Martha is awakened by a ghostly voice, “It is McLean… help me Martha, help me” urging her to go to the pit. Against Karl’s warning Jim ropes himself down into the pit. “You don’t know what’s down there”Martha objects. “What could be there other than earth, water and a few land crabs.” While Martha holds a lantern for Jim until he’s out of sight she hears the clicking sound and calls out to Jim. There’s another tremor which knocks her out and Jim falls screaming into the pit.

The clicking sound is really a memorable theme of the movie, as when the two sailors inside their tent begin hearing the mysterious noise and remark, “Sounds like a kid running a stick across a picket fence.” Just before they open up the tent flap and get devoured by an unseen giant land crab monster!

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Again, a great moment for me is when Martha and Dale are besieged by a crab monster who breaks through the ceiling in the room where the radio is. When Dale opens the door to investigate a giant claw attacks him, but is frightened off by the charge of electricity from the radio. The room is demolished leaving a gaping hole in the wall. Martha says looking through the hole “Once there was a mountain. When we first arrived there was a mountain there.” “We are unquestionably on the brink of a great discovery!… it’s not likely that that discovery is of a pleasant nature” Karl imagines.

With another tremor causing a cave in, where the rocks sever Jule’s right hand. Now they begin hearing Jim’s disembodied voice. Jules is sedated in bed. Sam and Ron the sailors who have been devoured in their tent have now joined Jim. Jules has been aroused by the voices of the sailors Sam and Ron who claim they’ve found Jim, telling him he must come to the pit alone, which he does.

“Where right here Professor” Ron’s voice lilts as a giant claw grabs Jules.

It’s harder to talk about the giant crabs in the same terms as Frankenstein or The Gill Man because these are of course crustaceans effected by the radiation. What gives them primacy is the fact that they have assimilated the personalities of the people they devoured. So you have to look at the creepiness of a giant clawed crawler with human consciousness and the ability to communicate with disembodied voices of the recently eaten victims. I mean a giant crab with a French accent is sublime. It’s just too wonderful not to adore mes amies!

At this point Jules invites those who are left to come to the cave. “I am here too!” says Jim. “My leg no longer troubles me, it’s almost exhilarating, Will you come?”

When I was a little MonsterGirl the idea of these crabs (which by the way are horrifically adorable as hell to me now) talking and luring people to their death was a scary concept, and I was too young to grasp the campiness of it all, it just scared the heck out of me in that, well like poor Jim says ‘it’s almost exhilarating,’way.

Dale Drewer: “If there is a single cause, then that cause is outside of nature as we know it.”

Dr. Karl Weigand: “No, I cannot tell you that… but I can tell you this. Everything that has happened from the death of the first sailor to the destruction of our radio must be somehow related. They are too far from the normal scheme of things to be separate accidents.

When the revelation finally hits the remaining party Karl expounds, “Composed of free atoms, the crabs are like a liquid with permanent shape. Any matter therefor , that the crab eats will be assimilated in it’s body of solid energy.{…} And the brain tissue, which after all is nothing but a storage house for electrical impulses”

Dale adds, “This means that the crab can eat it’s victim’s brain absorbing it’s victims mind intact and working.”

The Giant Crab closes in on the remaining survivors… They fire into his massive claw.

“So you have wounded me… I must grow a new claw. Well and good. For I can do it in a day. But will you grow new lives when I have taken yours from you!”

Here is the existential crisis at hand. People’s identities have been transfixed in a new world out of the mysterious experience of transmigration of the soul itself. Trapped in a crab creature that lives outside the world of known science and logic.

Radiation was the working theme in a majority of these ‘giant monsters’ films of the 50s. Wreaking havoc like the giant ants in Them, The Monster That Challenged the World, Tarantula, Beginning of the End, The Giant Mantis, the list of atomic age carnage goes on and on…

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Corman had said in Alan Frank’s book The Films of Roger Corman-“Shooting My Way Out of Trouble.” “I think it’s success had something to do with the wildness of the title….{and} with the construction of the story line.”

Fun fact: The underwater crab was stuffed with styrofoam which made it really buoyant, so it had to be weighed down in order to keep it below the surface of the water!

 About MonsterGirl:

Jo Gabriel is the MonsterGirl behind the blog The Last Drive. Founded in 2006 as a way to channel her passion for film and retro television shows, The Last Drive In started out covering favorite TV anthology shows (like Boris Karloff’s Thriller), various classical horror and sci-fi films, and sharing Jo’s great fondness for classic dramatic television and character actors. Obscure gems and cult oddities.

The blog grew to include cheeky and thoughtful musings, and a lot of heart and nostalgia for the days of double features, drive-ins, late night features (like Chiller Theater & made for tv movies like ABC’s Movie of the Week), the golden age of Hollywood who gave us inimitable stars like Bette Davis.

And the site features Jo’s new love of film noir, probably her most beloved genre after classic horror.

A proud New Yorker, Jo is primarily a prolific singer/songwriter whose music is compared to Kate Bush. She is self-taught at the piano and hopes to start performing out in New York City again soon. She has gypsy lineage and loves her tribe of cats that let her live with them. Currently she’s writing and working on her new album, and sometimes sings standards with her siamese Daisy. She wishes Boris Karloff had been her Grandfather and Vincent Price her uncle.

To visit MonsterGirl’s The Last Drive In, click here.

To purchase her music, click here.

Hammer Horror Series: The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

The Evil of Frankenstein #1

by Steve Habrat

In 1957, Hammer Films first made contact with American audiences with The Curse of Frankenstein, an autumn-fused retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Starring Peter Cushing as Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the monster, The Curse of Frankenstein was a leaner and meaner film when compared to James Whale’s 1931 classic. It also contained a bleak psychological edge that appeared to be inspired by J. Searle Dawley’s 1910 short film Frankenstein. In 1958, Hammer followed up The Curse of Frankenstein with The Revenge of Frankenstein, which directly addressed events from the first film. After striking a distribution deal with Universal Studios, Hammer was allowed to directly copy from Universal’s Boris Karloff classic. Hammer quickly got to work on The Evil of Frankenstein, which found the studio modeling their monster after the iconic Karloff version. Directed by Freddie Francis, The Evil of Frankenstein breaks from the first two films in the series and attempts to almost restart itself, disregarding any continuity simply to capitalize on the look of the monster. The result is a sporadically entertaining but surprisingly sluggish horror film that is glaringly devoid of serious creativity.

Ten years after being banished from his hometown of Karlstaad due to his unorthodox experiments, Baron Victor Frankenstein (played by Peter Cushing) returns to his hometown with his assistant, Hans (played by Sandor Eles), to restart his experiments. Under the cover of a town festival, Frankenstein and Hans slip through the village unnoticed and return to Frankenstein’s ransacked mansion. After spotting the town Burgomeister (played by David Hutcheson) wearing one of his rings, Frankenstein causes a scene that draws the attention of the authorities. Forced into hiding, Frankenstein and Hans take shelter in a cave with a local deaf-mute beggar girl (played by Katy Wild), but while exploring, Frankenstein makes a shocking discovery—his creature (played by Kiwi Kingston) that wandered off ten years ago frozen in a chunk of ice. Frankenstein, Hans, and the beggar girl remove the creature from the ice and take it back to Frankenstein’s castle where he restores the creature’s life. Despite being reanimated, the creature refuses to respond to commands, so Frankenstein hires the help of Zoltan (played by Peter Woodthorpe), a disgraced sideshow hypnotist that is also being forced out of town. Zoltan agrees to try to hypnotize the creature and his attempt is an excess, but Zoltan begins using the creature behind Frankenstein’s back to carry out his own revenge on those who disgraced him.

Under the talents of Freddie Francis, The Evil of Frankenstein manages to hold on to Hammer’s level of quality. Despite the fact that most of their films were made on small budgets, they consistently produced A-level work as far as the set design and art direction was concerned. Francis makes sure that the sets looks great even if a few of them have been lifted from Whale’s film, the costume design is detailed, and that familiar gothic atmosphere is still allowed to poke its head in every now and again. As far as visual fumbles go, The Evil of Frankenstein drops the ball on the overall look of the dreaded creature. Modeled after the famous make-up work by Jack Pierce, the creature here has the same flattened forehead, sagging eyes, and frowning mouth that Karloff’s creature did, but it looks slapped together in a rush. Putty lines are clearly visible and the prosthetics appear as thought they were just stuck on in globs. As a B-movie monster goes, this creature is a winner, but when compared to the effects on Christopher Lee’s monster in The Curse of Frankenstein, he doesn’t even belong in the same series. To further keep him in the vein of the Karloff monster, they slap a gray suit on him that is reminiscent of what the creature wore in Universal’s Son of Frankenstein and they complete the look with platform boots that boost his size and slow to a shaky stomp. The only thing Hammer chose to omit from their creature were the famous bolts that jutted out from Karloff’s neck.

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As if reworking the story wasn’t doing enough damage, Peter Cushing was also forced to rework the character of Victor Frankenstein. Gone is the putrid little man who had affairs with his maid and seethed at his mentors from trying to put a stop to his gruesome experiments. In that man’s place is a kinder soul, one who only shows his sinister side when he rips a heart from a dead man’s chest and deadpans, “he won’t be needing it!” It’s a bit of black humor that shows his disregard for the dead. Besides the one scene, Frankenstein is a sympathetic character, constantly tormented by those who just simply don’t understand. Cushing plays him as a misfit cast out of normal God-fearing society and forced to suffer for fascination with scientific progression. “Why can’t they ever just leave me alone!,” he sighs melodramatically as he takes a dejected look around his trashed manor. In a way it works and there isn’t anything particularly faulty with Cushing’s portrayal, but you will certainly be left longing for that weasel we were forced to follow around in the first two films. Pitted against Cushing’s misunderstood protagonist is Woodthorpe’s Zoltan, a smirking baddie who likes to pick on the deaf-mute beggar girl and manipulate the creature into carrying out his sadistic orders. Woodthorpe is up to the task of playing a villain and he certainly turns his Zoltan into a slimy one, but his storyline seems out of place, making you wish that Francis would have omitted him from the action entirely.

Considering that this film is trying to replicate some of the finer aspects of Whale’s Frankenstein, you would think that Francis and screenwriter John Elder would have attempted to make us sympathize with Kingston’s creature. While Kingston largely lets the make-up do most of the work, there isn’t any of creature’s child-like wonder that we saw in Whale’s film. There is no “flower picking” scene or torment from a hunchback. No, The Evil of Frankenstein becomes more about playing the tiny violin for Frankenstein and lingering on Zoltan’s scumbag behavior. In a sunny flashback, we get a brief little glimpse of society rejecting the creature, running him down and putting a bullet on him. It’s basically the only time we ever are invited to really feel anything for the creature. Overall, for those who were wondering what it would be like if Hammer replicated what Universal had already done to popular effect, then The Evil of Frankenstein is the film for you. It never musters any memorable scares and the viewer will have a hard time empathizing with the creature. You also can’t help but wonder what the creature would have been like had Lee possibly taken the role (they probably could have made him unrecognizable in that make-up). Still, the film holds up to Hammer’s level of quality and Cushing does his best with what he has to work with. If there is a lesson to be found here, it’s that Hammer shouldn’t have tampered in the realm of cinematic gods like Universal Studios, James Whale, Boris Karloff, and Jack Pierce.

Grade: C

The Evil of Frankenstein is available on DVD.

Silent Screams! Frankenstein (1910)

Frankenstein 1910

by Steve Habrat

Contrary to popular belief, James Whale’s legendary 1931 Boris Karloff vehicle Frankenstein was not the first interpretation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel. In 1910, Edison Studios released J. Searle Dawley’s eerie short Frankenstein, a primitive little horror film that is surprisingly morbid considering the time it was made. At a brief twelve minutes, Dawley’s Frankenstein bursts with gothic images and morbid effects that would have certainly made magician-filmmaker George Méliès proud and had naïve audience members cowering in a ball under their chairs. This impressive little short does suffer from some disrupting over-acting, a typical staple for early silent films such as these, but this early version of Frankenstein does feature a grotesquely memorable monster that commands each and every scene that he lumbers into.

We’re all familiar with the story of Frankenstein, so I won’t bore you to death with a plot synopsis. Dawley’s film condenses much of Shelley’s original story, but the film is surprisingly complete given the brief runtime and small cast. The morality tale is firmly in place, but it doesn’t play as prominent a role as it did in Whale’s symbolic classic or the heavy-handed follow-up The Bride of Frankenstein. We’re still warned not to play God, and any attempt to do so could destroy our lives and drive us to the brink of madness.

The highlight of Dawley’s Frankenstein is easily the creation sequence, a scene that finds the Frankenstein monster growing from a bubbling cauldron of various liquids mixed together. After a sudden plume of smoke that certainly made audiences gasp with wonder, a charred skeleton begins to emerge, slowly covering itself with rotten organs, muscle, and flesh. As all of this occurs, the creature waves its arms wildly around the screen, a simple act that terrifies the young Frankenstein enough to lock his creation behind big heavy doors. Naturally, this doesn’t keep the monster out, but it doesn’t take long for an undead arm to burst through the barrier and reach out at the skittish young doctor. There is no doubt in my mind that this sequence drove many audience members from the theater, screaming in horror at this abomination of science. And they had barely caught a glimpse of the monster in all its finished glory.

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While the performances from Augustus Phillips and Mary Fuller are largely just exaggerated demonstrations of affection or heart-stopping terror, the standout is Charles Ogle as the monster. Hidden behind grainy camerawork and gobs of misshapen make-up, this shaggy beast tiptoes into each frame, stretching out his arms and reaching for his maker like a deformed infant. He resembles a goblin that has been hiding out in the wilderness for a year, a far throw from Karloff’s bolted and stitched appearance, but he is still effective in his own way. Especially devastating is the scene in which he glimpses himself in the mirror, gaping in horror as he realizes that he is indeed a hideous creation born of chemical mixtures. Even more interesting is the psychological twist that is put on Ogle’s monster, molding him into a physical manifestation of the evil that lurks in the deepest depths of Frankenstein himself.

While Dawley’s Frankenstein may not enjoy the lavish budget that Whale’s Universal Studios effort did, there is still a haunting gothic mood that oozes out of each and every frame. Rather than resorting to crumbling castles, overgrown graveyards, lightning storms, and dead forests to set the mood, Dawley simply places a few skulls around the set, enough to give the sets a macabre punch. Plus, just the fact that the film is as old as it adds another unsettling layer to the proceedings. Overall, thought lost for many, many years, Dawley’s Frankenstein is a must-see fragment of cinema history. It’s astonishing to see what was being accomplished in the early days of the medium and there is an eeriness to it if watched in the dead of night with the slightly distracting score turned all the way down. Dawley’s Frankenstein is a must-see for any student of film or horror fan.

Grade: A-

Frankenstein is available on DVD.

Watch J. Searle Dawyley’s Frankenstein below:

Anti-Film School does not claim ownership of this video. 

Hammer Horror Series: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

by Steve Habrat

In the mid to late 40s, the supernatural gothic horror film that Universal Studios pioneered began to fade away. In its place, Hollywood embraced atomic age creature features and paranoid science fiction, all of which became wildly successful. In the late 50s, when this new form of horror was reaching its peak, British film company Hammer Studios took a chance and revived the gothic horror film, giving Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, and the Mummy a Technicolor makeover. The first film from Hammer was 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein, a soft-focused melodramatic horror film that was dripping in blood and sexuality. While The Curse of Frankenstein can’t compete with the Boris Karloff/James Whale classic, the film takes more of a psychological approach to Mary Shelley’s material and boy is this one spooky vision. Certainly a film that is Halloween appropriate, The Curse of Frankenstein doesn’t hope to milk most of its horror from Frankenstein’s ghoul but from Baron Frankenstein himself, a monstrous man of science who will stop at nothing to complete the ultimate experiment. Still, the Frankenstein Monster is one that will haunt your dreams, a horrible scarred freak that wanders the woods and kills anyone that dares cross its path.

Our story begins in a dank prison where a gaunt Baron Victor Frankenstein (Played by Peter Cushing) is awaiting execution for a grisly murder. A kindly priest visits the imprisoned Victor, who then listens to his bizarre confessions. The story then flashes back to when Victor was just a young wealthy orphan and he meets his mentor, Paul Krempe (Played by Robert Urquhart). The two bond instantly and as Victor grows up, the two work side by side on a groundbreaking experiment that can restore life to the dead. The two manage to bring a small dog back to life, a success that sparks a horrifying determination in Victor to restore life to a human corpse. Ignoring Krempe’s pleas to continue their research before trying to raise a human corpse, Victor begins grave robbing and putting together a hellish creation. As the construction continues, Victor even resorts to murder to obtain the brain of a genius for his monster. Despite the brain being damaged, Victor manages to restore life to the corpse and creates a creature (Played by Christopher Lee) that isn’t the genius he hoped, but a bloodthirsty murderer with little emotion. After the creature escapes from Victor’s lab, it wanders into the woods where it stumbles upon local villagers, all who are horrifically slaughtered.

While the addition of color allows us to get a clear glimpse of Frankenstein’s grotesque creation, the film also repulses us with plenty of detached limbs, rotting eyeballs, severed heads, and oozing wounds. More grotesque than the Karloff monster, Lee’s abomination isn’t nearly as sympathetic as what Universal came up with, something that makes him less memorable than Karloff. You still have to give Lee’s monster credit, he does have a startling appearance and his blank stare kills certainly do make your skin crawl. A confrontation between him and a terrified blind man is certainly a sequence that will have even the most hardened horror viewer holding their breath. The monster is only given a small amount of screen time, something else that hurts the growth of his character, and Lee is forced to just swing his arms around in a fury and look confused for a good portion of the film. He is creepy as he wanders the autumn landscape and surveys the gothic architecture around him. Yet most of the fear is tapped in Frankenstein himself, an even more terrifying force that makes the monster look tame by comparison.

The cold-hearted scientist is certainly the true monster of The Curse of Frankenstein, one that holds you in suspense for a good duration of the runtime. While Colin Clive played Frankenstein as a man who has bitten off more than he can chew, Cushing’s Frankenstein is a man filled with hellish determination. He is sweet as sugar to his fiancé, Elizabeth (Played by Hazel Court), who is oblivious to his steamy encounters with his maid, Justine (Played by Valerie Gaunt). We get the feeling that this affair will not end on civil terms and it does take a turn for the nasty, especially when Justine reveals serious news to Victor and pleads for marriage. It is also difficult to watch the friendship between Frankenstein and Krempe deteriorate into a bitter relationship with Krempe constantly pleading with Frankenstein to end this madness. While Clive’s Frankenstein is celebrated more than Cushing’s, the better of the two will always be Cushing. At times, he can be incredibly charismatic and even charming but in the blink of an eye, his gentlemanly charm is undercut by a sinister meeting with a mortician for a pair of eyeballs. Krempe is ultimately the subtle hero of The Curse of Frankenstein, the voice of reason who puts the monster down once and then frustratingly disappears from the terrifying climax.

Made on the cheap, The Curse of Frankenstein doesn’t have the grand fiery ending that Universal’s Frankenstein has. The film has a bit more of a personal climax, one that, yes, does end with flames and a vat of acid (in place of a windmill), but with hints that this may all have been in Victor’s head. Could it be that the monster never existed at all? Quite the creative spin on the legendary material! The miniscule budget does force director Terence Fisher to really focus on character development to really take center stage and luckily, amazing talent surrounds him. He also does a fantastic job creating a spooky atmosphere with very little. The most detailed set is certainly Frankenstein’s boiling and bubbling lab, cramped and confined when viewed next to the stone structure seen in Universal’s Frankenstein. While it certainly isn’t perfect and there is just too little of Lee, The Curse of Frankenstein belongs to Cushing and that inauspicious gothic mood. The ending is certainly grim with madness running amok (just get a load of that final image). It does send the viewer off shaken and that is all that many can ask of a good horror movie. Overall, if you’re not really in the mood to revisit Universal’s legendary classic for the 50th time, seek out this Technicolor nightmare on Halloween night. It may have you switching on a nightlight or two.

Grade: A-

The Curse of Frankenstein is available on DVD.

Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: Frankenstein

by Steve Habrat

Nothing says Halloween like Frankenstein, the iconic horror story penned by Mary Shelley. The legendary tale has it all: walking corpses, gothic castles, mad scientists, hunchbacks, and misty graveyards. If that doesn’t scream Halloween then I don’t know what does. Shortly after the success of Dracula, Universal unleashed Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, two horror classics that are still celebrated today and beloved by every single horror fan on the planet. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s reviews of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, click here for Frankenstein or click here for Bride of Frankenstein. So, without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews of the Frankenstein sequels.

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Picking up several years after the events of Bride of Frankenstein, Henry Frankenstein’s son, Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Played by Basil Rathbone), returns to his father’s castle with his wife, Elsa (Played by Josephine Hutchinson), and his young son, Peter (Played by Donnie Dunagan). Eager to repair his father’s reputation, Wolf quickly discovers that local villagers are not so eager to forgive for the abomination that his father created. Wolf soon finds himself approached by the demented Ygor (Played by Béla Lugosi), who wants Wolf to bring the Monster (Played by Boris Karloff) back from the dead. Wolf reluctantly agrees with the hopes of restoring his father’s legacy but with the reanimation of the Monster, death and destruction once again tear through the countryside.

If Universal would have ended its Frankenstein series with Son of Frankenstein, then it could have ranked as one of the greatest trilogies to ever come out of Hollywood. Wrapping things up quite horrifically, director Rowland V. Lee tells one of the heartiest tales Frankenstein’s Monster ever received and it is all the better for it. Immensely satisfying and surprisingly eerie, Karloff once again shines as everyone’s favorite grunting brute corpse as he shuffles about the twisted landscape. It would become the last time Karloff would ever don that famous make-up and boy does he go out with a bang. While he lacks much of the understanding and humanity that he did in Bride of Frankenstein (my personal favorite Universal Monster movie), he still gives the Monster heaping amounts of personality. Karloff does end up playing second fiddle to Lugosi, who gives one hell of a performance as Ygor, a raspy grave robber who somehow survived a hanging and now has a deformed neck.

As far as the supporting players go, Rathbone is adequate as a man who refuses to own up to what he has created. Rathbone consistently plays off of Lionel Atwill’s one-armed Inspector Krogh, who is being forced into reprimanding Wolf even though he believes that he isn’t the criminal the rambling villagers think he is. The film applies a nightmarish German Expressionist vision to the terror, making everything seem slightly surreal as Karloff and Lugosi lurch about the rocky landscape. The film really takes hold when Wolf’s son Peter begins explaining that a giant has paid him a visit, a confession that will give you the creeps. Overall, Son of Frankenstein stands as the last great Universal Frankenstein film, one that still manages to terrify to this very day. An unsung winner from Universal’s glory days. Grade: A-

 

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Taking place shortly after the events of Son of Frankenstein, the horrific devastation that took place at Frankenstein’s castle still looms over the nearby village. Many villagers believe that Ygor (Played by Béla Lugosi) is still alive and is desperately trying to find the body of Frankenstein’s Monster (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.). It turns out that Ygor has indeed found the body of the Monster caught and preserved in the sulfur that he was pushed into by Wolf von Frankenstein. The villagers soon storm the ruins of the castle and run Ygor and the Monster, who has been weakened due to the sulfur exposure, out of town. Ygor decides to travel to the nearby village of Vasaria to find Ludwig Frankenstein (Played by Cedric Hardwicke), the second son of Henry Frankenstein, with the hopes that he can restore the Monster to his full strength. Ludwig begins studying the Monster with the hopes of destroying it once and for all, but a visit from his father’s apparition pleads with him to perfect the creation.

At a brief sixty-seven minutes, The Ghost of Frankenstein seems like lukewarm scraps that should have been thrown out rather than reheated. Despite a tepid script and a nonsensical storyline that is slightly convoluted, The Ghost of Frankenstein still has a few surprises that keep things just barely shuffling along. Chaney does a surprisingly decent job as the Monster, who once again doesn’t show the degree of humanity that Karloff did in Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein. Chaney is much better as this monster than he was as Dracula but he will always be the best at the Wolf-Man, a role he should have stuck to but I guess someone had to step in and fill Karloff’s shoes. Meanwhile, Lugosi once again steals the show as the unhinged freak Ygor, who wants to use the Monster to cause as much destruction as he possibly can. Despite a lot of silliness, Lugosi plays for keeps. Thankfully, he comes out unscathed. Then there is Hardwicke, who seems rather disinterested as Ludwig, a man who has been blackmailed into reviving the Monster. He certainly doesn’t live up to the other two Frankenstein boys.

A step down in the production department, The Ghost of Frankenstein feels frustratingly stale and downright meaningless. It is obviously a quick cash grab on the Frankenstein name and it is hard to forgive Universal for that, especially after that trio of treasures that they delivered before this. The film has very few creepy moments to speak of but the atmosphere of the original three films is long gone. Still, Chaney works hard to keep things on the ghoulish track and the ever-colorful Lugosi aids him along. I will admit that I did enjoy the morbid twist at the end of film, a twist that involves a quick brain swap with fiery results. Overall, it is far from my favorite Universal horror film but I believe you can do much, much worse. It just hurts to see the high quality Frankenstein series deteriorate into such an unimaginative mess. Grade: C 

 

The House of Frankenstein (1944)

After the vengeful Dr. Gustav Niemann (Played by Boris Karloff) escapes from prison with the help of his hunchback assistant Daniel (Played by J. Carrol Naish), he sets out to find the three men responsible for his imprisonment. After murdering a traveling showman and taking over his roaming horror show, Dr. Niemann unleashes Dracula (Played by John Carradine), the Wolf-Man (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.), and Frankenstein’s Monster (Played by Glenn Strange) to get revenge on those who have wronged him. As their rampage tears through multiple villages, Dr. Niemann and Daniel begin to fear that they may also fall victim to the horrors that they have unleashed.

Released a year before the weary House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein marked the first time that all of Universal’s headlining monsters were together in one smash horror show. A bit smoother than House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein is carried by the mere presence of Karloff, who here is portraying the mad doctor rather than the big green Monster. While Karloff seems to be enjoying the fact that he isn’t caked with make-up, the real star here is Naish’s hunchback Daniel, a tragic soul who lusts after a beautiful gypsy Ilonka (Played by Elena Verdugo). Daniel longs for a better body, which he believes would allow him to win over Ilonka’s affection. It is even more tragic to see Daniel pitted against Larry Tolbot/the Wolf-Man, who seems to be the apple of Ilonka’s eye. The House of Frankenstein also finds Glenn Strange stepping in as the Frankenstein Monster, once again played as a grunting brute with very little emotion. Carradine also makes an appearance as Dracula, who flies off with the film’s most thrilling sequence.

Much like House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein is really straining to keep itself together for its seventy-one minute run. The film really works due to the surprisingly strong conflict between the Daniel and Larry; a feud that we know will not have a positive outcome. Still, the plot finding Dr. Niemann using these creatures to exact revenge is a much sharper idea than all of them wanting to be cured of their curses. While it doesn’t mark the last appearance of all these ghouls in one film, it really should have acted as their last appearance on the big screen. Overall, The House of Frankenstein is a mildly enjoyable undead soirée that should have closed the coffin lid on these decomposing beasts from Hell. Grade: C+

 

Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, and The House of Frankenstein are all available on DVD.

It’s been a graveyard smash…

Hey boys and ghouls,

We sincerely hope that you guys have enjoyed our Halloween Horror Movie Spooktacular. We have crossed 3,000 hits and the hits keep coming. In celebration of the day all things scary walking the earth, lets do the Monster Mash with Boris Karloff  and a hoard of go-go dancers to celebrate! Tune in tomorrow for our final review of the horror film you guys chose. Happy Halloween!

-Anti-Film School

Insidious (2011)

by Steve Habrat

In these indolent times that are plaguing Hollywood, it’s such a refreshing experience seeing a film that is not a direct remake of an older, often times superior original. It’s usually an iconic film that studios use to simply milk money from our wallets. They repackage the film, tie it up with a big CGI bow, throw in half-baked 3D, and we flock to see it because we are familiar with it. If they aren’t desecrating an old gem, they are lifting the material from a book, comic book, or graphic novel. It makes me wonder if any of these writers or suits out there in the City of Angels remotely consider picking their own brains for a good story. The genre that especially can’t seem to help itself is the horror genre. It seems that absolutely no one can come up with an original and relentlessly scary little horror flick these days. Instead, studios just look to rebooting tired franchises whose knives and machetes are showing signs of rust (Yes, I am talking about you Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th remakes!).  It seems like every year we get one scary movie that is actually effective. Last year’s stylish American remake Let Me In was a standout. The year before saw the, in my humble opinion, good but not great haunted house thrill-ride Paranormal Activity. We’ve also seen an amped up remake of The Hills Have Eyes, the colorfully blood drenched Dawn of the Dead remake, the tribute to 50’s B-movie creature features The Mist, the claustrophobic monster movie The Descent, and the outstanding British zombie flick 28 Days Later, and the based-on-true-events chiller The Mothman Prophecies. That’s basically what we have had to work with since 2002. And three of those are remakes!!

While creativity is one portion of the problem, another reason why horror ultimately ran itself into the ground was the work of two men—James Wan and Leigh Whannell. They are the culprits who graced our movie screens with the torture porn clunker Saw. They ignited a frenzy of films that shamelessly bathed in body fluids and they also sparked a line of horrendous sequels that followed. While the only notable film in the series was Saw III, they influenced Hostel, Wolf Creek, and a slew of others that were less concerned about being scary and more concerned with making you squirm. And many of them were successful at making you cover your eyes but the genuine scares were non-existent. Yet in the past few years, torture porn has made itself scarce and horror has been attempting to embrace real fear again. It’s funny that the men who reduced horror to ashes, have played Dr. Frankenstein and risen it like a phoenix. Insidious is that phoenix.

Insidious is one of the scariest movies I have seen in quite sometime and is simply one of the best horror movies in years. Yeah, I said it. And it’s also original! Sure, it’s an unholy fusion of Poltergeist, The Exorcist, The Shining, and The Amityville Horror, but these days, we have to be carful when we criticize something that attempts to break new ground. Alas, Insidious does not but it sure makes a valiant attempt. Instead, Insidious conjures up some truly hellish images that are guaranteed to linger in your head for days after witnessing them. The film follows Josh (Played by Watchmen’s Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Played by 28 Weeks Later’s Rose Byrne) Lambert and their three children as they move into their new home. All seems well until strange noises are heard throughout the home, objects are moved, and one of their children, Dalton, falls into a coma (Ya know, the usual!). But after a seriously spooky night in their home, they begin to wonder if the reason their son has fallen into this enigmatic coma is supernatural rather than medical. The Lambert’s call in a group of paranormal investigators who quickly determine that Dalton is trapped in a ghostly parallel universe called The Further.

If it sounds like you’ve heard all of this before, you have, as Wan has crafted a loving tribute to the horror films of old. He throws reference after reference at the audience and one could almost make the film into a game of spot that horror reference. It’s all quite fun but it’s the 180-degree shift in the quality of the work here that is really quite impressive. Wan’s chiaroscuro industrial aesthetic still lingers but the film itself is much more patient than Saw. It feels like there is discipline here and I think much of that may stem from the producers who were also responsible for Paranormal Activity. There is no over-reliance on blood and guts (The film is rated PG-13) and instead relies on loud bangs, growls, shadowy figures, and sudden music blasts to make you soil your shorts. But Wan also fries your nerves through some seriously haunting images; most striking of all is a shadowy apparition standing behind a baby’s crib and a demon lurking in the corner of poor Dalton’s room. Even Whannell’s script provides a few blasts of heebie-jeebies. One scene includes a character describing a dream that she had and all I will say is that it turned my insides to ice cubes. It gives me chills just think back to it! This scene demonstrates the beauty of your imagination getting the best of you.

What’s even more impressive about the film is the performances that Wan manages to capture. He has positioned two very talented actors at the core of the film and it doesn’t hurt either that Barbara Hershey (Black Swan) shows up as a concerned grandmother. Lin Shaye pops up and provides a fine performance as the psychic Elise Rainier. While sometimes the acting does dip and head into cheesy territory mostly from his child actors, it’s forgivable. What does end up hurting the film and causes it to loose some of its momentum is the final act, which falls victim to the you-never-show-the-monster syndrome. It causes the film to descend into the fun house realm. Someone should have explained to Wan that it’s what you don’t see that ends up being the most horrifying.

While the ending suffers a bit, the film is still astonishing in how uncompromising it is in its attempts to send you screaming from the theater. It will get you at least once. The film sadly chooses the same path that the final minutes of Paranormal Activity did and embrace the CGI trickery. In Insidious, however, you overlook it because the final minutes of this demon are unpredictable. Just get ready for an I-did-not-see-that-coming twist. But the first three fourths of the film is so good, that Insidious haunts its way onto the must see list. The film also redeems any potential talent that James Wan and Leigh Whannell have and it leaves me intrigued for what they do next. I will leave you with is this: Any film that makes me walk into a darkened room and quickly flip on the light is one you have to see (Seriously, it really did that to me.). Insidious is an inspired creep-out that will haunt your dreams. Grade: A

Insidious is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

The Mummy (1932)

by Corinne Rizzo

Boris Karloff, is quite the king of stiff and mechanical movie monsters. I don’t know who’s idea it was to do something like this, but not unlike George Lucas as the model for Wookies everywhere, I think maybe Karloff saw these things in himself. No research on it quite yet because Movie Monster Week must go on and there are no moments to spare. Regardless, Karloff is almost scarier as the Mummy than he is as Frankenstein. Though the two characters are pretty close aesthetically. Almost is the key word.

Running the longest of all the monster flicks I have reviewed this week, The Mummy has the most complex story line of the lot. Set the mid thirties, a crew of British excavators is lead to the tomb of an Egyptian princess by none other than an Egyptian prince, raised from his tomb by the alleviation of a curse that he was punished under back in ancient times. The film begins with an original set of explorers who come across this Mummy and while discovering more about his tomb, end up waking the Mummy from its sleeping state.

The Mummy then adapts into the culture provided by the current team of excavators and remains unnoticed as a native for a time, until he begins to give himself away.

To be completely honest, after watching Frankenstein, The Mummy was a little less exciting and ran a little bit longer than I expected any of these films to run. Maybe it’s the mood I find myself in today, on a rainy and cold day in Akron, but I just wasn’t into it.

I could go on to tell you more about the plot, but it would be in an effortless way that might demean a reader looking for a genuine opinion. I can give my genuine opinion and it is this: The Mummy fits in with the theme of Universal Movie Monsters, because he is in fact a monster,  but breaks the sense of community built up between the previously reviewed films. Whereas the rest of the films use reoccurring actors, playing reoccurring roles, creating an occult following of these small tragic towns, The Mummy breaks that mold and almost feels out of place.

The plot of the film is everywhere and there are scenes that seem extraneous and ill fitted. As a viewer I found myself saying “I have no idea what is happening here,” which is common when I find that I am being given more information than I need to stick with a film.

Plus, The Mummy looks just like Frankenstein’s Monster and I found myself wishing to just revisit those movies again. Just like the Monster. Why would they do that? Because Frankenstein was such a hit? Most likely. It makes me uncomfortable when an industry’s motives are so transparent. I think Universal could have worked harder at The Mummy as a character aesthetically and personally.

Grade: C (for a serious lack of imagination and an overwhelming incorporation of details)

Welcome to the Monster Mash…

Welcome to the classic spookshow!

It’s going to be a graveyard smash!