Ghoulish Guests: Raymond Esposito’s Five Favorite Movie Monsters
Of Gods and Monsters
Mankind is a tenacious creature. All that he sees he ultimately masters. Cities rise and fall only to be replaced by more grand places, mysteries of nature are unraveled though technology and mathematics, and even the constraints of gravity has not held him earthbound. We create and destroy in equal measure, love and hate with equal passion, and the reaches of our intellect is bound only by the depths of our imaginations. Even the natural order which divides our world into shares of light and darkness succumbs to Man’s artificial light. And this is the most telling of all Man’s attributes. That of all things, the one thing Man cannot eliminate is his ancient fear of the monsters that dwell in the dark.
Mankind had monsters before he had gods. There in the darkness of his caves where he imagined the beasts that made the sounds that went bump in the night. Even his earliest gods were but more benevolent versions of his monsters. And that provides perhaps the greatest insight into Man. That his monsters have aways been as important as his faiths, that his fear is often stronger than his hope, and that his monsters say as much about him as any of his achievements. That there, in the darkness, Man has a different type of sight, one that doesn’t see the outside world, but the inside. That these monsters in all their strange and horrible versions represent the thing that Man fears most – his own darkness.
I have my favorites. What I consider to be the best of all the monsters. It matters less to me whether they are grotesque or beautiful, of or not of this world, with hooked claw or ice cold hand. My selections are less about form and more about what these particular creatures say about man. So if you care, follow me down this dark, unlit path. Lets visit with some old friends who are but childhood amusement in the bold light of day, but who by night, give even the non-believers reason to pause …and listen.
The Vampire – that creature of the night who lusts for the warm blood of life. Although the form has changed over the centuries, there exist no creature more feared and more envied than this soulless predator. That the vampire legend is tied so closely to sex should be of no surprise. What force is more destructive, more creative, and more tempting than Man’s cold lust for warm flesh? What great motive, no matter how noble, cannot be reduced to the power of attraction over another? The vampire is everything we fear about the world – death without transcendence, coldness in our hearts, and the possibility that a soul is just something we believe in, but that does not exist. The vampire, however, is also all that we covet in the private darkness of our own thoughts. Everlasting life, power, lust, and freedom from guilt. I love the vampire because in our own hearts we so often wage an internal battle against its seductive whispers.
The Werewolf – if the vampire is a cold and calculating soulless-ness, then the werewolf is passion unhindered by rational thought. The killer in the night, driven to passionate murder by the moon, the werewolf is the world’s first serial killer. A reason why our meek neighbor could transform into a murderous beast. Like the vampire, it speaks to man’s capabilities when reason and morality no longer confine behavior. The werewolf is any man and it can be every man. Who hasn’t experienced anger or rage? Who’s rage filled words or actions haven’t crossed the line? Who hasn’t been tempted to let fury silence reason? The werewolf is such a formidable creature because it demonstrates the power of pure emotion left unchecked. The werewolf reminds us of how thin the threads which hold together our civil society.
Zombies – What is mankind without either reason or passion? While the werewolf and vampire address these issues separately, zombies show us who we might be without either. Mindless wanderers with the sole purpose of consumption. Without mind or emotion mankind is but a decaying meat suit devouring all the living. Zombies also reflect the power of mankind’s numbers. One slow mindless zombie is easily avoided, but in large numbers their shear mass feels inescapable. They are so haunting and horrifying because somewhere in our own powers of reason, we recognize that our species often comes close to unfettered consumption of our world.
The Homunculus – if you’re not familiar with this particular monster of legend it appeared in the movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. These “little” humans are small, but what makes them so fearful is that they represent the insane tenacity of the collective. Mankind has often grouped together to commit insane, irrational and unmerciful actions for the good of the whole. The Inquisition, witch burnings, Nazi’s are all examples of “little” thinkers doing horrific things. For me the homunculus represents how little, spiteful, and fearful minds can join together to become a force of destruction. These little creatures of course live in the dark, whispering their insane agenda with plans to drag others into their darkness. They are mankind’s dichotomy, together we can do unbelievable good or create horrific terror.
Martin Lomax – the “star” of The Human Centipede 2, Martin Lomax is perhaps the scariest of all monsters, because he doesn’t need to be of monstrous form or strength. He is just a man, but one who’s purpose is of greater importance than kindness or mercy. Martin Lomax wants to create and other humans are but the pesky, squirming pieces of his art. That he cannot see the horror of his acts or recognize the abomination of his creation makes him all the more terrifying. Martin represents the potential insanity of man. He is horrible because while his acts are extreme, they are not unprecedented in their horror. How many stories are in today’s news that demonstrate that these monsters are not just on screen, but living next door. How are we to protect ourselves when the monster can be anyone?
You might wonder why a “horror” writer such as me would have a degree in psychology rather than English literature. It’s because I have always been fascinated with monsters. They spawn for one of our oldest emotions – fear. In psychology we come to understand that not all men and women are monsters, but within each of us lies the potential to be one. The study of monsters is the study of human psychology. The monsters we love, and those we hate, and those we fear, all say something about each of us. That thing in the darkness that scares us so, it may in fact be just a picture of mankind or it may a black mirror, reflecting the darkness of our own soul.
About the Author
Raymond Esposito was born in Northford, Connecticut in 1966. He discovered his love of horror when he saw The Omega Man at the drive-in. In 1984, he attended the University of Connecticut where he earned a degree in psychology. He currently works as an executive for an international professional services firm. Night and weekends are devoted to writing. He has self-published You and Me against the World in 2012 and All Our Foolish Schemes in 2013. He has written over thirty short stories, the latest of which appeared in Sanitarium Magazine. You can find his blog at www.writinginadeadworld.com and his fiction writing at www.nightmirrors.com
Today Raymond lives in Fort Myers, Florida. He married the perfect women, he raised two perfect sons, and was blessed with three beautiful stepdaughters which he considers the best “gift with purchase” any second marriage could provide. He also shares his castle with their 130 pound “puppy” Zeus. The two often debate the merits and drawbacks of feeding Twinkies to a dog…to date Zeus has won all those arguments.
Hammer Horror Series: Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
by Steve Habrat
In 1958, Hammer Films revived the gothic vampire film with Horror of Dracula, which is arguably considered one of the finest films the studio ever produced. Hammer would follow up Horror of Dracula with 1960’s The Brides of Dracula, a sequel that boasted the presence of Christopher Lee’s overlord vampire, but didn’t actually include a cameo from the head bloodsucker. In 1963, Hammer would release director Don Sharp’s Kiss of the Vampire, their second vampire film released before Lee returned in 1966’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Featuring an immensely strong opening sequence and presenting its vampires as a cult, the little-known Kiss of the Vampire is a unique entry within the vampire genre. It’s gracefully acted, stuffed with Hammer’s trademark gothic set design, and plenty eerie enough to entertain viewers when they have exhausted the Dracula series. Sadly, Kiss of the Vampire isn’t without its flaws, as the head vampire Ravna finds himself lost in Lee’s shadow, and the climax falls victim to some ludicrous special effects. It’s a shame to see the climax trip as badly as it does considering that Hammer consistently delivered strong finishes to their horror films.
Kiss of the Vampire begins with newlyweds Gerald (played by Edward de Souza) and Marianne (played by Jennifer Daniel) setting off on their honeymoon. They are traveling by car through the countryside when they run out of gas near a remote village. Unable to find fuel, the couple makes their way to a nearby inn and starts settling in for the evening. As they unpack, the owners, Bruno (played by Peter Madden) and Anna (played by Vera Cook), deliver an invitation to the couple from Dr. Ravna (played by Noel Willman), a wealthy local who wishes to have the couple dine with him in his lavish castle. Gerald and Marianne graciously accept the invitation and head up to meet Dr. Ravna and his two children, Carl (played by Barry Warren) and Sabena (played by Jacquie Wallis). After dinner, Dr. Ravna encourages Carl to demonstrate his talents as a pianist, but as he plays, Marianne seems to be falling into a trance. Convinced that all the action of the day his worn his wife out, Gerald decides to call it evening. Before he leaves, Dr. Ravna agrees to track down fuel for the happy couple. The next day, Carl and Sabena visit Gerald and Marianne to invite them to a masked ball they are throwing that weekend, but shortly after their arrival, they are scared off when the town drunk Professor Zimmer (played by Clifford Evans) approaches them. Ignoring Professor Zimmer’s warnings about the Ravnas, the couple attends the party, but as they mingle with the guests, they begin to suspect that there may be a wicked side to the seemingly polite family.
Before Sharp even rolls the credits on Kiss of the Vampire, he delivers the strongest and bloodiest scene of the entire film. He begins on a procession of mourners as they file through a graveyard under an overcast sky. At the head of the pack is a priest chanting in Latin over the sobs of loved ones. As they arrive at the grave, two mourners notice a man standing off in the distance. They whisper amongst themselves about how he is probably drunk when he suddenly starts making his way into the graveyard. As he approaches the coffin with fire in his eyes, he grabs a shovel and drives it straight through the wood. Sharp zooms in on the splintered wood as candle wax blood oozes through the gaping hole. Over the soundtrack, a piercing cry sends the mourners and the priest running for their lives as the coffin turns transparent and reveals a dying vampire. From here, Sharp and screenwriter Anthony Hinds allow the action to slowly build. We know there are sinister forces at play, but we’re unsure when they will make themselves known. After a number of teases, Sharp and Hinds let the evil run rampant at a masked ball where he finally lets us glimpse the undead cult.
With its slower pacing, Kiss of the Vampire allows the audience to really get to know the characters, which are all splendidly brought to life by the cast. Edward de Souza and Jennifer Daniel capture the friskiness and optimism of a young married couple ready to take on the world. They playfully tease each other and when they embrace for a kiss, the dinner table they agreed to sit down to in ten minutes is forced to wait another five minutes. When the undead wedge is driven between them, we root for de Souza to find a way to reunite with his hypnotized lover before her soul is consumed by the vampire cult. Noel Willman is gentlemanly early on as the suspicious Dr. Ravna, but at times his performance is on the dry side. There is no flair to his performance and there are only hints of menace that show through when he stands in front of his devoted followers. Just like David Peel’s head vampire in The Brides of Dracula, he is forever lost in Lee’s vampire bat shadow. Clifford Evans rounds out the cast as the drunken vampire slayer Professor Zimmer, a no-nonsense protagonist who makes Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing look like a softie. His disgust for the vampire sect he is hunting is white hot and he will make sure he finishes off his prey by any means necessary. It’s a shame that Willman wasn’t eager to get a bit darker with his role to really ramp up the battle between good and evil.
If there is one thing that Hammer Films could do, it’s end their horror films in the most satisfying manner possible. While there have been some truly classic finales (Horror of Dracula’s final showdown comes to mind), Kiss of the Vampire ends in the most lackluster way possible, a low for the studio. Our gruff vampire hunter conjures up a pack of bats to come flying to the rescue and it looks as cheap as special effects come. They bob through shattering stained glass windows and swoop down to feast on the flesh of the undead cult members, their white robes turning red with each new bite. The deaths are over dramatic and poorly timed as they shriek out through the rubber bats glued to their faces. Overall, Kiss of the Vampire begins with plenty of vigor as vampires are brutally slain right in front of horrified bystanders. From there it opts for a slow burn, but Sharp just can’t muster a fitting climax for what we have just seen. Extra credit is given for the solid performances, (especially from Evans), the cult angle given to the vampires, the bloody cross used to repel Ravna and his children, and the gothic set design that is turned up to eleven.
Kiss of the Vampire is available on DVD.
Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: Dracula
by Steve Habrat
The first legendary monster from Universal Studios, Dracula is one of the most iconic movie monsters ever put on the big screen. Played brilliantly by Béla Lugosi, the original film recieved three sequels and a chilling Spanish language version. Without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews of the Dracula sequels. Just make sure you hold your crucifix close and have Van Helsing speed dial. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s review of Dracula (1931), click here .
Drácula (Spanish Version) (1931)
Young solicitor Renfield (Played by Pablo Álvarez Rubio) travels to Transylvania to meet the mysterious Count Dracula (Played by Carlos Villarías) about the Count’s recent purchase of a home in London. Upon Renfield’s arrival, he finds himself drugged and bitten by the Count’s trio of undead wives. With Renfield under his control, Dracula travels to London where he brings with him a plague of death and destruction. Shortly after his arrival, Dracula finds himself pitted against the cunning Professor Van Helsing (Played by Eduardo Arozamena), who is hell-bent on sending the undead terror back to his grave.
Shot at night on the same sets that Tod Browning and Béla Lugosi haunted, Drácula is a much more alive artistically than the rather comatose American version. Browning’s version was composed of multiple long shots that looked like the actors were performing on a giant stage rather than acting in a Hollywood motion picture. George Melford is much more sure of himself as he dares to move his camera around with the actors and in the process, wakes the film up from its dusty, cobwebbed slumber. Melford’s film also ends up being quite a bit longer than Browning’s, with a slower build up and a lengthier pay off than the sudden climax of the American version (this film is a whopping half-hour longer than Browning’s). It is blatantly apparent that this was made for an audience with a much longer attention span and a genuine love for character development. In addition to these touches, the film is much creepier than Browning’s, which ultimately gives it the upper hand. Your spine will tingle when Dracula’s brides emerge from their shadows and begin feeding upon the doomed Renfield and you’ll shiver when Dracula emerges from the dark depths of a ship braving stormy waters as Renfield roars with delight. The boat sequence was my personal favorite scene in the film. This one will give you nightmares, folks!
Then there is Villarías as Dracula and I must say, he comes dangerously close to toppling Lugosi but he just misses by a hair. The two have largely the same physical appearance but Villarías lacks the otherworldly gaze and the spidery fingers that Lugosi was so blessed with. However, Villarías has a curling lip and jagged sneer that makes him look like an unhinged madman who is seconds away from ripping out your jugular. He does have bulging eyes and a psychotic stare, which Melford likes to focus in on in extreme close-ups, but his gaze never really made my heart skip a beat. The rest of the actors and actresses do a fine job and match the American cast the entire way. Another standout is Rubio as Renfield, a man with a laugh that could wake the dead and a quiver that looks like the set temperature was below zero. It would have been perfect if Melford had included an equally hair-raising score but unfortunately, we don’t get one here. Still, Drácula is fully capable of giving you a few sleepless nights, that is, if you are one of the patient viewers. A stunning alternative that ranks as one of the best vampire films ever put on celluloid. Grade: A
Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
Picking up shortly after the events of 1931’s Dracula, the Hungarian countess Marya Zaleska (Played by Gloria Holden) emerges on the streets of London searching for the corpse of her father, Count Dracula. She is also searching for a way to rid herself of a mysterious curse that causes her to drink the blood of the living. With the help of her sinister manservant, Sandor (Played by Irving Pichel), Marya seeks out psychiatrist Jeffrey Garth (Played by Otto Kruger) in the hopes that he can cure her through scientific methods. Meanwhile, Professor Van Helsing (Played by Edward Van Sloan) is trying to convince Scotland Yard that there are vampires walking among the citizens of foggy London.
Exhibiting a much more artistic approach than Tod Browning’s original film, Lambert Hillyer’s Dracula’s Daughter is a creeping tale that draws you deep into its gothic atmosphere and slow building crescendo of tension. Rather than just a collection of stationary long shots of cobwebbed castles and misty gardens, Dracula’s Daughter is all damp, ominous streets and shadowy dens where Holden’s Marya grapples tragically with the curse that plagues her. The creepiest scenes come when Marya and Sandor slip around in the shadows and discuss ways to quench Marya’s unquenchable thirst. The film can also be relatively humorous, which does undercut some of the scares that generate, making Dracula’s Daughter a bit kid friendly, even more so than Dracula. Lengthy dry spots where thinly written background characters step into the frame and babble on, forcing us to drift out of the action until Holden reappears also trip up moments of Dracula’s Daughter.
Dracula’s Daughter is probably best remembered for the lesbian subtext that runs heavy through the second half of the film. This subtext is crystal clear in a sequence between Marya and a young girl named Lili (Played by Nan Grey), who is supposed to acting as a model for Marya. One thing is for sure, you have to see the scene to believe it. It is surprising that the scene made it past the production code authority but it actually makes Dracula’s Daughter all the more fascinating and thought provoking. It may not rank as one of the best Universal Movie Monsters sequels out there, but Dracula’s Daughter manages to be a smidgeon better than its predecessor, at least in construction. It would have also been nice to get a cameo from the legendary vampire himself but sadly, this film is Dracula-less. Overall, this gothic follow up will stick with you due to its dreary ambiance and nightmarish imagery that will have you switching the nightlight on before bed. Grade: B
Son of Dracula (1943)
After taking a trip to Hungry, the beautiful Kay Caldwell (Played by Louise Allbritton) returns to United States with a morbid curiosity with the supernatural. She returns to her family’s southern plantation with a gypsy fortuneteller named Madame Zimba (Played by Adeline DeWalt Reynolds) and the mysterious Count Alucard (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.), who only makes select appearances after the sun has gone down. After Madame Zimba warns Kay that death looms over the plantation, several individuals close to Kay are discovered dead. To make matters worse, Kay informs her fiancé Frank (Played by Robert Paige) that she does not intend to marry him anymore. She instead plans on marrying Count Alucard, with the hopes of obtaining immortality.
Don’t be fooled by the title, there is no son of Dracula in Son of Dracula. I guess it was just a catchy title that everyone could agree on. The third installment in Universal’s Dracula franchise does find the legendary bloodsucker (thankfully) returning after his absence in Dracula’s Daughter but this time he is portrayed by Lon Chaney, Jr. Unlike Béla Lugosi, Chaney is never really able to own the fangs and it shows. Chaney lacks Lugosi’s horrific grin that just spelled pure evil and his piercing eyes, but he does an adequate job with the role. You are left wishing that Lugosi would show up and relieve Chaney of his duties here and sometimes, I got the feeling that Chaney was secretly hoping the same thing. His casting here has been widely considered one of the worst casting choices in the history of cinema and he does seem a bit awkward at times but he is aided by the stellar direction from Robert Siodmak, who ratchets up the eeriness with a relentlessly gloomy landscape.
More of a film noir with vibrations of terror, Son of Dracula has some superb moments of paranormal horror. Alucard drifts silently over the murky waters of a desolate swamp while another character chats with a ghost in a dingy jail cell as police officers murmur amongst themselves that the prisoner must be crazy. Dropping the comic relief that Dracula’s Daughter was fond of, Son of Dracula is done in by a thinly spread plot that ultimately got a bit monotonous for me. I did enjoy the somber tone and I have to say I really liked the scenes in which Alucard would transform from a bat into his human form. I also was quite fond of Allbritton’s distant femme fatale who has big plans for Chaney’s bloodsucker. I was thrown off by the idea that Dracu… I mean Alucard was looking to settle down and take a wife, especially after Dracula shows three of his wives slithering out of their graves. Overall, Son of Dracula plays things gravely serious and more power to it for that, but a bone-dry script and a dull monster cause the film to be a bit stiff. Grade: C+
House of Dracula (1945)
Count Dracula (Played by John Carradine) arrives in Visaria at the castle of Dr. Franz Edelmann (Played by Onslow Stevens) and asks the doctor to cure him of his vampirism. The good doctor agrees and just as he begins work on a cure, Larry Talbot (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr) comes knocking on his door seeking a cure him of his lycanthropy. As the doctor races to find cures for both monsters, he stumbles upon the ultimate discovery— Frankenstein’s Monster (Played by Glenn Strange). With all the ghouls together, Dr. Edelmann races the clock to protect his two assistants, hunchbacked Nina (Played by Jane Adams) and beautiful Milizia (Played by Martha O’Driscoll), from certain death, but Count Dracula has other plans for Dr. Edelmann, a plot that could unleash pure evil on the local villagers.
The lash hurrah for three of the most iconic movie monsters in Universal’s arsenal, House of Dracula does end with a big bang, lots of flames, and even a few fireworks. You’d think with three of the studio’s main monsters in the same picture, there would be plenty of murder and mayhem to go around but sadly, that is not necessarily the case. There is quite a bit of down time in House of Dracula and only some of it works. A scene where Count Dracula attempts to seduce Milizia is effectively frightening and a horrific vision by Dr. Edelmann is a hair-raiser but things are forced here. Screenwriter Edward T. Lowe, Jr really hopes for smooth sailing but some of these chance encounters are strained, especially the way Frankenstein’s Monster is discovered. Furthermore, the film lacks the unshakable gothic mood of some of the better Universal horror offerings, which further throws the film off. Luckily, this monster mash only goes on for a measly sixty-seven minutes.
As far as acting is concerned, Chaney is the only one reprising a role that he perfected. Béla Lugosi is replaced by John Carradine, who does more with the role than Chaney did in Son of Dracula but still lacks the allure of Lugosi. Glenn Strange steps in for Boris Karloff and has little to do as the Monster. He mostly just stays rooted to an operating table and flails his arms around in the film’s final minutes. It is Chaney’s Talbot/Wolf-Man who really steals the picture with his sympathetic performance of a man terrified of himself. Stevens also does an above average job with Dr. Edelmann and gets to really have some nasty fun in the home stretch when he descends into madness. The other memorable aspect of House of Dracula is the inclusion of female hunchback Nina, an unusual touch for a horror film at this time. As the last gothic gasp before the explosion of atomic terror and Cold War fears, House of Dracula attempts to send the terrifying trio back to the grave in grandiose style but ends up ushering them out with a big yawn and a faint snore. Grade: C
Drácula (The Spanish Version), Dracula’s Daughter, Son of Dracula, and House of Dracula are all available on DVD.
“We’ve warned you…”
Hello, boys and ghouls…
We are very close to beginning our Halloween Horror Movie Spooktacular here at Anti-Film School. Starting October 1st, Anti-Film School will be overrun by monsters of all sorts. We will have zombies, mummies, vampires, werewolves, swamp monsters, psycho killers, and more. No one will be safe. Here is what you can expect over the course of the month:
Starting October 1st through the 9th, Steve will be reviewing George Romero’s zombie films and the remakes of two of his films. He will also be reviewing one of his personal favorite zombie flicks that is not a George Romero movie. It will be a gory week, so make sure you don’t get any blood and guts on you while checking the reviews out!
Starting October 10th, Corinne will be visiting with the Universal Studios Movie Monsters. She will drop in on The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf-Man, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s going to get spooky!
Throughout the third week of October, Charles will be unleashing Norman Bates in Psycho and the sequels that followed the Hitchcock original. He will also be checking in to the refurbished Bates Motel in the Gus van Sant remake. Charles will be hanging out with the ghosts of Poltergiest and writing a study on shock rocker turned horror director Rob Zombie. Oh, the horror!
You can also expect reviews of vampire films that you may have not seen, reviews of the original John Carpenter film The Thing and the prequel that makes it’s way to theaters during the month, and a few other monsters that we like and dislike. Also, we are asking you to vote in our latest poll, which asks you which horror film you want us to review on Halloween day. This is your chance to interact with out site. Head over to the Category Cloud and click on the poll link. The first poll box that comes up is the one that we want your input in. Voting closes on the October 20th and anything cast after the said date will be ignored. We hope you are as excited about this event as we are. We hope you all make it a ghoulish hit. Who’s ready to get scary?
Note: Anti-Film School does not claim to own the images and clips from Universal Pictures’ 1931 film Frankenstein.