Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Horror Of It All!





Horror movies have been around almost as long as movies have, and they remain a staple of Hollywood today.   While today's films are apt to depend on gore,  the horror movies of yesteryear depended on atmosphere.


And in today's entry, we have a lot of atmosphere to examine.



In 1910, Thomas Edison's studio produced the first filmed version of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. The quality of some of this film, particularly the first few minutes, is poor.  It is, after all, nearly 100 years old!    It runs only about 12 minutes, and is worth a look.


Frankenstein - Thomas Edison
This is Edison's COMPLETE 1910 silent Frankenstein film.



In 1919, the first `modern' horror movie would  be released. This version was edited and speeded up slightly during the 1950's so it could be broadcast on television.   It remains, however, a chilling masterpiece.


Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari ( The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari ) - Rudolf Meinert and Erich Pommer

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the first modern Horror Film and it influence a number of contemporary productions. A real classic! PLOT: A man named Francis relates a story about his best friend Alan and his fiancée Jane. Alan takes him to a fair where they meet Dr. Caligari, who exhibits a somnambulist, Cesare, that can predict the future. When Alan asks how long he has to live, Cesare says he has until dawn...


Three years later, Nosferatu would be released.  As it was an  unauthorized adaptation of Dracula, certain names were changed to protect the studio. 


Originally released in 1922 as Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens, director F.W. Munarau's chilling and eerie adaption of Stoker's Dracula is a silent masterpiece of terror which to this day is the most striking and frightening portrayal of the legend.



The last great silent movie is this 1929 reissue of 1925's The Phantom of the Opera, with Lon Chaney.   While the original 1925 version is truer to the director's vision, the 1929 print is in far better shape for viewing.





The Phantom Of The Opera (1929) - Carl Laemmle
The most commonly available version, this release is visual-only representation with musical accompaniment) of the 1929 sound reissue for foreign markets (note that the title sequence and Carlotta's performance as Marguerite are shot at sound speed of 24 frames per second) and is the best surviving 35mm version of the film (the 1925 general release version only exists in 16mm show-at-home prints and is of very poor quality)...



By the early 1930's, Talkies had replaced silent films.   Universal Studios would release two famous horror movies - Dracula and Frankenstein - that would forever cast the studio as the king of horror movies.


Dracula (1931) 

(Classic Cinema Online - Click to view)





In 1932, Todd Browning would use real carnival performers with genuine physical deformities in his controversial movie  Freaks.   While promoted as a horror film, it is more of a drama and a morality play; an exploration of how outer beauty doesn't necessarily equate to inner beauty.


In it, the deformed cast members are trusting and honorable, while the two ostensibly `normal' members of the circus are the real `monsters'.


Classic Cinema Online - Click to view)



The public reaction to the film was so strong, many of the more disturbing scenes were cut by the studio, and roughly 30 minutes of footage is now considered `lost'.


A commercial failure, Freaks proved to be  undoing of director Todd Browning.  Browning would direct just four more movies over the next 8 years, and then, unable to get directing assignments, he retired.


More than sixty years after it was made, Freaks would be selected for preservation by the National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant"





Radio also embraced the horror genre, must to the distress of some vocal politicians and religious leaders.   The graphic sound effects (crunching of bones, eating brains, etc) that accompanied these lurid tales was sometimes just too much for these critics to endure.


One of the best of the horror shows was  Lights Out!, created by Wyllis Cooper in 1934.  He left the show two years later, and today, most people associate his replacement, Arch Obler with the show.  


The first script Obler wrote, in 1936, was about a paralyzed girl who is buried alive.  This episode reportedly elicited outraged letters in response. 



His second script, however, became a classic. It was called Cat Wife. 


It proved so popular it was re-aired by NBC  on February 17, 1937 and again on April 6, 1938 and on January 14, 1943.   And yes, that's Boris Karloff you hear playing the husband.




Arch Oboler and Tommy Cook (ca.) 1936

Arch Oboler and Tommy Cook (ca.) 1936



Here are 13 episodes  (hosted on from that very popular show.  



1937-12-22 Christmas Story

1939-12-16 Nobody Died

1941-02-17 Special to Hollywood


1942-10-13 Revolt Of The Worms

1942-11-17 Come to the Bank


1942-12-22 The Meteor Man

1943-06-29 Bathysphere


1943-07-20 Profits Unlimited

1943-07-27 The Little People


1943-08-24 Sub-Basement

1943-09-14 The Word


1946-07-27 Battle Of The Magicians

19xx-xx-xx Cat Wife


There were other great horror radio shows, and I will profile them in future blogs.   The Inner SanctumSuspense!,  and the Hermit's Cave are just a few.   




Horror movies became less popular by the end of the 1940's, and Science Fiction drew a lot of the market away.  Still, stars like Chrisopher Lee and Vincent Price would continue to have successful careers in the genre.


One of the best remembered horror films of the 1950's is this one, Starring Vincent Price.   The House on Haunted Hill.



House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Classic Cinema Online - Click to view)




While these movies may be fine for teenagers and adults, if you have younger ones to entertain this Halloween, you might consider these two `horror'  comedies, with Abbott and Costello.


Of course, if you don't have kids, there's no law that says you can't enjoy them yourself.




Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)   

Classic Cinema Online - Click to view)



Abbott and Costello: Hold That Ghost (1941)

 Classic Cinema Online - Click to view)

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