Sunday, August 13, 2017

Enjoy The Monster Movies of Universal Studios

Book review by Doug Gibson

I really enjoy reading "The Monster Movies of Universal Studios," Rowman & Littlefield, June 2017, the latest film genre offering from the prolific James L. Neibaur (an Amazon link is also included). This book is not as deep a dive as "Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946," from Tom Weaver and Michael and John Brunas. But it's not intended to be that comprehensive.

Neibaur focuses on only the monster movies, with Dracula, the Mummy, Invisible Men and Women, the Frankenstein Monster, Wolf men and a woman, and the 1950's Creature From the Black Lagoon. He also includes the Abbott & Costello monster comedies.

While I have to confess I probably would have preferred chapters from Neibaur on the early Universal films "Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Black Cat" and "The Raven" instead of a couple/or three of the so-so Invisible Man sequels, I was impressed by the research and smooth writing skills of the author, which have become a staple of his books, the most recent (at least I read) a take on WC Fields' films and soon to come is one on Andy Clyde's Columbia shorts --- sheer manna for us!

Twenty-nine films are assessed, starting with "Dracula" and ending with "The Creature Walks Among Us." Generally, the chapters start with an info box cover, the genesis of the films from conception to planning -- who writes scripts, who directs, the cast assembled -- with a synopsis of the film. Also covered are budgets, how the filming went, how the film was received both critically and financially, what was planned for the future, and the author's assessment of the film. Neibaur has gathered film reviews and exhibitor assessments of the period, and includes sourced quotes, mostly from film participants.

As I mentioned, this is not as detailed as "Universal Horrors" but even that will make it a perhaps more relaxed read for the more casual films of the genre. As the father of a 12-year-old son who, thanks to my efforts, loves the old Universal horrors, he's soon to read "The Monster Movies of Universal Studios," while a turn at the larger "Universal Horrors ..." is still a few years away.

And there is fun, interesting information gathered by Neibaur. For example, a young Betty Grable was considered for the female lead in both "Dracula" and "Frankenstein." She didn't quite pass muster, though. In the early 1940s, Universal really trimmed its budgets. "The Mummy's Hand," for example, was made for a mere $80,000! In fact, as Neibaur notes, the films generally easily made money due to the parsimony of the studio. Also, an  angry Bela Lugosi, in his more prosperous first half of the 1940s, swore never to work for Universal again. That would change as he gladly accepted his iconic role with Abbott & Costello a few years later. Another interesting tidbit is that Lou Costello was convinced "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" would be an unfunny box office failure. So sure was he, Neibaur notes, that he seemed annoyed that it was a success.

One more thing that gets across in the book is that Neibaur generally both loves and has great respect for these films with now-iconic monsters. There's none of the snark that occasionally can sour a good read about this genre. About the only film that gets a solid pan is "She Wolf of London," which frankly merits it, since it's a -- in my opinion -- shallow attempt to capture the spirit of Val Lewton.

There are a few typos in the book that could be fixed with another edition or at least e-book or Kindle. An example is Universal spelled as Universale in some chapters. But it's a fact-filled, genre-fun read of a piece of Hollywood history that so many cult film fans love. It merits real estate in your book case. And, trust me, it's a relief to read about Boris Karloff as the Mummy after watching that dreadful Tom Cruise Dark Universe film release.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Hammer's sexy vampire film 'Twins of Evil'

Review by Doug Gibson

"Twins of Evil," Hammer's 1971 tales of Count Karnstein turning one part of a lovely pair of twins into a vampire, is not as impressive as other Carmilla-themed films, such as "Lust For a Vampire," or "The Vampire Lovers," but nevertheless it retains its status as a classic due to star Peter Cushing's strong performance as Gustav Weil, fanatical vampire hunter, so enslaved by the mysogyny of his faith and his fear of the undead that he'll solemnly burn to death any young woman who doesn't act normal. The opening scene, where Weil and his brotherhood abduct and burn a young girl to death, indicts Weil as a dangerous fanatic, a man not safe with young women and their instinctive sexuality.

Appropriately, Weil's eagerness to burn female flesh provides righteous indignation for viewers. Yet Cushing is no Matthew Hopkins, as portrayed by Vincent Price in "Witchfinder General." Weil is no hypocrite nor a luster of his victims, nor is he a man who revels in his evil acts. He's a fervent believer in the Old Testament "thou shall not suffer a witch to live." Cushing's Weill, while acting with a maniacal religious fervor, believes he is freeing his victims, releasing them from vampirism to a life with Christ. Late in the film, when it slowly dawns on Cushing that he may have been too zealous, that some of his victims were indeed innocent, his pain and remorse is evident. As both atonement and revenge, he fails to protect himself as he goes after the evil count.

"Twins of Evil" is a prequel to the Carmilla story and films. The evil Count Karstein (Damien Thomas) is tired of the limits to pleasure and evil he can attain as a mortal. He summons an ancestor vampire, Countess Mircella, (Katya Wyeth) who turns him into a vampire. Eager to satiate his lusts and increase his evil, he sets his sights on two gorgeous twins who have moved to Karnstein from Venice to live with Weil and his wife, Katy, (Kathleen Bryon). The twins are portrayed by Playboy models Mary and Madeleine Collinson. Mary plays Maria Gellhorn and Madeleine is her twin Frieda. Maria is the more timid, pious twin. Frieda is rebellious, furious with her uncle Gustav and eventually is drawn to Count Karstein, who willingly becomes a vampire. There is a subplot where Anton, a liberal teacher at the girls' school, is attracted to Frieda. Anton and Gustav, not surprisingly, clash over the latter's vampire hunting. The film climaxes with a hunt for Frieda and the ensuing possibility that the virtuous Maria may pay for her sins.

As I have mentioned, it's easy to hate the fanatical, misogynous Gustav, but he does have one fact to rest on: there are vampires out there stealing the souls of the innocent. Midway through the film, it's a testament to Cushing's acting skills that the audience starts to root for him as he goes after Frieda and the Count. The Collinswood twins are gorgeous. They are not trained actors, and it shows in their performances. Madeleine does a better job than her sister Mary, but that may be only because she as the meatier role as the bad Frieda. The print I saw has very little nudity. The most explicit scene is where Frieda, pretending to be the innocent Maria, attempts to seduce and bite schoolteacher, Anton.

The Karnstein saga was a Hammer trilogy that, as mentioned, includes "Lust for a Vampire" and "The Vampire Lovers." This is intended to be the first chapter. Watching these movies is a pleasant reminder of how vulnerable and difficult it once was to be a vampire. With the constraints of the cross, daytime, coffins, foes such as Van Helsing and Weil, and native soil, one could understand why successful vampires such as Carmilla and Dracula had pride that overlapped into egotism. They had survived through time. Count Karstein and Frieda are, ultimately, not-too-difficult prey for Weil, Anton and others. It remains a constant annoyance to this reviewer that the above-mentioned disadvantages are not a problem for today's "Calvin Klein" vampires that infect films such as "Twilight," "True Blood" and "Being Human" ...

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Legacy of George A. Romero (1940 - 2017)

By Steve D. Stones

In honor of the legacy of director George A. Romero, here are five of my most favorite Romero films. Romero's impact on the horror film industry cannot be objectively measured or overstated. Romero was a true maverick loved by those who worked with him. He will be greatly missed.
  1. Night of The Living Dead (1968). Here is the zombie horror movie that lays the foundation for every zombie movie that follows. A young woman named Barbara is attacked in a Pennsylvania cemetery by a zombie. She finds her way to a small farm house occupied by five other people hiding in the basement. News footage seen on a television gives the film a realistic, documentary feel that continually puts the viewer on the edge of his seat. The occupants of the farmhouse fight for their lives to stay alive. Our hero is an African-American man, Duane Jones, who does not triumph in the end, but makes a strong political statement on the coat tails of Martin Luther King Jr. and the race riots of the 1960s. Remade in 1990.
  2. The Crazies (1973). Romero continues on with a post-apocalyptic theme seen in Night of The Living Dead, and will continue even further in Dawn of The Dead. Like Night of The Living Dead, this film also has a realistic, documentary feel that leaves the viewer nervous and tense. It shows how our trusted institutions, such as law enforcement, news media and military, can be torn apart in the event of a tragedy. No one is to be trusted or can be turned to in the event of a disaster. A cynical view, but one which permeated American culture in the mid-1970s after President Nixon's resignation. A film which coincides well with the Watergate Era. Also known as Code Name: Trixie. Remade in 2010.
  3. Martin (1978). This creative film is an interesting take on the vampire myth. Martin is a peculiar young man who has a taste for blood – literally and figuratively. There's just one problem. Martin does not have fangs like a vampire, nor does he sleep in coffins during the day or avoid sunlight. All the established vampire iconography is stripped away in this film. Martin even has to use razor blades to get blood from his victims. Romero has often mentioned Martin as his best film. Many film critics agree.
  4. Dawn of The Dead (1979). Occurring just a few years after Night of The Living Dead, this film is a direct commentary on the consumer culture of the American lifestyle. Even in death, American zombies have the mind dulling sense to flock to a shopping mall to consume more stuff they cannot afford. The zombie becomes a parody and cartoon character, adding to Romero's critique of consumer culture. The irony here is that the living want it all too, but eventually end up dead because of their greed. We are all mindless zombies who want to consume more and more, in the eyes of Romero's Dawn of The Dead. Remade in 2004.
  5. Creepshow (1982). An anthology of five short stories in comic book fashion, Romero teamed up with horror writer Stephen King for this installment. The first story, Father's Day, is my favorite of the five. Here, a deceased father exhibits his patriarchal power over his daughter, even from the grave. He crawls his way out of the grave to complain about not getting a Father's Day cake. Actor Ed Harris gets smothered with his tombstone after falling into the grave. The father finishes the day by serving up his daughter's head on a platter. Who could ask for a better Father's Day?

May you rest in peace – George A. Romero, knowing that your zombies have made a profound impact on cinema and the horror genre. We love you George.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

An interview with Christopher R. Gauthier, who keeps Bela Lugosi with us

Christopher R. Gauthier, seen above in an artistic license photo with his favorite actor, Bela Lugosi. Christopher runs the A Celebration of the Art and Life of Bela Lugosi Facebook page (here). It's a growing group that consistently provides interesting graphics, observations and information on Lugosi. 

Besides his interest in and contributions on Lugosi's life and career, Christopher also writes poetry on Bela Lugosi. We'll share some on this post but he recently read some poetry on a radio broadcast. (Here at about the 53.44 mark). He is also working on a novel about Lugosi. Christopher was also acknowledged for assistance with research and images in the new BearManor Media Scripts From the Crypt book "Dracula's Daughter."

I enjoyed this interview with Christopher, who has a real passion for the actor so many of us love on the blog.

-- Doug Gibson


1) When was the first time you saw Bela in a film? Was that when you determined he was a great influence in your life or did it take a while?

GAUTHIERIt is very difficult to say what Lugosi movie I first stumbled upon, I as far back as  I can recollect have been drawn to the mystique of the man. One very vivid memory that I do have, is when I first watched The Body Snatcher and found his role of Joseph to be the most interesting character in the film. To me there had to be something so much more to this actor, I thought to myself, as I watched the film. I was never the same after that. I guess, I was born a Lugosi fan. I read everything I could possibly get my hands on regarding his career and life -- he inspired me to try and pursue a career in acting, and he was my teacher who I learned more from than anyone else in my life then, now and throughout the time I was growing up. He was A major influence on me in every aspect, as well as creatively speaking, I wanted to be just like him. Whenever something terrible goes bad in my life I watch one of his films, and life doesn't seem so bad because he provides me with solace that few others do.

2) What are your favorite Bela films and why?

GAUTHIER I adore everything Bela ever was in. It is almost impossible to select which films are my all time favorites because I deeply love them all. The Raven, The Black Cat, White Zombie, Dracula, The Return of The Vampire, Chandu The Magician, Son Of Frankenstein, Broadminded along with Spooks Run Wild, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Bride Of The Monster stand out as some of my favorites, but as I have said every production he was in is worthwhile and something close (and) deep in my heart.

3) You have a successful Facebook Lugosi page. How does that assist in your study and appreciation of Lugosi and what it is like to interact with Bela fans across the world?

GAUTHIERMy page "A Celebration of The Life and Art of Bela Lugosi" has brought together all loyal Lugosi aficionados from all corners of the globe. We are very different from other groups, we emphasize on the great things he did, as an artist and as a man. We are sophisticated and the page is held very sacred to me, a safe haven for serious Lugosi fans. We also encourage other artists to share their art, whether it be performance, literature or material arts, it is welcomed and valued and always appreciated and respected. It has brought me to encounter and become acquainted with like hearted people who revel in celebration of the great man's life and work.

4) Can you tell us about your novel in progress about Bela?

GAUTHIERMy novel being written to honor Lugosi is a labor of love I have been meticulously crafting with unwavering devotion for a number of years. I believe that at the end of his life he would have really appreciated this type of material I am writing to honor my hero. I am not going to say too much on the subject because it is a work fathomed deep in progress. But it is for Mr. Lugosi and I have the inclination he would be very pleased with it, and even moved. I have been advised to write a screenplay -- but I much prefer to honor him in a novel, as I do not think that there are any such actors that can bring proper justice to emulating the masterful Bela Lugosi.

5) You've had poetry about Bela published. Can you share a little bit with the blog? 

GAUTHIERI have written several poems for Lugosi, you may read some below. I have had a few Lugosi poems published when I was an adolescent but they are nothing in contrast to what I have written as of these passed few years in accordance to the novel and certain pieces of poetry dedicated to my Hero.

6) What's' it like motivating yourself to write about Bela? AND 7) You have an impressive amount of graphics and other art relating to Bela and his career. You were acknowledge in the recent book on Dracula's Daughter. What are some memories of Bela that you wish were available? I can think of finding a video of a Dracula play.

GAUTHIER I am motivated to write  my novel and pay homage to my Patron Saint who has above anyone else, in any force, shape or form, been there for me. He has touched my life beyond what words will ever be properly able to convey. The man has saved my life. I owe whatever success I have now and if any awaits me in the future entirely to him. He is my artistic savior, my creative muse, the source of what dreams are made of, my ultimate Hero, my greatest friend and my surrogate father and the father to all the lost children of the night- He is and always has been my greatest friend. I write because I must, inside the crux of my heart he guides me, and I am just offering my contribution to the world that honors The Great Bela Lugosi. 

8) Do you have a bucket list of Lugosi related goals, travel, conversations with scholars?

GAUTHIERImagine what it would have been like to see him on  the stage or to have known him as a friend in person. I wish I could have seen him on stage and that I were alive to help him when the tragic circumstances took the betterment of his life towards the final years. I wish I was alive, affluent and be able to finance any production of his choice. I would have done anything for him. He deserved so much more than what hand of cards he had been dealt by lady fate.

9) Finally, let a novice Lugosi fan know of four essential films and three essential books.

GAUTHIERFor a novice Lugosi fan  I would encourage them to watch The Black Cat, Broadminded, The Raven, Dracula and The Return of The Vampire. As far as books go, I have found that each biographer offers something unique in all books related to Lugosi. But I would recommend Arthur Lennig's The Immortal Count, Robert Cremer's The Man Behind The Cape, The Films Of Bela Lugosi by Richard Bojarski,  Leo Wiltshire's Reign Of The Vampire- A Tribute To The Perseverance of Bela Lugosi and of course, first and foremost anything written by Gary Don Rhodes and Bill Kaffenberger  

Thanks so much, Christopher. We appreciate you sharing your observations with us. Below are a couple of Christopher's poems:

Thank you Bela Lugosi 
Father To All Lost Children Of The Night

The lunar jewel drinks in the turmoil 
Nightmares evolve into mollifying dreamscapes surrealistic beyond rational belief
The old creaky baronial movie house breathes in the crux of its heart a docile sigh of relief 
Your motion pictures of sparkling black and white gold immerse the great looming movie screen, You are my indisputable Hero and friend who sometimes visits my dreams
When such reverential occasion transpires 
To feed the creative fires 
Beneath the moon beams 
Neither foe, nor victim nor vampiric concubines are able to bellow a scream 
The nightmare is no longer a nightmare, but a beautiful dream.
You should have been given so much more 
Than just the Horror genre you bestowed upon the entertainment industry, But yet you have left us with your undying legacy and have achieved perpetual immortality 
And have long become a phantasmagorical Hollywood Legend and forceful source of so much folklore,
Bela you have everlasting legions of fans who truly adore 
Every contribution an artistic actor and humanitarian man you are loved forevermore 
You shield me behind the sanctuary of your sheltering protective vampire cape and offer me solace from the hateful world abroad 
And when you end each performance, I humbly applaud
For there is no greater Actor 
At least that is my opinion and the law within my domain 
If I had not discovered you my life would have never been the same.
The world praises and thanks you for all you have given and done
In the end you have defeated the exploitive traitors and have everlastingly won
A place in the elysian Hollywood constellation of riveting and celebrated luminaries and Stars 
Your pathos is not forgotten but healed have the scars 
You are my deepest friend and ultimate Hero above all
May you continue to live on as your dynasty shall forever enthrall 
Thank you Bela, my Hero and friend for all you have done
Let us watch the lunar jewel vanish and bask in the morning warmth and rise of the sun

---- Christopher R. Gauthier


Bela, you changed the face of the golden age silver screen
Your memory comes to mind in the cast of the full moon and its radiant beam
Beyond all compare you have captured the heart and imbued us all with mystical intrigue, you are in a class lone to itself in your very own artistic league--
You have helped so many by the brave examples you've set
In another life I feel in my heart we must've met
And knew each other as very close friends
from then to eternity my awe and adulation knows no end.
I wish I could have given you so very much more than what hand of cards you were dealt, you persevered against in the face of adversity and were always humbled without the shadow of a doubt,
For the love your fans expressed to you over the years,
and to all your lost children of the night you wipe away the tears.
What a symbol of hope you are to us all
You lift up the crestfallen when they stumble and fall.
I have known no greater friend throughout the entirety of my life
and on behalf of us all We thank you for all you have done in the howl of the night
Our Hero, Our Friend and Eradicator of woeful doom
You reveal the comfort that is immersed in the gloom-
of things that are macabre and beyond the realms furthermore
You conjure the indisputable magic and open the mystical door
leaving us all wanting your Genius forevermore.
My friend you are with me in these darkened times I am going thru
I know that I can always depend on the nobility that is you.
You will never fully know how much you have touched my life and the cores of my soul, in both your life and in every celluloid role,
May peace forever be present in your family and in the crux of your golden heart
My great friend your legacy will never depart
like The Immortal Count Dracula, you will live forever in the annals of time
And you shall also be remembered for being ever so kind
To all the lonesome lives you have brought solace and touched
You, who have given everything of yourself, so very much
In you I know I have a friend, as in my heart you do in mine.
Take care Bela, my greatest friend
My love for you always is boundless without end.

-- Christopher R. Gauthier