IN THE SHADOWS: EDWARD VAN SLOAN

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Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing in DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936).

 

Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, the column where we look at character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.

Character actors add so much to the movies they’re in, it’s hard to imagine these movies without them. Never receiving the praise heaped upon the major actors and stars of the genre, these folks nonetheless are often every bit as effective as the big name leads.

Up today, an actor known to horror fans for three key roles in three classic horror movies, and that actor is Edward Van Sloan.

Edward Van Sloan played three similar roles in three of Universal’s best horror movies from the 1930s.  He played Professor Van Helsing in DRACULA (1931), Dr. Waldman in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), and Dr. Muller in THE MUMMY (1932).

As Dr. Van Helsing, a role he had played earlier on stage opposite Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, he’s one of the best.  While Peter Cushing is my all time favorite movie Van Helsing, Edward Van Sloan came closer to the Stoker interpretation than Cushing did, but even he deviated from the way Stoker wrote the character.  Probably the closest I’ve seen an actor capture the literary Van Helsing on-screen would be Frank Finlay’s performance as the vampire hunter/professor in the BBC production COUNT DRACULA (1977), starring Louis Jordan as the Count.

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Van Sloan and Lugosi square off in DRACULA (1931)

But for Edward Van Sloan, it’s all about presence and authority, something he definitely wields in DRACULA.  Bela Lugosi is absolutely mesmerizing as Dracula, and his performance dominates the movie.  Yet Van Sloan is up to the task of matching wits with Lugosi, and his Van Helsing is a worthy opponent for the vampire king.  The scene where Dracula tries to use hypnosis to overpower Van Helsing is one of the strongest scenes in the film, acted so expertly by Van Sloan, as you can see it in his eyes as he’s resisting Dracula’s powers, and for a split-second, Van Sloan’s eyes go blank, and at this instant the audience shudders, begging that he doesn’t succumb to Dracula’s powers, and when he rallies and resists Dracula, it’s a great moment in the movie.

As Dr. Waldman in FRANKENSTEIN, Van Sloan plays Henry Frankenstein’s former professor, who for most of the movie, acts as the voice of reason.  He tries throughout to talk sense to Henry Frankenstein and is constantly urging caution.  As Dr. Waldman, he gets one of the best lines in the movie, when he warns young Henry.  “Your success has intoxicated you!  Wake up!  And look facts in the face!—  You have created a monster, and it will destroy you!”

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Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Waldman in FRANKENSTEIN (1931).

Prophetic words.  Actually, they were more on the money regarding Waldman’s fate, because later in the movie, the Monster (Boris Karloff) kills the professor.  In fact, Professor Waldman’s death is one of the more shocking moments in FRANKENSTEIN, a film which contains more than a few of them, and it’s a testament to Edward Van Sloan’s screen presence.  Van Sloan was so effective as Professor Van Helsing in DRACULA, so convincing when he destroys Dracula, it strikes audiences as an absolute shock when he doesn’t do the same in FRANKENSTEIN, when in fact it’s the Monster who kills Professor Waldman, and not the other way around.

And Edward Van Sloan is one of only two actors— the other being Dwight Frye who played Renfield in DRACULA and Fritz in FRANKENSTEIN— to star in both DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN.

In THE MUMMY (1932), Van Sloan plays Dr. Muller, a variation of his Van Helsing/Waldman characters.  This time, he’s an expert on Egyptology, and he matches wits with Boris Karloff’s Mummy, Imhotep.  THE MUMMY is an excellent horror movie, as good if not better than DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN.  Once again, Van Sloan nails the role of the heroic professor and is completely believable as the knowledgable scholar who takes on the supernatural Imhotep.

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Edward Van Sloan takes on Boris Karloff’s Imhotep in THE MUMMY (1932).

As for the rest of  Edward Van Sloan’s career, here’s a partial look at his 88 screen credits, focusing mostly on his horror film roles:

SLANDER (1916) – Joseph Tremaine – Edward Van Sloan’s first film credit is in this silent movie from 1916, the only silent film Van Sloan made.

DRACULA (1931) – Professor Van Helsing – probably Van Sloan’s most famous role, and the role he is most remembered for.  Van Sloan’s work as Van Helsing in this movie is as memorable as Lugosi’s Dracula and Dwight Frye’s Renfield.

FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – Dr. Waldman – Another famous role for Van Sloan, this time playing Henry Frankenstein’s former professor and the man who tries to convince Frankenstein to destroy his creation.  We all know how that turned out.

BEHIND THE MASK (1932) – Dr. August Steiner/Dr. Alec Munsell/Mr. X – a crime drama marketed as a horror movie due to the presence of Boris Karloff in a small role.  Van Sloan plays the villain here, in a role that Karloff probably would have played had this movie been made a few years later.

THE DEATH KISS (1932) – Tom Avery – a comedy/mystery notable for reuniting three cast members from DRACULA:  Bela Lugosi, David Manners, and Edward Van Sloan.

THE MUMMY (1932) – Doctor Muller – takes on Boris Karloff’s evil Imhotep in this horror classic.

DELUGE (1933)- Professor Carlysle – early “disaster” film as New York City is threatened by an earthquake and tidal wave.

AIR HAWKS (1935) – Professor Schulter – weird hybrid of drama and science fiction. Ralph Bellamy plays the owner of an airline company who hires a mad scientist— played by Edward Van Sloan— to build a death ray to force down his competitors’ planes.

THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1935) – Calvus – Historical adventure set in the doomed Roman city, directed by KING KONG directors Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper. With Basil Rathbone as Pontius Pilate.  A box office flop.

DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936) – Professor Van Helsing – reprises his Van Helsing role in this well-made sequel to DRACULA.  The movie starts right where DRACULA left off, and Van Helsing finds himself arrested for the murders of Dracula and Renfield.  Before he can be officially charged, however, the bodies disappear, whisked away by Countess Zaleska (Gloria Holden) who happens to be Dracula’s daughter, and who’s now in London with an agenda of her own. Smart horror film, well-written, acted, and directed.

THE PHANTOM CREEPS (1939) – Jarvis – Science fiction serial from Universal reunites Van Sloan with Bela Lugosi, as Lugosi plays a scientist hell-bent on taking over the world.

BEFORE I HANG (1940) – Dr. Ralph Howard – This time Van Sloan is reunited with Boris Karloff, as Karloff plays a doctor on death row for mercy killings, who injects himself with a serum that turns him into a Hyde-like villain.

THE MASK OF DIIJON (1946) – Sheffield – Erich von Stroheim plays a magician who uses his hypnotic powers to seek vengeance.

SEALED VERDICT (1948) – Priest – Edward Van Sloan’s final screen credit in a World War II war drama starring Ray Milland.

THE UNDERWORLD STORY (1950) – Minister at Funeral – Edward Van Sloan’s final film appearance, an uncredited bit as a minister at a funeral in this film noir crime drama.

There you have it, an abbreviated look at the film career of Edward Van Sloan.

Edward Van Sloan died on March 6, 1964 at the age of 81 in San Francisco, California.

While he enjoyed a long and successful career as a character actor in the movies, for horror fans, he will always be remembered for his roles in three of Universal’s best horror movies from the 1930s:  DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, and THE MUMMY.  Van Sloan made for a fine hero in all three of these films.

Edward Van Sloan -November 1, 1882 – March 6, 1964.

I hope you enjoyed this IN THE SHADOWS column.  Join me again next time when we look at the career of another notable character actor.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

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THE MUMMY (2017) – Messy Movie Mired by Ridiculous Superhero Concept

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mummy poster

Some talented writers worked on THE MUMMY (2017).

David Koepp who co-wrote the Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) and years ago co-wrote JURASSIC PARK (1993), and Christopher McQuarrie who co-wrote EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014) and JACK REACHER (2012), two rare instances of Tom Cruise movies that I really liked, both worked on the screenplay to THE MUMMY, as well as Dylan Kussman.

Which just goes to show you that talent alone isn’t enough to save a concept that is flat-out dumb.

With THE MUMMY, Universal has launched their “Dark Universe” series, an attempt to reimagine their monster movies of yesteryear as a sort of Marvel superhero spinoff.

This is a huge mistake.  Someone needs to shut this concept down yesterday.

The idea of re-booting these classic Universal monster movies as superhero action flicks is an insult to the original films.  If you are going to remake them, they need to be remade as horror movies, plain and simple.

THE MUMMY (2017) is a disaster from start to finish.  I can only hope that this becomes a lost film.

THE MUMMY opens— no, not in Egypt— but in England in 1127 at the burial site of a bunch of crusader knights, who among other things, brought back with them Egyptian artifacts.  Jump ahead to present day and a construction crew building a new subway system under the streets of London happens upon the burial site.

The operation is shut down when Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) shows up with his top secret team of agents, the Dark Universe’s answer to the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., to confiscate a key artifact, a dagger, which ties into an Egyptian Mummy named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) whose back story we learn about through flashbacks and a voice over narration by Dr. Jekyll.

And then we finally get to the opening credits.  Talk about a rambling disjointed way to open a movie.

Next up we finally meet our dashing hero, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) who along with his buddy Chris (Jake Johnson) are working for Dr. Henry Jekyll in search of Egyptian treasure in— no, not in Egypt— that would make too much sense, setting a movie about an Egyptian Mummy in Egypt– but in Iraq because Ahmanet was so dangerous that she had to be buried miles away from her homeland.

Nick is joined by the beautiful Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) who also works for Dr. Jekyll, and the two of them lead the way— when they’re not playfully bickering and bantering— in returning the mummified Ahaanet back to England.

But you can’t keep a good mummy down.  Ahmanet comes back to life, and the rest of the movie it’s Tom Cruise vs. a mummy in an action-packed tale that is about as believable and compelling as a Pokemon cartoon.

There is so much wrong with THE MUMMY I don’t know where to begin.

The biggest issue of course is this whole concept of the Dark Universe, the idea that the Universal monster movies should be rebooted as a superhero franchise. This idea is a disaster, just like this movie.

For starters, the concept itself is flawed.  Monsters are monsters, they’re not comic book superheroes.  So, even before the films come out, the powers that be are fighting an uphill battle, trying to tell a story that isn’t naturally there.  Let’s re-imagine THE MUMMY as an action movie.  No, it’s a horror movie.

Secondly, this style is clearly borrowed from the Marvel movies, and as such, comes off as derivative and unoriginal, a bad combination, to be sure.

A lot of people never accepted the Brendan Fraser re-boot of THE MUMMY (1999) but I’ve always enjoyed that one, as I thought its script was a good one, even if it played more like an INDIANA JONES movie than a horror movie.  That being said, the 1999 MUMMY wasn’t devoid of horror elements, and the mummy in that film  played by Arnold Vosloo had some screen presence.  Anyway, whatever you feel about the 1999 MUMMY, I liked that one better than this movie.

And it’s interesting to note that even though Tom Cruise is playing a character described in the movie as a “young man,” he’s six years older than Brendan Fraser who played the young dashing hero in the 1999 film.

Also of note, this whole idea of a MUMMY film being more of a dashing adventure than a horror film is not without historical precedent.  The second Universal MUMMY movie, THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940) which introduced Kharis the Mummy (played by Tom Tyler here and in subsequent movies by Lon Chaney Jr.) to movie audiences, had a quick-witted script which featured two American archeologists Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and Babe Jenson (Wallace Ford) who traded barbs and one-liners throughout.  The script, when not featuring the Mummy, was light and fun.  But it wasn’t an action movie, nor even a comedy.  It was a horror movie.

Even more out-of-place in THE MUMMY than the concept of turning a horror movie into an action movie is Tom Cruise.  With the exception of a handful of films, I am not a fan of Cruise’s movies.  I’ve been tired of his shtick of playing himself for years now, going all the way back to the 1980s.  Cruise’s presence here doesn’t do the movie any favors.  Not that it would have saved this movie, but a younger more dynamic actor would have made things a bit better.

I did enjoy Annabelle Wallis as Jenny Halsey.  In fact, hers was probably the only performance in the movie that I felt was worth watching, but the role itself was not that exciting.

Russell Crowe is forced to utter the worst lines in the movie as Dr. Jekyll.  His voice-over narration at the end of the film is so bad it sounds like an off-the-cuff ad lib about good vs. evil.  He gets to say such nonsense as “which side will win— we just don’t know.  He might be a hero.  He might be evil.”  This might be a real script.

And as the Mummy, Ahmanet, Sofia Boutella just isn’t given enough to do to have any relevant impact.  Compared to the original mummy in THE MUMMY (1932), Im-Ho-Tep, played by Boris Karloff, who had to endure mummification, resurrection, and ultimately rejection all in an effort to reclaim his one true love, Ahmanet is a villain who seems only to be obsessed with power, but even that interpretation is a stretch since her character simply isn’t developed.  Boutella was much more memorable as Jaylah in STAR TREK BEYOND (2016).

Jake Johnson is supposed to be providing comic relief as Cruise’s buddy Chris, but his character’s plight is an in-your-face rip-off of Griffin Dunne’s character from AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981).  Dunne’s role was hilarious and original.  Johnson’s character here is neither.

Director Alex Kurtzman works hard on the action scenes, but they’re not enough to save this movie.

The screenplay doesn’t work either, and at the end of the day, THE MUMMY fails because the idea behind it is so very flawed.

Here’s hoping it’s lights out for the Dark Universe.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, Lee, Cushing, and Price Talk Horror

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The following mock interview uses real quotes spoken by horror icons BORIS KARLOFF, BELA LUGOSI, LON CHANEY JR., CHRISTOPHER LEE, PETER CUSHING, and VINCENT PRICE.  The quotes and answers, therefore, are real.

My interview, obviously, is not.

That being said, I hope you will read on as I “interview” these horror stars with questions on their thoughts on horror.

boris-and-bela

Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to a special Halloween column.

Here with me today to discuss horror are six of horror movies’ biggest stars, BORIS KARLOFF, BELA LUGOSI, LON CHANEY JR., CHRISTOPHER LEE, PETER CUSHING, and VINCENT PRICE.  Thank you all for joining me tonight.

Let’s get right to it.  Your thoughts on the horror genre and horror movies.  Boris, we’ll start with you.

BORIS KARLOFF:  Thank you, Michael.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  What does horror mean to you?

BORIS KARLOFF:  Horror means something revolting.

Anybody can show you a pailful of innards. But the object of the roles I played is not to turn your stomach – but merely to make your hair stand on end.

CHRISTOPHER LEE (to Karloff):  You’ve actually said you don’t like the word “horror.”  You’ve said the same thing, Lon.  (Chaney nods).  And I agree with the both of you.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  They said that?

CHRISTOPHER LEE:  Oh yes.  Both Lon and Boris here don’t like the word “horror”. They– like I— go for the French description: “the theatre of the fantastique.”

LON CHANEY JR.:  But on the other hand, nothing is more natural to me than horror.

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Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi

PETER CUSHING:  Strangely enough, I don’t like horror pictures at all. I love to make them because they give pleasure to people, but my favorite types of films are much more subtle than horror.

I like to watch films like BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI (1957), THE APARTMENT (1960), or lovely musicals.

VINCENT PRICE:  I sometimes feel that I’m impersonating the dark unconscious of the whole human race. I know this sounds sick, but I love it.

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Peter Cushing and Vincent Price

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Second and final question tonight.  Your thoughts on the roles you have played?

BELA LUGOSI:  Every actor’s greatest ambition is to create his own, definite and original role, a character with which he will always be identified. In my case, that role was Dracula.

And Dracula never ends. I don’t know if I should call it a fortune or a curse, but Dracula ever ends.

CHRISTOPHER LEE:  There are many vampires in the world today – you only have to think of the film business.  (Everyone laughs)

Seriously, though, I’ve always acknowledged my debt to Hammer. I’ve always said I’m very grateful to them. They gave me this great opportunity, made me a well-known face all over the world for which I am profoundly grateful.

PETER CUSHING:  Agreed.  I mean, who wants to see me as Hamlet? Very few. But millions want to see me as Frankenstein so that’s the one I do.

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Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing

LON CHANEY JR.:   All the best of the monsters played for sympathy. That goes for my father,myself and all the others. They all won the audience’s sympathy.

The Wolf Man didn’t want to do all those bad things. He was forced into them.

VINCENT PRICE:  I don’t play monsters. I play men besieged by fate and out for revenge.

BORIS KARLOFF:  For me it was pure luck.

You could heave a brick out of the window and hit ten actors who could play my parts. I just happened to be on the right corner at the right time.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  And often that’s really what it comes down to.  Being in the right place at the right time, and of course, being persistent.

Thank you gentlemen, for joining me this evening.

And thank you all for reading!

Happy Halloween!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE MUMMY (1932)

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the mummy 1932 poster

Here’s my latest IN THE THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Boris Karloff classic, THE MUMMY (1932), appearing now in the August 2016 edition of the HWA NEWSLETTER, and it’s a reprint of a column which originally appeared in those pages back in August 2009.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT:  THE MUMMY (1932)

By Michael Arruda

“It comest to life!” screams its movie poster.  It’s a Universal monster classic from the 1930s, and it stars Boris Karloff, but it’s not FRANKENSTEIN (1931).  It’s THE MUMMY (1932).

THE MUMMY showcases a masterful lead performance by Boris Karloff as the undead mummy, Im-Ho-Tep, exceptional direction by DRACULA (1931) cinematographer Karl Freund, remarkable mummy make-up by Jack Pierce, and unlike FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, a music score.

The screenplay for THE MUMMY was written by John L. Balderston, no stranger to classic horror tales.  Balderston adapted the play used for the screenply for FRANKENSTEIN (1931), which of course was adapted from the Mary Shelley novel, and he also wrote one of the stage versions of DRACULA, which served as the model for the Universal Bela Lugosi movie DRACULA (1931).

THE MUMMY opens in 1921 in Egypt, where an expedition led by Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) has just discovered the remains of an ancient mummy, Im-Ho-Tep (Boris Karloff).  Doctor Muller (Edward Van Sloan) warns Whemple and his young assistant Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) not to ignore the ancient curse discovered along with the mummy, but the young assistant is too eager, and as he reads from the Scroll of Thoth, behind him, the mummy awakes.

It is probably the film’s most famous scene.  As the words are read, the camera focuses on the dead mummy’s face, and ever so slowly, the eyes open, and then the arm slowly moves.  When the mummy takes the scroll, the young assistant bursts into uncontrollable mad laughter, and as we learn later, “he died laughing.”

The action switches to 1932 (which was present day when THE MUMMY was released).  Im-Ho-Tep has shed his bandages and is using the alias “Ardath Bey.”  The make-up here by Jack Pierce is superb.  Without his bandages, Karloff really does look like the walking dead.

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Jack Pierce’s haunting mummy make-up, turning Boris Karloff into the resurrected undead mummy, Im-Ho-Tep.

 

Im-Ho-Tep attempts to bring his long lost love, the princes Anck-es-en-Amon back to life.  He discovers that her soul is now in the body of Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), who happens to be in love with Joseph Whemple’s son, Frank (David Manners).  Im-Ho-Tep wants to kill her so he can resurrect her as an undead, but Frank Whemple and Doctor Muller stand in his way.

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Helen (Zita Johann) falls under the spell of Im-Ho-Tep (Boris Karloff) in THE MUMMY (1932).

In THE MUMMY, Karloff delivers another wonderful performance.  His mummy is much more evil than the later depictions of a mute bandaged monster lumbering around the countryside strangling people.  Yet, Karloff also makes Im-Ho-Tep a somewhat sympathetic character.  We feel for the guy, and his plight to get his long lost love back.

But the best part of THE MUMMY is the cinematography and direction by Karl Freund.  Freund does a more impressive job at the helm of THE MUMMY than either of his more famous counterparts, Tod Browning directing DRACULA and James Whale directing FRANKENSTEIN.

Freund creates an unforgettable opening sequence of the mummy resurrected, a haunting and dreamlike flashback sequence (the scene where the slaves get spears thrust through their chests still makes me wince), and he imbues the scenes inside the museum with creepy shadows and mysterious lighting.

If there are any flaws, it’s the ending, which is quick and shot in a choppy clumsy manner, not at all like the rest of the movie.

So, as we make our way through the lazy hazy days of summer, grab a beverage, dig your toes into the sands of the Egyptian desert, and welcome Im-Ho-Tep into your living room.  Just don’t say the words of that ancient curse too loud.

One guy dying laughing is more than enough.

—END—

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, available now in the February 2016 edition of THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION, on the third Universal Frankenstein movie, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

It’s my 150th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column.

Enjoy!

—Michael

son of frankenstein poster

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

By

Michael Arruda

Welcome to the 150th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column!

To celebrate, let’s look at the Universal Monster classic, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is the third film in the Universal Frankenstein series.  It marked the third and final time that Boris Karloff would play the Monster, and while Karloff’s presence in this one is still key, really, the biggest reason to see this movie is to watch Bela Lugosi play Ygor, arguably his second best film role after Dracula.

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN takes place several decades after the events of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935).  Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has died, and his adult son Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) returns home to his father’s estate along with his wife and young son, after being away for many years.

Wolf and his family are given the cold shoulder by the villagers, who remain scarred by memories of the Monster.  In fact, the local police inspector, Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) even offers Frankenstein and his family protection from the villagers, an offer which the proud Wolf scoffs at.

While searching the ruins of his father’s laboratory, Wolf comes across old Ygor (Bela Lugosi), a man who had once been hung for the crime of stealing bodies but survived the hanging.  When Ygor learns that Wolf is a scientist like his father, he brings Wolf to an underground cave beneath the laboratory where he shows him the sleeping body of the Monster (Boris Karloff).

Intrigue, Wolf decides to bring his father’s creation back to full strength, which pleases Ygor, since he uses his “friend” the Monster to murder the members of the jury who had sent him to the gallows.

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is the most elaborate of the Universal Frankenstein series and it’s also the lengthiest, clocking in at 99 minutes.  While it can be a bit talky, it does a terrific job developing its characters, as the three new characters in this film, Wolf Frankenstein, Inspector Krogh, and Ygor are among the series’ best.  It was originally going to be shot in color, but the decision was made to film it in black and white when initial screen tests of the Monster in color failed to impress.

While SON OF FRANKENSTEIN has a lot going for it, it’s nowhere near as good as the first two films in the series, FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935).  That being said, it’s the one film in the series that is closest in style to the Hammer Frankenstein movies which were to follow twenty years later, as it spends more time on characterizations and less on the Monster, and it features opulent sets.

Even though director Rowland V. Lee does an admirable job at the helm, the film really misses the direction of James Whale, who directed the first two Frankenstein movies.  Those films were paced better and possessed a chaotic energy about them that really captured the persona of the Monster, and in both those films, Karloff’s performance as the Monster stole the show.

Here in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, Karloff turns in his least effective performance as the Monster, mostly because he doesn’t have much to do. For reasons that are not explained, the Monster in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN no longer speaks.    One can infer that he may have suffered further brain damage in the explosion at the end of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which could have taken away his ability to speak.  Whatever the reason, without speech the Monster is a far less interesting character than when we last saw him in BRIDE.

Also, the Monster becomes a “patient” in this movie, spending lots of time lying on a lab table waiting to be energized by Doctor Frankenstein.  Unfortunately, this trend would continue as the series went on, with the Monster spending more and more time reclining on his back, rather than  moving around terrorizing people.  It’s also established for the first time in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN that the Monster cannot die, that Henry Frankenstein created him in such a way that he would live forever.  This would make it convenient for Universal to keep bringing the Monster back in subsequent movies.

Karloff’s best scene as the Monster in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is when he meets Wolf Frankenstein for the first time.  As he gets right in Wolf’s face, easily terrifying the man, he seems to be thinking back to the man who created both of them, Wolf’s father, Henry Frankenstein.

Ygor and Monster

Ygor (Bela Lugosi) and the Monster (Boris Karloff) are up to no good in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).

But again, the best part of this movie is Bela Lugosi’s performance as Ygor.  He steals nearly every scene he’s in.  My favorite bits include his coughing on a jury member in a courtroom scene, and his answer to Wolf when asked if he killed their butler Benson:  “I scare him to death.  I don’t need to kill him to death!”  And then he laughs.  Of course, he’s also lying since the Monster did murder Benson.

Basil Rathbone is adequate as Wolf Frankenstein, though he does tend to ham it up a bit.  I definitely miss Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein.  Of course, the writers went with the “son” story-line rather than another Henry Frankenstein tale because Clive had sadly passed away shortly after making THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  

Lionel Atwill also has one of his best roles here as Inspector Krogh, the one-armed inspector spoofed so effectively by Kenneth Mars in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974).  Krogh is a memorable character, with a great back story:  he has one arm because the Monster ripped it from its socket when he was a child.  Yikes!

atwill-rathbone-son-of-frankenstein

Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) prepares to tell Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) the story of his childhood encounter with the Monster.

The screenplay by Willis Cooper is definitely talky, but it does tell a good story and does a terrific job developing its characters.  SON OF FRANKENSTEIN also features arguably the best music score of the series, by Frank Skinner.

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN  is a fine third film in the series, not as effective as the first two, but definitely better than the films which would follow it, and its cast, which features Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Basil Rathbone, and Lionel Atwill is second to none.

The biggest of the Universal Frankenstein movies, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is a well-made and worthy installment in the Frankenstein canon.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: DEAD MEN WALK (1943)

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Here is my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the George Zucco/Dwight Frye horror movie DEAD MEN WALK (1943), up now in the January issue of THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION.

Enjoy!

—Michael

dead man walk - poster

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

By

Michael Arruda

January.  The dead of winter.

The time of year when DEAD MEN WALK (1943).

At least if you’re George Zucco, anyway.

George Zucco is one of my favorite character actors from the 1940s.  In the horror films of that decade, he often played a villain or a mad scientist, and while he never achieved a name for himself like Bela Lugosi or even John Carradine, he was quite good in many, many movies.  I always remember him for his brief bit as Professor Bruno Lampini in the Universal monster fest HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), and he also played the High Priest Andoheb in three of the Universal Kharis MUMMY movies, THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940), THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942), and THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944).

Zucco plays the lead in DEAD MEN WALK, and as expected he’s quite good.  He plays a dual role in this one, as he portrays twin brothers, one good, the well-respected doctor Lloyd Clayton, and the other, the devil worshiping  Dr. Elwyn Clayton, not so good.

And if this weren’t enough, Dwight Frye even shows up as Zucco’s hunchbacked assistant, Zolarr.  As a result, in spite of being a no-budget thriller, DEAD MEN WALK is a real treat.

DEAD MEN WALK opens with a funeral, as Elwyn Clayton (George Zucco) lies dead in his coffin.  His twin brother Dr. Lloyd Clayton (George Zucco) declares his brother better off dead, since he was such an evil soul.  When Elwyn’s hunchback assistant Zolarr (Dwight Frye) shows up, he accuses Lloyd of murdering his brother.  Lloyd dismisses Zolarr’s accusations and says he acted in self- defense.

Anyway, faster than you can say “Fritz” or “Renfield” (take your pick) Zolarr resurrects Elwyn’s body and brings him back to life, and it’s easy to do, because we learn that Elwyn is now a vampire!  As a vampire, Elwyn wastes no time putting the bite on Lloyd’s niece Gayle (Mary Carlisle).  It’s now up to Lloyd to protect his niece and stop his undead brother once and for all.

DEAD MEN WALK isn’t anything more than a Grade Z horror movie, but Zucco and Frye raise it up a few notches and make it worth watching, which is a good thing because visually this one has little to offer.  There are very few exciting scenes, nor is there much atmosphere.  Director Sam Newfield’s idea of suspense is to have Dwight Frye peer menacingly through a window.

Even the vampire elements are downplayed.  All the bites occur off-camera, and when George Zucco plays the vampire twin, he wears no make-up.  The two characters are distinguishable because the good doctor wears eyeglasses and the evil vampire brother doesn’t.  Maybe his vision improved as an undead!

The script isn’t bad though.  It’s written by Fred Myton whose credits go back to the silent era.  In fact, his earliest credits date back to 1915.  One hundred years ago!  How about that?  The dialogue in DEAD MEN WALK really isn’t bad at all.  In fact, it’s actually pretty good, and for the most part, when the characters speak, they sound like real people.

Zucco’s great as he always is.  And he’s much more than just a screen villain.  In fact, his evil twin is pretty one-dimensional.  It’s the good brother, Lloyd, who Zucco actually makes more interesting.

And what else can you say about Dwight Frye other than it’s a shame he wasn’t able to make more movies.  After his roles as Renfield in DRACULA (1931) and Fritz in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), he was typecast as weirdos and hunchbacks.  He died young, at the age of 44 in 1943.  A shame.  Only Frye could give a dignified death to a character whose last lines are cries of “Master!  Master!”  Most other actors screaming these lines would be laughable.  When Frye screams them, as Zolarr lies trapped in a burning house, he generates legitimate sympathy for the character.

Dead_Men_Walk- Frye & Zucco

Dwight Frye and George Zucco prepare to scare an unsuspecting victim in DEAD MEN WALK.

 

And really, Dwight Frye and George Zucco are the only reasons to see DEAD MEN WALK.  They lift the material and make this otherwise Grade Z movie enjoyable.

It’s cold.  It’s January.  It’s that time of year we’re all stuck inside.

To beat that claustrophobic feeling go out for a walk.  It’ll do you good.  And you won’t be alone.

Not when DEAD MEN WALK.

NUMBERS: Halloween

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NUMBERS:  Halloween Jack O Lantern

 

By Michael Arruda

Here’s a list of some random fun numbers in time for Halloween:

350 million – copies sold of books written by Stephen King.

35 million- pounds of candy corn estimated to be bought for Halloween 2015 in the U.S., according to ABC news.

40,000– Dollar amount stolen by Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in PSYCHO (1960).

278- The number of screen credits for Christopher Lee, according to IMDB.

22– The number of movies Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee made together

10 – The number of movies in the HALLOWEEN franchise.

8 – The number of times Colin Clive says “It’s alive!” in the creation scene in FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

5– The number of times Lon Chaney Jr. played Larry Talbot/the Wolf Man in the movies.

3– The number of times Boris Karloff played the Frankenstein Monster in the movies.

2– The number of times Bela Lugosi played Dracula in the movies.

1 – Number of times Christopher Lee played Frankenstein’s Creature in the movies.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael