Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What I Owe Boris Karloff

I'm know other bloggers have more tidbits from the vaults to share about Mr. Karloff. So I ask myself, what can I bring to the table that's different?

Only my story.

As a senior in high school during the fall of 1992, I purchased a copy of Frankenstein (1931) on VHS. I'd grown up with the monster series from Crestwood Studios, but had never seen the film.

I have always been a fan of dark things. Even though doing so brought nightmares, I watched Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th with my neighbors, the Sullivans. We played silly games in the basement, games designed to terrify each other. They had a collection of old copies of Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland.

But I hadn't actually seen Karloff in action until I was 17.

Elm Street and Friday the 13th weren't my style. Too much gore. Too little introspection. (Yeah, I was as goofy as a young kid as I am now) But the Monster...under all that make-up, Karloff pulled off pain and longing and betrayal and confusion and...

Wow. He made me believe in monsters. More accurately, he presented a monster I could believe in.

There's more, of course, and part of Karloff's story should be an inspiration to anyone working to make a go of his/her dream. The man made dozens of films and worked as a stage actor before Frankenstein, but work was never consistent. He filled the gaps with manual labor, digging ditches and driving a cement truck. Times were tough, and Karloff quite lean at 44 when the Monster was unleashed in 1931's Frankenstein.

The inspiration? Keep plugging away even when the dream is impossible.

Thanks Mr. Karloff. Thanks for bringing the Monster to life. Thanks for inspiring my love for the weird and gothic, and my continuing affair with Mary Shelley's hideous progeny. Most of all, thanks for all the hard work. Without you, there would be no odd stories trickling out of brain, no sympathy for the things that go bump in the night, no understanding that the monsters around us are people, too.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Lego Tribute to Boris Karloff

Happy Birthday, Mr. Karloff.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Next Week: Boris Karlof Blog-a-thon!

(be there)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Monster-a-Day: Frankenstein

Boris Karloff stars in the quintessential monster film, Frankenstein directed by James Whale (1931). Leaner and hungrier (literally) than he would appear in 1935's Bride of Frankenstein, Karloff became an icon with this film.
Read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (for free) at Project Gutenberg
or, listen to the book (also available free thanks to Project Gutenberg)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Monster-a-Day: Dracula

A native of Hungary, Bela Lugosi (born Béla Ferenc Dezsõ Blaskó) was nearly 50 years old when he played the iconic count in Tod Browning's 1931 Dracula. Dracula at All Movie

Dracula at IMDb

Read Dracula by Bram Stoker (for free) thanks to Project Gutenberg

or, listen to the book (also thanks to Project Gutenberg)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Monster-a-Day: The Mummy

Better known for his role as the creature in Frankenstein, Boris Karloff brings long "dead" Egyptian priest Imhotep to life with chilling results in 1932's The Mummy. A special nod to Karl Freund's direction, a great example of what one could do with a camera, even in the early '30s.
"The Mummy's Curse" (an article by John Warren at Tour Egypt)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Monster-a-Day: The Invisible Man

The classic H.G. Wells novel became a vehicle for Claude Raines (directed by James Whale of Frankenstein fame). A tale of the corrupting influence of power, The Invisible Man utilized landmark special optical effects that influenced generations of filmmakers.

The Invisible Man at All Movie

The Invisible Man at IMDb

Read The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (for free) at Project Gutenberg

or, listen to the book (also available free thanks to Project Gutenberg)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monster-a-Day: Phantom of the Opera

Phantom of the Opera (1925) made Lon Chaney a star and Universal the go-to studio for horror films in the 1930s. Give me spirit gum and imagination over digital effects any day.

Phantom of the Opera at All Movie

Phantom of the Opera at IMDb

Read The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (for free) thanks to Project Gutenberg

Monday, October 12, 2009

New Edition of Frankenstein

A new edition of Frankenstein is available, one that hopes to "clarify" the authorship of the classic gothic novel. Newsweek ran a nice article a few weeks back. Check it out, and then grab yourself a copy of the book. (If you're a collector like me, you know you want to)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Speaking of Zombies


Love 'em or hate 'em, they're ala mode. Zombieland, while it looks entertaining, doesn't strike me as much of a thinking person's film. Tracing zombie roots to Voodoo isn't all that hard, but western culture has captured the fiends and created ghouls of its own for decades--undead monsters that deviate from the classic slaves of a powerful bokor (sorcerer). Although the Romeroesque zombies have been the fodder for the horror biz since the "ghouls" first stumbled up to a secluded farmhouse in the late '60s, they've received a few upgrades since gnawing on those chicken bones...a few wear track shoes and learned to sprint...others started to think (and remember).

A few questions still haunt me...late at night...when I'm thinking too much.

1. Why don't zombies eat each other? They obviously don't care that much about sanitation (just look at them) and are pretty indiscriminate about what they put in their mouths. I'm sure somebody has cooked up the "virus doesn't taste good" or "don't eat their own kind" argument, but that's just lame. In the real world, the whole zombie problem would probably be over in a few hours after the outbreak, just after they devour each other. The National Guard can wait around and pick off remainders.

2. Although popular, the whole "brains" idea is too restrictive. Zombies want meat. Brain meat is hard to attain. (ever try cracking that nut?) One would think the mindless rabble would simply chomp down on the convenience food...each other (see #1) or a nice juicy thigh with no bones to get in the way.

3. Why, if most living people caught by the horde are devoured, does the size of the zombie mob keep growing? It's not as though they take one bite, decide you taste bad, and move on to the next shrieking victim. I've watched plenty of disembowelings on film; those poor bastards aren't getting back up, even as a member of the undead.

4. Running zombies? Are you kidding? Ever try to do a 40 yard dash with rigor mortis? (Don't tell me zombies don't experience rigor mortis...they sure as hell look dead.)

I could go on, but why? Regardless of "reality", zombies are scary as hell and entertaining. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief just for the fun of it.

Zombie (Lucio Fulci, 1979)

What "reality gaps" are you willing to look past for a good gut-muncher?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell

Just finished watching The Thing (1982 John Carpenter). I'm positive this is a copyright violation, but this site has the entire text of the novella, "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, that inspired both movies (1951 and 1982).

Though some folks out in InterwebTM land might want to read it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Castlevania: The Greatest Classic Monster Video Game

When the original Castlevania game was released for the NES in the mid-80s, classic monsters found their way to console gaming in a big way.

One quick look at the boss line up for the original game, and you know this is the one:

Stage 1: Giant Bat (foreshadowing Dracula in Stage 6?)
Stage 2: Medusa
Stage 3: The Mummies
Stage 4: Frankenstein and Igor
Stage 5: Death (yes...that Death, The Grim Reaper)
Stage 6: Dracula

Thanks to the Nintendo Wii, fans of the original game (one of the best in the the long-running series), can play Castlevania without the NES console.

Friday, April 24, 2009

It's Alive!

"It's Alive!" - Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931)

One of the classic scenes in all of movie monster history:

The line "In the name of God, now I know what it feels like to be God" was struck from the original release of the film, deemed too blasphemous by the censors.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Thing from Another World (1951)

Um, thinking vegetable? Doesn't sound all that scary, but in The Thing from Another World (1951), that is exactly what a small group of scientists and airmen are up against at an isolated North Pole base.

James Arness, who found later fame as Marshall Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke, is the monster, a thinking vegetable man from another planet. The eponymous Thing feeds on human blood, creepy, sure. Realistic, heck no. But it does echo back to H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds.(Remember what the Martians used human blood for in that book?)

The Thing might be a 'B' movie, but it is about as tense and fast paced as it comes for 1950s sci fi/horror. Fans of vintage Frankenstein films will recognize a bit of Karloff's make-up influence in Arness's costume. The Thing from Another World was remade in 1982 by John Carpenter (simple titled The Thing), a frightening film in its own right. Both movies were based on a short story by John W. Campbell, Jr., although the 1982 version is more faithful to the source material.

The movie ends with the famous last line, "Keep Watching the Skies", a nod to cold war tensions and the fear of the unknown.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Little Something for Frankenstein Fans

If you have yet to discover the tremendous Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog, waste no more time and cruise over there immediately.

Mary Shelley's "hideous progeny" is one of the archetypal monsters, arguably the great-grandaddy of modern zombies and various biologically created aberrations of humankind. I could say more, but Frankensteinia does it better.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Fearless Vampire Killers

Roman Polanski is one of my favorite directors, especially for his ghoulish and blood-soaked interpretation of Macbeth (1971). With this in mind, I picked up The Fearless Vampire Killers (1966) from the public library. I had heard of the film and knew it was somewhat comedic, somewhat creepy.

If you like Benny Hill, then you'd love The Fearless Vampire Killers. The movie is by far more slapstick than black comedy, but some moments are truly chilling. My favorite scene, one of the more frightening scenes I've seen in a film of its era, takes place around the 1:30 mark in this clip:

The professor and his apprentice are trapped in the castle, and by this point evening begins to fall. When Polanski (playing the young apprentice) says, "Good gracious....I'm...I'm frightened" I was too. The timing is well done, and the shot of the sarcophagi opening is delightfully wicked.

Vampires are best when they inspire terror, I think.

The last two minutes of the film are pretty dark, but overall it is a delightful romp. It was fun to see a younger, more innocent Polanski, one who was unmarred by the violent death of his wife, Sharon Tate, at the hands of the Manson family.