Archive for Boris Karloff

The Gift of Life

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2013 by dcairns

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Finest Christmas gift this year was the Universal Monsters Blu-Ray, which got slapped into the Maidstone player as soon as decency allowed. While Fiona was out and her brother was dozing, I previewed THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, a snoozy film but a very fine transfer, with super-saturated Technicolor seeping from every frame.

Then, in the evening, FRANKENSTEIN! Roddy enjoys this one very much, and Fiona and I are big Whale fans. I’ve owned it on VHS, DVD, and now Blu. I’m not sure I’d watched it in the last ten years, though, so it all seemed quite fresh, helped by the munificent new detail…

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Had we seen that the bouncy skeleton at the medical school has something clenched between his teeth? I don’t think so, and I’m still not sure what it is he’s got there: Fiona proposes a rubber surgical glove, I thought it might be a rolled-up piece of paper. You would need a screen as wide as Victor Buono’s ass to be sure, and we only have the James Coco model.

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We saw the little dust-clouds stirred up by Karloff’s feet as he tries to escape. We laughed hysterically at Dwight Frye’s mood swings, his tiny walking stick which makes movement more difficult, and the way he pauses to pull up one sock before hurrying to assist at the monster’s birth. We gazed in wonderment at the sheer majestic scale of John Boles’ big dull head. We marveled at the fact that Edward Van Sloan, a Dutchman from Minnesota, choose to play a German doctor with a prissy Scottish accent.

Maybe it was the new clarity of the image, or the fact that I’d forgotten the original experience of viewing the film, or my arguable greater maturity, but the emotional arc of the movie, which is all Karloff’s, though smuggled in as a subtext beneath the romantic sufferings of Colin Clive and Mae Clarke (eyes scanning fearfully in search of approaching grapefruits) , hit home with greater clarity. I had remembered the sublime reaching for the light, and the scene by the lake with the little girl, but in isolation. I also remembered that Karloff spends a lot of the time snarling in an almost feline manner. But putting the famous moments in order and experiencing them again meant seeing how the monster moves from innocence through fear to anger. And realizing that the moment when the little girl offers him a flower inspires his first ever smile brings a lump to his throat.

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Clive and Karloff stare at each other through the windmill’s central cog, and it resembles a giant wooden zoetrope: their POV’s blur into each other as the rotating timber flashes by — monster and maker become one, and mad science and cinema are conflated.

There’s also the horrible nastiness of the monster’s fate, burned to death in that windmill (he’s created in a mill too), when fire is his greatest fear. I’m glad Whale was to revive him, only slightly singed, to meet a death of his own choosing, blown to atoms. Of course Karloff played the part again, and the monster continued to lumber about after Boris kicked off his tar-spreader’s boots, but Whale’s diptych is a self-contained thing of beauty, and the characters are all finished with when he’s finished with them.

vlcsnap-2013-02-18-20h44m51s155All images come from the old DVD, I’m afraid.

Buy: Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection [Blu-ray] [1931][Region Free]

Age Cannot Wither Him (more than it already has)

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2013 by dcairns

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THE MUMMY (1932) is historically unique in being the only Universal horror movie with a main title carved out of waffles.

It’s also a really beautiful movie, and Universal’s Blu-ray does it justice. Sadly my images here are from the DVD as I don’t have Blu-ray frame-grabbing skills or technology yet. A lot has been written about the film so I can’t swear my observations are original, but here, in the interests of promoting a spectacular new box set, are my ~

TEN PLUGS OF ANCIENT EGYPT

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1) David Manners’ character name here is absurdly apt: Frank Whemple. One just can’t imagine another actor embodying that name so perfectly.

2) I love how Karloff’s magic pool shows him flashbacks of Ancient Egypt without sound — because sync sound is a new development in Hollywood, so obviously they couldn’t have had it in Ancient Egypt.

3) They’ve shamelessly cloned the plot of DRACULA, but it gets even more interesting now that the threat isn’t just foreign, but non-white. The movie becomes a struggle for the soul of the half-English, half-Egyptian Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann). Obviously, her Aryan side has to win.

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4) Helps that Karloff is so thin — he actually has the perfect physique for this, whereas he needed padding out for FRANKENSTEIN.

5) That opening scene — “He went for a little walk” — is really a perfect horror short. It would stand alone without any trouble.

6) Karloff’s mummification scene gave me nightmares, or at any rate disturbed me deeply as a kid, watching the BBC2 Friday night horror double feature. Don’t know if I had actual nightmares, but I was too scared to sleep right away. I guess I saw DRACULA the first week but wasn’t allowed to stay up any later for FRANKENSTEIN. The second week must’ve been THE MUMMY and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, because I didn’t see the Whale films until a few years later. In week three, though, I saw SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, and found that far more exciting than the two more languid movies I’d thus far experienced.

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7) I love Karl Freund’s theatrical lighting changes — where did he get that idea? There’s the lighting change on Karloff’s eyes which shows his hypnotic power, and there’s the mood lighting around Boris’s psychic paddling pool.

8) Zita Johann (in her Vera West costumes) is indeed alluring. She was married to John Houseman but John Huston put her through his windscreen in a drunk driving incident, and did that lead to divorce? One can picture Huston trying to explain what she was doing in his car: “I put her face through the windscreen but that’s as far as it went, honest!” (She was OK.)

9) Edward Van Sloan doesn’t seem to be doing his strange quasi-Scottish accent here. Where did a Minnesotan with a Dutch name acquire that posh Kelvinside lilt?

10) Can’t wait to watch the Jack Pierce documentary, but Fiona would kill me if I ran it without her.

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Buy this thing ~

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection [Blu-ray] [1931][Region Free]

Witch’s Brew

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2013 by dcairns

Here’s a bit of welcome news — a spanking-new Blu-ray of Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH, with essay by me.

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I first saw this film in Vienna, on VHS, dubbed into German. Fiona and I were visiting friends, and I dropped into a vid store to see if they had anything not available back home. DIE DREI GESICHTER DER FURCHT looked too good, and too cheap, to pass up, even though I knew I wouldn’t understand a word of the dub. It proved to be the American cut of the film, which needlessly rearranges the episodes and jettisons Karloff’s magnificent send-off/send-up at the end, but the film still worked its magic. It’s scarier when you watch it someplace that’s not your home, actually.

I hadn’t been too taken with BARON BLOOD on VHS from Redemption at this point; childhood viewings of MASK OF SATAN and LISA AND THE DEVIL had left me amused and bemused respectively; but I’d acquired a really ratty tape of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, and that had impressed me no end, even with all the murders cut by the British censor. From this point on, I was a fan.

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