Archive for Boris Karloff

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.

The Sunday Intertitle: Decasia Minor

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , on November 11, 2012 by dcairns

Nitrate decomposition, as seen in Bill Morrison’s beautiful THE MESMERIST, which is composed of clips, in various stages of decay, from THE BELLS, starring Lionel Barrymore and Boris Karloff.

Here, it looks like the intertitle has been printed on a microscope slide, as if the text were a paramecium’s speech bubble.

Nitrate decomposition is much on  my mind, as we’re attempting to simulate it in my documentary, partly as a transitional device — we can have one shot melt into another — partly to blend together different kinds of footage (35mm from the teens, twenties, thirties and forties, digital video from the twenty-first century) — partly, if necessary, to censor some footage — so we have to look closely at what the footage is made of, in order to reconstruct it.

This particular film uses big white Rorschachian bubble-clusters quite a lot. When frozen, they sometimes have a crustacean shape to them, and their whiteness is that of the white whale, the colour of nature when everything else is stripped away.

Then there’s also the Jack Kirby anti-matter black frogspawn, which is pretty rare but always scary and exciting when it comes crawling into the frame, clustering on the actor’s faces as if to consume them like the neg-scratch monsters in THE FLESH EATERS. Some of this is a product of the decalcomania effect, Max Ernst’s name for what you get when you apply thick paint to a surface, squash it under another surface, then peel the two apart. The same thing happens to celluloid when the film loses its stability and the image turns to jam, squished together in a reel of film. Unreel the film and all these abstract patterns are created as the film peels away from itself.

The buckling and warping of the print causes mobile blurring of focus, since the film will wibble-wobble on its way through the projector, the distance between lamp and image changing irregularly. And then there’s the squash and stretch on the image itself, as it gets distorted, fun-house mirror fashion, by the shrinking and expansion of the film strip.

We’re less interested in fake scratches, which you see all the time in phony reconstructions, but we may deploy some awkward hot-splice jump cuts, with accompanying (but just out-of-synch) soundtrack glitches.

Nothing so beautiful happens when digital information decays, and in fact you very quickly get something that can’t be viewed at all. So it’s arguable that film is superior to digital, even when it goes wrong.

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