Archive for October 27, 2009

What I Owe Tod Browning

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 27, 2009 by dcairns


I guess DRACULA (1931) was the first horror movie I ever saw. Not a bad starting point, historically, as it’s possibly the first American supernatural horror movie. I always had a great interest in monsters, perhaps stemming from the times I was frightened by the cyclops in THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and the giant walking statue of Talos in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, monster movies which would play on kids’ TV.

So when, one summer in the 70s, BBC2 put on a season of Saturday night double-bills, I was agog with wonder. My parents were less keen. It was ruled that I could stay up late and watch the first film, but not the second — so I didn’t get to see FRANKENSTEIN until years later. And my Dad would stay up with me.

DRACULA was, in many ways, deeply disappointing to my young self — there was little action, no fangs, and all the spooky stuff was front-loaded at the beginning. The makers seemed scared of being scary. But I was still fascinated — as the musician Moby has said, the thing about monster movies when you’re that age is that the alternative is movies with NO monsters — an alternative not worth thinking about.

And Tod Browning, whose silent Lon Chaney vehicles often featured geographically inappropriate wildlife as plot points, did successfully blow my barely-formed mind by including armadillos amid the fauna of Castle Dracula.


“Dad, why is there an armadillo?”

“I don’t know,” Dad said thoughtfully. “They must have just thought it looked strange.”

Since dads as a species are known or their expertise in every subject, this was interesting information — a question my father could answer only in the most vague and hesitant terms. An introduction to Keats’ concept of negative capability.

vlcsnap-227823Still don’t know what this little guy is.

Since I have an inclination towards rationalism and problem-solving, which is often useful in filmmaking but which sometimes gets in the way of appreciating a real mystery, it was useful to me to get inoculated with negative capability at an early age. I could probably have used a stronger dose, if anything.

Theory: an injection of negative capability leaves two small puncture-marks on the throat.

US shoppers go here: Dracula – The Legacy Collection (Dracula / Dracula (1931 Spanish Version) / Dracula’s Daughter / Son of Dracula / House of Dracula)

UK shoppers go here: Dracula [DVD] [1931]