Archive for Bela Lugosi

Grave-y Browning

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2020 by dcairns

Halloween is coming! Don’t forget to buy Sight & Sound with me and D. Riccuito interviewing Barbara Steele!

I grew up mad at the BBC because they rarely honoured All Hallows Eve with the kind of zeal I felt was required. In general, Scotland was more into witchy stuff in late October than the English, and the BBC is essentially English. There was rarely anything on to mark the occasion. And now here I am on Shadowplay not doing my bit. That must change. Expect some horror posts.

My favourite thing in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is the George Romero zombie groaning that accompanies every appearance of Bela Lugosi and Carol Borland as the vampires. There’s no explanation for it. It’s also mixed way down low on the soundtrack, so it qualifies as subtle, especially compared to the Lionels, Atwill & Barrymore, hammering the single notes of their respective performances until repetitive strain injury of the thespic kind sets in.

The best BAD thing, in a film with many bad things — Tod Browning was surely defrauding MGM by pretending he was coming in to work on this one — is the opening “transition” from a painting of a church roof by daylight, to the live action set, which is a night scene. It’s one of those optical printer moves, which works so well at the start of CASABLANCA for instance, and works so NOT well here that it’s momentarily hard to tell what’s meant to be going on: are we panning off a movie screen that’s been hung on the side of a church?

Six men worked on this script, each devotedly removing anything of quality the others saw fit to add — an unending task — some say you can still hear the clack of typewriters as you pass the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on a dark night. Even if this weren’t already a remake, it would be fatally unoriginal — even the gratuitous opossum looks tired.

We-ell, I been sick…

I guess we know Tod was about because of the opossum, and the various rats and creepy crawlies — not just fake bats, but fake spiders and a — is that meant to be a CRAB? — inapparopriate fauna are very much a Browning trope.

Anything that’s any good, apart from the groaning, in the movie, is via James Wong Howe’s cinematography and Cedric Gibbons and his unnamed worker elves who cobbled together the spooky sets. You could cut the thing down to about five minutes of master shots and lose nothing but verbiage and folderol. Every spooky shot looks absolutely iconic — maybe because THIS seems to be the principle inspiration behind Edward D. Wood, Jr.’s Gothic imagination.

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE stars Mr. Potter; Mrs. Copperfield; Dr. Vitus Werdegast; Inspector Krogh; Dr. Paul Christian; Mr. Twiddle; Nurse Peggotty; Amschel Rothschild; Daffy Dolly; Fat Girl with Hamburger; Rula Murphy; Dr. John Lanyon; and Dr. Kluck.

Murder Comes Calling

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 28, 2017 by dcairns

Bela’s out of focus! Bela’s out of focus!

I saw WHITE ZOMBIE as a kid and liked it, though maybe I was also a bit underwhelmed. But you couldn’t say that about a film with Bela Lugosi and zombies in it. I was certainly surprised to find that my bible, Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, was wrong about the film’s climax, falsely alleging that villain Murder Legendre (Lugosi) is torn apart by his own rebellious zombies. That would indeed have been a fine end, instead of which we get a sequence in which almost the entire population of the film falls off a cliff. There’s something intensely bathetic about the way the last one to go is the character we’re least bothered about. Additional dying by Robert W. Fraser.

But reviewing it forty years later (oh shit, I have become old) I was amazed by how much I remembered, specific images that had lurked somewhere in the recesses of my brain, not consciously recalled, but ready to resonate upon reacquaintance. I recalled the zombie mill, though my memory placed the camera higher. It’s still a spectacular scene, impressive for such a low-budget production. But the vulture on the window pane, and the burial of Madge Bellamy were ah-hah! moments, since I didn’t remember that I remembered them.

Really a handsome film, and I’m sure the new restoration looks a thousand times better. The set design is atmospheric, the photography moody, and the music score enervating but innovative. The real frissons come from the sound effects, which deliver some striking moans and screams.

The acting, mind you, is pretty dreadful, and Lugosi is by no means the worst offender. I’m surprised my young self wasn’t traumatized by the googly-eyed Bellamy.

Phantom Limburger

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 12, 2016 by dcairns

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Recently watched two fantasy-fright type films which had very interesting elements but were strangely boring overall. One was ANGRY RED PLANET, the other was NIGHT MONSTER, a Universal horror movie I’d never heard of and which I figured must be dull. How else to explain its obscurity?

Well, it mostly IS dull, and there are lots of irksome things about it — Bela Lugosi plays a butler, and he’s JUST a butler, not even a meaningful red herring. A mauve kipper at best. But unlike a real snooze like SHE-WOLF OF LONDON, it actually revolves around a cool idea…

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Ralph Morgan, the Wizard of Oz’s brother, has been reduced to limbless paralysis by the fumbling efforts of his doctors. When said medicos, including Lionel “Pinky” Atwill (deep joy) start getting bumped off, only Morgan has the means, motive and spectacular lack of opportunity that must, by the rules of DR X, establish him as the perpetrator. But rather than mad science as facilitator for his limbless killing spree, the film gives us a cherubic swami whose ministrations have given Morgan the power to generate ectoplasmic extremities using the power of his mind, so he can walk and strangle and be avenged using phantasmal arms and legs which fade as the dew when no longer required. The perfect alibi.

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The movie begins charmingly, with the turbanned guru strolling up to Morgan’s mansion and remarking on the uncommunicative character of the local frogs. I immediately liked him. I did not, however, recognize him as Nils Asther, the once-sculptural beauty who specialised in oriental roles (a bit like Warner Oland, but lovelier) despite being Danish (a bit like Warner Oland, who was Swedish). A shame the interest is dissipated across too many characters with too little to do (the hero, as is often the case, is a waste of time), but a number of the supporting cast are better than they need to be. Movie serial specialist Ford Beebe directs with what one might call efficiency. He got it done inside two weeks, anyway.