Archive for Mark of the Vampire

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.

Quote of the Day: Werewolf By Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2008 by dcairns

This is from Guy Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris, an epic and perverse gothic novel. Aymar has come to Paris in search of his nephew, Bertrand, an uncontrollable werewolf, whom he plans to stop at all costs. But Aymar gets caught up in the Paris Commune and its brutal suppression:

“The Commune shot fifty-seven from the prison of La Roquette. Versailles retaliated with nineteen hundred. To that comparison add this one: The whole famous Reign of Terror in fifteen months guillotined 2,596 aristos. The Versaillists executed 20,000 commoners before their firing squads in one week. Do these figures represent the comparative efficiency of guillotine and modern rifle, or the comparative cruelty of upper and lower class mobs?

“Bertrand, it now seemed to Aymar, was but a mild case. What was a werewolf who had killed a couple of prostitutes, who had dug up a few corpses, compared with these bands of tigers slashing at each other with daily increasing ferocity? ‘And there’ll be worse,’ he said, and again he had that marvelous rising of the heart. Instead of thousands, future ages will kill millions. It will go on, the figures will rise and the process will accelerate! Hurrah for the race of werewolves!”

~ Guy Endore, 1934.

Rather a terrific piece of pulp nastiness, with weird philosophical undertones. I’d compare it to Matthew Lewis’ anti-clerical masterpiece The Monk. Endore wants to have his cake and eat it, though, and his defence of witch-burning is frankly offensive, although it’s hard to know how seriously he means it.

Endore wrote in Hollywood, contributing to Tod Browning’s THE DEVIL DOLL and MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, Karl Freund’s MAD LOVE, and the goofy Karloff-Lugosi THE RAVEN, which I wrote about here. And then, when he was still alive in 1961, Hammer films used his werewolf classic (which predates Henry Hull in WEREWOLF OF LONDON, Lon Chaney Jnr in THE WOLFMAN, and the Holocaust) as the basis for Terence Fisher’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, scripted by John Elder, perhaps Britain’s worst screenwriter
Wait, isn’t that his mother? Who dies in childbirth? Publicity stills can be SO IMAGINATIVE.
The film was initiated to make use of Spanish sets built for an Inquisition romp that had been nixed by the censor. Instead of doing the logical thing and turning to The Monk (too anti-Catholic), Elder took Endore’s story and transposed it from the historical background which is so central to it. While he could certainly have found equally bloody events in Spanish history, I guess he was forbidden to do so. But I can’t forgive the systematic ripping out of all of Endore’s best conceits. The author is purposely ambiguous right to the end about Bertrand’s lycanthropy. Does he really transform into a wolf, or only imagine it due to his uncontrollable cannibalistic impulses? And while Endore starts with a horrific account of a man entombed alive in an oubliette, Elder has his equivalent character locked in a jail, where he still has sympathetic human contact, yet somehow loses the power of speech. The chap goes mad and rapes an INSANELY busty wench and as a result, Oliver Reed is born with werewolfism. I always found that a pathetically stupid idea, and it’s a gross distortion of the book.
Even a slightly silly novel like Werewolf of Paris has a certain dignity in its perversity, and it deserves a more sympathetic adaptation. It’s not great literature or anything, but there are enough ideas in it for ten movies — all of them better than CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.