Halloween Havoc! Extra: THE VAMPIRE BAT (Majestic 1933) Complete Horror Movie!


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1933’s THE VAMPIRE BAT isn’t a Universal Horror movie, but it sure comes damn close! This independent feature from Majestic Pictures contains a number of Universal Horror stars, including Lionel Atwill , Melvyn Douglas (THE OLD DARK HOUSE ), Lionel Belmore (FRANKENSTEIN ), and a positively Renfield-like performance from the great Dwight Frye – not to mention KING KONG’s main squeeze Fay Wray as our heroine! Majestic also rented some of the standing sets from FRANKENSTEIN and THE OLD DARK HOUSE to film on, giving the film a real Universal feel.

The screenplay by Edward T. Lowe (who wrote Lon Chaney’s 1923 HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, and the later horror entry HOUSE OF DRACULA) concerns the village of Kleinschloss up in arms over a series of gruesome murders that point to the presence of a vampire in their midst, with Frye’s simple-minded Herman the chief suspect. Turns out the killings…

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Halloween Havoc!: FRANKENSTEIN (Universal 1931)


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Two hundred years ago, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley unleashed her novel FRANKENSTEIN upon an unsuspecting world. The ghastly story of a “Modern Prometheus” who dared to play God and his unholy creation shocked readers in 1818, and over the past two centuries has been adapted into stage plays, radio dramas, television programs, comic books, and the movies, most notably James Whale’s seminal 1931 FRANKENSTEIN, featuring not only a star-making  performance by Boris Karloff as the Creature, but ahead of its time filmmaking from Whale.

Director James Whale and his star

James Whale had directed only two films before FRANKENSTEIN (JOURNEY’S END and WATERLOO BRIDGE), but the former stage director certainly adapted quickly to the new medium of talking pictures. The story had been made three times for the silent screen, but the new sound technology adds so much to the overall eeriness of the film’s atmosphere. Whale was obviously influenced by…

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Pre Code Confidential #11: THE MALTESE FALCON (Warner Brothers 1931)


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Everybody knows the 1941 Humphrey Bogart/John Huston classic THE MALTESE FALCON, but only true film fanatics watch the original 1931 version. Since I fall squarely into that category, I recently viewed the first adaptation of Dashiell Hammet’s seminal private eye yarn. The film, like it’s more famous remake, follows the novel’s plot closely, with the added spice that Pre-Code movies bring to the table.

Cortez is no Bogie, but he’ll do

The odds are six-two-and-even if you’re reading this post, you don’t need a plot recap. What I intend to do is go over some of the differences between the two versions. Let’s start with Sam Spade himself, the prototype hard-boiled detective. Suave, slick-haired Ricardo Cortez  interprets the role as a grinning horndog who’s never met a skirt he didn’t like. We meet Spade in the opening shot, clinching a dame in silhouette at the door to his office. Then the door…

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Horror Film Review: Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (dir by Roy William Neill)


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Long before Batman v. Superman, there was Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man!

Released in 1943, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man was the first of the Universal horror movies to feature the monsters meeting.  (Dracula would join both Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man in later films.)  In our current age of the MCU and Zack Snyder super hero movies, that might not seem like a big deal but I’m sure it was huge in 1943.  Were the Universal Monster Movies the first example of a shared cinematic universe?  To be honest, I have no idea but it sounds good so let’s go with it.

Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man starts, as so many Frankenstein films have, with a little bit of grave robbing.  Except, this time, the grave robbers aren’t looking for body parts.  Instead, they break into the Talbot family crypt because they’ve heard that Larry Talbot was buried with a lot of jewelry and money.  As the grave robbers wander around the crypt, they recap for us everything that happened in The Wolf Man.  Finally, they open up Larry’s coffin and are confronted with the dead body of Larry Talbot himself!  (Larry is, once again, played by Lon Chaney, Jr.)

Unfortunately for our grave robbing friends, there’s a full moon out.  As soon as the moonlight shines on Larry, he comes back to life and promptly transforms into … THE WOLF MAN!

After killing one of the robbers, the Wolf Man runs out of the tomb.  The next morning, once again human and alive, Larry Talbot wakes up in some bushes.  He’s arrested by the police.  He’s sent to a mental hospital.  He transforms a few more times and kills a few more stock characters.  And during all of this, Larry tells anyone who will listen that he just wants to be cured of his condition so that he can die and stay dead.

It was at this point that it occurred to me that Larry Talbot is perhaps the whiniest werewolf in film history.

Eventually, Larry decides that maybe the famous Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein could help him!  So, he breaks out of the hospital and travels to Germany (though, since the film was made during World War II, we’re never specifically told that he’s in Germany).  Accompanying him is Malena (Maria Ouspenkaya), the gypsy woman from the first Wolf Man.

In Germany a generic Eastern European country, Larry finds out that Dr. Frankenstein is dead and his research is missing.  Larry does, however, discover the frozen body of Frankenstein’s Monster (now played by Bela Lugosi).  After reviving the monster, Larry is upset to discover that the Monster not only doesn’t know where to find Frankenstein’s research but that, after dealing with their crap for four movies, the Monster doesn’t really seem to care about doing anything other than harassing the local villagers.

Fortunately, Larry does get to meet Ludwig’s widow (Illona Massey) and get a chance to tell her about how much he wishes he was dead.  Probably just to get him to shut up about how terrible his existence is, the widow agrees to help Larry.  She gives him Ludwig’s research and Larry believes that he’s finally found a way to end both his life and the Monster’s!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way.  For one thing, Larry is working with a scientist (played by Patric Knowles) who doesn’t think that the Monster needs to be destroyed.  Secondly, Larry keeps forgetting to keep track of the lunar cycles.  That full moon is continually taking him by surprise.

It all leads to a final battle between Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man.  It only lasts for a little less than 10 minutes so it’s hard not to be a bit disappointed but at least no one talks about having a mother named Martha.

(Can you imagine that conversation?

“Growl growl growl growl”

“Why you say Martha?”

“Growl growl.”

“But Monster’s mother named Martha!”

“Growl!”

“Friends!”

“growl…”)

(It’s been seven months since that damn movie came out and, here at the Shattered Lens, we’re still getting mileage out of “But my mother was named Martha!” jokes.)

Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man isn’t necessarily a good movie but it is a lot of fun to watch.  It helps, of course, if you’ve seen the other Universal horror films.  Part of the fun is spotting members of the Universal stock company, like Lionel Atwill and Dwight Frye, and seeing who they’ll be playing this time around.  One thing that I did legitimately appreciate is that the film made at least some sort of an effort to maintain a continuity with both The Wolf Man and Ghost of Frankenstein.  It appears that some actual thought was put into explaining how both the Wolf Man and the Monster were still around after the events of the last two films.  That shows more respect for the audience that you’ll find in most modern films.

Horror Film Review: The Invisible Man (dir by James Whale)


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The 1933 Universal horror film, The Invisible Man, never seems to get as much attention as Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, or The Mummy.  Perhaps it’s because the invisible man really isn’t a supernatural monster.  He’s just a scientist who has turned himself invisible and is now going mad as a result.  Or maybe it’s because there have been so many crappy films that have used invisibility as a plot point that the reputation of the original Invisible Man suffers by association.

For whatever reason, The Invisible Man never seems to get spoken about in the same breathless, gleeful manner as some of the other Universal monsters.  But I have to admit that, though I usually can’t stand movies about invisibility, I rather like The Invisible Man.

Based on a novel by H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man opens with a mysterious man (played by Claude Rains) arriving in a small English village.  He checks into a small inn and soon, everyone in the village is scared of him.  It’s not just his haughty attitude or his habit of ranting about his own superiority.  There’s also the fact that he is literally covered, from head to toe, in bandages.  He always wears gloves and dark glasses.  He insists that he’s doing important research and demands to be left alone.

The inn keeper (Forrester Harvey) and his histrionic wife (Una O’Connor) put up with the mysterious man until he falls behind on his rent.  However, once confronted, the mysterious man announces that he’s not going anywhere.  When the police and a mob of villagers arrives, the man starts to laugh like a maniac.  He unwraps the bandages around his head and…

THERE’S NOTHING UNDERNEATH!

Well, there is something there.  It’s just that the man is invisible so no one can see what’s underneath.  It turns out that the man is Dr. Jack Griffin, a chemist who has been missing for several days.  He’s created an invisibility serum but he can’t figure out how to reverse the effects.  Even worse, the serum is driving him insane.  Griffin’s fiancée, Flora (Gloria Stuart), and her father, Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers), are searching for Jack but Jack doesn’t particularly want to be found.  Jack is more interested in exploring how he might be able to use invisibility to conquer the world…

The Invisible Man is historically important because it was the film that brought Claude Rains to Hollywood.  Rains has previously made films in the UK but this was his first American film.  Think of how different film history would have turned out if The Invisible Man had, as originally planned, starred Boris Karloff.  Without Claude Rains coming to America, who would have played Louis in Casablanca?  Who would have played Sen. Paine in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington or Alex Sebastian in Notorious?  Of course, we don’t really see Claude Rains’s face until the very end of The Invisible Man.  Instead, we just hear his voice but what a voice Claude had!  He delivers his dialogue with just the right amount of malicious sarcasm.

I like The Invisible Man.  For modern audiences, it’s not particularly scary.  (Though I do find the idea of being unknowingly followed by an invisible person to be a little unnerving…)  However, unlike a lot of other old horror films, you can watch The Invisible Man and see why it would have been scary to an audience seeing it for the very first time.  In 1933, a time when film was still a relatively new medium and audiences had yet to become jaded by special effects, here was a man unwrapping his bandages to reveal that there was nothing underneath!  That had to have freaked people out!

The Invisible Man was directed by James Whale and the film features the same demented sense of humor that distinguished The Bride of Frankenstein.  The villagers are portrayed as being so hysterical that you can’t help but think that maybe Griffin has a point about being surrounded by fools.  By the time the local constable declares, “What’s all this then?,” you can’t help but start to sympathize with Jack Griffin.

There’s been a lot of  bad invisibility movies made but The Invisible Man is not one of them.  It may not be as well remembered as some of the other Universal horrors but it’s definitely one worth seeing.

Horror Film Review: Dracula (dir by Tod Browning)


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It pains me to say it but, of all the classic Universal monster films, Dracula is probably my least favorite.

I hate to say that because I love vampires and I love the story of Dracula.  I have read the book several times, I’ve seen several productions of the stage play, and I’ve seen a countless number of  Dracula films.  (Christopher Lee’s version is my favorite.)  The 1931 version of Dracula — while hardly being the first vampire movie — was still a very important moment in the history of horror cinema.  Every vampire film that has come out since owes a debt of gratitude to Dracula.  Bela Lugosi’s performance set the standard against which almost all vampires are judged.

I always want to love Dracula but … no, the film just doesn’t work for me.

Of course, we all know the film’s story.  Dracula (Bela Lugosi) comes to England from Transylvania.  He turns Lucy (Frances Dade) into a vampire and attempts to do the same thing to Mina Seward (Helen Chandler).  Mina’s fiancée, John Harker (David Manners) and father, Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston), attempt to stop him with the help of Prof. Van Helsing (Edward van Sloan).  Renfield (Dwight Frye) serves as Dracula’s servant and eats bugs.  Dracula tells us that he does not drink … wine.  He talks about the music of the night.  His eyes get wide at the sight of blood and he hides his face when confronted with a cross.

Of course, though Dracula may have first appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel, the film is actually an adaptation of a stage play that was based on the novel.  That’s the main problem with Dracula as a movie.  It’s a very stagey film, one that never seems to quite break free of its theatrical origins.  It’s a rather slow-moving film, one that is full of awkward scene transitions and moments of dead air.  One need only compare it to F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu or Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr to see just how visually bland Dracula really is.

Dracula‘s blandness is especially surprising when you consider that the direction is credited to Tod Browning.  Browning directed some of the best horror films of the silent era and, after the release of Dracula, he went on to direct the brilliant Freaks.  Dracula doesn’t feel like a Browning film but perhaps that’s because it actually wasn’t.  Reportedly, Tod Browning was struggling with depression during the filming of Dracula and was rarely on set.  Instead, most of the film’s direction was handled by cinematographer Karl Freund.  Freund had never directed a film before (though he would later acquit himself quite well with The Mummy) and Dracula‘s flaws were largely a result of that inexperience.

Well, that may be true or it may not.  Here’s what we can say for sure: Bela Lugosi’s work as Dracula holds up surprisingly well.  When seen today, it can be difficult to fairly judge Lugosi’s performance.  We’ve seen so many parodies and bad imitations that it’s difficult to imagine the impact that it may have had on audiences in 1931.  Lugosi was recreating his stage performance and it’s a very theatrical performance but, at the same time, Dracula is a character that doesn’t demand or require subtlety.  There’s a power to Lugosi’s performance.  Maybe it’s the piercing stare or the unbridled blood lust that seems to be reflected in his eyes.  Maybe it’s the accent.  Maybe it’s the haughty and arrogant way that he carries himself.  Whatever it is, it works.

No, Dracula does not hold up as well as you might hope.  But Bela Lugosi’s performance remains a classic.

Horror Film Review: The Bride of Frankenstein (dir by James Whale)


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1935‘s The Bride of Frankenstein is usually described as being a sequel to Frankenstein, but I think it would be better to call it a continuation.  In much the same way that all modern YA adaptations seem to be split into two parts, Universal split Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein into two separate films.  The bare basics of The Bride of Frankenstein‘s plot — the monster learns to talk and demands that his creator build him a mate — can all be found in the original novel.

(Of course, in the original novel, the monster somehow learns how to speaks like an Oxford grad and Dr. Frankenstein destroys the female monster before bringing her to life.  The monster responds by killing Elizabeth.  Seriously, Frankenstein is a dark book.)

Bride of Frankenstein features one of my favorite openings of all time.  Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Walton) are praising Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) and the story that she’s told about how a dedicated scientist played God and created life.  Mary informs them that she’s not finished and then proceeds to tell them the rest of the story.  It’s a great opening because it lets us know that the rest of what we’re seeing is taking place directly inside of Mary’s mind.  It frees the film from the constraints of realism and allows director James Whale to fully indulge his every whim, no matter how bizarre.  When you’re inside someone else’s imagination, anything can happen and that’s certainly the feeling that you get as you watch The Bride of Frankenstein.

The Bride of Frankenstein opens with that burning windmill and a wounded Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) being carried back to his wife, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson, replacing Mae Clarke).  Gone is the original film’s coda, in which Elizabeth announces that she’s pregnant.  And why shouldn’t it be gone?  It felt awkward in the first movie and, like any good writer, Mary Shelley is fixing her story as she goes along.

While Henry is recovering, he is approached by a former mentor, Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger).  Dr. Pretorious is undoubtedly an eccentric and definitely a little bit crazy but he believes in Frankenstein’s work.  In fact, Dr. Pretorious has even created life on his own!  He’s created a bunch of tiny people that he keeps in several glass jars.  They’re impressive but, sadly, they’ll never conquer the world.  Pretorious wants Frankenstein to, once again, work with him to create life.  As Pretorious explains it, it’s time to usher in a new age of “God and monsters!”

(Interestingly enough, one of Pretorious’s henchmen is played by Dwight Frye, who previously played Frankenstein’s henchman, Fritz, in the first film.  Frye dies in both films.  Reportedly, Universal bestowed upon him the nickname, “The Man of a Thousand Deaths.”  It can perhaps be argued that Dwight Frye was both the Steve Buscemi and the Giovanni Lombardo Radice of Universal horror.)

Meanwhile, the monster (Boris Karloff, credited with just his last name because, just four years after Frankenstein and the Mummy, he was already an icon) has survived the burning windmill.  He’s lonely, he’s afraid, and he actually kills more people in The Bride of Frankenstein than he did in Frankenstein.  And yet, he’s still the film’s most sympathetic character.  With everyone constantly trying to kill him, you can understand why the monster is quick to attack every human being that he sees.  He’s almost like a dog who, after years of abuse, automatically growls and bears his teeth at anyone that he sees.

And yet, the monster does eventually find a friend.  A blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) invites the monster into his own home.  (Of course, the hermit does not know who the monster is.  He just assumes that monster is a normal man who does not know how to speak.)  As time passes, the hermit teaches the monster how to say a few words and also tells the monster that there is nothing worse than being lonely.  The monster learns that “Friend good.”  The monster even learns how to smoke a cigar and Heggie and Karloff play these roles with such warmth (Bride of Frankenstein is not only the film where the Monster learns to talk, it’s also the one where he learns to smile) that you really start to dread the inevitable scene where everything goes wrong.

And that scene does arrive.  Two hunters stop by the hermit’s shack and immediately attack the Monster.  The Monster flees.  The shack burns down.  The hermit is led away from his only friend, apparently destined to be lonely once again.

Eventually, of course, the Monster does get his bride.  The Bride is such an iconic character that it’s easy to forget that she only appears in the final ten minutes of the film.  Elsa Lanchester plays both Mary and the Bride.  She screams when she sees the Monster.  “We belong dead,” the Monster replies and my heart breaks a little every time.

So, which is better?  Frankenstein or The Bride of Frankenstein?  I don’t think it’s necessary to choose one or the other.  To use a metaphor that might be appreciated by Henry and Dr. Petorious, Frankenstein is the brain while The Bride of Frankenstein is the heart.  They’re two good films that, when watched together, form one great film.