Horror on the Lens: Dracula vs. Frankenstein (dir by Al Adamson)


Zandor Vorkov is Dracula!

John Blood is Frankenstein’s monster!

Together … THEY SOLVE CRIMES!

No, actually, they don’t.  If anything, they cause crimes to happen.

First released in 1971 and directed by Al Adamson, Dracula vs. Frankenstein may not be a good film but it’s definitely an unforgettable film.  Yes, it may be thoroughly inept but it’s also perhaps the strangest take on the Dracula/Frankenstein rivalry that you’ll ever see.

Plus, it’s one of the final films of Lon Chaney, Jr.  Unfortunately, Lon doesn’t exactly look his best in Dracula vs Frankenstein...

Speaking of slumming celebrities, long before he played Dr. Jacoby and inspired America to shout, “Dig yourself out of the shit!,” Russ Tamblyn played a biker named Rico in this movie.

Also, like every other exploitation film made in 1971, Dracula vs. Frankenstein features hippies, leading to the age old question: who needs the supernatural when you’ve got LSD-crazed hippies running around?

Another age old question: Is Dracula vs. Frankenstein merely inept or is it a classic of bad filmmaking?

Watch below and decide for yourself.

Enjoy!

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Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: High Noon (dir by Fred Zinnemann)


(I am currently in the process of cleaning out my DVR!  I recorded the 1952 best picture nominee, High Noon, off of Retroplex on January 28th.  This review is scheduled to posted at 12 noon, central time.  Clever, no?)

High Noon is a testament to the power of simplicity.

It’s a famous film, one that continues to be influential and which is still studied today.  It’s known for being one of the greatest westerns ever made but it’s also a powerful political allegory.  Even people who haven’t seen the film know that High Noon is the moment of the day when someone shows their true character.  Just as everyone knows the plot of Star Wars, regardless of whether they’ve actually watched the film, everyone knows that High Noon is about a town marshal who, after the entire town deserts him, is forced to face down a gang of gunmen on his own.

And yet, it really is a surprisingly simple movie.  It’s the quintessential western, filmed in black-and-white and taking place in the type of frontier town that you would expect to find hiding on the back lot of an old movie studio.  Though wonderfully brought to life by a talented cast, the majority of the characters are familiar western archetypes.

There’s the aging town marshal, a simple man of integrity.  Gary Cooper won an Oscar for playing the role of Will Kane.  When we first see Will, he’s getting married in a frontier courtroom.  All of the town leaders have come to his wedding and all of them wish him luck in the future.  Will is retiring and everyone agrees that the town would never have survived and prospered if not for Will Kane.  After all, Will is the one who captured the notorious outlaw, Frank Miller.  When the news comes that Miller has been pardoned and will be arriving back in town on the noon train, everyone tells Will that he should just leave town and go on his honeymoon.  However, the new marshal will not be arriving for another day and Will is not willing to abandon the town.  However, the town is more than willing to abandon him.

Will’s new wife is Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly).  Amy is a Quaker and a pacifist.  Amy begs Kane to leave town but Kane says that he’s never run from a fight.  Amy tells him that she’ll be leaving on that noon train, with or without him.  Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado) is the former girlfriend of both Kane and Miller.  She is one of the few people in town to call out everyone else’s cowardice but she is still planning to leave before Miller arrives.  As she explains it to Amy, she would never abandon Kane if he were her man but he’s not her man anymore.

The townspeople, who first appear to be so friendly and honest, soon prove themselves to be cowards.  None of them are willing to stand behind Will.  The Mayor (Thomas Mitchell) publicly castigates Will for staying in town and putting everyone else in danger.  Deputy Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges) says that he’ll only help Will if Will recommends him as his replacement.  The town minister (Morgan Farley) is more concerned with why Will was married by the justice of the peace, instead of in the church.  The town judge (Otto Kruger) leaves early, saying he can be a judge in some other town.  One of the few people to show Will any sympathy is the former marshal (Lon Chaney, Jr.) but, unfortunately, he is too old and crippled by arthritis to provide any help.

Though it all, Frank’s gang sits at the train station and waits for Frank to arrive.  One gang member is played be Lee Van Cleef.  He looks really mean!

With a brisk running time of 84 minutes, High Noon unfolds in real time.  Throughout the film, as Kane grows increasingly desperate in his attempt to find anyone brave enough to stand with him, we see clocks in the background of nearly every scene.  We hear the ticking.  We know that both noon and Frank Miller are getting closer and closer.  We know that, soon, Will will have no other option but to stand on the street by himself and defend a town that doesn’t deserve him.

It’s simple but it’s undeniably powerful.

It’s been said that High Noon was meant to be a metaphor for the blacklist.  Frank Miller and his gang were the fascists that, having been defeated in World War II, were now coming back to power.  Will Kane was a stand-in for all the men and women of integrity who found themselves blacklisted.  The townspeople represented the studio execs who refused to challenge the blacklist.  That’s the theory and it’s probably true.  But, honestly, the political metaphor of High Noon works because it can be applied to any situation.  Will Kane is anyone who has ever had to face down the forces of totalitarianism.  He is anyone who has ever had the courage to take a lonely stand while everyone else cowered in the corner.

It’s a powerful metaphor and it’s also a genuinely entertaining movie.  The gunfight is thrilling.  The romance between Will and Amy feels real.  Even the town feels like an actual place, one that has its own history and culture.  It’s a simple film but it’s a great film.

Like a lot of great films, High Noon was nominated for best picture.  And, like a lot of great films, it lost.  In High Noon‘s case, it lost to a film that is almost its exact opposite, The Greatest Show on Earth.  However, Gary Cooper did win an Oscar for his unforgettable performance as Will Kane.

I think we tend to take classic films for granted.  Don’t do that with High Noon.  See it the next chance you get.

Halloween Havoc!: ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (Universal-International 1948)


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It’s Halloween, and we’ve finally made it to the Universal Classic Monsters! Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, and The Wolf Man had last appeared onscreen in 1945’s HOUSE OF DRACULA. Shortly thereafter, Universal merged with International Pictures and decided to produce only “prestige” pictures from then on, deeming their Gothic creature features no longer relevant in the post-war, post-nuclear world. The comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were also in danger of becoming irrelevant, victims of their own success, as audiences were beginning to grow tired of them after twenty movies in a scant eight years.

That “prestige” thing didn’t work out so well, and Universal went back to what they did best…. producing mid-budget movies for the masses. Producer Robert Arthur developed a script called “The Brain of Frankenstein”, giving it over to Frederic Rinaldo and Robert Lees. Lou Costello hated it, and the team’s gag writer John Grant was brought it to punch things…

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Halloween TV Havoc!: LIZARD’S LEG AND OWLET’S WING (“ROUTE 66”, 1962)


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The TV series ROUTE 66 followed the adventures of two young men (Martin Milner, George Maharis) as they cruised the fabled highway in their spiffy Corvette. The 1962 Halloween episode featured a special treat for horror fans, with Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney Jr. guesting as themselves. The three screen ghouls are debating the value of their old Gothic-style chillers vs the modern, “adult” horrors like PSYCHO. Karloff makes his final appearance in his Frankenstein makeup, while Lon dons the Wolf Man and Mummy makeups once again (and his dad’s Hunchback, too!). If you’re a classic horror lover, you’re absolutely gonna LOVE watching this Trio of Terror Titans (especially Chaney!) in “LIZARD’S LEG AND OWLET’S WING”:

(Also in the cast are Betsy Jones-Mooreland (Corman’s THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH), Martita Hunt (GREAT EXPECTATIONS, Hammer’s THE BRIDES OF DRACULA), veteran Conrad Nagel (whose nephew Don co-starred in BRIDE OF THE MONSTER)…

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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 Ghost of Frankenstein (dir by Erle C. Kenton)


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In 1942, three years after Son of Frankenstein, Universal Pictures continued the story of the Frankenstein family with The Ghost of Frankenstein!

However, The Ghost of Frankenstein was a far different film from the three that came before it.  The budget was lower.  The story was less complicated.  The running time was much shorter.  Whereas the previous films in the franchise clearly took place in Germany, the setting for The Ghost of Frankenstein is less easily defined.  (Considering that the film was made during World War II, this isn’t surprising.)  The biggest change is that, in The Ghost of Frankenstein, the monster is not played by Boris Karloff.  Instead, the role is taken by Lon Chaney, Jr.  Chaney’s hulking frame was perfect for the monster but his face is never as expressive as Karloff’s.  Whereas Karloff turned the monster into as much of a victim as a victimizer, Chaney plays the monster like a … well, a monster.

Returning from Son of Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi is back as Ygor.  At the start of the film, we learn that Ygor actually wasn’t killed at the end of Son of Frankenstein.  Instead, he was just wounded.  He’s spent the last few years hiding out in the old castle, trying to once again revive the monster.  When the villagers attempts to blow up the castle, he and the monster flee.

It turns out that there’s one other Frankenstein son.  His name is Ludwig and he’s played by a very dignified Sir Cedric Hardwicke.  Ludwig, who has been hiding his identity and denying the family legacy, has a successful medical practice in another village.  Working with his assistants, Dr. Kettering (Barton Yarbrough) and the bitterly jealous Dr. Bohmer (Lionel Atwill, who played a far different role in Son of Frankenstein), Ludwig has developed a procedure in which a damaged brain can be removed from the skull, repaired, and then stuck back inside the skull…

Uhmmm … wow, I have no idea what to say about that.  That’s quite a medical breakthrough, though…

When Ygor and the monster show up in the village, searching for Ludwig, the monster ends up getting arrested.  The local prosecutor (played by Ralph Bellamy, Cary Grant’s romantic rival in both The Awful Truth and His Girl Friday) asks Ludwig to examine the prisoner.  Ludwig is shocked to discover that the prisoner is his father’s creation!

Ygor wants Ludwig to perform a brain transplant on the Monster.  At first, Ludwig is hesitant but then he’s visited by Henry Frankenstein’s ghost.  (Since Colin Clive died 5 years before Ghost of Frankenstein went into production, Hardwicke plays both Ludwig and Henry.)  The ghost asks Ludwig to perfect the monster.

Ludwig finally relents and agrees to give the monster a new brain.  Ludwig wants to use the brain of kindly colleague but Ygor has different plans…

The Ghost of Frankenstein is only 67 minutes long but, oddly, it still feels just a little bit draggy.  Director Erle C. Kenton does a workmanlike job but, at no point, does Ghost feature the wit that distinguished James Whale’s films or Rowland V. Lee’s work on Son of Frankenstein.  Chaney is not a particularly interesting monster but Bela Lugosi is a lot of fun as Ygor.  With Chaney showing even less emotion than he usually did and Hardwicke appearing to be occasionally embarrassed by the whole film, it falls to Lugosi to keep the audience awake and he manages to do just that.  Lugosi’s performance may be overly theatrical but that’s exactly what The Ghost of Frankenstein needed.

The Ghost of Frankenstein is occasionally entertaining but ultimately forgettable.  It’ll best be enjoyed by Universal horror completists.

Halloween TV Havoc!: Lon Chaney Jr in FRANKENSTEIN (Tales of Tomorrow 1952)


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Early TV science fiction was dominated by kiddie programming like CAPTAIN VIDEO and TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET. In 1951, a more adult oriented fantasy series called TALES OF TOMORROW made it’s debut on ABC. The live broadcast dramatized works by prominent writers like Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells. Big name stars such as Boris Karloff, Leslie Neilson, and Rod Steiger headlined many of the episodes. Lon Chaney Jr. starred in a half-hour adaptation of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, with John Newland (later host and director of ONE STEP BEYOND) as the scientist who creates a monster. It’s said Chaney was *ahem* a bit under the weather during this live performance (in other words, drunk as a skunk!).  I’ll let you be the judge. The quality of this kinescope-to-video isn’t great, but I hope you’ll enjoy watching Lon Chaney Jr. as the monster of FRANKENSTEIN!

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