Category Archives: Boris Karloff

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein

 It’s Frankenstein Friday, and we’re tackling the next installment in the Universal series: 1939′s Son of Frankenstein!

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein

After the first cycle of horror films ended with Dracula’s Daughter in 1936, stars identified with the horror film had something of a rough time in Hollywood. Some, such as Boris Karloff, fared well, but no one really had as tough a time as Bela Lugosi. (The horror icon’s financial situation was so bad by 1938 that he had to swallow his pride and appeal to the Hollywood Actors’ Fund to pay for the birth of his son.)

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein
The new owners of Universal saw the kind of money theaters were raking in with re-releases of their classics Dracula and Frankenstein. With visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads, the top brass at Universal decided a new film in the same vein would make even more money.
31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein

 Rowland V. Lee was hired to direct Son of Frankenstein. Universal, always full of heart, took advantage of Lugosi’s well-known financial difficulties by hiring him at the insulting payrate of $500 per week. When Lee found out about this, he was livid. He expanded Lugosi’s part, and put him in the background in scenes where he really had nothing to do, so that he could keep Bela on the payroll for the entire length of the production.

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein

The film opens as Wolf Frankenstein(Basil Rathbone), his wife Elsa(Josephine Hutchinson), and their son Peter(Donnie Dunagan) are on a train, bound for the village of Frankenstein. Wolf has inherited his infamous father’s estate, and is moving the family in. They receive a cold reception from the townsfolk(“We’re here to greet you. Not to welcome you!”).

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein

Moving into the large, foreboding castle, the Frankensteins are paid a visit by Inspector Krogh(Lionel Atwill). Krogh assures Wolf that he will be on hand to assist him in the event the surly, superstitious villagers threaten him or his family. When wolf questions the vaiklidity of all the horrible tales about the Monster his father created, Krogh relates the tale of how he lost his arm as a small boy(“One does not forget, herr Baron, an arm torn out by the roots!”).

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein

Exploring the estate the next day, Wolf goes up to the ruined laboratory. There he encounters broken-necked Ygor(Lugosi), who eventually takes Wolf into a secret passageway where he sees the monster! The mosnter is unconscious, having suffered severe damage during a violent thunderstorm. Ygor wants Wolf to make his friend  well(“He is my friend. He… does things for me!”). Wolf agrees, wishing to restore the monster and replace his brain, vindicating his father and the family name.

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein

Once the monster is revived, however, it immediately becomes clear that he does the bidding of his friend Ygor. As Ygor resumes sending the monster out to murder his enemies, the already unruly villagers grow more and more suspicious of the Frankensteins, and that tension eventually reaches a fever pitch. This, along with events between Wolf and Ygor, lead to the film’s climax.

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein

Rathbone is quite good as Wolf, scenery-chewing and all. Some have criticized his performance as being too “over-the-top,” but I find his bombastic performance right at home in the film. (This character also served almost as a template for Gene Wilder’s Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein).

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein

Rathbone may have top billing, but few would argue that Lugosi is the star of the film. His wonderful performance as the sinister Ygor is one of his finest, and his relationship with the monster is both complex and rather touching. Ygor is a scheming, dangerous fiend, yet Lugosi also gives him a charming roguish quality that almost makes us root for him.

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein

Karloff’s Monster is this film doesn’t get as much screen time as in the two previous films, but he is given some good scenes, and Karloff makes the most of them. Karloff got his wish in this film, and the Monster no longer speaks– in story terms, this can be chalked up to the damage he has suffered– and that also means he could remove his dental plate again, so the deeply sunken cheek is back. Both of Karloff’s other performances as the Monster are better, but he does not disappoint here, either. This was Karloff’s last appearance on film as the Frankenstein Monster; at this point, he felt the character had really gone as far as he should go, and that the Monster was becoming little more than a prop(Karloff was proved right in subsequent films).

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein

Lionel Atwill gives an excellent performance as Krogh, bringing a quiet dignity to the character that makes him memorable in a film already packed with memorable characters. There has been much debate over Dunagan’s performance as Peter, with many feeling that he is a detriment to the film. He’s almost unbearably cute, and doesn’t display much acting ability(he was only 5 years old); on the other hand, as a small child playing a small child, he is undeniably genuine in the role, and I feel he adds to the film, rather than detracts from it. Your mileage may vary, but even if you dislike him, he doesn’t have enough screen time to really hurt the film.
Also, keep an eye out for Dwight Frye in a small role as a villager.

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein

The sets in the movie are marvelous. Evoking a dark, Gothic atmosphere, they border on expressionism at times, and add to the mood immeasurably. The music is also excellent, standing as one of the finest scores in any horror film.

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein

It may not be quite on the same lofty level of the two previous Universal Frankenstein films, but Son of Frankenstein is an excellent film, and is highly enjoyable. It’s also the last horror film Universal made in this era that boasted very high production values, as most of the horror films that followed were low-budget programmers. the film is a good last hurrah for Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster, and it is a wonderful showcase for Lugosi. Even if, like me, you feel that the Universal Frankenstein story really ends with The Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein remains an excellent film that is truly worth your time.

31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein
31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein
31 Days of Halloween: Son of Frankenstein
That’s Bela Lugosi Jr. with Karloff!

31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)

31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)

 Okay, let’s try this again: Today, we’re taking a look at one of my very favorite movies, 1932′s The Mummy!

31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)

In the 1920s and ’30s, Egypt was all the rage, due in large part to the recent uncovering of the tomb of Tutankhamun. The film that would become The Mummy began its life as a film treatment called Cagliostro, loosely based on the 18th century Italian occultist Alessandro Cagliostro. Carl Laemmle Jr. then hired Frankenstein and Dracula scribe John L Balderston, who had been one of thereporters covering the unearthing of Tutankhamun’s tomb, to write the script. Making numerous changes, and injecting the Egyptian influence, the script was titled Imhotep, after the ancient Egyptian architect and polymath.

31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)

In 1921, Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Bryon) and Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) have discovered an ancient mummy, and a mysterious scroll inside an elaborate chest. As Whemple’s colleague Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan) tries to discourage Whemple from tampering with the chest, convinced that the ancient curses still hold power, Norton opens the chest and begins to translate the scroll. As it turns out, the scroll is the legendary Scroll of Thoth, from which Isis raised her husband Osiris from the dead. As Norton quietly reads it, the mummy of Imhotep (Boris Karloff) comes to life, walks over, takes the scroll, and leaves. Norton is driven insane by the sight of the ancient mummy returning to life, and winds up dying in a sanitarium.

31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)

Ten years later, Whemple’s son Frank (David Manners) is preparing to return home after an unsuccessful season when a mysterious stranger enters. Identifying himself as Ardeth Bey–in reality a disguised Imhotep– direct’s him to the location of the tomb of Princess Ankh-es-en-amon. Imhotep plans to use the Scroll of Thoth to resurrect his lost love, but he soon realizes that Ankh-es-en-amon’s soul has been reincarnated through the centuries, and is currently alive and well as Helen Grosvenor(Zita Johann). Imhotep then directs all his power toward Helen, planning to sacrifice her so that she can be reborn as he was, and they can be together again. Frank and Dr. Muller resolve to stop him.

31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)

Karloff is amazing in this film, delivering one of the finest performances of his career. His subtle, restrained performance has an underlying feel of menace, of immense power that is barely restrained, that makes for a most threatening antagonist. Karloff really gives us the sense that Imhotep was once a noble man, even a great man, who underwent unfathomable pain and torture for the sake of his love. He only finds himself the villain because his obsession has led him to do immoral things in the name of that love. Imhotep is far and away one of the most fascinating of movie monsters, and it’s a shame that not one Mummy movie that has been made in all the years since has come close to equaling this character, or Karloff’s performance.

31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)

Zita Johann is quite good as Helen. She imbues the character with a depth that makes it believable that she is a reincarnated Egyptian princess. David Manners comes off a bit better than he does in Dracula, but the character is still quite two-dimensional and uninteresting. That’s not really Manners’ fault, however, the screenplay does little to develop the character. Still, his Jonathan Harker makes his Frank Whemple look like Rambo. Edward Van Sloan is in full Van Helsing mode here, which is exactly what the script calls for. This is a role that Van Sloan was uncommonly good at, and it’s always enjoyable to see him in such a role.

31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)

Director Karl Freund does a marvelous job, keeping the film moving at a good pace so that it feels even shorter than its 73 minute running time. The music also bears mentioning; it suits the film well and helps a good deal with building the atmosphere. The familiar piece of music that plays over the opening titles is “Scene from Act II” from “Swan Lake,” and was used for several Universal films around this time(notably Dracula and Murders in the Rue Morgue).

31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)

Jack Pierce deserves special mention for his makeup work. The man was an artist, and he created several all-time icons that anyone in this field would kill to have on their resume. His work on this film is among his very best, and with all the advances in makeup and special effects in the 78 years since, no one has ever given us a better mummy than Pierce did in this film.

31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)

Although often overshadowed by the likes of Frankenstein and Dracula, The Mummy is a horror classic of the highest caliber. In all the decades since its release, there has been no mummy movie made that can match it. More recent films have benefited from larger budgets and better visual effects, but they lack that intangible quality that makes a film a true classic. What’s more, they have nothing approaching the majesty of Karloff’s performance in this film. There are other good mummy movies out there, but the 1932 film is the undisputed ruler of them all.

31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)
31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)
31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)
31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)
31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)
31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)
31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)
31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)
31 Days of Halloween: The Mummy (for real this time)