Tonight’s Horror Line-up on TCM (Oct 26)
8:00pm: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Much water under the bridge between the original Frankenstein and James Whale’s 1935 sequel. Karloff, who had been uncredited in the first film, was now a big star. The tropes of Gothic horror were now well established; by now there had been many classics in the genre. Whale now had the luxury of playing with the form a bit. He made his Frankenstein very funny, campy, hip and ahead of its time in its self awareness. In this, Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive again) is visited by one Dr. Praetorius (Ernest Thesiger, a hilariously flamboyant proto-queen), who insists that he resume his unnatural experiments. In a bizarre scene, Praetorius shows Frankenstein some of his own handiwork…several tiny costumed mannikins in glass jars! Meanwhile, Frankenstein’s monster (Boris Karloff of course) turns out to be still alive, emerging from the water-filled basement of the windmill, killing the parents of the little drowned girl, and then roaming the countryside wreaking havoc. He meets a blind man, the first human being who has ever treated him decently, who feeds him, teaches him how to speak and to smoke cigars. Their party is crashed by a couple of villagers (one of whom is John Carradine) who take the blind man away and try to burn the monster again. Eventually he meets Praetorius in a crypt, where the latter is laughing insanely to himself and hanging out with a skull. Praetorius enlists the monster as his strong-arm in convincing Dr. Frankenstein to build him a friend. He eventually does. Dwight Frye returns as another deformed assistant. (this one is “Karl”). Elsa Lanchester as the iconic bride (erroneously dubbed the Bride of Frankenstein, she’s really the bride of the monster.) At any rate, upon awakening she is appropriately horrified by her new groom, recoils and screams, causing the monster to go on a rampage. He lets the doctor and his bride escape, then throws a switch blowing up the castle, himself, the bride and Praetorius. Thus endeth a love that dare not speak its name?
9:30pm: The Mummy (1932)
As a general rule I would have to say that the “Mummy” franchise is one of those rare times when the re-make is far better than the original source material. That said The Mummy itself is head and shoulders above any of its soporific sequels of the 1940s, even if it does lack the central thing we expect and want from a mummy movie, i.e. a guy walking around hallways wrapped in bandages. Directed by Karl Freund (who’d been the D.P. on Dracula and numerous films by Lang and Murnau), the film opens with what I regard as one of the scariest scenes in all cinema, when a trio of archaeologists unearth a casket from an Egyptian tomb, and the rashest of them eagerly translates some of the writing and mutters the words aloud, bringing the mummy (Boris Karloff) to lift. The sight makes the young man instantly insane; his uncontrollable laughter is chilling.
A number of years pass, and the revived Imhotep disguises himself as a semi-human looking contemporary Egyptian. (Nothing is made of the fact that modern Egyptians and ancient Egyptians are entirely different peoples, both culturally and ethnically). Kaloff’s performance and make-up are great—he seems brittle, dry, capable of crumbling into dust at any minute. Most of the picture is spent with Karloff using mind control to try to effect the resurrection of his bride and to put her soul into the body of one of her descendants, a beautiful Egyptian girl (played by John Houseman’s wife Zita Johann). The backstory is cool—Imhotep had been punished for daring to love a priestess of Isis. He is wrapped like a mummy and buried alive without benefit of religious rites, dooming him to never achieve rest in the afterlife. In the climactic scene, a sacred scroll is burned, and the mummy returns to bones and dust.
11pm: Cat People (1942)
“People”? It’s just one woman and she may or not be a cat person. Beautiful to look at, but the narrative a bit slow moving. Val Lewton’s first horror film as producer at RKO…To my mind he seems to have paved the way for all those dreadfully dull Hammer and AIP films of the 1960s. Yet Lewton was practically the ONLY interesting thing going on in horror in the 40s. In relief against all the routine programmers, the cranked-out cheapies etc he seems a veritable genius. Cat People explores themes of sexual frustration, jealousy, personal demons and our connections to the animal within us. But it’s very talky, the actors are extremely dull to watch, and, while it is suspenseful, the film-makers make you wait way too long for some very funny payoffs. Yet there are very interesting little details all throughout. A mixed bag at best, but I seem to be in the minority on this subject.
12:30 am: The White Zombie (1932)
This is probably my favorite zombie movie. I find that I am rarely truly scared by modern zombie movies of the post-Night of the Living Dead variety. Whatever it is that scares people about them eludes me entirely. However I find VOODOO zombies terrifying. This one is set in Haiti, where it seems to be perpetually nighttime. A pair of young lovers comes there to marry. An unscrupulous plantation owner wants the girl for his own, so he contacts the evil zombie master Bela Lugosi (who uses zombie slave labor) to obtain his zombie-making secrets. He turns the bride into a zombie—she becomes the “wife” of the plantation owner. He quickly regrets this path…his zombie wife is a little unsatisfying. Lugosi starts to turn him into a zombie too. In the end the groom comes to rescue the girl, and the plantation owner in a last burst of humanity pushes Lugosi over a cliff to his death. Lots of cool Dracula derived elements inexplicably transplanted to Haiti…a ride in a similar carriage, and especially the mysterious, gorgeous Gothic castle. The atmosphere is nightmarish, chilling….
2:00 am: Psychomania a.k.a. The Death Wheelers (1973)
I look forward to seeing this one for the first time — a film about an undead motorcycle gang! It contains the last cinematic role of George Sanders — I wonder what part it played, if any, in his suicide?
3:30 am: The Devil’s Own a.k.a The Witches (1966)
An OK Hammer film starring Joan Fontaine as a glamorous school teacher in a small English village …where she encounters a secret cabal of witches, dredging up her own traumatic encounter with African witches during her time as a missionary.