Tonight on TCM: Yet More Classic Horror!

Tonight on TCM: more Frankenstein sequels, with value added:


8:00pm (EST): The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Oh yes, the ghost of Dr Frankenstein does appear in this film, although it is a little hard to tell if he is just a figment of his son (Cedric Hardwicke)’s imagination. This is Frankenstein’s second son, a psychiatrist in a village fairly distant from the one where all the havoc happened in the previous films, thus making it possible for all sorts of familiar things to happen.

In the prologue, back in the old village we see that Ygor (Bela Lugosi) not only somehow didn’t die from his gunshot wounds in the last picture, but he even looks a little better. The villagers are having tough economic times. They blame even THIS on the “Curse of Frankenstein” and so blow up the old castle. This of course fulfills the curse, by releasing the monster (Lon Chaney Jr)  from the hardened sulfur mud from the last film. He and Ygor go to a nearby village, cause a disruption and then wind up being tried in a local court as madmen. The monster escapes, but Frankenstein fils has him locked up in his asylum.

Egged on by Ygor and the Ghost of the original Dr Frankenstein, they decide the thing to do is replace the monster’s brain with a better one. (“They” is Hardwicke and his colleague Lionel Atwill—it is very nearly impossible in this film to tell them apart). The plan is to use the brain of their other colleague whom the monster has killed. But Ygor, who has suddenly become a criminal mastermind who wants to take over the country  (instead of the deformed halfwit he was in the previous film) convinces Atwill to switch HIS brain. Meanwhile a young child the monster had demonstrated a fondness for has dispappeared and now a mob is after the monster. (Somehow in the middle of all this are the obligatory romantic couple, Frankenstein’s daughter and her beau, local prosecutor Ralph Bellamy).

What happens in the end? Lab blows up and mansion burns down with monster in it. By now we know not to consider that a conclusive ending.  There is a sad new dip in quality with this picture. It’s a routine programmer, barely an hour long (and that padded with flashback footage from first film). It is more of a sequel to Son of Frankenstein than it is to Frankenstein. We are getting far from the wellspring.


9:15pm (EST): Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

Grave robbers exhume the corpse of Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr again )  in order to rob him of the coins in his pocket. Unfortunately they do this during a full moon. He breaks out and awakens in a hospital where he has trouble convincing the doctors he’s the supposedly dead man,. He starts killing again. Eventually, he goes to castle Frankenstein seeking a doctor to cure him. There he finds the Baroness Frankenstein, and the monster (played by Bela Lugosi—who’d turned down the role in the original movie and now seems to really be eating crow. And looks very weird in the make up, to boot.) He convinces another scientist to try and cure him, by doing some kind of mind switch with the monster. In the climax, while the two monsters are on the operating table, the moon changes Chaney into the wolf man AND someone accidentally pulls a switch causing an explosion, releasing the monsters, who promptly begin to do battle. Then the villagers explode the old dam (the experiments happen in an old watermill, using its motive power rather than lightning. A flood ensues, wiping away all in its path before it. Lionel Atwill plays the local police captain.


10:45pm (EST): House of Frankenstein (1944)

Insanely entertaining and chock full of events! A suitable rebound from the dip in quality in Ghost of Frankenstein. Nearly every Universal horror star is in it. The title of the film is ironically fitting, as the house is nearly all that is left of Frankenstein and the original story thread.

Boris Karloff plays a mad scientist, a former assistant of Frankenstein whom we first meet incarcerated in a dungeon. He instructs the hunchback in the cell next to him on how he can reanimate dead bodies (using hilariously simple chalk diagrams). Right on cue, they are freed when lightning strikes the castle that holds them, collapsing it. Outside they find a carnival wagon stuck conveniently in the mud . It contains Professor Lampini (George Zucco) and a show of horrors, notably the actual skeleton of Dracula. Karloff kills the professor, and steals his show, expertly impersonating a carnival barker when the need arises. They travel to a small town where he has an old score to settle. Zig Rugman is a local burgomaster, Lionel Atwill the police chief (sans mechanical arm), and there is a pair of obligatory, nondescript lovers.

Karloff revives Dracula (John Carradine) who goes and kills the burgomaster and attempts to steal the girl. Later Dracula is trapped by sunlight and the girl escapes. These characters now pass out of the story completely. Next Karloff and the hunchback meet up with a bunch of gypsies. Just like Quasimodo, the hunchback falls in love with a beautiful performing gypsy girl. They rescue her from a cruel gypsy king who whips her. Then they go to Frankenstein’s castle, finding a mysterious frozen land underneath. There, the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.) and the monster (Glenn Strange) are frozen. Karloff thaws them out for his experiments, planning to exchange their brains. Wolf Man wants to be cured of his lycanthropy. He begins to turn at the full moon, killing people. Meanwhile the gypsy girl has fallen in love with him. The jealous hunchback wants the Wolf Man’s body. Out of love, the girl shoots the werewolf with a silver bullet. Then the hunchback attacks Karloff. The Monster throws  the hunchback off the roof. A mob comes after the Monster, carrying Karloff. Then they fall into quicksand and sink. THE END-?


12:15am (EST): Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

Of all the cinematic versions of the perennial horror classic the 1920 silent version starring John Barrymore is probably my favorite. Because of the timing of when the book was written (the 1880s) there is always the temptation to merge this tale with Ripper lore. Don’t forget that many investigators believed the Ripper may have been a doctor. That Victorian era Whitechapel atmosphere is strong in the art direction in this movie…stronger ironically than in many later versions, when studios theoretically had greater resources at their command. This version also mixes in elements of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (also of the era) with its theme of divided personality. The dialogue titles even quote Wilde once or twice.

Above all we have Barrymore’s incredible performance (aided by excellent make-up). As Jeckyll the spotless Victorian philanthropist and idealist he has a ramrod straight posture and a pleasant mien. When he takes the potion and becomes Hyde the effect is immediate. Hyde is loathesome, foul, sensuous in a disgusting way. His hair is long and messy, his face dirty, his teeth crooked. Even his hands get bigger, like those of an ape.

It occurs to me now that reading about this film in those old paperback books about monster movies would have been how I first heard about Barrymore in the first place. My feeling about this film still goes — every kid should know this movie!


2:00am (EST): House (1977)

The very definition of a cult film — an offbeat well-kept-secret here in the U.S. whose legend (I predict) will only grow and grow. It’s really quite unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. Tasked by his producers with creating something to replicate the success of Jaws, Japanese writer/ director Nobuhiko Obayashi canvassed his pre-teen daughter and her friends for ideas about things that scared them. These were all folded into a script about a group of schoolgirls who visit an aunt on holiday, are trapped by the titular house and dispatched one by one by the most colorful means. But this is one movie to which mere description will never do justice. An explosion of kitsch and color, it’s a film in which something throws you totally off-base nearly every second. Sometimes it seems like a musical, sometimes a comedy. The look is extremely stylized and yet we often feel as though we are looking at cheap green effects cooked up by your local television station. But it is a wild ride, one you should definitely take at least once.


3:30am (EST) The Haunting (1963)

Robert Wise’s modern horror classic may be a technical tour de force and critic’s favorite, but I’ve always found it more tedious and irritating than genuinely scary. The film concerns a parapsychologist (Richard Johnson) who invites three people to a house with a violent past so that he can observe their reaction to expected ghostly activity. With him are the obnoxious young heir to the house (Russ Tamblyn), a sexy psychic (Claire Bloom) and a “sensitive” with a history of ghost encounters (Julie Harris). Harris was undoubtedly a great actress, but I’ve always felt that she needed to be reined in. Here, Wise does the opposite, giving the actress free range to have an on-camera nervous breakdown. Watching her quiver and shake and sob for two hours is not my idea of a rockin’ good time. But there ARE ghosts, and that’s always a saving grace. The film was re-made with an all-star cast in 1999.

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