Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Okay, So He Was A Little Odd..."

"One of the things which impressed me about those early horror pictures was that their heroes were almost invariably idiots or wimps -- and in some cases, both. Norman Kerry, in The Phantom of the Opera, is your typical idiot. He eavesdrops on the heroine conversing with a strange man in her dressing room, then sneaks in himself when she exits. He finds nobody else in there -- and promptly does nothing about it. As her genuine peril increases he continues to do nothing about it, until at last she tells him this weird story about her abduction by the mysterious Phantom who has terrified the opera and threatened to wreak vengeance on a cast of thousands. Does our hero go to the authorities? You know better than that. The best he can come up with is running away with the heroine, and tells her a carriage will wait for her when she finishes her performance; the show must go on. And when she's abducted, he finally goes after her, guided by a mysterious man whom he's never met and knows nothing about. But before he goes off on this dangerous mission he takes great pains not to bother informing the police or anyone else. There are many such idiots in those films, and no shortage of wimps who, like Creighton Hale in The Cat and the Canary, spend seven reels running scared and then uncharacteristically turn brave for a few moments in reel eight. This is supposed to redeem such characters in the eyes of the audience, but mine only sparkled when I watched the villains. It was the heavy who had most of the smarts in most of the horror films. Okay, so he was a little odd, perhaps, and maybe not so much in the looks department -- but he was the guy to arrest for stealing the picture. And, in such a picture he was the star. It was Chaney you went to see, not Kerry. Colin Clive created the monster, but it's Karloff who immortalized himself; there's no Colin Clive cult. Lugosi and Atwill and Lorre and Price and Rathbone can still command their rightful places in horror film history, but I doubt if you can ever expect to see many David Manners retrospectives. Having learned this, it's no wonder I decided to write about villains instead of idiots."

--Robert Bloch (interviewed by Matthew R. Bradley) in Filmfax #40