Friday, October 28, 2011

Five Favorite Universal Horrors for Halloween

First off, "favorite" doesn't necessarily = "best" for me, so this list often favors fun over quality (i.e. if I stuck to "best" I probably wouldn't even make it past the thirties movies). Anyway, here are five Universal classics I always enjoy.

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN: What a beaut. This is one horror movie where they really got everything right, including the brilliant Franz Waxman score. Plus: Karloff manages to top his initial performance as the Monster, and Ernest Thesiger manages to eclipse Boris in the creepy department. If that ain't enough raving for you, check out my post from last year here.

THE RAVEN: My Karloff/Lugosi pick. I love THE BLACK CAT, too, and it's probably a better movie with great turns by Karloff as a satanic priest and Lugosi as the hero(!), plus it's got that Art Deco creeper of a house and a really twisted plot (Boris stole Bela's wife and keeps her corpse in a glass case in the basement, and worse than that -- he married Lugosi's DAUGHTER, too!). But for my $, THE RAVEN is a lot more fun. Lugosi's completely over-the-top as Poe-obsessed surgeon Richard Vollin. Probably my favorite Lugosi role, with Ygor a close second and WHITE ZOMBIE's Murder Legendre coming in third (and, yep, I know I'm leaving out The Count... sue me). Anyway, forget the scenery and the hidden torture chamber and all that jazz in THE RAVEN... this Vollin cat could chew through granite, and Bela's just the guy to do the job.

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN: Universal really made a mess of this one when they cut the Monster's speaking role, but I do enjoy what's left. Plus, the scene in the cemetery with the grave robbers raiding Larry Talbot's crypt gets the prize for the best opening in any Universal horror movie. Add to that Lon Chaney, Jr. at his angsty-est and you've got a real winner. For me, FMTWF is THE Larry Talbot movie. The poor cursed bastard will do anything to die, and the fates just won't let him. And hey... here's a way to have even more fun with this one. Next time you pop in the DVD, turn on the subtitles and sing along with that song in the wine festival scene. Invite your friends. Get a whole roomful of people to do it. Several glasses of vino from your own private cellar will help. And you can wear your lederhosen, too.

THE OLD DARK HOUSE: James Whale does crazies. A whole houseful of 'em on a dark and stormy night. With Karloff, and Charles Laughton, and Ernest Thesiger (again, the greatest scene-stealer in the Universal canon). Plus Gloria Stewart, looking like a white flame! "That's fine stuff, but it'll rot, too!" WOW! Need I say more?

ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN: Go ahead. Hate me. But this was the first Universal monster movie I ever saw and I love it still. Chaney and Lugosi play it straight pretty admirably, and Glenn Strange's Monster scared the hell out of me as a kid. Mr. Strange was the murderous dreadnaught of my nightmares, and the way I see it his performances as the Monster are underrated to this day. And while I'm at it I'll just mention that I watch this one every Halloween while I carve my pumpkin. "Oh Chick!"

One more to grow on, i.e. my favorite Universal Horror Movie That Isn't. That would be THE GHOUL, a Gaumont British production. It's got Karloff and Thesiger, and it plays like a James Whale movie. The plot's a combination of THE MUMMY and THE OLD DARK HOUSE, and it's as fine a little rollercoaster ride as an old school monsterfan could hope for on a Halloween night.