Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Posts tagged “Tod Browning

Frankenweenie by my 7 Year Old Son

Frankenweenie is about a young boy called Victor and his dog Sparky. One when they were playing baseball, the ball goes on the other side of the road, when Sparky chases it, when he runs back a car hits him and he dies. For his science experiment Victor makes Sparky come back to life by using Frankenstein’s experiment with lightning.

The school was having a science fair and Victor was going to use Sparky as his experiment at the fair, but one of his friends finds out and wants to do the same experiment. He uses a dead goldfish but when the experiment is over, the goldfish is invisible. Then other kids do the same experiments with other dead pets. The best dead pet is Shelley, a turtle who grows into a giant turtle like Godzilla who goes crazy and attacks everything.

I really liked it; it’s funny and spooky, more spooky than Hotel Transylvania. My Dad told me that it’s in black and white to make it like a copy of the old Frankenstein movie, which is called an homage. SPOILER ALERT The end is the same as the old Frankenstein movie when they go to a windmill and burn it. I haven’t seen it yet but my Dad says I can watch it and his other old spooky movies (He means Universal Classic Horror).

I give it 4½ stars


Carla Laemmle

Rebecca Isabelle “Carla” Laemmle (born October 20, 1909) is an American actress and the niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle. She was a movie actress in the 1920s and 1930s, and is one of the very few surviving actors of the silent era, of which she is also the oldest. She reached adulthood (then, age 21) after the silent film era ended, meaning that all adult silent film actors from that era are deceased.

Laemmle entered films in 1925 playing an uncredited role as a ballet dancer in the original silent film version of The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and a small role in the Tod Browning, Bela Lugosi version of Dracula (1931), and is the last surviving cast member of both classic films. Laemmle continued to appear in small roles until the late 1930s, when she disappeared from the movie screen. She briefly came out of retirement to play a vampire in The Vampire Hunters Club (2001).

She shared her reminiscences of appearing in a bit part in Dracula (1931) by hosting the original documentary The Road to Dracula (1999), a supplemental piece included on the 2004 DVD release, Dracula: The Legacy Collection. In that classic film, she portrayed a bespectacled passenger riding in a bumpy horse-drawn carriage with Renfield as he is traveling to Dracula’s castle. In this documentary, Laemmle proudly states: “I had the privilege of speaking the first lines of dialogue in the first talking supernatural thriller”. 

In 2009 the book Growing Up With Monsters: My Times at Universal Studios in Rhymes, co-authored by Carla Laemmle and Daniel Kinske, was released. The book details her life at Universal Studios from 1921 to 1937. On October 20, 2009, she celebrated her 100th birthday with a guest list which included Ray Bradbury, Bela Lugosi Jr., Sara Karloff and Ron Chaney. 

On October 3, 2010 she appeared in the excellent BBC Four documentary A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss, sharing more memories of her early film work with the legendary Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi. As she has done so many times before on the convention circuit, and various documentaries,she recited her opening lines from Dracula. In November 2010 she made an appearance in the documentary Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood for Turner Classic Movies and in May 2011 she appeared in Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood on the BBC. In March 2012, Turner Classic Movies announced that Laemmle would appear at a screening of Dracula in connection with its Classic Movie Festival the following month.


Lon Chaney

Lon Chaney (April 1, 1883 – August 26, 1930) was an American actor during the age of silent film. He is regarded as one of the most versatile and powerful actors of early cinema, widely renowned for his characterizations of tortured, often grotesque and afflicted characters, and his groundbreaking artistry with makeup. Chaney is known for his starring roles in such silent horror films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera. His ability to transform himself using makeup techniques he developed earned him the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Faces.”

Lon Chaney was born Leonidas Frank Chaney in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Both of Chaney’s parents were deaf, and as a child of deaf adults Chaney became skilled in pantomine. He entered a stage career in 1902, and began traveling with popular Vaudeville and theater acts. In 1905, he met and married 16-year-old singer Cleva Creighton and in 1906, their first child and only son, Creighton Chaney (a.k.a. Lon Chaney, Jr.) was born. The Chaneys continued touring, settling in California in 1910.

Lon_Chaney_by_Clarence_Sinclair_Bull

Between the years 1912 and 1917, Chaney worked under contract for Universal Studios doing bit or character parts. His skill with makeup gained him many parts in the highly competitive casting atmosphere.

By 1917 Chaney was a prominent actor in the studio, but his salary did not reflect this status. After leaving the studio, Chaney struggled for the first year as a character actor. It was not until 1918 when playing a substantial role in William S. Hart’s picture, Riddle Gawne, that Chaney’s talents as a character actor were truly recognized by the industry.

In 1917 Universal presented Chaney, Dorothy Phillips, and William Stowell as a team in The Piper’s Price. In succeeding films, the men alternated playing lover, villain, or other man to the beautiful Phillips. So successful were the films starring this group that Universal produced fourteen films from 1917 to 1919.

In 1919, Chaney had a breakthrough performance as “The Frog” in The Miracle Man. The film displayed not only Chaney’s acting ability, but also his talent as a master of makeup. Critical praise and a gross of over $2 million put Chaney on the map as America’s foremost character actor.

He exhibited great adaptability with make-up in more conventional crime and adventure films, such as The Penalty, in which he played an amputee gangster. Chaney appeared in 10 films directed by Tod Browning, often portraying disguised and/or mutilated characters, including carnival knife-thrower Alonzo the Armless in The Unknown (1927) opposite Joan Crawford. In 1927, Chaney starred in the Tod Browning horror film, London After Midnight, considered one of the most legendary lost films of the era. His final cinema role was a sound remake of his silent classic The Unholy Three (1930), his only “talkie” and the only film in which Chaney utilized his versatile voice. The actor signed a sworn statement declaring that five of the key voices in the film (the ventriloquist, the old woman, a parrot, the dummy and the girl) were his own.

Chaney’s most celebrated roles were that of Quasimodo, the bell ringer of Notre Dame, and Erik, the “Phantom” of the Paris Opera House, Chaney created two of the most grotesquely deformed characters in film history. However, the portrayals sought to elicit a degree of sympathy and pathos among viewers not overwhelmingly terrified or repulsed by the monstrous disfigurements of these victims of fate.

“I wanted to remind people that the lowest types of humanity may have within them the capacity for supreme self-sacrifice,” Chaney wrote in an article published in 1925 in Movie magazine. “The dwarfed, misshapen beggar of the streets may have the noblest ideals. Most of my roles since The Hunchback, such as The Phantom of the Opera, He Who Gets Slapped, The Unholy Three, etc., have carried the theme of self-sacrifice or renunciation. These are the stories which I wish to do.”

In the final five years of his film career (1925–1930), Chaney worked exclusively under contract to MGM, giving some of his most memorable performances. His portrayal of a tough-as-nails marine drill instructor in Tell It to the Marines (1926), one of his favourite films, earned him the affection of the US Marine Corps, who made him their first honorary member from the motion picture industry. He also earned the respect and admiration of numerous aspiring actors, to whom he offered mentoring assistance, and between takes on film sets he was always willing to share his professional observations with the cast and crew.

During the filming of Thunder in the winter of 1929, Chaney developed pneumonia. In late 1929 he was diagnosed with bronchial lung cancer. Despite aggressive treatment, his condition gradually worsened, and seven weeks after the release of the remake of The Unholy Three, he died of a throat hemorrhage. His death was deeply mourned by his family, the film industry and by his fans. The US Marine Corps provided a chaplain and Honour Guard for his funeral. He was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California.


Bram Stoker

Abraham “Bram” Stoker (November 8, 1847 – April 20, 1912) was an Irish novelist and short story writer, best known today for his 1897 Gothic novel Dracula. During his lifetime, he was better known as personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned.

Stoker was born on 8 November 1847 at 15 Marino Crescent, Clontarf, on the northside of Dublin, Ireland. Stoker became interested in the theatre while a student through a friend, Dr. Maunsell. He became the theatre critic for the Dublin Evening Mail, co-owned by the author of Gothic tales Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Theatre critics were held in low esteem but he attracted notice by the quality of his reviews. In December 1876 he gave a favourable review of Henry Irving’s ‘Hamlet’ at the Theatre Royal in Dublin. Irving invited Stoker for dinner at the Shelbourne Hotel, where he was staying. They became friends, and Stoker became acting-manager and then business manager of Irving’s Lyceum Theatre, London, a post he held for 27 years.

In 1878 Stoker married Florence Balcombe, on 31 December 1879, their only child was born, a son whom they christened Irving Noel Thornley Stoker. The collaboration with Irving was important for Stoker and through him he became involved in London’s high society. Working for Irving, the most famous actor of his time, and managing one of the most successful theatres in London made Stoker a notable if busy man. He was dedicated to Irving and his memoirs show he idolised him. In London Stoker also met Hall Caine who became one of his closest friends – he dedicated Dracula to him.

While manager for Irving, and secretary and director of London’s Lyceum Theatre, he began writing novels beginning with The Snake’s Pass’ in 1890 and Dracula in 1897. During this period, Stoker was part of the literary staff of the London Daily Telegraph and wrote other fiction, including the horror novels ‘The Lady in the Shroud’ (1909) and ‘The Lair of the White Worm’ (1911). In 1906, after Irving’s death, he published his life of Irving, which proved successful, and managed productions at the Prince of Wales Theatre.

Before writing Dracula, Stoker spent several years researching European folklore and mythological stories of vampires. Dracula is an epistolary novel, written as a collection of realistic, but completely fictional, diary entries, telegrams, letters, ship’s logs, and newspaper clippings, all of which added a level of detailed realism to his story, a skill he developed as a newspaper writer. At the time of its publication, it was considered a ‘straightforward horror novel” based on imaginary creations of supernatural life. “It gave form to a universal fantasy . . . and became a part of popular culture.”

According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, Stoker’s stories are today included within the categories of “horror fiction,” “romanticized Gothic” stories, and “melodrama.”  They are classified alongside other “works of popular fiction” such as Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ which, according to historian Jules Zanger, also used the “myth-making” and story-telling method of having “multiple narrators” telling the same tale from different perspectives. “‘They can’t all be lying,’ thinks the reader.” The original 541-page manuscript of Dracula, believed to have been lost, was found in a barn in northwestern Pennsylvania during the early 1980s. It included the typed manuscript with many corrections, and handwritten on the title page was “THE UN-DEAD.” The author’s name was shown at the bottom as Bram Stoker. Author Robert Latham notes, “the most famous horror novel ever published, its title changed at the last minute.”

After suffering a number of strokes, Stoker died at No. 26 St George’s Square in 1912.

The first film adaptation of Dracula was released in 1922 and was named ‘Nosferatu’. It was directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and starred Max Schreck as Count Orlock. Nosferatu was produced while Florence Stoker, Bram Stoker’s widow and literary executrix, was still alive. Represented by the attorneys of the British Incorporated Society of Authors, she eventually sued the filmmakers. Her chief legal complaint was that she had been neither asked for permission for the adaptation nor paid any royalty. The case dragged on for some years, with Mrs. Stoker demanding the destruction of the negative and all prints of the film. The suit was finally resolved in the widow’s favour in July 1925. Some copies of the film survived, however and the film has become well known. The first authorized film version of Dracula did not come about until almost a decade later when Universal Studios released Tod Browning’s ‘Dracula’ starring Bela Lugosi. There have since been many film versions bearing the name Dracula, of which more later…


Bela Lugosi

Béla Lugosi (20 October 1882 – 16 August 1956), was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó in Lugos (at the time part of Austria-Hungary, now Lugoj in Romania), to Paula de Vojnich and István Blaskó. He later based his last name on his hometown. At the age of 12, Lugosi dropped out of school and began his acting career probably in 1901 or 1902. Moving to Budapest in 1911, he played dozens of roles with the National Theater of Hungary in the period 1913–1919.

Lugosi made 12 films in Hungary between 1917 and 1918 before leaving for Germany. In exile in Germany, he began appearing in a small number of well received films before leaving Germany in October 1920, intending to emigrate to the United States.

With fellow Hungarian actors he formed a small company that toured Eastern cities, playing for immigrant audiences. He acted in his first Broadway play, The Red Poppy, in 1922. Three more parts came in 1925–1926, including a five-month run in the comedy-fantasy The Devil in the Cheese. His first American film role came in the 1923 melodrama ‘The Silent Command’ (1923) . Several more silent roles followed, as villains or continental types, all in productions made in the New York area.

Lugosi was approached in the summer of 1927 to star in a Broadway production of ‘Dracula’ adapted by Hamilton Deane and John L.Balderston from Bram Stoker’s novel. The Horace Liveright production was successful, running 261 performances before touring. He was soon called to Hollywood for character parts in early talkies.

He was best known for having played Count Dracula in that Broadway play and the subsequent film version, however, despite his critically acclaimed performance on stage, Lugosi was not Universal Pictures first choice for the role of ‘Dracula’ (1931) when the company optioned the rights to the Deane play and began production in 1930. A persistent rumor asserts that director Tod Browning’s long-time collaborator, Lon Chaney, was Universal’s first choice for the role, and that Lugosi was chosen only due to Chaney’s death shortly before production. This is questionable, because Chaney had been under long-term contract to MGM since 1925, and had negotiated a lucrative new contract just before his death. Chaney and Browning had worked together on several projects (including four of Chaney’s final five releases), but Browning was only a last-minute choice to direct the movie version of Dracula after the death of director Paul Leni, who was originally slated to direct.

Through his association with Dracula (in which he appeared with minimal makeup, using his natural, heavily accented voice), Lugosi found himself typecast as a horror villain in such classic movies as ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’ (1932), ‘White Zombie’ (1932), ‘Island of Lost Souls’ (1933), ‘The Black Cat’ (1934), ‘Mark of the Vampire’ (1935) and ‘The Raven’ (1935). His accent, while a part of his image, limited the roles he could play.

His career was given a second chance by Universal’s ‘Son of Frankentein’ (1939), when he played the character role of Ygor, who uses the Monster for his own revenge, in heavy makeup and beard. The same year saw Lugosi playing a straight character role in a major motion picture: he was a stern commissar in MGM’s comedy ‘Ninotchka’, starring Greta Garbo. This small but prestigious role could have been a turning point for the actor, but within the year he was back playing small roles in horror, comedy and mystery B-films, such as ‘The Gorilla’ (1939), the remake of ‘The Black Cat’ (1941), ‘The Wolfman’ (1941), ‘Ghost of Frankenstein’ (1942) and ‘Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman’ (1943) in which he often received star billing for what amounted to a supporting part.

Ostensibly due to injuries received during military service, Lugosi had developed severe, chronic sciatica. Though at first he was treated with low grade pain remedies, doctors increased the medication to opiates. The growth of his dependence on pain-killers, particularly morphine and methadone, was directly proportional to the dwindling of screen offers. ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’ (1948) was Bela Lugosi’s last “A” movie. For the remainder of his life he appeared — less and less frequently — in obscure, low-budget features.

Bela Lugosi again received star billing in movies when filmmaker Ed Wood, a fan of Lugosi, found him living in obscurity and near-poverty and offered him roles in his films, such as ‘Glen or Glenda’ (1953) and as a Dr. Frankenstein-like mad scientist in ‘Bride of the Monster’ (1955). During post-production of the latter, Lugosi decided to seek treatment for his drug addiction, and the premiere of the film was said to be intended to help pay for his hospital expenses. The extras on an early DVD release of ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ (1956) include an impromptu interview with Lugosi upon his exit from the treatment center in 1955, in which Lugosi states that he is about to go to work on a new Ed Wood film, The Ghoul Goes West, with Lugosi in his famed Dracula cape, Wood shot impromptu test footage, with no storyline in mind, in front of Tor Johnson’s home, a suburban graveyard and in front of Lugosi’s apartment building on Carlton Way. This footage ended up in Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956, while lying on a couch in hi Los Angeles home. He was 73. Lugosi was buried wearing one of the Dracula Cape costumes, per the request of his son and fourth wife, in the Holy Cross Cemetary in Culver City, California.


Dwain Esper

Dwain Esper (October 7, 1892—October 18, 1982) was an American director and producer of exploitation films. Nicknamed ‘King of the Celluloid Gypsies’.

Esper initially eschewed the exchange system to distribute his films, the main problem being that he didn’t understand how it worked. He was drawn to sex, drug addiction and general debauchery, things that rubbed many exchange owners the wrong way. Although his later films improved – due to his hiring reasonably competent directors instead of doing the chore himself – his earliest films were terrible. This itself was normally no obstacle to the exchange system, but Esper would often splice in nude scenes to spice things up (this was a big problem after the 1934 Production Code kicked in). Esper’s way of distributing his films was what is now called “four-walling”, in which he and his wife would rent a theater and do targeted advertising (invariably plastering “Adults only” all over it) to create a buzz. He was run out of more than a few towns in his day after just one showing of his films. His real coup was obtaining the rights to MGM’s ‘Freaks’ (1932) cheaply, a production that Louis B. Mayer disowned but one that fell in line with Esper’s twisted tastes. He peddled it around towns across America for much of the 1930s. Strictly speaking, Esper virtually created the “four walling” system, which was used fairly extensively in the 1960s/’70s independent/exploitation film market. Back in the 1930s the system was called “roadshow presentation,” but this usually referred to high-quality productions that warranted increased admissions prices, something Esper could never hope to pull off. The fact that he managed to maintain a career (of sorts) as an independent film producer–though way over on the “fringe” of the business – during the Depression was a remarkable achievement in itself.