Icelebrated the holidays by watching and re-watching some of the old Universal horror classics. Nothing goes down as easy as a big glass of egg nog and a double feature of Frankenstein and Creature From the Black Lagoon.
Hey, you keep the holidays in your way and I'll keep them in mine.
The Universal horror series started with some mystery and suspense films, but hit its stride in the early '30s with Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man, all within four years of each other. The Wolf Man came out in 1941, and Creature From the Black Lagoon was the last "canon" member of the classic monster club in the 1954.
These movies have been reduced to clips and quotes ("It's alive!" and "I never drink, wine.") to such a degree that they've almost been forgotten as movies.
Watch them. They're cheap as dirt in big DVD packs, and most of them hold up remarkably well.
Here are a few capsule reviews if you're thinking of getting some of these movies for yourself.
The Invisible Man: Special effects still look pretty good for a movie made 50 years before Tron, but there are a lot of moments of comic relief that don't land.
Creature From the Black Lagoon: The underwater sequences are magical-they created a villain who, thanks to being portrayed by an Olympic swimmer, could seem graceful and gentle. And then go on an angry rampage.
The Wolf Man: Skip it. Seriously, the hero is a creep before he gets bitten by a wolf, and Lon Chaney Jr. is no Lon Chaney Sr. One of the most interesting things about the movie is the fact that we remember it for things that aren't in there -the full moon is not required for the character to transform. That was added in the sequels.
The Mummy: This is another one that suffers from amnesia. As played by Boris Karloff, the mummy is only swaddled in bandages for a single, great scene. After that, he's a calculating, intelligent, talking villain. Karloff is great.
Dracula: Watching Bela Lugosi face off against Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing is a lot of fun.
Everyone else seems to have not got the memo to be awesome.
Watch for the armadillos that turn up in Castle Dracula-the Universal lot apparently had pest problems or a very unusual approach to what constituted the fauna of Transylvania.
Bride of Frankenstein: The best of the bunch, by far. Frankenstein director James Whale apparently got more money, and used it. He created a film that's over the top in terms of impressionistic set design and lighting, borderline hammy acting (not saying on which side of the border) and a weird, gothic storyline. Somehow it all works.
The special effects hold up. Dr. Pretorius is a great, deranged villain, and Karloff's Monster is a damaged antihero who murders but still demands sympathy. And it has multiple appearances by torch and pitchfork wielding mobs.
Deranged mobs make everything better!
Everyone knows what's in the movie, but it's the way Whale put the pieces together that makes it special. A lot has changed technologically since 1935, but one thing that always shows is effort and skill. Everything about Bride of Frankenstein still works, because the people involved clearly cared about getting it right-whether that was Karloff's elaborate makeup, the weird gizmos in the mad scientist's lair, or the creepy hiss Elsa Lanchester delivers when she sees her "husband."
The movie still makes you feel a hint of fear, pity for the monsters at its centre, and more than a little wonder.
? Matthew Claxton is a reporter with the Langley Advance.