My son and I went to the Regal Cinemas last weekend to see the original “Frankenstein” and “Dracula,” and it brought back many great memories of my younger days.
I was a monster movie fanatic. I mean the old-fashioned monster movies, not some slasher movie that seems to feel the amount of blood equals scariness.
My introduction to monsters came when I was 7 or 8. Aurora came out with a series of monster models. My brother, Mike, got the first one: the Frankenstein monster. We soon had Dracula, the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Quasimodo and others. I don't remember seeing the Invisible Man.
In 1964 we moved to Germany, where I discovered Famous Monsters of Filmland, a magazine that any monster movie fanatic loved. It had story after story about monster movies. I devoured the pages. I memorized every article.
The amazing thing, however, was that I was in my 20s before I saw the original “Frankenstein” and “Dracula.” I went to Auburn University, where there were free movies on Thursdays-Sundays. I saw both there, along with “Bride of Frankenstein.”
I hold the first two with a certain mystique because of this. Both were early sound movies. Both used black and white since color would not start becoming popular until the late 1930s. Neither are fancy. Neither have music soundtracks.
“Dracula” started the monster movie genre. I've read that its popularity was due to the country being in The Great Depression. People wanted an escape. Monsters provided it.
Bela Lugosi was the Count. After this, he was pretty much stereotyped into playing either a foreign bad guy or a vampire. When he died in 1956, he was buried in his Dracula cape. But with his thick Hungarian accent and having played the role on stage, Lugosi seemed to be a natural for Dracula.
Many people don't realize that Lon Chaney, the Man of 1,000 Faces, was expected to have the role. Chaney was one of Hollywood's top stars. He and director Tod Browning had worked together in many bizarre movies, including the lost film “Mark of the Vampire” in 1927. Chaney, however, died before agreeing to take the role. It's been rumored that he actually made screen tests.
There was also a Spanish-language version being shot at the same time. The English version was shot during the day, while the Spanish version was shot at night. From what I understand, the Count is much sexier than in English.
“Frankenstein” has a great setting. It’s modern — well, 1930s modern — but it’s in that wonderful country where some folks speak with British accents and many speak in German accents.
Still, “Frankenstein” is still one of my favorites. Why? Boris Karloff.
I saw every Karloff movie I could. He was an excellent actor, who, unlike Lugosi, wasn't stuck in playing the same role over and over. When he died in February 1969, I was truly sad.
Besides his portrayal of the Monster, my favorite Karloff work is “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” with Karloff doing the voice of the Grinch and narrating the story. Why was he chosen? My guess is the fact that he owned one of the world's largest children's book collections.
Although he was a gentle man and gentleman in real life, his portrayal of the Monster is excellent.
The person responsible for the makeup in many of those early movies was Jack Pierce. A year after “Frankenstein,” Karloff was in “The Mummy.” Pierce spent 13 hours wrapping Karloff and making him look a couple of thousand years old. The shot in the movie lasted perhaps five seconds.
But Karloff had a great comment after getting wrapped up from head to toe in mummy wrappings.
“Jack, you did a wonderful job, but you forgot to give me a fly.”
Brian Love is a freelance writer in Cleveland.