Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dracula/The Wolf Man

Yup, We're Back in the 1930s, With Alan Trehern

Welcome back, NJNM readers, to another great (NOTE: up for interpretation) installment in the Scare-A-Thon series.  Damn, this series' title is so long, even **I** have to abbreviate it.  So far, we've looked at some good, some bad, and 
definitely some SCARY films in the horror genre.  With this entry, I wanted to go back even further into cinematic history and catch up with the remaining Universal monsters that kind of set the trend for horror/monster movies...  We talked about Frankenstein's monster, now let's talk about...

Dracula (1931)
Directed by Tod Browning
Starring Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler and Dwight Frye

I knew Dracula would look and feel ancient, but I was pleasantly surprised that its silence and dark shadows added to the ethereal feel of the Dracula mythos.  I own the Stoker novel, but haven't made it past the part where Jonathan is on his way to Castle Dracula (i.e. the first chapter).  In the movie, I know a couple of characters are switched around, and a few events are altered, but this is probably because they were drawing the story not only from the book, but from the stage play as well.  Lugosi had played and made famous Dracula on the stage before the production of the film.

Renfield (Frye) arrives at the castle of the Count, and the story begins with Dracula purchasing some property in London.  Very civil of you, dude.  Dracula then travels from Transylvania to London, and then starts creating a stir by biting all the single ladies round foggy ole London town.  People keep seeing large bats and wolves, and then whilst the damsels sleep, Dracula is there, sneaking in through the windows and stealing that eternal kiss of death.

Now, I don't have time to bring up the current abhorred raping of the classic vampire/werewolf/supernatural being mythos.  I just don't have the energy nor the patience to deal with that.  F you guys!  This is classic vampire stuff right here, where vampires are out for blood, aaand that's about it.  Sure it was sexy, I guess, if you're into Hungarian mouth harassment, but there was also a darkness and an unholiness to it as well.  Vampires aren't cool kids, they need to die.

I am Hungary for your blood!  AH! AH!
And if you were wondering, you're damn right Van Helsing (Van Sloan) is in this movie, and he's the only one that can wrap his head around this supernatural phenomneon, and he's the only one that knows what to do!  Of course, Van Helsing's not as bad-assly (sp.) portrayed as he would be by future actors like Peter Cushing, Sir Anthony Hopkins or Hugh Jackman.

There have been a couple scenes removed from the original bone-chilling version of Dracula.  One of them a scene with a frightening death scream.  Another censored segment of the movie has Van Sloan come out to tell the audience not to be afraid, but vampires ARE real...Interesting that these were cut out because they were deemed too frightening.  Have you smelled my unwashed desk chair pillow?  That's frightening.

Showing he can palm an invisible basketball...
Final Thoughts
Other than the famous score during the credits, this film is devoid of any score or music.  Sound effects be damned!  Long, drawn out silences carry this movie to its conclusion, with Lugosi carrying most of the film.  Audiences today would laugh at its simplicity, but for a film coming out of the silent era, this thing would have given me the creeps.  It's something that could haunt your dreams, with the hypnotizing stares of Dracula (flashlight!), the deathly screams, the demented laugh of Renfield (Dracula's servant) or the very lack of music!  Check this out late at night to discover the true roots of horror!

The Wolf Man (1941)
Directed by George Waggner
Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers and (BLAH! AH! AH!) Bela Lugosi

Now this is what I'm talking about when it comes to those classic Universal monster movies. This has the murdering, the dames, the score and the acting that reviewers like me need to enjoy a film, even if it clocks in at around 69 minutes. Movie makers today sometimes can't tell a story in 2.5 hours, but The Wolf Man managed to entertain me while successfully structuring a story and concluding it without too much left open.

Larry Talbot (Chaney, of Dracula vs. Frankenstein fame) returns to his family's home in...uh...somewhere in Germany?  Wait, no, it was Wales.  Anyway, he comes to town, macks on an antique store employee (who is engaged...playa.), buys a silver cane, and beats down a werewolf.  Suspense and fear ensue!

You, sir, are accused of murder!  Now finish your breakfast, and when
convenient, meet me at the police station!  TAKE CARE!
Chaney brings Talbot alive in this film, with an emotion-driven performance you don't see nowadays.  While numerous critics claim movies of the golden age had stiff performances and proper English, you're correct to an extent. These fellas were proper as hell.  Even when you were being accused of a crime, murder for instance, you were treated with some respect.  Today, people send you death threats and hurl rocks at your children!  It's called the legal system, people; have faith in it!!

Anyway, Talbot is now cursed with werewolfism (medical term: Lycanthropy), but the insanity that accompanies it proves the true hurdle.  As the entire film unfolds, we watch with dramatic irony as Talbot questions his actions, quarrels with the family who deem him sick, and struggles with the gypsies who just seem to be messing with him.

I'm sure she wouldn't mind if I paw at her just a little bit...
Final Thoughts
I fear giving away too much of the film, because I think that The Wolf Man is just one of those classics you HAVE to see.  Good dialogue, intrigue, suspense...all that stuff!!  I keep arriving at this same point, but let me make it again.  In cinema today you can have gallons of blood and guts pour out of your victim, and the audience hopefully responds with disgust!  When movies were severely censored, you had to show murders and deaths in a way that not only alluded to them, but shocked the audience as well.  I feel The Wolf Man, and Dracula too, achieved those goals.  Today, directors and producers should use these artifacts as examples of HOW to tell a good story and scare someone, maybe not so much how to gross them out.

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