Archive for August, 2013


Thought I would spend sometime writing about the Universal studios film THE BRUTE MAN (1946) as it seems to get ignored by many people as it is perhaps the lowest point from what the studio had produced. This picture as perhaps a few of you know had Rondo Hatton as ‘The Creeper” in what was the end of the Universal Studios cycle of Horror films.

Rondo Hatton’s film dealings are sad story of a man exploited by a films studio in often heartless publicity.He was billed as ‘The monster that needs no make up” for this and other pictures he did in his short career. One can only imagine what was held in his heart as he surely must have heard what was said about him regarding his films and most likely much more that he heard outside.
THE BRUTE MAN does bring to mind the cliché life does imitates art which it unfortunately does for Mr Hatton. The killer in the picture us said to have been a former football that had facial appearance changed by having a lab experiment explode. The rest of the picture is his revenge on the people that caused the accident.

We tend to forget that there is a human being behind the faces we see. Bela Lugosi was a proud well educated well read man able to converse on a variety of subjects In his life Hatton was a star football player, pole vaulter of other sports for a local Hillsbourough High School in Hagerstown Maryland He that was voted “Handsomest man” for his boyish good looks that many felt his should try movies. He was married and divorced. While serving in the National Guard in Paris during the First World War Hatton inhaled a dose of what was thought to have been mustard gas. He recovered in hospital and sent home to Tampa where he became a Reporter. While at home Hatton developed acromegaly which effects the pituitary gland causing increased secretions of growth hormone.

THE BRUTE MAN features some interesting if not poignant moments some planned and rather blatant in that Hatton’s character of the Creeper develops a relationship with a blind female piano teacher who is also lonely. E.P Heggie’s fine work as the blind man in the hut that the Frankenstein monster finds in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) is in play for that moment of all be it slightly cheap sympathy. The man difference is that Hatton’s character never lets her touch his face to form a picture of what he looks like. The unplanned moment is when Hatton is shuffling down the street and he stops to peer in as a soda shop with college kids dancing in it. He stop just for a moment and looks in only to have a few of the kids notice him with their fresh smiley shiny features staring.He just continued on instead of smashing the glass or charging in the soda place to wreak havoc A strong moment personally since Mr Hatton was a college star this being a real glimpse of what he was before his accident.

THE BRUTE MAN also features actor Tom Neal who was in the seminal noir picture DETOUR in 1945. Neal looks odd in a little moustache that for some reason studios thought made men look older. Jack Pierce is even credited with make up on this film which perhaps is a bit of a stretch as not much is done based on the brilliant work of the past.

I have to wonder regarding the fate of Rondo Hatton and how he was treated by the studio. I have read Hatton was a gentle, deeply religious man who obviously made the most of his dream of being in films for which he did 28 different times from 1927 to 1946. BRUTE MAN was released after his death by heart attack directly linked to the acromegaly diseased that was caused by the mustard gas. The picture wasn’t distributed by Universal Pictures but bears the credit from PRODUCERS RELEASING CORPORATION. It again seems poignant to note that an actor Rondo Hatton who was so used cheaply by the studio billed as the “Monster that needs no makeup” would now have his visage celebrated each year with THE RONDO HATTON CLASSIC HORROR AWARDS of which I have included a link below for this an other years winners.

http://www.rondoaward.com/rondo/rondos.html

Rondo Hatton did receive film industry immortality after all. Another moment to and think again in when we see his name or his image.

“Its clearer..its clearer” was the cry as I turned around to face the people in the tower. I resist calling this post the ‘Curse of Frankenstein” simply because it is not a curse at for people that love film. I speak of the Bluray edition of FRANKENSTEIN (1931) which has now become available for individual purchase in North America apart from the eight disk Classic Monster Collection. I did very much look forward to this release being a ‘Monster Kid’at heart yet I tempered my spending when I did see the set.

Firstly I have always been dubious to these old pictures being released on bluray. These genre pictures are made for less then satisfactory negatives and or source prints. Large money makers like BEN HUR, CASABLANCA, SINGIN IN THE RAIN and others get the treatment because they appeal to a wide audience. Be that as it may the studios do there best to reel me in with thoughts of new footage, new documentaries, new commentary, unique packaging and I admit it right here..a toy. Yes like some version of popcorn with a surprise at the bottom I get torn up when a favourite of mine appears with any of these or sometimes all. BLADE RUNNER (1982) came out one Christmas in in large box set in three versions (In HD, DVD, and Bluray) The set contained 35mm film ornament, a plastic version of the origami figure done by replicant and assorted other things plus the movie in five different versions all in a small plastic case. Needless to say it worked and I bought one of these followed by a version of FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) in limited edition tin box.

James Whale’s version of FRANKENSTEIN (1931) has had almost as many reincarnations as it has sequels. This supposed that you are a “Monster Kid” like me going back some years and FRANKENSTEIN was your favourite above all films that you want to have. You would have been treated through the years to the following availability. 1/ Super 8 film versions by Castle Films, 2/ First Beta/VHS format version, 3/ Repackaged VHS version new graphics, 4/ First Generation DVD version with documentaries and commentary, 5/ 75th Anniversary edition DVD, 6/The Legacy collection with the three figurines, 7/ Universal Studios 100 Anniversary combo DVD version, and now 8/ the Bluray edition. I may have missed some editions depending on country but suffice it to say you could have bought your favourite film eight different times. My big question is with all those versions is there really a difference?

This is not a bash of studios that market their product as the true mark of a classic is that it speaks to various people in different times. Technology in dubbing and compression has also gotten better in the years what hasn’t followed in some cases is the source print. If you have a terrible source negative with tears, watermarks, scratches, audio drops, then you will get a poor print when is struck. Hence why large film restoration is very expensive proposition taking time and effort in a labour of love. Film does need to be preserved especially from fragile nitrate film stock. The difficulty is picking the pictures that get the treatment (That is another subject)

The Frankenstein (1931) bluray is clearer in image. You can see the water running on the road and the hills in the storm sequences. The make ups come shining through in all there subtle look. The Monster truly does look more non human in every detail except those magnificent Karloff eyes. During the first introduction of the Monster with Waldman and Henry Frankenstein you can see at least I did the detail in the make up when the Monster raises his arms towards the sunlight.

Debate has raged on other sites about the aspect ratio of the pictures being moved for the original to now 16×9 for the larger television monitors which in my opinion is some what needless. The biggest concern even though these films were shot to in smaller aspect ratio as with all older films of that era is that they will now reach a new audience who actually may not know the difference. The screen image does look a little stretched our in some places but that is the trade off.

Which brings me to my original point of being are all these versions of the same film necessary? Do they serve something other then to fill the shelves for the “Complete collector” ? My opinion is yes to the bluray version only if you would like to see areas you have not seen before.There was work done on source prints to do what could be don with an old negative. You can see the featurette included in on the disk detailing the restoration. Besides very soon another format will be upon us or the studio will release another version of the Legacy Collection on Bluray with all the sequels….or better still some reproduction of the neck bolts for people like me. (I own the original dvd version and Legacy Collection with the figurines)

The UNIVERSAL STUDIOS CLASSIC MONSTERS will live for you.

We live in time in which the Net can make someone (anyone) into a music star without even doing press, touring and getting the music heard by playing shows until you can’t stand up why should I be surprised that the zombies have literately risen to the forefront of the horror scene. Why do we see events like “zombie football” and “zombie walks” plus books, graphic novels, television series and of course a multitude of films.
The zombie as a horror archetype has been around much longer then the current craze has been in effect. The George Romaro original picture NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) along with its sequels have become the watershed for this craze. Zombies have been around in such pictures as WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) with Bela Lugosi and my personal favourite with the lurid title yet not a lurid film I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE(1943) Directed by Jacques Tourneur and Produced by Val Lewton. These pictures portrayed the zombie as a mindless creature doing the bidding of a master not the flesh eating beings we see now. The fear of the zombie was that you or your loved one would become a creature that would disappear forever not knowing who you were. Popular story is the zombie being closely linked with the practice of voodoo in which the belief the victim would work in sugar cane fields at night until they dropped again never to return to former life.

In World War 2, the men conscripted under the NATIONAL RESOURCES MOBILIZATION ACT or the NRMA who refused to “go active” were derisively called “zombies” both in Canada and overseas; Farley Mowat recalls in his volumes of war memoirs savagely disliking those who wore the uniform but refused to make the same sacrifices he and his brothers-in-arms were called on to make in Italy and North-West Europe. So how does all this bring us to the George Romero zombie idea?
I would like to continue with the reasoning out forth in the brilliant book THE MONSTER SHOW, A Cultural History of Horror by DAVID J SKAL. The book unfolds the idea that each monster archetype is the direct product of the current history of its time. Recommend you read the entire book for an interesting study.
I believe that the reason for the zombie being so popular with everyone is the it is a monster for “everyone”. It doesn’t come from the annals of history with lineage like the Mummy of the Vampire. It is not fabricated out of other part of bodies, appears under a full moon or a result of a potion. The zombie is monster that you don’t have to learn any background or have a particular garb. Zombies can be everyone and everything. “Instant gratification” for what you do without social convention without pretension.

The Zombie knows no age limit or sexual preference in fact it is the great equalizer of people. You can rich, poor, any body type, shy, an extrovert/introvert you get the disease or whatever is in the story and you become one. No hierarchy as in the Vampire such as a leader or other creatures only a common fountain head of a disease. The leaders are usually the unaffected humans being acted upon. Sort of anarchy against lawful behavior within a social framework. The ever present class system that “puts us in our place’ that some have in their lives by there appearance, family situation or monetary circumstances does not exist. When you are a zombie no one looks at your clothes. the car you drive or you home. Where it could actually inspire is an interest in learning make up, special effects, anatomy, art, graphic novel creation for a new generation of people from those that did the same from magazines like FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILM LAND and STARLOG MAGAZINE.

Zombies get to run a muck doing anything they want much like the people we see in the footage of riots or protests Zombies get to to eat all the time with out restriction in this world where what you eat, how you eat with proper manners. You can eat what you want without fear of gaining weight, making a mess, making a noise or fear of leaving something on your plate. You can also get to smash anything down that gets in your way without discipline.
Being a zombie in a ‘Zombie walk” or some such event means the person can be creative with their own appearance. Nothing is wrong when it comes to scars or mutilations except creative skill in applying and resources. You can tear any piece of clothing and it becomes a zombie costume. You get to do this and shuffle around with your friends grunting and screeching.

The Zombie is representative in our “consumer” society doing what it wants within a group yet still being an individual with one common goal of food. You even share a common mode of death (Shot to the head) with members of your gang. A”hungry vandal’ bent on running around the city or the world without care of time, space or obligation. Everything some people with an excess of responsibility, worry about their looks and weight in a regimented life of work or school with expectations for success. How could all that not appeal to people of all economic levels and statures even for a hour. Next time you see those hordes coming at you on the News or at an event remember they aren’t really lost souls just people letting themselves go which I believe is the universal appeal.

As a long time classic horror buff l was overjoyed to read the News that HAMMER FILMS would be releasing the 1958 production of DRACULA or as it was known in North America HORROR OF DRACULA to Blu ray format. I have had the pleasure of viewing a copy recently and can safely say without a doubt it is stunning.
I will not go into the plot but will say that it stars Christopher Lee an Peter Cushing in one if not there best screen teamings. Often overlooked in the horror film in general are the supporting roles and in this they are brilliant. The villagers to the slightly dark funeral home director all give the story color even with brief screen time. The screenplay by Jimmy Sangster put the right amount of dread and humour together in a smart mix of story that moves at a brisk pace.The pictures were usually part of ‘double bills” for one price hence the economical running times Nothing is wasted in a HAMMER STUDIOS production either on screen or in the script. I have the shooting script for the 1966 sequel to this film called DRACULA.. PRINCE OF DARKNESS and can attest to that if its on the page its on the screen as written.

If you look at when this picture was made in 1958 you find a very different climate of horror films. The technology has changed and some say for the worse plus the audience. DRACULA was the first film to show the vampire as a sensual object capable of great evil for his own purpose. More of the vampire types in a later discussion. The only Dracula at the time was the Lugosi version of the character. Television was still in its infancy. The TV show “Shock theatre’ in which Universal studio packaged up its back catalogue of classic horror films to be shown late night had not happened yet. The Monster boom of the 60′s was still on the horizon. Into this time thundered this crashing with blood, color version on screen big as life or undead of DRACULA.

The actual film is wonderfully rendered with a pounding James Bernard music score. There are also restored scenes of the end moments at the castle that were removed by censors that the time. I can say that they do add to the story quite well especially the added shots of Dracula’s visitation with Mina in her room.
Jonathan Harker makes a remark in the opening voice over that ‘When I crossed the wooden bridge and entered the gateway it suddenly became much colder.” A detail that I caught from this version is in a scene between Dracula and Jonathan Harker in Harker’s castle room you can actually see their breath when they speak which is a nice touch. This moment to my knowledge does not appear in the other DVD versions. The film is also full screen 16.9 format as well adding to wonderful effect.

If you look at when this picture was made in 1958 you find a very different climate of horror films. The technology has changed and some say for the worse plus the audience. DRACULA was the first film to show the vampire as a sensual object capable of great evil for his own purpose. More of the vampire types in a later discussion. The only Dracula at the time was the Lugosi version of the character. Television was still in its infancy. The TV show “Shock theatre’ in which Universal studio packaged up its back catalogue of classic horror films to be shown late night had not happened yet. The Monster boom of the 60’s was still on the horizon. Into this time thundered this crashing with blood, color version on screen big as life or undead of DRACULA.
The actual film is wonderfully rendered with a pounding James Bernard music score. There are also restored scenes of the end moments at the castle that were removed by censors that the time. I can say that they do add to the story quite well especially the added shots of Dracula’s visitation with Mina in her room.
Jonathan Harker makes a remark in the opening voice over that ‘When I crossed the wooden bridge and entered the gateway it suddenly became much colder.” A detail that I caught from this version is in a scene between Dracula and Jonathan Harker in Harker’s castle room you can actually see their breath when they speak which is a nice touch. This moment to my knowledge does not appear in the other DVD versions. The film is also full screen 16.9 format as well adding to wonderful effect.

There have been debates among very serious film horror fan that the color palate used for the picture restoration as not the original one used at the time. To my own eye or eyes as I have two the only difference is in some of the restored scenes as they seem to have not been preserved well through the years

This is a DRACULA to be seen by the people who seem to think vampires are nice high school types or simply killing machine in countless (No pun) other films of today. HAMMER FILMS 1958 version of DRACULA is a gothic film which many studio have difficultly doing. See it if you can and as the advertisement of the time said ‘WHO WILL BE HIS BRIDE TONIGHT”… it could and should be you.