Film has often been compared to organic matter. A film is grown, nurtured, often torn apart, replanted in more fertile ground, cultivated and harvested. The basic form model of a horror film has not changed. Form refers to use of point of view in which the film is told to and perceived by the audience. Success in this is not gauged by the screams and nervous laughter that you may hear nor the crumpling of popcorn bags in a moment of silence, but a feeling of involvement by the audience.
Why is that one of the most diverse subjects in all of cinema- to make the unbelievable more believable- has not achieved this to any substantial degree? There are some notable exceptions that have immersed the audience within the film’s world.
The first that comes to mind is the original script for SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939). If you get a chance to read the shooting script first draft by Willis Cooper which was available as part of the Universal Film script series you read a picture that is completely different from what was on the screen. One particular scene early on which has strong impact yet would have been too strong for the audience then concerns Wolf Von Frankenstein strolling into town after a storm has swept thought the village. While speaking to the local police it is written that a cart moved slowly behind the pair as they talk. The new Baron inquires as to what the carts are holding; the bodies of storm victims covered in canvas, one of which was a child.
If you have seen this film you will know this is not in the finished picture. Indeed, the part of Ygor (brilliantly played by Bela Lugosi) was not in the first drafts but was later added by director Rowland V Lee as the film moved into production. There is a nocturnal walk by Wolf Von Frankenstein in the script in which he wears a black robe like death itself in physical form. This is not in the final film yet a few publicity stills exist of Basil Rathbone in the costume on the set.
The most startling is that the Monster has dialogue in the film which would have been brilliant as it followed the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). Continuing this conversation would have been a wonderful, dignified ending of the Karloff version of the monster.
The entire script for SON OF FRANKENSTEIN was a creation of actors and Director as they went along in the production process. The final film is a corner stone for the Universal Frankenstein series with its action, adventure, thrills and chills (as the publicity says) yet I cannot help but believe how much stronger it would have been if those moments had been included. The result would have been a much darker, foreboding film.
The second film that I would like to bring forth is another example from the Universal film script series: Curt Siodmak’s 1941 treatment and script for THE WOLF MAN. I could not help but be struck that it was shot from the point of view of the eyes of the werewolf.
WOLFEN (1981) was perhaps a less successful attempt at showing the point of view of the wolf. This particular camera style of Killer or creature point of view has become part of the language of Horror now to the point of cliché.
These are but drafts that were changed for various reasons by studios perhaps for convenience, pacing of the picture or simply they needed something to be good box office. It is tantalizing to read what might have been. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN has an entire subplot of Dwight Frye’s character Karl removed to the cutting room floor. What might have been for Mister Frye?
Michael Powell’s ground breaking 1960 British film PEEPING TOM was a effective use of the eye of murderer point of view yet it only used it in limited amount. Proof once again that less can be more.
THE EXORCIST (1973) by William Friedkin, which tops most people’s most scary film list as it does mine for perhaps different reasons. The original screenplay was several hours long and unfilmable even by today’s standard for film length Was the effect of the picture the result of the hype that surrounded its initial release? I believe it is that the audience related to the characters as average people caught in extraordinary circumstances?
The last thirty five minutes of the picture are riveting with its use of sound, quick cuts and denouement. The crescendo of the crashing glass, the resultant fall of Damien Karras down the Georgetown steps is wonderful yet slightly manipulative. The symbolism of the Karras’ fall redemption for the perceived sin of leaving his Mother to die in a hospital has double meaning. The most poignant scene for me is the confession to Father Dyer at the bottom of the stairs. All of these moments with the exception of the demon do not feature Monsters but humans.
I would say the most interesting picture to wrestle with point of view in recent years has been CLOVERFIELD (2008) by Drew Goddard and Director Matt Reeves. While not totally a “Monster film,” CLOVERFIELD effectively takes what was started by the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT style of camera work and fuses it together to tell the story of five New Yorkers during an attack by a large Godzilla like creature.
CLOVERFIELD is a product of its times utilizing technology of today to connect with an audience to tell a story that has been told many times before. Yet is has impact because people relate to it through the point of view which enhances the experience.
What is left on the cutting room floor or today in the delete bin?