Monday, March 1, 2010

The Universal Horror Party

As many of you know, last Saturday the Portage Theater in Portage Park hosted a ‘party’ where all of us were invited to see the original classic Universal horror movies on the big screen. I was thrilled to see this because I am a huge fan of the classics and to see them on the big screen was inspiring. The films they showed were Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Mummy’s Hand. Although, I would have preferred the original Mummy.

As I watched the films I could not help but notice some key things that made these films so memorable that I noticed this time around, as opposed to watching them when I was a kid or teenager. Certain aspects of the film I caught on right away and rather than bore you with reviews of these films (with the exception of The Mummy’s Hand) I want to share a few things that I noticed this time around. So, I hope you enjoy my observations and these are very opinionated and I am not saying this is was they were going for, this is just what I interpreted.

Dracula: Of Flies and Spiders
Okay, so what I noticed this time around is the flies and spider metaphor. As said in the film, the spider spins his web to trap unsuspected flies so that it could drink their blood or body fluids. It’s not until we get to the scene where an orderly takes Renfield’s ‘pet spider’ and throws it out the window. Renfield is deeply saddened by this and he states that he hates flies because they are pathetic and stupid. You can argue that the spider symbolizes Count Dracula and the flies symbolize the unsuspected guests that wonder into this castle. The spider is hidden in the shadows and sucks the fluids out of the flies much like how Dracula is hidden in the shadows and sucks the blood out of his victims.

But why is Renfield so distraught over a spider and why does he hate flies? That’s because Renfield is a fly, he was trapped by Dracula to do his dirty work and he wants to be free, he wants to have the power over Dracula but unfortunately he does not possess it. The idea that he is nothing but a pawn or a fly caught in a spider’s web is too hard to confront so the least he could do is nurture a spider.

Frankenstein: The Sounds of Horror
What I realized in the old black and white horror movies (even the ones that have sound) is that there was not soundtrack at all. Only in the beginning titles or in the end credits do we hear a score. In Frankenstein, the sound is so crucial to the movie that it acts like a soundtrack. In modern day movies, the score often terrifies us by giving us high-pitched string solos or sudden booms in horns or gongs. In this film, the sound effects of the lightning, the storm, the lab equipment and the dogs are so abrupt and loud that they terrify you. The sound makes the film scary.

The Wolf Man: The Less You See… For Now
As a kid, I was a fan of this movie. Hell, this was one of the first horror movies my parents let me watch by myself and I saw it on a Universal Horror VHS collection. The one image, or should I say sequence, that was forever burned into my skull was how the Wolf Man was introduced on screen. It starts off showing the foggy, gothic landscape of the forest at night; just the mere presence of the forest is so domineering. Then, you see a shot of the Wolf Man’s feet walking across the ground, then a shot of the body of the Wolf Man and his head is in silhouette. It’s not until he peers from behind the tree do you see the entire face and I was freaked out. Here, the less you see of the Wolf Man (before his intro) is better, because it keeps you in anticipation of what he looks like. When you finally do see him, It’s shocking and horrifying.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon: Terror from Below
This was always my personal favorite of all the classic Universal horror films. This was due to the costuming and the design of the Creature. However, as I watched it on the big screen I realized how scary the movie was for the mid 50s. In the beginning of the film, all you see is the hand and hear the loud menacing music. Then, when the Creature does attack… you don’t see anything but a shadow and screams. That hand will forever be stuck in my head. The score was so intense and over-dramatic that it was almost as if it was a character itself. As I stated before, the Creatures does look pretty frightening especially for that time.

What I also noticed was some of the under-the-water-shots were very reminiscent of Jaws and it wouldn’t surprise me that Jaws homaged this film. The scenes where the Creature was swimming parallel to the lead actress, or the scenes where the Creatures was wiggling his way through the seaweed or even underwater battles were both frightening and very Jaws-ish. It was tense.

The Mummy’s Hand: Short Review
Now, I haven’t seen this movie at all and I did enjoy it but not nearly as much as I liked The Mummy. This movie seemed to drag a little in the beginning but my biggest beef was that The Mummy was like a third wheel. I think the film could have been a little better but it still was entertaining. One aspect of the film that I LOVED was the humor to lighten the mood up. Some of the scenes were very dark, but bless Babe for being one of the best comic reliefs. The film was apparently not a sequel to the 30s classic.

I will now end with one of the most inspirational opening logos Universal has ever made. The song, the look and the epicness made me want to go into filmmaking. I salute you Universal for popularizing horror movies.


Amanda Norman said...

A wonderful article and I enjoyed your look back on the classics that inspire my photography.

Anonymous said...

Dude, you are always so well versed in your opinions! Makes a mama proud!!!

Will Errickson said...

Those old Universals are great. I've read that indeed, Spielberg was inspired by CREATURE for the opening night-swimming scenes in JAWS.

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