Old Dark House Mates & Inmates

DATELINE: Over-rated Classic

empty house Ate for Dinner .

Your first reaction to this chestnut of horror comedy is shock at the jaw-dropping cast.

Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Melvyn Douglas, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, and Ernest Thesiger!  You have a round-robin of possible villains and victims. The problem is that they are given nothing significant to perform. Even Karloff uses makeup to look menacing, but his dumb waiter is left hanging.

Yeah, it was a dark and stormy night, but that ain’t enough.

James Whale gathered quite a retinue of talent and gave them an empty script in a drafty house.

Billed as an atmospheric thriller comedy, that’s about all this J.B. Priestly story is. With a marvelous cast, and Whale’s shadows and tricks, like a fun house mirror, the plot is ridiculous, throwing a bunch of ingrates caught in a bad torrential rain into a private household as if it’s a flea-bag hotel. T’aint funny.

Here they find their hosts eccentric (well, Horace Femm is Ernest Thesiger, which says it all) and his odd-ball bully sister.

Charles Laughter as Sir William shows up too with a show biz girlfriend, and he is given little to do. Melvyn Douglas is his trademark self, complete with pipe, and Boris Karloff still is given no dialogue yet again in one of his movies. He just looks menacing as Morgan, the scar-faced butler.

We wanted so much for this film to give us a thrill and become a marvel, but we found it disappointing to the ultimate degree—and in no way does it hold up to the other horror tales of the Universal series. This alleged classic is a let-down from the get-go.

 

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Son of Frankenstein, Reel History

DATELINE:  Consenting Monsters?

consenting monsters Love after Death.

In the days before cable TV, let alone streaming movies, we last saw the Monster in Son of Frankenstein from 1939. So, we jumped at the chance to look at the star-studded horror classic.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes fits in well as Colin Clive’s son 25 years later, indignant that the small-town minds refer to the monster by his distinguished family name. He is bemused when Igor notes the Monster is his half-brother.

Bela Lugosi, as a Dracula clone, returns as the undead Igor. Yes, he was hanged, declared dead, and came back to life. It gives him a special aura, not to mention the hideous makeup that Jack Pierce laid on him.

Boris Karloff returned to play the Monster one last time. His wardrobe has changed enough that he now wears a sleeveless sheepskin pullover. Not to point out the obvious: he is a wolf monster in lambskin clothing.

One of the bigger surprises is Lionel Atwill as the inspector of the small town with his creaky fake arm that he postures in salute or to hold a cigarette. Our favorite scene is when he puts his darts on the forearm before throwing them. Mel Brooks, where are you? The best scenes in the picture are when master scene stealers Rathbone and Atwill lock wits.

The story has an insipid subplot featuring the good doctor’s toddler son, an American like his mother, and both are point killers.

We loved the moment when the son (Rathbone as Sherlock) deduces that Lugosi has a hypnotic effect on the monster. “Elemental, my dear Benson,” he notes.

If there is any shockeroo, it is that Igor and the Monster seem to be gayly consenting adults. Igor can’t keep his hands off the Karloff creature, and they are clearly soulmates.

 

 

Mummy Dearest

DATELINE:   Tut-Tut!

Mummy Dearest Karloff!

Of the Quartet of Classic Horror from the early 1930s, the fourth entry in the series is often relegated to the bottom tier. The Mummy follows the legendary Frankenstein, Dracula, and Invisible Man. But he is no also-ran.

Unfortunately for him, we learn in the first few minutes of the 1933 film that the mummy is actually a misnomer. He is not mummified at all, having been buried alive.

So much for false advertising.

Beyond that, we have a whale of a movie—not James Whale: the director was famous cinematographer Karl Freund in his first directing effort.

As star Lita Johann said, he was a nasty guy—to her. Exotic star Lita was married later to John Houseman (Professor Kingsfield to you). Whatever he did to her during their 23-days of filming, she is marvelous as the reincarnation of a Pharaoh’s daughter.

As for Karloff, what can you say? He is so tall in his scenes, we think he was wearing lifts under his rakish robes. He looks like a bag of fragile bones, as the mummy-come-to-life.  His face is dustier and has more riles than a Moon crater as he plays Im-Ho-Tep (not to be confused with IHOP).

The biggest special effect is Karloff’s eyes, which is impressive indeed.

Scenes of a second unit, or stock footage, of Egypt, surely gives us a sense of the pre-Howard Carter King Tut world. And, audiences in the 1930s knew what a mummy’s curse was, which is played to the hilt.

The climactic scene is when the Mummy relates his unfortunate murder by the Pharaoh’s men. Juicy and grotesque horror!

As a love story, this is thriller covers 3700 years and incantations about the dead, which transcend undying love.

What a treat.