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AWESOME-tober-fest 2010: Watching Universal’s Wolf Man movies

Posted in monsters, movies, reviews, Universal Studios, werewolves, Wolf Man with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2010 by Paxton

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So here we are, Day 19 of AWESOME-tober-fest. We are in the middle of werewolf movie week. Yesterday I discussed The Howling and on Monday I talked about Silver Bullet. All of these were books I read and reviewed during werewolf novel week. Today, I go back to the beginning. The Universal Studios Wolf Man movies. This is where the current model for the modern werewolf was born. Universal made three werewolf centric movies. Although the Wolf Man would appear in several other “monster rally” movies, there were only three movies starring Wolf Man and included the Wolf Man in the title. Here are those three movies.

Werewolf of London
Werewolf of London (1935) – Contrary to what you might think, this was actually Universal Studio’s first “wolf man” movie (and widely considered the first mainstream werewolf movie).  It was released a good 6 years before the now famous Lon Chaney Jr vehicle, The Wolf Man, and starred Henry Hull as the title monster.  The legendary Jack Pierce created the wolf man makeup for use in this movie, however Henry Hull hated it and refused to wear the full wolf makeup (pansy).  Pierce would create a “less hairy” version for Hull, but then go back to the “full hairy” version for use with Chaney (who was a badass).
In this movie, Hull plays Dr Glendon, a world renowned botanist who travels to Tibet to find the elusive Mariphasa plant which only blooms in moonlight.  While there, Glendon is bitten by a creature that he leans later is a werewolf.  Glendon returns to London with his Mariphasa sample and then we meet his wife who is WAY too hot for him.  I mean, not only does Glendon look like he could be her father, but he’s also kind of a douche bag.  He doesn’t pay any attention to her and keeps himself locked away in his lab.  While sequestered in his lab Glendon keeps doing all these weird experiments to create artificial moonlight (how useful is artificial moonlight besides causing the Mariphasa plant to bloom?). Anyway, Glendon is visited by another creepy scientist, Dr Yogami, who knows all about the werewolf affliction he keeps calling Lycanthrophobia (which actually means “fear of werewolves” and not “is a werewolf”). Yogami says the Mariphasa plant can temporarily cure Lycanthrophobia (he keeps using that word) so Hull keeps trying to create his “artificial moonlight” when he finally (after about 45 minutes) turns into a damn werewolf (finally!).  This happens a few more times until he finally attacks his hot wife and is killed by police officers.  While dying, Glendon apologizes to his wife (you know, for trying to maul her) and thanks the police for killing him.
Not exactly the most “action packed” monster movie I’ve ever seen. Hull is a bit of an elitist a-hole as the main character, especially to his wife. And his obsession with creating “artificial moonlight” makes little sense. There is a good scene in the middle of the movie during a party at Glendon’s personal botanical gardens. Well, it’s good in that you see some ridiculously awesome plants including one that looks like a miniature version of the Sarlacc pit from Return of the Jedi. I read somewhere that this plant was supposed to eat a child during that scene but it was deemed too graphic (or too awesome, maybe).  I say avoid this and start your werewolf journey with our next movie…

The Wolf Man
The Wolf Man (1941) – This is the movie everyone thinks of when you say “Wolf Man” or you are talking about the “original” Universal Monster movies.  Lon Chaney Jr stars as Larry Talbot who returns home after his brother’s death.  While fixing his dad’s telescope, Talbot happens to “peep” on the chick next door, Gwen.  He goes over and puts some creepy stalker moves on Gwen, who at first denies his advances. Later on, for no reason whatsoever, she caves and agrees to go on a date.  So Talbot escorts Gwen and her friend out to some old gypsy’s to have their fortunes read.  Lo and behold, the gypsy turns out to be Dracula!  Well, it’s Bela Lugosi playing the gypsy.  Anyway, turns out Bela is a werewolf, attacks and kills one of the ladies and Talbot beats him to death with a cane, but not before getting bitten.  This, of course, curses Talbot with werewolfism (and having the “werewolf poem” recited to him by every character in the movie every 5 minutes).  Talbot’s Wolf Man goes on a rampage and is finally beaten to death by the same cane that beat the gypsy Bela to death earlier in the movie.  Only Talbot gets beaten to death by his own father, The Invisible Man…or, Claude Rains, who played the Invisible Man.
Comparatively, this movie is much better than Werewolf of London. While Chaney’s Talbot does start off a bit lecherous when he puts the moves on Gwen, for the majority of the movie, he is a sympathetic character. You feel bad that he is cursed with this affliction (werewolfism). And the “full hairy” makeup by Jack Pierce is fantastic. Much better than the version used on Hull six years prior. The lady that plays Gwen, Evelyn Ankers, is really pretty. She makes a perfect scream queen and you like her character very much. It’s easy to see why this movie is still considered a classic and it also reaffirms why Wolf Man is my favorite Universal Monster.

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AWESOME-tober-fest 2010: Official Universal Studios Wolf Man books

Posted in books, monsters, movies, Universal Studios, werewolf, werewolves, Wolf Man with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2010 by Paxton

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Welcome to Day 9 of AWESOME-tober-fest 2010.  This is werewolf novel week.  Today, let’s take a look at official Universal Studios Wolf Man books.

Universal Studios has often tried to spread their popular monsters into other media besides movies.  One of those being paperback fiction.  Despite having a stable of very popular monsters, their efforts have been hit or miss.  Here are a group of fully authorized Universal Studios Wolf Man novels.

I’ll review the ones I’ve actually read.

The Wolfman novelization
The Wolfman by Jonathan Maberry – This one is the most recent.  It was released in February 2010.  This is the movie novelization of the recent Wolf Man reboot by Joe Johnston staring Benicio Del Toro and Sir Anthony Hopkins.  I haven’t read this, but I enjoyed the movie enough that I may try to grab this off Paperbackswap.com.  I know the movie had a bunch of script problems and changes, I’d be interested to see how this novel’s story is different.  If you haven’t, check out the movie.  I’ll talk more about the movie, including a review, in the next few weeks.

Blood Moon Rising
Blood Moon Rising (Universal Studios Monsters Book 2) by Larry Mike Garmon – Released in 2001, this was book 2 in a Juvenile Fiction series. I mentioned Book 3 during AWESOME-tober-fest last year because it features Frankenstein.  When I stumbled across this book at the annual library book sale this year for less than a quarter, I decided to pick it up.  And I read it.  And it sucked.  They aren’t kidding when they say JUVENILE fiction.  This book was like one of the bad Scooby Doo episodes.  The story revolves around three teens who mistakenly release the Universal Monsters into this world and must chase them all down and trap them back into their movies.  Book 1 featured Dracula.  This book features Wolf Man and the story takes place down south in the Florida swamps.  The whole book and storyline is a pale imitation of a Three Investigators or Hardy Boys book.  It may work for late elementary and junior high kids, but it’s really bad for anyone that’s any more mature than that.  I was really disappointed at the cheesiness of this book.

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Boris Karloff Blogathon: Review of House of Frankenstein (1944)

Posted in Frankenstein, monsters, movies, pop culture, Universal Studios with tags , , , , , on November 25, 2009 by Paxton

Well, I mentioned on Monday that this week is the Boris Karloff Blogathon over at the awesome blog, Frankensteinia.  There are over 100 blogs participating in this event to celebrate Boris Karloff’s 122nd birthday.

Boris Karloff Blogathon

This past October, for my Halloween celebration called AWESOME-tober-fest, my theme was Frankenstein and I reviewed the three original Boris Karloff Universal Frankenstein movies; Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein. In each of these, Karloff played the role that he made famous, the Frankenstein monster.  All were fantastic movies and, to me, earned their status as classics.

However, after Son of Frankenstein, Karloff did not return to the role of the monster in any Universal motion picture.  The fourth Frankenstein movie, Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) featured The Wolf Man’s Lon Chaney Jr as the monster.  The fifth movie, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1944) had Dracula’s Bela Lugosi in the monster role.  Interestingly, Lugosi was originally offered the Frankenstein monster role in Universal’s 1931 movie but turned it down thinking it was beneath him to play a mindless brute.  This rebuttal lead the way for Karloff to take over the role.  Glenn Strange would then assume the monster role in this movie,  House of Frankenstein (1944) as well as Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)  and House of Dracula (1945).

So, House would be the third Universal Frankenstein movie to not feature Karloff in the role of the monster, but Karloff did return to star in this movie.  And this is the movie I decided to review for the Boris Karloff Blogathon.

House of Frankenstein poster

So, yes, Universal was able to get Karloff to return to the Frankenstein franchise, but not as the monster.  Karloff instead plays the mad scientist, Dr Gustav Niemann.  It’s also interesting to note that Universal tried to get Bela Lugosi to reprise the role of Dracula for this movie, but the actor had a last minute scheduling conflict and John Carradine was hired as Dracula instead.

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AWESOME-tober-fest 2009: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Posted in Dracula, Frankenstein, Halloween, holiday, monsters, movies, Universal Studios, Wolf Man with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2009 by Paxton

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Yesterday, I watched the first three Boris Karloff Frankenstein movies, the last one being Son of Frankenstein in 1939.  Today, I’m going to jump ahead almost 10 years to talk about my next movie, 1948’s Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein

This movie was a horror comedy (Horr-edy?!) staring the comedy team of Abbott & Costello. It is notable because it features three of the Universal monsters, two of which are played by their original actor. Lon Chaney reprises his role of The Wolf Man and Bela Lugosi returns as Dracula (this is the only time Lugosi played Dracula apart from the original 1931 classic). Karloff, however, had stopped playing “The Monster” after Son of Frankenstein in 1939, so Glenn Strange played the titular monster in this movie (as he had for The Ghost of Frankenstein a few years earlier). Karloff would actually appear with Abbott and Costello in another movie, Abbot and Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff, one year later. This movie is considered the “swan song” of the original Universal Monsters as the popularity of the Universal Horror movies had waned towards the end of the ’40s. As a matter of fact, Bud Abbott did not even want to do the movie, but Universal offered him so much money he couldn’t turn it down.  Also, Universal was set to cast another actor as Dracula because it believed that Bela Lugosi had died!  However, Lugosi’s agent had informed Universal otherwise (his movie career was almost non-existent at this point) and convinced the executives that they owe Lugosi the role he originated.  As for the Wolf Man, it is the only character to be portrayed by the same actor (Lon Chaney) throughout the original Universal monster movies (including this one).  Despite the pedigree, this movie was a cash grab for Universal.  And it kinda shows.

Abbott and Costello 2

I can see why Abbott didn’t want to do the movie. It’s dumb. Apart from the novelty of having the original Universal Monsters all together, this movie is silly and hard to watch (even boring at times). Having Dracula try to reanimate The Monster and being opposed by Abbot, Costello and Larry Talbot (The Wolf Man) is a good idea on paper, but the execution is lacking. I’ve watched this movie twice and I barely made it through each time.  The idea is definitely better than the result.  Abbott and Costello are funny, but I prefer the Universal Monsters in a horror setting where they are taken seriously, not in this comedy setting where they seem more ludicrous and out of place than scary.


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Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2009: Watching the Boris Karloff Frankenstein movies

Posted in Dracula, Frankenstein, monsters, movies, Universal Studios, Wolf Man with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2009 by Paxton

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Welcome to Day 2 of Frankenstein movie week.  Yesterday we discussed the 1910 Edison Frankenstein movie.  Today, I look at the Universal Frankenstein movies, which have shaped much of what we know about the Frankenstein myths.

Universal would make several Frankenstein movies, but the first three would be the most iconic.  Let’s look at the first three movies staring the legendary Boris Karloff as The Monster.

Frankenstein

Frankenstein (1931) –Since I read all those books last week about Frankenstein, I had to go back and watch Universal’s original 1931 Frankenstein movie directed by James Whale and staring Boris Karloff. I vaguely remember the movie, and while reading the book I was constantly surprised about how different the novel and the movie are. Several of the main characters are pretty much all the two have in common. While watching this movie I realized the events in this movie encompass most of what people associate with the tale of the creation of the Frankenstein monster. The movie character of Dr Frankenstein (Victor in the novel but renamed Henry for the movie) is more a “mad scientist” than the “curious genius” portrayed in the book.
My thoughts after watching are that this movie is pretty good.  I was surprised that a movie in the ’30s began with two guys digging for corpses in a graveyard.  It was a nice, macabre beginning to the movie. The monster looks good and so do a lot of the sets. The story drags a bit here and there but when it gets going the action is surprisingly good. And, obviously, the end leaves you hanging (as there are, not surprisingly, like 6 sequels to this movie). It’s exactly what one thinks of when you remember Frankenstein and his monster. I see why this is a classic monster movie.  The Frankenstein makeup in this movie (by Jack Pierce) is iconic.  I didn’t remember how emaciated the monster looked.  Apparently Karloff took out some temporary bridge work to give the monster this sunken cheek look.  That along with the lighting created a very dramatic effect.  I was very much looking forward to Bride of Frankenstein when this movie was over.

Bride of Frankenstein
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) — Like I said, I was looking forward to this first sequel to Frankenstein because it was made using the same actors as well as the same director, James Whale. It was a serious sequel that many believe is as good (if not better) than the original.  I’m torn, I like both…A LOT.  Overall, this movie’s script seems a bit tighter.  Karloff’s Frankenstein is wonderful as always.  The sunken cheeks are gone because Karloff was asked not to remove the bridge work this time out.  The sets are even grander this time around.  It’s definitely more of the same, but in a really good way.  My only beef, and I didn’t know this going in, the title monster, The Bride, only appears in the final 5-8 minutes of the movie.  I kept waiting for her to show up, but she doesn’t until the end.  Very disappointing, which is probably why I can’t put this movie above the original Frankenstein, even though it’s a fantastic horror movie.
Oh, another thing, the character of Minnie, the housekeeper, was BEYOND annoying. Every little thing, scary or not, would cause her to scream this Banshee-like wail throughout the scene. I wanted to tear her vocal cords out and stomp them into the ground. SO. F’N. IRRITATING. I believe this is where Cloris Leachman’s character came from in Young Frankenstein.

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