Archive for Universal Studios

AWESOME-tober-fest 2019: The Forgotten Frankenstein and other lost cinema treasures

Posted in AWESOME-tober-fest, Blog Series, Fangoria, Frankenstein, Genres, Halloween, holiday, horror, magazine, monsters, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2019 by Paxton

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In Fangoria #2 (1979), there was an article about Universal’s Frankenstein. But it wasn’t about the Boris Karloff movie. It was about the original incarnation of the movie that starred Bela Lugosi as the monster.  It was called The Forgotten Frankenstein. 

It started the article with a picture of the original poster that proclaimed Bela Lugosi as the star (click images to make them BIGGER).

The article says the initial development for Frankenstein was done by Robert Florey and in his development Lugosi was to be Dr Frankenstein, not the monster. However, when his treatment was approved by the studio, they insisted Lugosi be the monster.

As Florey was writing the script they brought in Lugosi, Karloff and several other actors to do a fully costumed test reel. Florey says they shot and edited two reels of footage which included the full Jack Pierce makeup. Lugosi was offered the role, but turned it down exclaiming the tall lumbering mute was beneath him. Karloff was ultimately given the role and then Florey was dropped from the director chair and replaced by James Whale.  After this, all the test reel footage and some of the development for Florey’s version of Frankenstein were lost.

This article reminded me that there is a series of books on similar subjects written by Phillip J Riley, which you can find on Amazon.  The series includes original shooting scripts for a ton of early Universal movies as well as “alternate history” exposes on some of those movies including the Lugosi Frankenstein, the Lon Chaney Dracula, the Boris Karloff Invisible Man, the Karloff Return of Frankenstein and even one on the lost Chaney London after Midnight film.  Lots of fun alternate film history out there to read!



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AWESOME-tober-fest 2016: The Mummy: Dark Resurrection (2007)

Posted in books, Genres, horror, monsters, movies, mummy, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , on October 5, 2016 by Paxton

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Back in 2006-2007, Universal Studios commissioned a series of novels that would update their classic monsters in a series of more adult horror tales that also worked as sequels to the classic movies. I discussed one of these books back in 2010 for my werewolf AWESOME-tober-fest (The Wolf Man: Hunter’s Moon by Michael Jan Friedman). Today, I’ll talk about another one, The Mummy: Dark Resurrection by Michael Paine.

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While I didn’t like The Wolf Man novel, I thought it had potential, so I picked up this Mummy book hoping it would do a little more with the subject. Did it?  Let’s see.

First of all, it’s really tough to place the book in the mummy movie timeline.  I assume it is a sequel to the very first movie from 1932 with Boris Karloff as Karloff’s character, Ardath Bey, is the main antagonist.  But no other characters from any of the Mummy movies either show up or are even mentioned in any way.  Plus, many of the characters that do appear in this book are given a backstory that sound similar to people in the original mummy franchise which just confuses the entire issue.

The book’s protagonist is Josh Brandt, a rich guy from a rich family who funds an archaeological dig that is trying to find the tomb of Ankh-es-en-Amun, the betrothed of Imhotep.  It is revealed that Brandt’s father and grandfather both funded digs for the exact same tomb and both men were lost and presumed dead while at the dig site.  When the current dig seemingly discovers the tomb’s entrance, strange things start happening to the Brandt family and a mysterious stranger, Ardath Bey, seems to be at the center of it all.

Like I said, Brandt’s father and grandfather’s disappearance is a big part of the back story.  And the way it’s written, it feels like those two men’s stories would have been told previously, like in a mummy movie.  But there are no Brandts in any of the previous movies, which confuses me.  Plus there’s no mention of any previous dealings with Ardath Bey by characters in the book.  I guess this story is just continuing many years later with no other links to the movies except Ardath Bey.

The book is written competently, but antagonist Ardath Bey isn’t utilized enough.  Josh, his crazy family and the supernatural events that happen to that family’s members are the focus of the book with Ardath Bey showing up once or twice menacingly and then again at the end to wrap things up.

Honestly, it was kind of a struggle to finish the book.  Part of my problem could be that I’m not a huge fan of “the mummy” as a monster since it’s so similar to zombies (which we know I don’t like). Also, for a “mummy book”, there’s a surprising lack of mummies in it.  Bey seems to possess the power to make recently dead bodies come to life and kill, which he does throughout the book, but those are zombies, not mummies.  Ancient Egyptian mummies are practically non-existent in this story.

Put all of that together and I can’t say I really recommend this book unless you are already a fan of mummies.


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AWESOME-tober-fest 2016: Universal’s The Mummy (1932)

Posted in Genres, horror, monsters, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , on October 4, 2016 by Paxton

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In 1932, just one year after starring in his breakout role in Frankenstein, Karloff would don the bandages for another of Universal’s monster movies, The Mummy.

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Also starring Zita Johann, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan and Arthur Byron.

The movie isn’t bad, if a bit slow in parts.  It’s said that this is essentially a remake of Dracula but just set in Egypt instead of Transylvania.  I can definitely see that what with the parallels in all the characters and how the story is driven forward.  And that story is mostly interesting.  Karloff is great as usual as Imhotep.  His female lead, Zita Johann, isn’t great.  Even by these 30s monster movies standards.  However, for the most part, she gets done what needs to be done.

The sets and lighting are pretty awesome.  I was constantly impressed by certain props and set pieces that seem to envelope the majority of scenes in the movie.  Particularly the scenes with Karloff and Johann at the end of the film.

Unlike Dracula (Stoker’s book) and Frankenstein (Shelley’s book), The Mummy joins The Wolf Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon as the only Universal Monster movies not based on a previous work of fiction.  However, there are things the script is clearly influenced by like the excavation of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story The Ring of Thoth.

While I liked Dracula a little better, and Frankenstein and the Wolf Man a lot better, this is still a fun monster movie to watch.

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The movie begins during a dig in an ancient Egyptian tomb.  The story makes heavy use of the Scroll of Thoth, which, as I just mentioned, is similar to an artifact in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle short story, The Ring of Thoth.

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Of course, the young, impulsive character opens up AND READS FROM the creepy, old scroll that he was told not to touch just five minutes before.  And, of course, it awakens The Mummy.

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Karloff’s makeup, by industry great Jack Pierce, is photographed brilliantly in this movie. Check out Karloff’s crazy undead stare.  I just got chills.

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More awesomely lit Karloff images.  He really is pretty great in this movie.  Hands down the best thing about it.  Followed closely by the lighting, sets and costumes.

So that’s Universal’s The Mummy.  I enjoyed it, but maybe not as much as I was hoping.


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AWESOME-tober-fest 2015: Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

Posted in Halloween, holiday, monsters, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2015 by Paxton

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The comedy team of Abbott and Costello starred in a series of films in which they meet up with characters from Universal Studios. The first was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948. I reviewed it for AWESOME-tober-fest back in 2009.  That movie was a giant hit for Universal.

At the time, Universal was planning another straight forward sequel in the Invisible Man series (the last being The Invisible Man’s Revenge in 1948).  However, due to the success of the comedy movie, they had their script rewritten to be another But and Lou comedy.  This movie was Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man and it was released in 1951.

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Unlike Meets Frankenstein, none of the original Invisible Man actors returned for this movie. Several different actors portrayed the Invisible Man in the Universal movies, but they didn’t get any of them to return. Especially not Claude Rains, the originator of the role as he’d become a huge Hollywood star by this point having starred in Casablanca, Mr Smith Goes to Washington and Notorious.

This time the titular invisible man is a new character that benefits from the serum created in the original 1933 classic.  And yes, there are some dropped lines here and there to connect this directly to that original movie.  The invisibility serum is said to have been invented by Dr John Griffin.  We even see a picture on the wall of Claude Rains, who portrayed Griffin in the original movie.  So they at least tried to keep some continuity.

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So, what did I think? It’s not bad. I had lowered expectations after my viewings of Meets Frankenstein, so that probably helped.  Surprisingly the invisible effects aren’t bad, but they are much more gimmicky than the 1933 original.  They work, but you can pretty much tell how they work.  Part of this may be because many of the effects are recycled from previous invisible man movies.  Even going as far as re-using footage and reversing it.

It’s a shame, because I’m a fan of Bud and Lou in their skits and TV shows. I still regularly rewatch skits like Who’s on First? on YouTube because they are GREAT. As a matter of fact, I just stopped writing this article to go watch it again. SO. GOOD.  But I’m just not digging the movies I’ve seen of theirs.  It’s sort of the same issue I have with The Three Stooges.  I love the shorts, but I just can’t get into their movies.


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AWESOME-tober-fest 2015: Universal’s The Invisible Man (1933)

Posted in Halloween, holiday, monsters, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2015 by Paxton

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Yesterday I discussed ground zero for invisibility in pop culture, HG Wells’ The Invisible Man.  And if that book is ground zero, then Universal’s 1933 movie adaptation of that book would be ground one.  Second only to Wells’ book in influence on popular culture.  And, as a huge fan of the Universal Monsters series, it’s a little embarrassing that I’ve never watched Universal’s The Invisible Man with Claude Rains.  It’s high time I rectified that.

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Released in 1933, this movie has quite the pedigree. It’s directed by James Whale who also directed the first two Universal Frankenstein movies as well as Howard Hughes’ Hells Angels.  It starred Claude Rains who, while making his American theatrical debut, would go on to star in classic movies like Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia and Mr Smith Goes to Washington.  It was a fairly popular movie that would spawn at least 4 sequels with varying successful degrees of connection to this original movie.  Rains would return for none of them.

I’m not sure why I never watched this movie before now.  I’m well aware of the Wells’ novel and this movie based on that novel starring Claude Rains.  I’ve even seen several more modern invisible man movies like Memoirs of an Invisible Man with Chevy Chase and Hollow Man with Kevin Bacon.  I’m just not sure why I never went back to this movie like I did with Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man.

So, now that I’ve seen it, let’s take a look at the movie.

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It was kind of funny to see the “We Do Our Part” NRA title card pop up after the classic Universal bi-plane logo.  Different times, my friends.

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The movie is pretty good. Nicely directed and looks pretty awesome but that’s not to be surprised since…well, James Whale. Claude Rains in his American feature film debut is pretty great as Griffin.  It’s easy to see why he was picked to play the lead.

The movie itself begins “en media res” with Griffin already turned invisible and sequestering himself into a hotel room in a secluded town.  Rains spends 99% of this movie completely covered in bandages or completely invisible.

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The only thing we have to carry Rains’ performance, like I said, is his voice.  And it totally works.  His very deliberate way of speaking and the way his voice carries does everything to give the viewer what it needs for his performance.  And it’s especially effective the further into the movie you get and the more insane Griffin becomes.  His insane cackle is a thing to behold.

The movie was gorgeously dressed.  The set pieces were huge and very finely detailed.  From the hotel room and bar, to the cush offices of Rains’ former lab to the home of Gloria Stuart.  There is so much movie set “eye candy” to look at it almost distracts from the movie.  And I want Rains’ pimp smoking jacket in the above picture.  I wonder if he got to take that home.

Not much of the supporting cast lit me on fire. The main female lead is Gloria Stuart who is probably best known for playing “Old Rose” in James Cameron’s Titanic.  She is almost a non-entity in this movie, however.  We also get Una O’Conner who is a veteran character actor from the 30s-40s who would also appear in Bride of Frankenstein and The Adventures of Robin Hood.  She plays the wife of the innkeeper who shrilly shrieks her way through the first 20 minutes of the movie.  We also get a small, uncredited appearance by John Carradine who would go on to appear in several Universal Monsters pictures like Bride of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula.  He actually portrayed Dracula in the last two as well as the non-Universal Billy the Kid versus Dracula from 1966.

As for the invisible effects, they hold up pretty well, actually.  You can see some of the composite shots where they’ve placed footage of Rains disrobing in front of a black screen and superimposed it against the regular scene, but it’s honestly not that bad.  Some of the other physical effects, like footprints in the snow are actually very artfully done.

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So, this is clearly identified as an adaptation of HG Wells’ novel, The Invisible Man.  So how does it hold up as an adaptation?  There are several differences between the two.  Some in character traits and motivations.  I tried not to dwell on it too much and let Claude Rains just take me away.  But the events of the movie closely follow the novel.  Certain scenes are removed and certain characters are changed or modified.  Like I said, though, I tried not to dwell on the differences and let the movie stand on its own.

I’d definitely recommend this movie. If only for Rains’ superb vocal performance and watching an invisible man slowly go insane. It was a really good watch and I’m glad I finally marked this one off my list.  My only regret is that Hammer Studios never got around to making their own version of The Invisible Man.


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