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Gods and Monsters (Mostly Monsters) at the Academy’s 'Universal's Legacy of Horror' Film Series

Thompson on Hollywood By Aljean Harmetz | Thompson on Hollywood October 8, 2012 at 12:45PM

Good horror films have always been about more than surfeiting movie audiences with chills and thrills, as 100 years of Universal movies dramatically demonstrate. The Academy’s “Legacy of Horror” film series, which screens during October to celebrate Universal’s centennial is a warning to those who dare to create life (“The Bride of Frankenstein,” 1935) or extend it beyond death (“Dracula,” 1931) or to push science to extremes that should be unattainable, as Claude Rains discovers in “The Invisible Man” (1933).
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'Dracula'
'Dracula'
"The Invisible Man" 1933
"The Invisible Man" 1933

Stuck in their coffins for more than 12 hours a day, Vampires had a lot less fun in 1931 than they do in 2012.  “I am…Count…Dracula,” murmurs Bela Lugosi, who has to hypnotize attractive virgins before he can lean across them to bestow his metaphor for hot sex, a bite on the neck. Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen has only to look moody and incredibly handsome as he struggles with his impossible love for the human Bella Swan. And the sex is no metaphor. By the end of the “Twilight” series, he has married Bella and fathered a half-human, half-vampire daughter.

Good horror films have always been about more than surfeiting movie audiences with chills and thrills, as 100 years of Universal movies dramatically demonstrate.  The Academy’s “Legacy of Horror” film series, which screens during October to celebrate Universal’s centennial is a warning to those who dare to create life (“The Bride of Frankenstein,” 1935) or extend it beyond death (“Dracula,” 1931) or to push science to extremes that should be unattainable, as Claude Rains discovers in “The Invisible Man” (1933).

Some horror movies have Freudian interpretations.  Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (1963) is more about female sexuality than it is about paranoid seagulls.  Lon Chaney in the 1925 “The Phantom of the Opera” is a hideously deformed man who, like Frankenstein’s monster, yearns for love.  And some horror movies are simply standard bottom-of-the-double-bill B movies, including “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948) and “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966.) 

If Universal is 100 years old now, one person in the audience for the opening night of the October series predates the founding of the studio by Carl Laemmle.  Carla Laemmle, 103 years old and the founder’s niece, watched herself deliver the opening line in “Dracula.”  Other actresses will also be “special guests:” Julie Adams from “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954); Tippi Hedren and Veronica Cartwright, two of the four needy birds in “The Birds.”  When “An American Werewolf in London” (1981) screens on October 9, the director John Landis and makeup artist Rick Baker will be the special guests.

Claude Rains’ daughter, Jessica Rains, will not be at the screening of “The Invisible Man” October 16, but she has an indelible memory of the movie.  “My father never went to see his movies.  When I went to summer camp and they asked me what my father did, I said, ‘He’s a farmer.’  I was raised on a farm in Pennsylvania where we grew wheat, oats, rye, and raised pigs and cattle.  I had never seen any of his movies. But, in 1948, when I was 10, one day he said, ‘Get dressed.  Put your coat on.’  He got all bundled up and put a scarf around his face so he wouldn’t be recognized, and we drove to this little funky theatre in this little town.  And he began in a very loud voice to explain to me how they did the special effects.  You couldn’t miss that voice, so everybody in the theatre turned around to look at him.

 “He never took me to another of his movies.”

See the full 'Legacy of Horror' schedule below:

This article is related to: Classics, Universal Pictures


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