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Universal Monsters in Review: Son of Dracula (1943)

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Whenever you see a “Buy War Bonds” ad at an end of a classic Universal Pictures movie, you know you’re in store for a good time. And suffice to say, in a nut shell, Son of Dracula was certainly entertaining. The whole War Bond thing, I thought, was pretty classy of Universal to leave in the DVD formatting of the film. I’m not sure if any of the others have it as well, but of the movies we’ve reviewed thus far, Son of Dracula is the first. I’m actually really surprised Invisible Agent didn’t have a War Bond ad, given how propagandic the movie was (and yes, I totally just invented that word). And this in part is what gives these Universal Monster movies a particular glamour, the fact that we know historically that while folks were lining movie palaces at the Roxy or the Oriental or the Million Dollar Theater, their loved ones were gathering into training camps to ship off to war. For two years before Son of Dracula’s release, following December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, America was at war with the Axis Powers. Entertainment became not just a distraction but also a means of communicating support and moral. But there are also other themes going on as well, other than entertaining a war time audience. And we’ll discuss some of those themes here.

Before we begin, as per my custom, here is a rather decently written synopsis of the movie I found over at IMDb:

“Count Alucard (Lon Chaney Jr.) finds his way from Budapest to the swamps of the Deep South after meeting Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton), of the moneyed Caldwell clan that runs a plantation called Dark Oaks. She’s obsessed with occult matters. Who better to guide her through this supernatural world than Count Alucard, whose name no one bothers to spell backwards? No one, that is, except the wily Dr. Brewster (Frank Craven), an old family friend. He’ll join Professor Lazlo (J. Edward Bromberg), a specialist in the occult, in fighting this ‘Alucard’ and the woman he’s influenced. Or has Katherine influenced him? Meanwhile, Katherine’s fiancé, Frank Stanley (Robert Paige), will find his courage and his sanity sorely tested when he accidentally shoots Katherine to death, yet finds that she goes on living.”

Son of Dracula is a charming movie. Familiar scenes play out that will later be used in Abbot and Costello movies, such as Dracula arriving by train in the luggage department. The curious nature of Dr. Brewster, and the obedient naive fiance, Frank, summoned to the train station to fetch Katherine’s guest, are classic tropes used in all sorts of horror stories. The anagram, “Alucard,” was perhaps unnecessary. But maybe in a universe in which Dracula legends are real, then I assume the writers knew what they were doing. Speaking of which. Son of Dracula gets a double dose of Siodmak! Curt Siodmak wrote the screenplay while his brother, Robert Siodmak directed. We’ve reviewed thus far lots of movies penned by the talented Mr. Curt, however, Son of Dracula is the first film in which Robert directed. Robert will go on to direct many amazing films, most notably Phantom Lady in 1944, however, Son of Dracula will be his only fling with Universal Monsters.  I can only imagine what the stage looked like with both Robert and Curt working together. The first film that I know of that the brothers collaborated on was People on Sunday, a 1930s German silent picture during the interwar period, just before they both fled Europe for the coasts of California.

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But I digress. See what happens when I start rambling!

Back to the film at hand.

As I stated before, Son of Dracula is a very charming movie. The actors were excellent. The early 1940s special effects were actually rather good, I especially liked how Dracula kept his coffin in the swamp, and as the sun set upon the Bayou, it rose from its watery grave, and then walking upon the land in a wisp of smoke. I loved the part of Katherine who was not your typical “woman in distress” character. In fact, the woman in peril was played up only to fool audience and character expectations. Katherine was wonderfully not the hero nor was she the victim. Naive as she may have seemed, she was certainly in control. She wanted to live forever, consulting a witch she’d brought over from the old country, hardly second questioned when the hag turned up dead and she’d been seen fleeing the woman’s hut. No one was going to stop her or get in her way. Katherine was deviously two-faced. Towards the end, I actually stopped to ponder if Dracula was the antagonist, or if he was simply a vessel in which Katherine used to obtain immortality? Watch for yourself. It does seem as if Dracula was nothing more than a pawn, duped into coming to the swamps of America on the temptation of richer soil and life and of course, Katherine. Though, honestly, I don’t think Drac cared much for her, in fact I’d be so bold as to say he was using her as much as she was using him. And still, the camera rolled as if this stoic and powerful presence was in control when in fact it was the woman behind him that was pulling the strings.

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Given that this is a 1940s picture, its a rather fresh breath of air to see a woman playing the part of mastermind.

Certainly something we haven’t seen since the 1936 film, Dracula’s Daughter.

The real victim in Son of Dracula is gullible fiance Frank, who’s played more cruelly than the fiddle that Georgia boy played against the Devil. Catering to Katherine’s every need, pleading with her, lapping up her fawned morbidity. Man, the more I think about her character, the more cunning she seems. She brought Drac to America knowing what he was. She allowed the Vampire to slay her father, knowingly changing the will to suit her needs, all the while pretending some sort of family honor in keeping the estate. She coldly watches her boy-toy lose his mind and then temps him with life-everlasting, prodding him to destroy Dracula. Why? Because she got what she wanted out of the “monster.” Eternal life. After the cards have been played on the table, we are still uncertain what Frank will do. Will he destroy Dracula and return to his beloved to live forever. Or will he himself become destroyed? Or perhaps he will kill both Dracula and Katherine… Despite the fact that this movie is 73 years old, I’m still not going to give away the ending. I feel something this movie’s conclusion is something that needs to be discovered firsthand and not through a review, especially not by the likes of me. I will say though, I was surprisingly satisfied.

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My only qualm was the always lovable Lon Chaney Jr., who will eventually go on to play not only the Wolfman, but also Kharis, from the Mummy movies, and Frankenstein’s creature. And while he played an excellent mummy, best in The Mummy’s Ghost, and a rather decent Frank, I did not really care much for his role as Dracula, not even as a quasi fleshed out decedent of Dracula. He was…okay in the part as Chaney is an excellent actor, but still…his maleficence seemed too forced and very Larry Talbot-like. Also, towards the middle, the movie dragged on a bit. For Universal Monster classics, about an hour is perfect; an hour and twenty is pushing things.

My rating: 4/5

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Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel,Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Lanmò His new Subdue Series, including both Dwelling and Emerging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics.

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Universal Monsters in Review: The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

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Taking a cue from the original The Invisible Man, the Return seems to keep with that same breakneck speedy opening, forcing the audience to catch up as the story progresses rather rapidly. I’m not sure if I was just totally exhausted before watching this movie last night, but it took me a while to figure out what was going on and who was who. Sure. It doesnt take Sir Sherlock Holmes to figure what the scientist is doing, or when the guards in the prison discover the remnants of Mr. Griffin’s clothes on the floor.  It did take me though almost half the move to realize who Cedric Hardwicke was playing as. Was this intentional or just the style of classic Invisible Man tropes? Who knows. What I did enjoy, other than the superb acting on all fronts, was the overall deeper theme of the movie, much like the predecessor, The Invisible Man Returns discusses the ugliness of people when they’ve shed their masks, or keeping to the movie, when the masks become invisible. Who are we when our actions are no longer accountable? Similar, one might say, to the even more classic story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which the abominable Mr. Hyde glares into the mirror and howls, “Free! I’m free at last!” Well, before I start rambling off topic, let me close my statements by saying that I did enjoy The Invisible Man Returns, the acting was a pleasure watching, both the voice acting of Vincent Price and the always impressive Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who would go on to play in another Invisible Man tale in Invisible Agent, and in The Ghost of Frankenstein. But the movie did drag on a bit, especially in the middle, and it didn’t have the same bite as the original. Okay, I’ve said my peace, and without further delay…let us see what our special guest has to say. 

 

 

The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

By Patrick Loveland

 

[CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR A 76 YEAR OLD FILM, AN 83 YEAR OLD FILM, AND A 119 YEAR OLD NOVEL]

 

 

I’ll start spoiling right out of the gate by clearing up something I’d  wondered myself when Thomas allowed me to choose this film—how could The Invisible Man return? He’d died at the end of the novel and the 1933 film based on it that this film was made to be a sequel to. So, I’ll explain it sooner than the film does—Jack Griffin, The Invisible Man from the first film did indeed die at the end. Griffin’s brother Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton) has been hand-waved into existence—having worked on the invisibility experiments with Jack (named John when referenced in this film), of course—and uses his matching knowledge of invisibility to help a lovely young woman and friend named Helen Manson (Nan Grey) free her fiancé, Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price), from death row for a crime he didn’t commit (the murder of his brother). There, now we’re on the same page. I actually enjoyed the vagueness of the situation in the film’s early parts, but found it was a bit too vague about the character relationships as it went on, until about—

Actually, I’m getting ahead of myself. Alright, so…

The Invisible Man Returns was written by Curt Siodmak and Lester Cole, and directed by Joe May as a sequel to Universal’s popular earlier film, The Invisible Man, which was based on the novel by H.G. Wells. One thing that’s interesting to me about this sequel is that instead of the Invisible Man in this story being mostly concerned with curing himself of his invisible state, this character has been convinced by Griffin that the process can be easily reversed after his escape. That allows him to focus on clearing his name and getting revenge for his wrongful imprisonment.

 

SUMMARY:

The film begins in Radcliffe Manor’s kitchen with the servants looking morose as they bicker over the possible guilt and approaching state-implemented death of Sir Radcliffe.

Then we transition to Richard Cobb (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) resting his chin on his hand atop a high chair back, watching something with obvious fascination. Helen Manson sits across the room from him on a couch, almost catatonic from worrying about Sir Radcliffe, her fiancé—as Cobb practically ogles her.

Helen rises from the couch and opens the room’s curtains in a shot that seems (to me) to be a visual nod to the intro scene in the first film, wherein Griffin closes the blinds and curtains in a deliberate fashion in the parlor he’s just begun renting.

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Dr. Griffin arrives and he and Helen convince Cobb to call one last influential friend in hopes of stopping Radcliffe’s execution. The friend is away, Cobb says after hanging up.

Having failed to stop the execution of his friend, Griffin visits him in his cell. Radcliffe is given the invisibility agent and escapes his cell, probably as the guard who was in it with him opens to door to yell that he’s disappeared.

Radcliffe escapes the prison through the countryside and after some travel naked and on foot, reaches Dr. Griffin’s cabin in the woods and the waiting Helen. They meet and talk. The caretaker brings some food and catches Radcliffe with his dark glasses removed, eye holes in his bandage wrappings gaping and empty. After being rushed out, the caretaker calls the police and one policeman arrives. Radcliffe argues with him and closes the door. Radcliffe quickly gets undressed, causing a turned away Helen to faint when she peeks at him, seeing the strangeness of his invisibility herself for the first time. Radcliffe escapes.

Griffin experiments in his lab above the Radcliffe mining operation, turning an invisible guinea pig visible again. Shortly after turning, it dies painfully. Radcliffe arrives and they talk. Then a man comes by to harass Griffin and Radcliffe watches this, hidden in plain sight as he is.

I’m going to stop there because this film really is worth watching yourself, no question.

What follows is an investigation by Radcliffe/The (new) Invisible Man into who actually killed his brother, complicated by the horrible side effect of the invisibility agent—madness. Dr. Griffin is in a race against time and Radcliffe’s ever-growing madness—and escalating violence—to cure the invisibility he knowingly “saved” him with.

 

REVIEW:

First let me Disclose with Extreme Fullness that I’m not well-versed on Universal Monsters. Before this, I’d seen a handful of the films (including The Invisible Man), but it had been decades since I had. At this point I’ve seen more Hammer films, but both houses have their own charms. I blame growing up in the 1980s and being terrified, chilled, horrified, and thrilled by the likes of Alien, Aliens, The Thing, Predator, Terminator, the Of The Dead trilogy, An American Werewolf in London, and many other films from the heyday of practical creature and makeup effects. I got it into my head, as many other young’ns like myself seemed to, that “old” movies were just totally corny and had little to offer, horror or otherwise—something I’ve heard younger people now expressing about those same 70s and 80s films I hold as a high water mark, with their “bad special effects”… Harumph!

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It took a few friends and teachers in art/film school to open my mind to older films, one showing me things like The Lady From Shanghai and Sunset Boulevard, and another showing me one (because it was her father’s favorite film, so I had to like it (or be able to act like I did)) that would from that day on be a genuine favorite, The Third Man. Then came the film that convinced me all older horror and sci-fi films weren’t (fun but) cheesy and quaint, The Thing From Another World. Sure, I’m not fond of the actual creature effects in that one, but damn is it thick with tension and atmosphere (as it should be coming from the original novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr.—which had a better creature they probably couldn’t have done justice to anyway). I saw Carpenter’s take on the novella first as a boy and it destroyed me and will always be my preference, but I was really impressed how well everything other than the actual creature held up in this first version/“original”.

Soooo, all that leads to me saying that even with my general open-mindedness at this point for older horror and sci-fi films, I was genuinely surprised how much I enjoyed this one. Maybe it was its sequel-to-an-iconic-classic status, or that it had a different lead actor. Possibly my confusion as to how there could be a sequel. Something had me uneasy about it. Gladly, other than some vagueness in the early parts that I’ve covered, I was very pleasantly surprised.

 

WHAT I LIKED:

Vincent Price, starting as a man given a new lease of life, then progressing through madness and murderous rage toward his ultimate goal. All of the main actors did well, actually. Other than Price, I’d say my favorite performance was Cecil Kellaway’s, as Scotland Yard’s Inspector Sampson. I also liked Nan Grey as Helen. I wasn’t familiar with her and was quite fond by the end.

The special effects were genuinely impressive. I’m not unfamiliar with practical trickery and old school post-production image manipulation, but there are shots where I really couldn’t begin to figure out on my own how they’d pulled them off. A favorite of mine is when Inspector Sampson is trying to calm Cobb down after escaping the invisible Radcliffe in an upstairs room. Sampson’s been giving people cigars the whole movie, so he gives one to Cobb as he smokes his own.

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The inspector finishes a sentence, takes a big pull off his cigar, and blows it to the side of them—exposing the vague outline of a human form where nothing is visible, then that form turns its only-now-visible head. The smoke wafts around perfectly, suggesting the form without being too clear. I have to assume this shot and the next sequence I’ll describe were very influential on the obvious, loose Invisible Man remake, Hollow Man. More than the original film even.

My favorite chunk of the film begins with this blown smoke effect, which also touches on my favorite thing about the film—use of particles and other things to make the Invisible Man somewhat visible. After the inspector blows his cigar smoke at the invisible Radcliffe, he goes for a judo dive to grapple him into submission and make the big arrest. He misses and Radcliffe hides again, possibly in plain sight once more, but the inspector’s suspicions are confirmed—the man is actually invisible, and he can be seen with environmental tricks.

As rain pours down, Inspector Sampson receives special equipment delivery and has a team of policemen don gasmask rigs and smoke-throwers, then fill the house they’re in with fog machine-like smoke. Radcliffe had escaped out into the rainstorm apparently, because two police see his outline—from rain pelting his naked body—as he sneaks back in through a side door to the building Cobb is being held in.

Once inside again, we see the heavily geared policemen advancing down a corridor, smoke pouring from their throwers. A shot from behind them shows the smoke-outlined body of Radcliffe attack a policeman, knocking him out and disappearing into a room with him.

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We move to Helen, worried as always. One of the geared, gasmask wearing policemen approaches her in a hallway, Radcliffe using the body and head covering gear of the man he knocked out to be invisible in a different way.

I love that whole sequence and wish there was a bit more of that kind of cleverness throughout.

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Also, it’s actually pretty funny if you pay attention to the way things are phrased at certain points.

 

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

Vincent Price takes top spot here as well, but not because he isn’t good. As a man wronged and trying to make things right, he does a fine job balancing that with the madness and anger the invisibility agent causes. I think I just really loved the barely-contained rage and Claude Rains’ delivery in the first film, as I feel it captured the novel’s Griffin really well. I know this is a different character, but I also felt this character was a little more light-hearted, then almost comically maniacal at times with barely any attention paid to transition. Which leads to my other issue…

Things happen a little too easily or conveniently sometimes. Even the best shot, the smoke blowing reveal, is a little too easy. How did the inspector know he was there? They also set up him giving cigars to at least two people, but I’m not sure if that was just to call attention to his own smoking so it would be in the audience’s mind in time for him to execute his brilliant smoke maneuver.

The pacing and build. It’s not boring before it, but things don’t really pick up until almost exactly halfway through the film. I understand the classic script structure halfway point power swap aspect, but in this it dramatically improves the film overall, instead of strengthening the arc of the protagonist in an already interesting plot. Radcliffe starts investigating who actually killed his brother, starting with a drunk former night watchman named Willie Spears (Alan Napier, in a fun performance) who Cobb has made superintendent of the Radcliffe mining operation. This is also where the audience starts to be shown possible motivations of those who have framed Radcliffe. It doesn’t ruin it, but this half and half feeling leads to an uneven presentation, even with rising action taken into account.

The ending. As I said, spoilery is my stock-in-trade today. Griffin dies in the first story, beaten by a mob in the novel, and shot in the film. His body is revealed after death, which I feel is poetic and tragic and part of why it works well. In The Invisible Man Returns, as far as we are shown, Radcliffe lives and there’s swelling music and it’s a relief and all that (even though Frank Griffin just said Radcliffe would die without surgery, but that’s none of my business…). I’m not saying I wanted a sad moral tale of an ending, but once again it did feel a bit too easy. I take into account that this character’s story is quite a different one with different motivations and crimes, as I said in the beginning myself, but something in-between might’ve felt more appropriate for the tone they’d set as the film went on.

RATING:

This film is entertaining, decently thrilling, has fantastic special effects, and has some genuinely funny moments sprinkled in too.

I’ll give The Invisible Man Returns 7/10.

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PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and shorter prose fiction. He also draws somewhat disturbing imagery on Post-its. By day, he schedules classes, helps instructors get set up for class sessions, possibly draws said weird Post-its, and moves many furniture’s at a state college in Southern California where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick Loveland’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, will be published in late 2016 by April Moon Books.  You can connect with Patrick on Twitter: https://twitter.com/pmloveland   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/   Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Or Blog [under construction]: https://patrickloveland.wordpress.com/

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Universal Monsters in Review: Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (1943)

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Looking back on the start of this series, I’m wishing we’d done these reviews in chronological order instead of random selections. Tracking the progression of certain characters now that we’re in our twilight hours of Universal Monsters in Review, it is becoming quite difficult. Considering especially Frankenstein’s monster, which has already appeared on film four times since the original 1931 fright flick. AND, ole Frank-in-monster has also changed hands twice already, from the granddaddy, Boris Karloff (who defined the role as Monster), to Lon Chaney Jr. (who played the Monster in Ghost of Frankenstein) and now with Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man, and the more questionable of choices for Universal Studios, Bela Lugosi. Later on, Glenn Strange will also don the endless hours of makeup and prosthetics in future Frankenstein movies. As for the Wolf Man, his progression is much easier to follow. In fact, Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man is considered to be a direct sequel from the original 1941 The Wolf Man. It ALL can get rather confusing. Oh well. What is done is done. Perhaps moving forward in our discussion here, we should consider Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man has not a direct sequel from Ghost of Frankenstein, but rather, a sequel for The Wolf Man.  And besides, most of these movies are basically stories in and of themselves, holding only quasi connections to the originals. As I will be your host for the evening, shall we begin our review?

Here’s a synopsis so that we’re all on the same page:

Larry Talbot’s (Lon Chaney Jr.) grave is being robbed, but strangely, despite the passing of four years since the events of The Wolf Man, his body is remarkably preserved. And covered with blooms of Wolfs Bane. The grave robbers soon realize that perhaps Mr. Talbot is not as dead as they originally believed. The next scene, we find Larry in an asylum, recovering from an operation performed by good natured yet strictly scientific Dr. Mannering (Patric Knowles). Inspector Owen (Dennis Hoey) finds him there, too, wanting to question him about a recent spate of murders. Talbot escapes and finds Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), the old gypsy woman who knows his secret: that when the moon is full, he changes to a uncontrollable werewolf. She travels with him to locate the one man who can help him to die – Dr. Frankenstein. The brilliant doctor proves to be dead himself, but they do find Frankenstein’s daughter, Baroness Elsa Frankenstein (Ilona Massey). Talbot begs her for her father’s papers containing the secrets of life and death. She doesn’t have them, so he goes to the ruins of the Frankenstein castle to find them himself. There he finds the Monster (Bela Lugosi), whom he chips out of a block of ice. Dr. Mannering eventually catches up with him only to become tempted to to use Frankenstein’s old equipment to fully power the monster.

Before this series, in the long ago, before I had ever dreamed of becoming a published author and creating my own tales of fright, Frankenstein meets the Wolfman was the first Universal Monster movie I had seen. I’d watched bits and pieces of the other movies before, scenes made infamous and those that became direct inspirations for other movies that I had watched. But this one, this was the first. Gathered together with a group of buds for a “guys movie night.” The host’s dogs, Bear and Willie, begging at our feet and scheming for morsels of popcorn. Displayed on the big screen of some monstrous TV birthed from the late 90s, my eyes beheld for the first time, in its completion, a Universal Monster movie. Later on, inspired by this film, would go on to watch The Wolf Man, and then later Dracula and Frankenstein, and so on and so on. There is not much that I remember from that first screening, only that it did ignited a desire to see the others, to return to the past of cinematography. And my History in Film classes in college certainly helped with that desire too. Going back and watching the movie again, for this review, after consuming most of the others, all of the originals, the story played out a little more defined in my mind. And at bottom, I have to say, this is not a Frankenstein movie, at all. This is a Wolf Man movie. And it is a movie about certain ideals and the dangers of obsessive behavior and mob mentality.

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The story focuses almost/nay exclusively on Larry Talbot’s quest for an end to his life. The movie opens at the Talbot crypt four years after the events of the original Wolf Man film. And Larry is still somehow alive, though seriously injured. The place on his skull where his father had struck him with the silver cane is fractured. Next, we see Larry’s collapsed body being discovered by police and ushered quickly to the hospital. The doctor, a very scientific minded Dr. Mannering, is shocked at how fast Larry recovers from his surgery. Its all very supernatural. Keep that word in mind while watching this movie. Screen writer, Curt Siodmak, the creator of The Wolf Man character, is taking us on a journey in which the ideals of supernaturalism and science (logic) will clash, head to head. I found it somewhat thought provoking that Larry is completely obsessed with ending his life and that the monster, representing science, is a misunderstood creature…well, until the end in which he becomes an unstoppable machine. There’s a quote from Siodmak that I used in my debut novel, Reinheit, it goes, “You’ll find superstition a contagious thing. Some people let it get the better of them.” And while watching Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man, you get a sense of what he’s saying. The villagers on the stage of this idyllic Germanic town, full of song, wine, and good cheer, also harbor anger and resentment, not just to the Frankenstein name, but also strangers and gypsies, mostly fueled by antagonists who insight the rage of the community by reminding them of the injustices that had transpired in the past. Is all this starting to sound familiar? Considering Curt Siodmak was a Jew escaping the growing threat of Nazi Germany, it ought to sound familiar.

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The deeper meaning in Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man is commendable, but there are still some unresolved issues with the movie itself. I felt like the entire movie was brilliantly set up and had a wonderful progression as we followed Larry on his quest toward suicide. The end felt tacked on. Dr. Mannering’s character did not feel fully vetted nor relatable. His motivation seemed very sudden. From wanting to take Larry back to the hospital to becoming obsessed with seeing how powerful he could make the monster. Everything until then was golden. And like with most Universal films of this era, the final scene was very abrupt. With the manic villager blowing up the dam, releasing the river, destroying Castle Frankenstein, along with the Wolf Man and monster, and the town itself, presumably, all happens within a span of 60 seconds. Boom. Boom. The End.

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Judging the film as a whole, yes,while Mannering’s character did feel very unbelievable regarding “re-charging” the monster, and with the ending being rushed to its final conclusion, the other meanings are hard to dismiss, how our obsessions, be it science or superstition, will ultimately destroy us in the end. Its a powerful message, especially when considering the history of the screen writer and the decade in which the film was made. Looking at the film as a direct sequel to The Wolf Man, Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man was an excellent continuation in the story, introducing new branches to the werewolf mythos. The casting couldn’t have been more perfect. Except for perhaps Bela Lugosi as the monster. To me, despite trying very hard to be a dim witted creature, he still sounded too suave. Watching Bela as Frankenstein’s monster was too disconnecting and his mannerisms seemed desperate to separate himself from his more iconic role as Dracula. Honestly, some actors just aren’t built to play certain roles. One could surmise the same about Chaney and how he should never have played the Mummy. My favorites for the film were Maria Ouspenskaya, who was was once again wonderful, as was Lon Chaney, likewise at his best as the very tragic and sad Larry Talbot, both utterly magnetizing and wonderfully depressing.

My rating: 4/5 

Tommy Author Picture - Monsters
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein. His new series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics.

Universal Monsters in review: The Wolf Man (1941)

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The Wolf Man has become over the years one of my favorite Universal monsters. Larry Talbot has to be the single most tragic character to ever grace the silver (no pun intended) screen. Curt Siodmak, a Jewish immigrant from Germany, wrote the screenplay for The Wolf Man and several other monster movies and even into the 1950s science fiction era. Given the times and his heritage, I wonder if he had more than a few themes in mind for this horror story. The Wolf Man mythos has Greek tragedy written all over. An innocent, somewhat oblivious, man is cursed with lycanthropy, an uncontrollable transformation from man to wolf. He’s as much a victim as he is a monster. There’s a book written by Siodmak, which I have shamefully not read yet, detailing his creation of the Wolf Man. I am curious how the events of Nazism and WWII and being forced to immigrate to the U.S. impacted his perception of freedom and of humanism. But I’ve yarned on long enough. We’ve got a special guest writer today to tell us a bit about this amazing and haunting movie. Shall we see what Mr. X has to say about The Wolf Man?

When the Wolfbane Blooms

By: Jeffery X. Martin

There’s not a whole lot you can say about a 75 year old movie that hasn’t already been said, but The Wolf Man, a movie which has spawned more bastard children than Mick Jagger, remains so vital, so heart-wrenching, that it deserves to be seen by everyone who has grown up with only Landis and Dante’s version of lycanthropy.

George Waggner’s direction is solid and downright artsy in some scenes. His gorgeous shot inside the town church is utterly breathtaking in its contrast and shadowplay. Who needs color? This black and white work is sublime. He also has an almost symbiotic bond with low-lying fog, a standard element of every werewolf picture to follow.

It’s also right and proper to pour some out for Jack Pierce, the pioneering make-up artist who created the werewolf makeup. He also created the original make-up work for the Frankenstein monster and the Mummy. He may not have been well-liked around the studio, but he was responsible for the looks of almost all of what we think of as the “classic” monsters.

But the heart of The Wolf Man is Curt Siodmak. I know… of course, the writer is going to give credit to the writer. Blood sings to blood and all that. The fact is Siodmak, who was sort of the Rod Serling of his time, wrote a rock-solid script. Lon Chaney pulls off the role of Larry Talbot, who really is just a poor lunkhead, with great aplomb.

There’s stuff in this movie you couldn’t get away with now, like how Larry spies on the girl he likes with a telescope. Stalker! But he’s such a schmoe, such an awkward guy, you can’t help but root for him. You want him to take some power for himself and not be such a noodge.

When he finally gets a bit of that power, and becomes a werewolf, he’s shocked at his own behavior. He doesn’t want to own that kind of personal growth. If Larry has a fatal flaw, it isn’t that he becomes a werewolf when the wolfbane blooms and the gypsies come to town. It’s his humanity that makes him a classic tragic character. He realizes that he’s doomed. He always has been. In a world where the attitude is, as Richard Nixon said, “Fuck the doomed,” he’s never going to get what he wants. No sweetheart, no place as a pillar of the community, no joy. The old gypsy woman was right when she said, “Tears run to a predestined place.”

That gorgeous line is true for all of us. We’re all doomed. We’re all Larry Talbot, awkward and weak in some areas. If we really had some crazy power, would we use it the best way we could, or would we just wish it away? The real question The Wolf Man asks is not, “What is it like to be a werewolf?”

The Wolf Man asks all of us, “What does it mean to be human?”

Mr. X

Jeffery X. Martin, or Mr. X to you, is the published author of several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elder’s Keep universe and Tarotsphere. He also published a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts. You can find his work on Amazon. When Mr. X is not writing creep mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and blogs, including, but not limited to, Pop Shiftier and Kiss the Goat.


Late Phases: in review

Late Phases

Have you seen Late Phases? Finally! A new werewolf movie to keep my strange fascination were the lycanthrope myth sated, or for at least the time being. Hopefully maybe soon we’ll see some quality Mummy movies grace the silver screen…doubtful at that one. But we can always hope. Its no secret, I’ve got a special place in my heart for the classic Universal Monsters. I’m not at the age to have grown up watching the films. I found them in my adult years, and its probably better that I did. I don’t think most of the kids in my late phased (pun intended) Gen-X generation would have appreciated the classics…not as much as an adult would. Maybe I’m wrong, I’m sure there are a few out there that could, but overall, it is my opinion that the classics are appreciated more by a more mature audience. My appreciation stems from my studies in history thru film. Looking back at society thru the looking glass of cinema is a fascinating way of deciphering prevalent thoughts and themes and attitudes of the day in which the movie was made. The original Universal classics, as such, can be both an entertaining as hell movie and a look into the concerns of the past. Werewolf movies are one of my favorite forms of metaphor. Much how I gravitate toward Romero-esk zombie tales, likewise, I gravitate toward the tradition of werewolf created by Curt Siodmak. Curt wrote the original Universal tale, The Wolf Man (1941) and portrayed the bipedal beast as more of a Greek tragedy, where the monster is also the victim, having no control over his inner demon, per say. Late Phases seems to keep to this tradition whilst also moving the mythos a step farther.

Quick fire synopsis:

Ambrose McKinley; a fiercely independent, yet blind Vietnam War veteran and his seeing eye dog are moved into a retirement community at the edge of a forest. Willful and adamant that he can live on his own, he and his son Will are clearly not on the best of terms. He meets three neighbor women; Gloria, Anna and Victoria, who; while at first admiring Ambrose, are quickly put off by his rough attitude toward them. He meets his neighbor Delores, who shares the duplex with him. That night, during a full moon, something breaks into Delores’ kitchen and brutally slashes her to death. Ambrose hears the commotion and is also attacked by a massive werewolf. His dog comes to his defense as Ambrose struggles to find his gun, he manages to deter the creature, but his dog is mortally wounded. The next day, the police find him cradling his dog, and despite the destruction and his claims of the attack, it is shrugged off as a home invasion. With no one to believe his tale, Ambrose quickly works at preparing for the next full moon and soon discovers the threat is not from outside, but rather from inside this seemingly quiet retiree community.

The Meaning of it All…

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And there you go. Plenty of symbolism to keep even the most jaded film graduate student satisfied, while also giving us horror nerds another allegorical tale to place on the shelf of werewolf lore. Ambrose verses the werewolf is an obvious story about how old bones can find purpose and keeps to the Curt Siodmak tradition…with one step farther. The monster here, while struggling at first, in the end accepts his plight and goes about turning other would-be victims into beasts themselves. Religion and faith find their way into the story too, as the priest, Father Roger is summed and cast way and ultimately killed (oops, SPOILERS!). There is also a redemption story between Ambrose and his son, Will. The movie has plenty of heart and even some humor to balance the drama and terror. But is it entertaining?

Where’s the Popcorn…?

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Late Phases was very entertaining. There are certainly some bumps in the road. While the use of practical effects should be applauded, there were a few moments where the effects came across as silly. And I’m mostly talking about the werewolf costume. The transformation scenes are respectable, though does not overshadow Rick Baker’s fantastic work in An American Werewolf in London. I’d say, the transformation effects here were more close to Rob Bottin’s work in The Howling. Other then the effects, the pace was steady. There was an absence of exposition, which I found refreshing. Ambrose, played by Nick Damici, was fantastic. I love seeing crusty veteran movies, especially in horror flicks as it is something I tend to gravitate toward in my own writings. If you haven’t seen Late Phases yet, it’s still on Netflix. Make it a night. Pop some popcorn and enjoy a rather fury tale of a blind Vietnam veteran verses the monotony of retirement.

My Review: 3.5/5