The only think-piece THE CORPSE VANISHES is ever likely to get

Corpse Vanishes03

I was watching THE CORPSE VANISHES (1942) again recently and I forgot to laugh. I understand that laughter is the proper response because just about every critic — even the ones predisposed to horror, to Bela Lugosi, and to the inconsistent charms of Poverty Row cinema — tell us that the movie is no good, that Lugosi is no good in it, that the celluloid used to make it would have been better used for guitar picks, and that the only proper response is yuks. Ask most people in their 30s and 40s if they’ve ever seen THE CORPSE VANISHES and they’re likely to tell you “Yeah, that was one of the best MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000s ever!”  [...MORE]

Son of Dracula’s Daughter!

As the boxer Sonny Liston used to say, “Life a funny thing.” If you squint real hard you can see, to the right of Robert Osborne and below the goldenrod banner that reads “Movie Morlocks Bloggers,” my name and the movie title DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936). I’ll be introducing the film tonight on TCM, sitting right there in the red chair, like you see all sorts of famous people do, and talking Universal horror and vampire movies, and gesturing with my hands, like an Italian. I was one of four Movie Morlocks chosen earlier this year to represent the writers for the TCM blog as official guest programmers, each of us charged with picking a movie that means the most to us. It wasn’t a hard choice on my part. Tonight’s broadcast completes a circuit that sparked for me nearly 40 years ago, when I was a young weirdo of 12 or so, late night TV showed tons of old movies, and life still held no end of boundless mystery. [...MORE]

I like big bats (and I cannot lie)!

For my admittedly singular tastes, the vampire bat (there are other kinds?) is as essential a herald of Halloween as the old witch, the black cat, the Jack-o-lantern, and the scarecrow. As a kid, I loved the sudden appearance of a flapping vampire bat and the bigger and more leathery the beastie the better. Take this barrel-like example from Hammer’s BRIDES OF DRACULA (1961) — it’s like a rumpy Manx with wings — but I love it, I want to hug it, I want to bring it home and ask my mom if I can keep it. I miss bats in horror movies. How did we ever get it into our heads that we could live without them? [...MORE]

Summer Reading

Above: Actress Merle Oberon enjoying a book while lounging around the pool

I do a lot of reading all year long but during the summer months I tend to set aside some extra time to catch up with the books that have accumulated on my shelves. This is partially due to a habit I developed as a child. While other kids were outside playing and enjoying the bright sunshine I could often be found in my bedroom pouring over a good book. Even when my family would go on vacation I would always stick a book in my suitcase or duffel bag. For better or worse, many of my fondest childhood memories involve books that I read during the sweltering summer months while on camping trips and during long plane flights to visit grandparents. This summer I’ve started habitually reading some interesting non-fiction film related books so I thought I’d share some recent discoveries.

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The Tod Browning Version

At the 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival last week I got to revisit Tod Browning’s DRACULA (1931) … and fall in love all over again. [...MORE]

Vampire’s Peak, or It’s Been Downhill Ever Since

The other day my 4 year-old son slapped a square of blue felt onto the top of his head and angled one corner down in line with the bridge of his nose. “Dad, look… I’m a vampire!”  He had, of course, just approximated with devastating simplicity the classic “widow’s peak” that is synonymous with vampires of a certain vintage, going all the way back to Bela Lugosi in DRACULA (1931). Hey, wait a minute… Bela Lugosi’s Dracula didn’t have a widow’s peak. So where did this style come from? [...MORE]

Biopics of the Stars: When Does the Look Matter?

Recently on my stunningly exciting Twitter feed, I engaged in a conversation about actors in biopics with my previously mentioned friend Bill Ryan as well as with fellow blogger/film critic Farran Smith Nehme of The Self-Styled Siren and The New York Post.    The topic, raised by me, was that certain actors didn’t fit well into certain biographical portrayals because despite their physical resemblance,  the actor’s demeanor, intellect and personality all worked against him.   The actor in this case in point is Rod Steiger in the movie W.C. Fields and Me.   Steiger is made to look very much like Fields, sounds like Fields, walks like Fields and delivers lines originally delivered by Fields.  Despite all of that, Rod Steiger, a very talented actor, just doesn’t work as Fields, regardless of how much or little he looks like him.  Other times an actor nails the portrayal but looks so unlike the figure they’re portraying the performance gets lost among the brain fighting back with, “that doesn’t look like him at all!”   When does one matter and the other not?

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Hey You, Horror Actor, Know Your Place!

When one thinks of Spencer Tracy, Ray Milland or Jennifer Jones, the horror/supernatural genre rarely springs to mind and yet, each one of them was in a celebrated film in just that genre.  Spencer Tracy in Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, Ray Milland in The Uninvited and Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie.  Each one is a favorite of mine with The Uninvited being what I would consider the greatest ghost story ever put on film.

By contrast, when one thinks of Vincent Price, Peter Lorre or Hazel Court, the horror/supernatural genre instantly springs to mind even though all of them did plenty of non-horror work (well, Court not so much) before taking on the mantle of horror actors, especially Vincent Price.    Other actors, notably Jack Nicholson, did the reverse, starting out doing plenty of horror before graduating to bigger, higher profile, prestige movies in the seventies.

Finally, some actors, like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, had only a handful of movies not associated with the genre (The Lost Patrol or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, for example, for Karloff and Ninotchka for Lugosi) and seemed to inhabit horror to such a degree that their very names alone signify the horror genre to generations.

So after breaking down all of that, the question remains:  Is there a such thing as a horror actor?

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Introducing Laurence Harvey

A few weeks ago I wrote about Anthony Mann’s last film A Dandy in Aspic, which features Laurence Harvey in one of his best roles. At the time I expressed how much I liked Harvey even though many critics are quick to dismiss him. His reputation has been badly tarnished over the years thanks to shoddy journalism that often focuses on his run-ins with other actors or his sex life. It’s a shame that the negative press surrounding Harvey often outweighs the good but he’s had some notable defenders. When Harvey befriended a costar such as Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra or John Wayne, those friendships often lasted a lifetime.

I’ve always thought Laurence Harvey was an interesting actor who was occasionally miscast in roles that he seemed ill-fitted for. He was born in Lithuania and raised in South Africa so when he arrived in Britain in 1946 to study acting he was the odd man out. Harvey also openly flaunted his bisexuality at times, which seemed to bother a lot of his colleagues. He was eager to be taken seriously as a British actor but he wasn’t British and many of his costars never let him forget it.

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Feel the burn

Here I am talking about vampires again.  In the course of our discussion last Friday about the size of fangs in vampire movies, my fellow Morlock Moirafinnie asked “What do you think of the changing effect of sunlight on various vampires over time in movie history? I always think it’s a gyp when a Dracula figure doesn’t start to sizzle when the sun’s rays hit him or her. Where do you stand, RHS?”  Of course, I could have given Moira a simple answer but why do that when I can squeeze a whole ‘nuther blog post out of the topic? [...MORE]

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