MonsterGirl’s Halloween 🎃 2015 special feature! the Heroines, Scream Queens & Sirens of 30s Horror Cinema!

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Horror cinema was at it’s spooky peak in the 1930s~ the era gave birth to some of the most iconic figures of the genre as well as highlighted some of the most beautiful & beloved heroines to ever light up the scream, oops I mean screen!!!!

We all love the corrupted, diabolical, fiendish and menacing men of the 30s who dominated the horror screen- the spectres of evil, the anti-heroes who put those heroines in harms way, women in peril, –Boris, & Bela, Chaney and March… From Frankenstein, to Dracula, from The Black Cat (1934), or wicked Wax Museums to that fella who kept changing his mind…Jekyll or was it Hyde? From the Mummy to that guy you could see right through, thank you Mr. Rains!

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Gloria Stuart The Invisible Man

Last year I featured Scream Queens of 40s Classic Horror! This Halloween 🎃 – I felt like paying homage to the lovely ladies of 30s Classic Horror, who squealed up a storm on those stormy dreadful nights, shadowed by sinister figures, besieged by beasts, and taunted with terror in those fabulous frisson filled fright flicks… but lest not forget that after the screaming stops, those gals show some grand gumption! And… In an era when censorship & conservative framework tried to set the stage for these dark tales, quite often what smoldered underneath the finely veiled surface was a boiling pot of sensuality and provocative suggestion that I find more appealing than most contemporary forays into Modern horror- the lost art of the classical horror genre will always remain Queen… !

Let’s drink a toast to that notion!

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The Scream Queens, Sirens & Heroines of 1930s Classic Horror are here for you to runs your eyes over! Let’s give ’em a really big hand, just not a hairy one okay! From A-Z

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phantom in the rue morgue 1954
Phantom in the Rue Morgue 1954

ELIZABETH ALLAN

Elizabeth Allan

A British beauty with red hair who according to Gregory Mank in his Women in Horror Films, 1930s, left England for Hollywood and an MGM contract. She is the consummate gutsy heroine, the anti-damsel Irena Borotyn In Tod Browning’s campy Mark of the Vampire (1935) co-starring with Bela Lugosi as Count Mora (His birthday is coming up on October 20th!) Lionel Atwill and the always cheeky Lionel Barrymore… Later in 1958 she would co-star with Boris Karloff in the ever-atmospheric The Haunted Strangler.

Mark of the Vampire is a moody graveyard chiller scripted by Bernard Schubert & Guy Endore (The Raven, Mad Love (1935) & The Devil Doll (1936) and the terrific noir thriller Tomorrow is Another Day (1951) with sexy Steve Cochran & one of my favs Ruth Roman!)

The film is a Tod Browning’s re-take of his silent Lon Chaney Sr. classic London After Midnight (1927).

The story goes like this: Sir Karell Borotin (Holmes Herbert) is murdered, left drained of his blood, Professor Zelin (Lionel Barrymore) believes it’s the work of vampires. Lionel Atwill once again plays well as the inquiring but skeptical police Inspector Neumann.

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Irena (Elizabeth Allan) and Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore) hatch an intricate plot to trap the murderers!

Once Sir Karell’s daughter Irena ( our heroine Elizabeth Allan) is assailed, left with strange bite marks on her neck, the case becomes active again. Neumann consults Professor Zelin the leading expert on Vampires. This horror whodunit, includes frightened locals who believe that Count Mora (Bela in iconic cape and saturnine mannerism) and his creepy daughter Luna  (Carroll Borland) who trails after him through crypt and foggy woods, are behind the strange going’s on. But is all what it seems?

Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Elizabeth Allan and Carroll Borland Mark of the Vampire
Elizabeth Allan (below center) and Carroll Borland as Luna in Tod Browning’s Mark of the Vampire (1935)
Allan and Borland
Elizabeth Allan and Carroll Borland Mark of the Vampire (1935)

The Phantom Fiend (1932)

Directed by the ever interesting director Maurice Elvey (Mr. Wu 1919, The Sign of Four, 1923, The Clairvoyant 1935, The Man in the Mirror 1936, The Obsessed 1952) Elizabeth Allan stars as Daisy Bunting the beautiful but mesmerized by the strange yet sensual and seemingly tragic brooding figure- boarder Ivor Novello as Michel Angeloff in The Phantom Fiend! A remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s first film about Jack the Ripper… The Lodger (1927) starring Novello once again.

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Ivor Novello is the strange & disturbing Michel Angeloff. Elizabeth Allan is the daughter of the landlords who rent a room to this mysterious fellow who might just be a serial killer. Daisy Bunyon falls captivated by this tormented and intense young man…
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A.W. Baskcomb plays Daisy’s (Elizabeth Allan)father George Bunting and Jack Hawkins is Joe Martin the regular guy in love with Daisy
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Michel Angeloff (Ivor Novello) to Daisy Bunting (Elizabeth Allan) “Stay away from me… don’t ever be alone with me…{…} -You trust me, no matter whatever I’ve done?”

The Mystery of Mr. X (1934)

There is a murderer loose in London who writes the police before he strikes with a sword cane, he signs his name X. It happens that his latest crime occurs on the same night that the Drayton Diamond is stolen. Robert Montgomery as charming as ever, is Nick Revel the jewel thief responsible for the diamond heist, but he’s not a crazed murderer. The co-incidence of the two crimes have put him in a fix as he’s now unable to unload the gem until the police solve the murders.

Elizabeth Allan is the lovely Jane Frensham, Sir Christopher Marche’s (Ralph Forbes) fiancé and Police Commissioner Sir Herbert Frensham’s daughter. Sir Christopher is arrested for the X murders, and Nick and Jane band together, fall madly in love and try to figure out a way to help the police find the real killer!

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HEATHER ANGEL

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Heather Angel is a British actress who started out on stage at the Old Vic theatre but left for Hollywood and became known for the Bulldog Drummond series. While not appearing in lead roles, she did land parts in successful films such as Kitty Foyle, Pride and Prejudice (1940), Cry ‘Havoc’ (1943) and Lifeboat (1944). IMDb notes -Angel tested for the part of Melanie in Gone with the Wind (1939), the role was given to Olivia de Havilland.

Heather Angel possessed a sublime beauty and truly deserved to be leading lady rather than relegated to supporting roles and guilty but pleasurable B movie status.

The L.A times noted about her death in 1986 at age 77 “Fox and Universal ignored her classic training and used her in such low- budget features as “Charlie Chans Greatest Case and “Springtime for Henry.”

Her performances in Berkeley Square and The Mystery of Edwin Drood were critically acclaimed… More gruesome than the story-lines involving her roles in Edwin Drood, Hound of the Baskervillles or Lifeboat put together is the fact that she witnessed her husband, stage and film directer Robert B. Sinclair’s vicious stabbing murder by an intruder in their California home in 1970.

Heather Grace Angel was born in Oxford, England, on February 9, 1909.
Heather Angel in Berkeley Square (1933) Image courtesy Dr Macro

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1932)

Heather Angel is Beryl Stapleton in this lost (found negatives and soundtracks were found and donated to the British Film Institute archives) adaptation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holme’s thriller Originally serialised in The Strand magazine between 1901 and 1902.

In this first filmed talkie of Doyle’s more horror oriented story it calls for the great detective to investigating the death of Sir Charles Baskerville and solve the strange killing that takes place on the moors, feared that there is a supernatural force, a monstrous dog like fiend that is menacing the Baskerville family ripping the throats from it’s victims. The remaining heir Sir Henry is now threatened by the curse.

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Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)

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Douglass Montgomery as Neville Landless and Heather Angel as Rosa Bud in the intensely superior rare gem The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)

Mystery of Edwin Drood (played by David Manners) is a dark and nightmarish Gothic tale of mad obsession, drug addiction and heartless murder! Heather Angel plays the beautiful and kindly young student at a Victorian finishing school, Rosa Bud engaged to John Jasper’s nephew Edwin Drood. The opium chasing, choir master John Jasper (Claude Rains) becomes driven to mad fixation over Rosa, who is quite aware of his intense gaze, she becomes frightened and repulsed by him.

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The brooding & malevolent Rains frequents a bizarre opium den run by a menacing crone (Zeffie Tilbury), a creepy & outre moody whisper in the melody of this Gothic horror/suspense tale!

Angel and Hobson

Valerie Hobson plays twin sister Helena Landless, the hapless Neville’s sister. (We’ll get to one of my favorites, the exquisite Valerie Hobson in just a bit…) When Neville and Helena arrive at the school, both Edwin and he vie for Rosa’s affections. When Edwin vanishes, naturally Neville is the one suspected in his mysterious disappearance.

OLGA BACLANOVA

Olga Baclanova

Though I’ll always be distracted by Baclanova’s icy performance as the vicious Cleopatra in Tod Browning’s masterpiece Freaks which blew the doors off social morays and became a cultural profane cult film, Baclanova started out as a singer with the Moscow Art Theater. Appearing in several silent films, she eventually co-starred as Duchess Josiana with Conrad Veidt as the tragic Gwynplaine, in another off-beat artistic masterpiece based on the Victor Hugo story The Man Who Laughs (1928)

Freaks (1932)

Tod Browning produced & directed this eternally disturbing & joyful portrait of behind the scenes melodrama and at times the Gothic violence of carnival life… based on the story ‘Spurs’ by Tod Robbins. It’s also been known as Nature’s Mistress and The Monster Show.

It was essential for Browning to attain realism. He hired actual circus freaks to bring to life this quirky Grand Guignol, beautifully grotesque & macabre tale of greed, betrayal and loyalty.

Cleopatra (Baclanova) and Hercules (Henry Victor) plan to swindle the owner of the circus Hans, (Harry Earles starring with wife Frieda as Daisy) out of his ‘small’ fortune by poisoning him on their wedding night. The close family of side show performers exact a poetic yet monstrous revenge! The film also features many memorable circus folk. Siamese conjoined twins Daisy & Violet Hilton, also saluted in American Horror Story (Sarah Paulson another incredible actress, doing a dual role) Schlitze the pinhead and more!

Freaks

Anyone riveted to the television screen to watch Jessica Lange’s mind blowing performance as Elsa Mars in American Horror Story’s: Freak Show (2014) will not only recognize her superb nod to Marlene Dietrich, but much reverence paid toward the Tod Browning’s classic and Baclanova’s cunning coldness.

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( BTW as much as I adore Frances McDormand, Lange should have walked away with the Emmy this year! I’ve rarely seen a performance that balances like a tight rope walker, the subtle choreography between gut wrenching pathos & ruthless sinister vitriol. Her rendition of Bowie’s song Life on Mars…will be a Film Score Freak feature this Halloween season! No I can’t wait… here’s a peak! it fits the mood of this post…)

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Baclanova and Earles

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“You Freaks!!!!”
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Gooba Gabba… I guess she isn’t one of us after all!

here she is as the evil Countess/duchess luring poor Gwynplain into her clutches The Man Who Laughs (1928)

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Continue reading “MonsterGirl’s Halloween 🎃 2015 special feature! the Heroines, Scream Queens & Sirens of 30s Horror Cinema!”

Saturday Afternoon: Men Doing Science Again….!!!

Four Sided Triangle (1953)

Four Sided Triangle

Based on the novel by William Temple and adapted to the screen and directed by Terence Fisher, this intriguing, thought provoking British sci-fi melodrama invokes the question of creation, playing god, obsession and fate.

Barbara Payton  (Bad Blonde 1953) plays both Lena and Helen a beautiful women caught between two friends who have adored her since they were children. The brilliant Bill (Stephen Murray) invents a duplication machine, and has pined for Lena since he and Bill used to vie for her affections playing knights with wooden swords. But Lena has always been in love with Robin (John Van Eyssen) the other friend that make up the love triangle.

After succeeding in duplicating watches and rabbits Bill wants to try a human subject. One in particular! Tinges of Lang’s Metropolis...

When Lena and Robin get married, Bill asks Lena to allow him to reproduce her in his contraption so he can possess her too. And Lena agrees… the results are disastrous. Co-starring James Hayter as the sympathetic Dr. Harvey.

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Frankenstein 70 (1958)

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Karloff still possesses that lyrical majesty and does the best job he can with this slightly meandering 50’s schlocky script, directed by noir, cult, television drama and big box office–producer/director Howard W. Koch and written by Richard H Landau who scripted The Quartermass Experiment 1955, The Girl in the Black Stockings 1957

As always Karloff’s presence makes any film a joy to watch. He always took his acting seriously and it shows here, which makes this odd little modernity meets old mad science horror flick with some interesting set design and chilling moments worth watching.

Karloff plays the last of the line of Frankensteins who desperately needs money in order to continue his arcane experiments on the reanimation of the monster, he has hidden beneath the family crypt in the Castle. The monster is kept bandaged through out the film, (saves on make-up) and becomes a lumbering bandaged plaster of Paris block head with two hollow holes for eyes. Is it effective or defective… well, I focused on Boris Karloff most of the time.

Frankenstein is now using atomic energy to resurrect his ancestors creation (the lab is actually very groovy Strickfaden would approve), but needs a few more things, like an atomic reactor, brains, eyeballs etc.

Baron Von Frankenstein whose face is badly scarred from the Nazi’s who tortured when he refused to experiment on their victims, allows a film maker and his crew to shoot their low budget horror picture on the grounds, finds their presence an immortal intrusion but he is broke and must put up with the nuisance.

But– the aggressive and meddlesome bunch uncover Dr. Frankenstein’s secret laboratory and it just gets chaotic from there…

Rudolph Anders plays the Baron’s confidante Wilhelm Gottfried, and Norbert Schiller plays the very simple butler Shuter… poor poor Shuter…

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The Mask of Fu Manchu 1932

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Directed by Charles Brabin and an uncredited Charles Vidor they offer this highly stylized horror/sci-fi-/fantasy hybrid from the 30s!

Boris Karloff is the diabolical genius Fu Manchu who only wishes to conquer the world with the help of his beautiful but equally nefarious daughter Fah Lo See played by the exquisite Myrna Loy.

Sir Nayland Smith of the British Secret Service played by Lewis Stone rushes to the Gobi Desert to find the mysterious mask and sword of Genghis Khan. He must get there before Fu Manchu possesses it’s power.

Fu Manchu kidnaps Sir Lionel Barton and tortures him in order to find out where the great treasures of Genghis Khan are buried in his lost tomb, but Barton refuses to tell…

Mean Sir Lionel’s daughter Sheila (Karen Morely) Sir Nayland Smith, Terrence Granville (Charles Starrett) and Von Berg (Jean Hersholt) set out to uncover the whereabouts of the relics before the evil menace can use them in his diabolical plan to conquer the world!

The Mask of Fu Manchu boasts the wonderful Kenneth Strickfaden designs!

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Your Ever Lovin’ MonsterGirl!

The Electrical Secrets of Kenneth Strickfaden: or as Harry Goldman’s book calls him -“Dr Frankenstein’s Electrician”

Kenneth Strickfaden-(1896–1984)

I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision—I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.

— Mary Shelley

Colin Clive -Frankenstein 1930

When I think of Kenneth Strickfaden I visualize the mad scientist grabbing the master switch in his clandestine laboratory. Suddenly the machinery hums and glows, glass tubes boil with liquids, electrical currents charge through the coiled tubes and conductance. Lighting leaps across the sky and finds its way into the diving spot in the lab. The crackle, snapping hiss and sparks of ozone. The well orchestrated machinery of mad science that now act as futuristic hardware. The electrical odor that would still permeate the air for years to come as he shaped the way we perceived the mad scientist labs and mysterious scientific exploration!

early days Strickfaden assembling a mad scientist apparatus
early days Strickfaden assembling a mad scientist apparatus

Kenneth Strickfaden was an expert in high voltage electricity, film set designer, and electrical special effects master. Using his skills as a carnival electrician, he created the science fiction apparatus that can be seen in more than 100 films and television programs, showcasing Strickfaden’s technical phantasmagoria of light and sound!

I often wonder how many of these films centered around mad science and the laboratory environment utilized some of Strickfaden’s machines and electrical effects without giving him credit.

The Devil Commands
Boris Karloff in The Devil Commands
Karloff, Boris (Man They Could Not Hang, The)
Boris Karloff in The Man They Could Not Hang
man made monster
Man Made Monster

I can see influences in Edward Dymtryk’s  The Devil Commands 1941 with Boris Karloff. With art direction by Lionel Banks and props by Franz, Oscar and Paul Dallons. The Man They Could Not Hang 1939  & Man Made Monster 1941  Set direction by Russell A Gausman and John P Fulton who had worked with Strickfaden before. I believe Strickfaden did the special effects and used part of his equipment for. Doctor X (1932) , The Invisible Man 1933, The Man Who Lived Again and more!

Dr X mad science
Dr X (1932)
The Man Who Lived Again
The Man Who Lived Again
The Invisible Man set
The Invisible Man 1933

Strickfaden’s first contribution was to Just Imagine 1930. Today it has become something of a “lost” film and nearly impossible to see on the big screen. “While the beautiful art deco sets, enormous miniatures, and remarkable projection effects still amaze,” says Production Designer John Muto, Founder of the ADG Film Series, “the music, comedy, and love story are derived from vaudeville and must have seemed very dated as cinematic musicals exploded in the 1930s. I suspect that may be why the film faded from view. Our audience will discover a very surprising film!”
“Today, most films set in the future portray a bleak, dystopian, even apocalyptic world.” Besides the beautiful art design Just Imagine featured a stunning laboratory filled with electrical equipment  by Ken Strickfaden.

Just Imagine Lab
Just Imagine 1930
The Clutching Hand Strickfaden
The Clutching Hand (1936

But it was his work for James Whale’s 1931 masterpiece Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankenstein that struck like lightening! Stock footage of the lightning bolt generated by Strickfaden’s equipment.can be seen in so many films and television shows. John P Fulton head of the special effects department at Universal Studios was responsible for the special photographic effects-

Jame’s Whale had wanted a lab that was reminiscent of the one in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis 1927 Lang’s art deparment/set designers Otto Hunte, Erich Kettlehut, Walter Schulze-Mittendorf & Karl Vollbrecht. Special effects by Ernst Kunstmann, Konstantin Irmen-Tschet and Erich Kettelhut. Visual effects Eugen Schufftan , Willy Muller, Hugo O Schulze and an uncredited Edgar G. Ulmer.

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Metropolis 1927
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Fritz Lang’s Metropolis 1927
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This orb of Kenneth Strickfaden’s has made it through Fu Manchu’s clutches to the Wicked Witch of the West’s long bony fingers

You can see Strickfaden’s wonderful creations in  The Wizard of Oz , The Mask of Fu Manchu to television’s The Munsters, and his final work, Young Frankenstein. Strickfaden recycled a number of the pieces that he kept maintained like his “Cosmic Ray Diffuser” that he used in the original Frankenstein.

Kenneth Strickfaden was born in 1896-by the time he was in high school he was using a camera and setting up shots of amusement parks, battle scenes, and visualizing and creating his own laboratory apparatus and equipment.

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Thesinger and Clive in The Bride of Frankenstein

When I was just a little tiny wide eyed MonsterGirl I would day dream plenty on rainy days and spend hours down in the basement assembling pieces of metal and plastic doohickeys having taken apart various appliances around the house, trying to create my very own little mad scientist lab. I’d get large pieces of wood and paint the control panels. I could literally spend hours down there pretending to be Dr. Pretorious. I was fascinated by science fiction technology and the secrets of life and death, and the fantastical story telling Universal Monsters had to offer.

Frankenstein near the slab

Boris as Frankenstein on the set

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Backstage on the set of Frankenstein

My pop would continually ask me where I put his hammer, though it was true most of the time, I did take his tools to aide in my small scale construction of a basement laboratory. I was constructing panels with knobs and meters, I didn’t always have his hammer. And by no means did I have the eye or the technical brain to develop such intricate machinery that could spark and crackle streams of white heat, the suggestion of the life force arching in splendor. It just felt so good to be living my own fantasies without being told that I should go play with dolls. That’s also partly how I got to be known as MonsterGirl by the neighborhood bullies. Anyway… back to the genius of Frankenstein’s electrician.

Paul Walter assistant holds the switch box that controlls Strickfaden's Magnalux invention for lighting simulating flashes
Paul Walter assistant holds the switch box that controlls Strickfaden’s Magnalux invention for lighting simulating flashes-Image from Goldman’s book

arcs of electicity

Strickfaden had, the sort of fascination for creating a milieu of science realism , working on our sense of wonder and the possibilities of the creations these machines would aide in either creating life or destroying it, was always a draw for me. His special electrical designs and effects were visually groundbreaking for American film audiences, far-fetched perhaps but divine. He used junk yard electrical parts from the 1930s, fake wiring,high voltage jacob’s ladders (An electric current then flows until the path of ionized gas is broken or it as it rises will pull the arc apart and so extinguish it.) and spark gaps and the occasional Tesla Coil. “Ribbed ceramic insulators are a must… as are the slate front panels and wooden cabinetry that were standard of scientific and medical devices of the day”

And that’s why I wanted to do this little feature tribute to a man who’s responsible for shaping the look of so many classic horror and sci-fi fantasy film milieus over the years. The sets and laboratory apparatus that contributed to the Gothic science mood of the story, came to life because of the innovation Strickfaden used in creating with his fantastical yet plausible designs. As key to the plot structure as the players themselves.

"Megavolt Senior" Tesla coil
image of Strickfaden’s “Megavolt Senior” from Goldman’s Book

Appendix A sparks of light

During the grand days of classic horror between the decades of 1930’s and 1940s, the landscape might have looked entirely different if Kenneth Strickfaden hadn’t been so fascinated with creating apparatus and contraptions that flashed and sparked with high voltage, meters keeping track, tubes and coils and large equipment that paid true homage the science fiction writings he was trying to breath life into himself a technician like Pretorious and Dr. Frankenstein. The appearance of these industrial gadgets and machines, and the look of the laboratory brought such a sense of realism to an already Gothic stunner, and Mary Shelley’s story, too which was ahead for it’s day. As Harry Goldman refers to in his book title, Strickfaden was the right electrician for the job.

Strickfaden high voltage

clive with the bride 'Nebularium"
Colin Clive with Elsa Lanchester as The Bride- notice The Nebularium! Image from Goldman’s Strickfaden-Frankenstein’s Electrician
Famous Monsters of Filmland #21 1963
on the set of Frankenstein-from Famous Monsters of Filmland #21 1963

Though his fascination started in high school by the early 1920s film makers saw the potential in his inventive apparatus. He was given work at many Hollywood studios, in which he offered them a slew of amazing special electrical effects.

From Goldman’s, Kenneth Strickfaden, Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician, Strickfaden’s work was not easy, “Apparatus constantly failed due to overheating,” he once revealed to writer Scott MacQueen. “Most effects did not photograph as expected, or they were eliminated due to electrical failures.”

Despite these unusual, and expected, setbacks, the onscreen results were phenomenal, and far more convincing than any simulations. Strickfaden made much use of the inventions of Nikola Tesla, which had been perfected more than thirty years before the first Universal Studios “Frankenstein” movie. But, unlike Tesla, he was also concerned with the theatrical “look” of his fanciful contraptions, which had to appear to be futuristic and capable of untold wonders. The names he gave the machines were often equally marvelous, such as: “the retrogressive wave charger,”DXL Accumulator,” and High Amperage Pyrogeyser.”

When, in the late 1940s, real-life scientific marvels turned out to be subtler than Strickfaden’s machines, his work apparently went out of fashion and was little seen in Hollywood until the ’60s, when it was used extensively in The Munsters TV show and in commercials.

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Before his death in 1984, he spent much time touring with his “Kenstric Space Age Science Show,” educationally demonstrating spectacular electrical phenomena.

Standing fearlessly before a high voltage arc.His reliable switchboard can be seen in the foreground while the famous "Meg Senoir" Tesla coil appears in the background
Standing fearlessly before a high voltage arc.His reliable switchboard can be seen in the foreground while the famous “Meg Senoir” Tesla coil appears in the background

the firescope

The Cosmic Ray Diffuser
The Cosmic Ray Diffuser-Image from Goldman’s Book

A few highlights of Strickfaden’s career include:

Frankenstein (1931) the equipment brought the Mary Shelley’s monster to life.

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)  Strickfaden created a dazzling electrical death ray even doubling for Boris Karloff, who played Fu Manchu when the evil mastermind spreads his hands and the powerful lightning dances between his long sinister fingernails.

Murders in the Rue Morgue 1932 Bela Lugosi is Dr Mirakle- Ken Strickfaden lends his electrical gadgets to Mirakle’s laboratory.

Chandu the Magician -Strickfaden’s machines came from FRANKENSTEIN now they equip (Bela Lugosi) Roxor’s lab- His death ray, a giant ray gun that sends pulsating death beams aimed at the major cities of the world!

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)Strickfaden configured  the electrical displays for the Bride creation sequence.

James Whale and his crew film Ernest Thesiger and Dwight Frye amidst Kenneth Strickfaden's electrical equipment in The Bride of Frankenstein.©1935 Universal Pictures.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) He created the effect of the Wicked Witch of the West trying to remove Dorothy’s ruby slippers and receiving an electrical shock. The orb she uses to scry was a Strickfaden design.

The giant crystal ball that Margaret Hamilton uses as the Wicked Witch was actually uncovered in a junk yard found amidst the remnants of other discarded Hollywood memorabilia from a now defunct prop house. The enormous hand blown glass, with high voltage Tesla coils had a new owner who spotted it in Goldman’s book Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician. It had been used by Bela as Roxor in Chandu the Magician.  It was a great prop for Boris Karloff in Mask of Fu Manchu, but once he placed it up for auction the new ownder learned that it had actually been the crystal ball used in The Wizard of OZ.

Fighting Devil Dogs (circa 1941)“Manifested projectiles of something like ball lightning.”

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)He simulated an unusually realistic lightning strike.”

Young Frankenstein (1974) Strickfaden recreated some of his best work from the original Frankenstein.

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Karloff as Fu Manchu

Karloff Fu Manchu

Fu Manchu Boris Karloff

Bela in Chandu the Magician
Bela in Chandu the Magician with the death ray
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Boris as the absent minded scientist in The Boogeyman Will Get You

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Colin Clive Ernest Thesiger The Bride of Frankestein
Ernest Thesiger and Colin Clive in The Bride of Frankenstein

Phantom Creeps set design

The Phantom Creeps K Strickfaden

He was born in Montana in 1896, Kenneth Strickfaden’s was an imaginative and adventurous guy who worked at amusement parks, taking myriads of photos. He traveled overseas serving in World War One. He was also an airplane mechanic so he was very handy technically, having built and tuned Tesla coils and X-Ray machines. A Tesla coil is an electrical resonant transformer circuit invented by Nikola Tesla around 1891. It is used to produce high-voltage, low-current, high frequency Eventually he found himself in Hollywood working as a studio electrician in the late twenties.

Strickfaden holding Melodyne musical disc The large lens appeared in Son of Frankenstain 1939
Image of Strickfaden holding the Melodyne musical disc and large lens that appears in Son of Frankenstein from Goldman’s book Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician

In 1931, Kenneth Strickfaden was hired to set up the equipment for Frankenstein’s tower laboratory. He was to furnish it with a ‘powerful engine.Strickfaden assembled various machines. One which was used for the lightening powered scene that would help resurrect Boris Karloff’s monster back from the dead to life on the slab. He combined his knowledge of electrical science engineering and part of his love of creating side show electrical pageantry in order to transform Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory into a place of unorthodox alchemy within a modern science dominion.

Kenneth Strickfaden Bride of Frankenstein control panel
Kenneth Strickfaden Bride of Frankenstein control panel-Image from Goldman’s book

At first the designs were to be more streamline and modern in their look, but Strickfaden had managed to construct a place of Gothic dread within the medieval structure of the setting and seamlessly adapt the apparatus of modern science with the stone walls. The juxtaposition of the two worlds adds to the feeling of Dr Frankenstein’s heretical, rebellious and clandestine primacy as his secrets lay hidden away.

Strickfaden’s apparatus quivered, sparked, crackled and shrieked. The imposing levers were pulled in harmony with the dialogue, like an orchestrated scientific waltz. White hot arcs of electrical tendrils reached out and thrust wildly like serpent’s tongues. Beautifully glistening glass vials and tubes sat amidst copper spheres that wound themselves around like industrial jewels. Needles indicated where the force of energy was heading on the dials, and disks whirled like fun-house wheels. It was all so mesmerizing in Frankenstein’s laboratory with it’s arcane machinery that sung the songs of the universe, and the secrets of immortality and life from death, the sounds of voltage that pushed the machinery to its limits.

The Space Beacon

lab device bride notes
The Nebularium device from The Bride of Frankenstein 1935 Image from Goldman’s book
Creating "Nebularium" for House of Dracula '45
Strickfaden creating a Nebularium for House of Dracula ’45. Image from Goldman’s book Dr.Frankenstein’s Electrician

From then on 1931 James Whale’s Frankenstein with its elaborately detailed laboratory up on the mountain tops set the tone for all mad scientist laboratories to follow. Kenneth Strickfaden would utilize and reconfigure his glorious apparatus over and over again in the Frankenstein films that followed, like Bride of Frankenstein.

You can see his fantastical machines like his “Megavolt Tesla Coil” & the Nebularium” in Flash Gordon serials and so many other horror and sci-fi features over the decades. Even in one of the most memorable episodes of The Munsters in the 60s, where Grandpa transfigures Herman into Fred Gwynn, losing his square headed, neck bolted Frankensteinian charm! The episode is called “Just Another Pretty Face.”

And Mel Brooks truly paid homage to the Universal cycle of Frankenstein pictures with his Young Frankenstein in 1974. Co-starring with Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn doing her Mae Clarke bit as Elizabeth and Marty Feldman as Igor to Dwight Frye’s Fritz.

Set used on Young Frankenstein
Strickfaden’s machines and apparatus were re-used in Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein

The Gothic laboratory that Gene Wilder plays Doctor, waxes campy and raises Peter Boyle back to life using a lighting storm and complex equipment that sparks and radiates arcs of light was the very same set of scientific apparatus used from Whale’s masterpiece in 1931 film when Kenneth Strickfaden first configured it all for the set of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff.

Strickfaden died in 1984, and up until that time, he traveled the country with all machines and apparatus, and gave lectures in schools and auditoriums, also creating music with electrical instruments that he designed. He would demonstrate his lighting effects with ultraviolet light on radioactive materials, and shock and amaze students with something he called hi “gravity nuetralizer” He did these programs from 1933 til his death.

Ghost of Frankenstein
The Ghost of Frankestein Basil Rathbone, Bela and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster
phantom creeps
Bela Lugosi in The Phantom Creeps

Strickfaden would step in at times as a stunt double in the films, for instance, he played Karloff’s monster for a scene that didn’t make it into the film. When Karloff didn’t want to use the “QUCH” machine fearing it was too dangerous as Fu Manchu, Strickfaden stood in for him. He held  a large wand that generated a streaming arc of lightening which called for a million-volt sparks to dance over his body. in Mask of Fu Manchu, Strickfaden was thrown across the set when he wasn’t grounded properly and received a jolt of electricity.

QUCH MACHINE
Kenneth Strickfaden’s QUCH machine-up for auction

He became the most trusted man around high-voltage trickery, yet Strickfaden admits very plainly that there’s no mystery to what he is able to do and that producing high voltage or amperage is rather simple.

One of the key apparatus that Strickfaden uses is his million-volt generator, which produces the large sparks, and fat blue flames that which can actually reach a height of 6 feet into the air. It’s his most intricately designed piece of equipment. The multi-distributor consists of a motor driven set of whirling electrodes that can throw sparks. Strickfaden does say that a shock from the circuits could actually prove fatal.

Another device  Strickfaden used was called a ‘lightening screen’ This is another high voltage generator which throws sparks across a large disk with a radioactive backing. Used with a darkened stage, the radioactive material continues to glow along the path of each spark even once the current has been shut off.

The Tesla Coil in Frankenstein and Mask of Fu Manchu

A note about Nikola Tesla-THE GENIUS WHO LIT THE WORLD- Young Nikola Tesla came to the United States in 1884 with an introduction letter from Charles Batchelor to Thomas Edison:   Nikola Tesla developed polyphase alternating current system of generators, motors and transformers and held 40 basic U.S. patents on the system, which George Westinghouse bought, determined to supply America with the Tesla system.

In February 1882, Tesla discovered the rotating magnetic field, a fundamental principle in physics and the basis of nearly all devices that use alternating current.  Tesla brilliantly adapted the principle of rotating magnetic field for the construction of alternating current induction motor and the polyphase system for the generation, transmission, distribution and use of electrical power. Tesla’s A.C.induction motor is widely used throughout the world in industry and household appliances. It started the industrial revolution at the turn of the century. Electricity today is generated transmitted and converted to mechanical power by means of his inventions. Tesla’s greatest achievement is his polyphase alternating current system which lights is used throughout the world

NOTABLE KENNETH STRICKFADEN-FILMOGRAPHY-CAMERA ART & ELECTRICAL DEPARTMENT

  • JUST IMAGINE 1930
  • FRANKENSTEIN 1931
  • THE MASK OF FU MANCHU 1932
  • MURDER AT DAWN 1932
  • DR. X (1932)
  • THE INVISIBLE MAN 1933
  • THE VANISHING SHADOW 1934
  • THE LOST CITY 1935
  • THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN 1935
  • FLASH GORDON serial 1936
  • THE AMAZING EXPLOITS OF THE CLUTCHING HAND
  • GHOST PATROL 1936
  • THE WIZARD OF OZ 1939
  • THE PHANTOM CREEPS 1939
  • THE SHADOW 1940
  • FIGHTING DEVIL DOGS 1941
  • SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH 1943
  • THE BOOGEYMAN WILL GET YOU 1943
  • HOUSE OF DRACULA 1945
  • MONSTROSITY 1963
  • THE MUNSTERS 1966
  • GAMES 1967 Curtis Harrington directs
  • DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN 1971
  • BLACKENSTEIN 1973
  • YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN 1974

SOLD AT AUCTION

DEATH RAY- apparatus -strickfaden auction
Kenneth Strickfaden’s DEATH RAY- apparatus -at auction

device at Auction

electronic effects switchboard-Nebular Device used in both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein

From the set of Frankenstein being sold at auction

Strickfaden device at Auction

Kenneth Strickfadens Digital Disputer Laboratory Device

junk store terminal 2

SOURCE MATERIAL FROM-

Kenneth-Strickfaden-Dr-Frankenstein-s-Electrician-

DR. FRANKENSTEIN’S ELECTRICIAN BY HARRY GOLDMAN 2005

FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND #21 1963

Memorabilia Heritage Auction Galleries

Photos from the Academy of Motion Pictures homage to Strickfaden.-A selection of surviving gadgets from Strickfaden’s movie laboratories.

IMDb Kenneth Strickfaden Filmography

Modern Mechanix scan of a Popular Mechanics article from September 1949-by Eugene M Hanson.

1. Scott MacQueen, “Kenneth Strickfaden: Strange Revelations of the Man Who Lives in the House that Frankenstein Built,” Gore Creatures, no. 24, October 1975, pp. 24-26.

2. William Ludington, “Mister Electricity: The Multi-Volted Career of Kenneth Strickfaden,” American Classic Screen, vol. 7, no. 1, Jan./Feb. 1983, pp. 26-29.

This has been electrifying -your ever lovin’ MonsterGirl