“I am a ham! And the ham in an actor is what makes him interesting. The word is an insult only when it’s used by an outsider – among actors, it’s a very high compliment, indeed.“
In the history of cinema, there are stars that burn white hot. Then there are those who wind up taking a detour – yet they’ve earned the vibrancy and a willingness to explore even the vast floor of the ocean’s bottom – this is emblematic of a beloved cult B actor. Those who tickle us with a zeal for chills and chagrins, guffaws and gadzooks, individualism and inimitability, captivating and crapola!
In his later years, John Carradine would come to be known as one of these… the crime is… he was a damn sensational actor!
“I never made big money in Hollywood. I was paid in hundreds, the stars got thousands. But I worked with some of the greatest directors in films and some of the greatest writers. They gave me the freedom to do what I can do best and that was gratifying.”
In regards to his horror legacy, this is what he had to say in 1983 in an interview for KMOX tv:
“That’s the least of my work. I’ve done almost 400 films and only 25 have been horror.”
When you think of John Carradine you might recall his brilliant performance as Casy in The Grapes of Wrath. Carradine had worked with some of the most notable actors and directors in the history of cinema and by the end of his career, he also managed to plumb the depths with some of the crummiest.
Then again you might be excited by his translation of the Dracula mythos in five films: two from Universal’s finely tuned House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), and three from the later decade’s trash heap – Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966), Vampire Hookers (1978), and Nocturna (1979).
On Bela Lugosi in 1956: “Lugosi was a craftsman. I’ve known him for 25 years. He was a considerate and kind gentleman. As for the parts we both played, he was the better vampire. He had a fine pair of eyes. Nobody will ever be able to fill his shoes. He will be missed by us all.”
Like Whale’s Frankenstein monster, Carradine actually missed out on playing the monster and the lead role in Dracula (1931).
With 354 film and television credits to his iconic career, John Carradine was known for his distinctively deep baritone voice and tall, thin frame, a ‘towering, craggy frame’ which often earned him roles as villains and sinister characters, mad doctors, Draculas, hobos, drunks and a slew of nefarious Nazis devils!
At times he had the charm of a jaunty Grim Reaper. Even those smart pale blue eyes that flicker cannot be obscured by that quizzical squint.
William Beaudine on the set of The Face of Marble 1946.
He often worked with director John Ford but you’ve no doubt seen him playing a mad scientist in Captive Wild Woman 1943, The Face of Marble 1946, and The Unearthly 1957.
But one thing that links all these archetypes together is Carradine’s range of either an austere penetrating reserve or a flamboyant spirit framed by his willowy shape. Carradine can intone with either his whispering rumination from a well-written script or summoning his grandiose voice as he reads aloud the trashiest, tackiest dialogue that only he can make appear as a highfalutin soliloquy.
His nicknames were the Bard of the Boulevard and The Voice.
Carradine’s career includes significant Academy Award-worthy roles, but in contrast, once he started his descent into the madness of acting obscurity, he embodied figures of grotesques and unsavory types. Eventually, he appeared in films more like a drifter just passing through in overambitious garbage Z movies. And now, he will always be considered one of the big-time heavies of the horror genre.
Still, he has left behind a legacy of striking screen performances: the sinister Sgt. Rankin in The Prisoner of Shark Island, and the somber “Long Jack” of Captains Courageous. He played a melancholy Lincoln in Of Human Hearts, a treacherous Bob Ford in Jesse James, the curious stranger Hatfield ofStagecoach, and one of his greatest contributions to the acting craft, as earnest dispirited preacher Casy in The Grapes of Wrath. All masterful characters in Hollywood’s golden age of filmmaking.
Carradine appeared in eight Oscar Best Picture nominees: Cleopatra (1934), Les Misèrables (1935), Captains Courageous (1937), Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938), Stagecoach (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Ten Commandments (1956), and Around the World in 80 Days (1956). Only the last of these won.
He has appeared in eight films that have been selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant: The Invisible Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Stagecoach (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Johnny Guitar (1954), The Court Jester (1955), The Ten Commandments (1956)and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
Though he was known for his ability to bring a kiss of intensity and an air of mysteriousness to his characters, often cast in villainous and sinister roles – he was highly regarded for his versatility and range as an actor. Despite his status as a horror icon, Carradine was more than just a genre actor and never wanted to be known for his long involvement with horror pictures, as he called them.
He was transitional in all genres such as historical dramas, war and spy films, film noir, westerns, horror, sci-fi, mystery thrillers, and romantic comedies. His career ran the spectrum of storytelling.
Carradine was capable of serious dramatic reverie, and earnest and sober performances til ultimately – schlocky b movies, ‘The ‘Divine Madness’ of this flamboyant, grand old man of the theater and Hollywood, Carradine’s persona emerged as a confluence between the individualist and distinguished gentleman.’(John Carradine: The Films edited by Gregory Willam Mank)
But after all this superior work in an industry that chewed up and spits out great actors, even after his contribution to the horror genre that once saw him as one of the ruling class in Universal’s horror films such as House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. There is a place for him amongst the aristocracy of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing, though he might be considered the vagabond of the horror pantheon, as he will undoubtedly be remembered for his role in B horror and exploitation films.
“I have shot, strangled, or otherwise disposed of many a victim on the screen in my day. However, more mayhem has been committed on me than I ever committed on anyone else. I have been poisoned, drowned, shot, pushed off cliffs, hanged, strangled, electrocuted, and run over by subway trains.”
John Carradine is a noble eccentric, a cult icon who enjoyed photography and painting, sang opera, loved sculpting, knew the Bard’s work by heart, and could recite Shakespeare at every opportunity. Interviews and commentary from other people in the industry would relate stories of John Carradine getting potted with a drink in hand and spouting Shakespeare and funny anecdotes. “He had a repertoire of bad jokes and off-color reminiscence of Old Hollywood.” He was famous for that as much as for his acting.
Carradine is known for his theatricalizing, his out-of-control drinking, and his private life which was a circus. A life bombarded with non-conformity, chaotic marital trials and tribulations, arrests for not paying alimony, drunk driving, prostitution scandals, and bankruptcy that left him destitute.
With all the disorder in Carradine’s life, the reputation that the actor built from his earlier career took a ruinous insult over the years.
By the end, the actor didn’t bother to read a script, he learned his part no matter how ridiculous yet he took anything that came his way so he could pay the rent, finance his dream of having his own theater company and support his boys.
“An opera cape, top hat, ebony stick, and glittering diamond studs set John apart in a town where a tuxedo is considered formal dress. At intermissions, he stands gracefully in the lobby, smoking a long Russian cigarette and twirling his cane… It is the kind of exhibitionism that made Hollywood, in its colorful beginnings, the most talked about town on Earth…”
John Carradine with his actor sons, John, Keith, and Robert courtesy Getty Images date unknown.
Fred Olen Ray: “He was both a prince and a rascal” …” He was colorful and dramatic… He had a sweeping, majestic personality and an extraordinary voice that somehow managed to make the worst dialogue sound good.”
Keith Carradine: “Here was this Shakespearean actor who, in the 1950s to feed his children, did a lot of horror movies. That’s mostly what he’s known for. I think it sort of broke his heart.”
We know him for his deep voice, that low-pitched booming voice that sounds like well-worn leather and warm spices-cinnamon, sandalwood, and clove. He delivers his dialogue more like a fustian oratory, a sagacious silver-tongued scholar intoning a sermon instead of reading his lines straight.
From an interview with KMOX tv:
What do you think made you so successful as an image that I think maybe that incredible voice?
“I think the voice helped and another thing that helped I think was the fact that – well my face Darryl Zanuck was once heard saying when he came out of the rushes for something that I was in. He said “that guy Carradine got the god damndest face (He laughs) What he meant by that I don’t know but I think that was part of it. Well I think the voice helped a lot. Cecil DeMille said I had the finest voice in the business and he was right I did have the finest voice in the business. Still have. But it’s because I had been because I spent so much time in the theater and because I did Shakespeare. As I told my boys if you want to. Be an actor play all the Shakespeare you can get your hands on. Cause if you can play Shakespeare you can play anything. And I did a lot of Shakespeare. Cause that’s why I became an actor because I wanted to be a Shakespearean actor.”
John Carradine is an actor that commands a parade of imagery and similes. He’s just that darn interesting. I find him to have an almost regal symmetry that strikes me as handsome.
He is wraithlike and sinewy, withered, worn to a shadow, and as thin as a rake yet his presence is boundless.
A lanky actor wafting around the screen like a willow tree, hollow-cheeked, rawboned, and lantern-jawed, the opposite of Herculean – but make no mistake his presence is immortal.
And in a not-so-flattering light, he’s been referred to as cadaverous.
“I wasn’t eccentric in those days. I was just trying to learn my craft and improve what I had… cadaverous I’m a very thin man Cadaverous means looking like a cadaver and at least I do look alive. I look like I might live another five minutes!”
Will Ecstasy Be a Crime… In the Terrifying World of the Future?
Directed by Michael Anderson, the film is based on the novel by George Orwell that tells of a totalitarian future society in which a man whose daily work is rewriting history, rebels by doing the unthinkable– he falls in love. 1984 stars Edmund O’Brien as clerk Winston Smith of The Ministry of Truth for the Outer Party who refuses to accept the totalitarian state of 1984, where all the citizens are under surveillance at all times. When Winston meets Julia they bask in their physical pleasures outside of the watchful eyes of Big Brother but are betrayed by a member of the Inner Party, O’Connor (Redgrave). Each state functionary must adhere to their designated positions and Redgrave gives a superb performance as a proud drone who possesses a drive as he demonstrates his responsibilities to the state.
The underrated Jan Sterling plays Julia of the Outer Party, and David Kossoff is cast as Charrington the junk shop owner. Co-starring in the film are Melvyn Johns as Jones, Donald Pleasence as R. Parsons, Carol Wolfridge as Selina Parsons, Ernest Clark as Outer Party Announcer, Patrick Allen as Inner Party Official, British character actor Michael Ripper as Outer Party Orator and Kenneth Griffith as the prisoner.
It was in 1954 that Nigel Kneale (writer-creator of the Quatermass trilogy, The Quatermass Xperiment 1955, First Men in the Moon 1964, The Witches 1966, Quatermass and the Pit 1967, The Woman in Black 1989 first adapted George Orwell’s dystopian Ordeal for BBC television starring Peter Cushing as Winston Smith.
Director Michael Anderson (who would later take on another futuristic cautionary tale, Logan’s Run 1976) unveils Orwell’s bleak vision and its passage of vigilance, yet it has been criticized for lacking the deeper essence of his novel and the gravity of its contributions – a premonition of things to come. The ferocious inclinations of man create- Big Brother. A destiny intent on tyranny, depersonalization, the all-watchful eye of the totalitarian state, and the loss of free will.
There were two endings made. The British release presents Winston Smith (O’Brien) defying Big Brother and dying for his principles. The American version has lovers O’Brien and Sterling brainwashed, reconditioned and ultimately abandoning their relationship.
“Thus, in place of Orwell’s savage satire on the rise of the authoritarian state ( and specifically Stalinism), producer Rathvon and Anderson mount a vapid romance in which beefy O’Brien and mousey Sterling are clearly intended to represent the undying spirit of rebellion. Even the drabness of life in Oceania that Orwell creates so convincingly, is lost in the film which, like so many literary adaptations, centers on the slim storyline of the novel.” -Phil Hardy
Bela Lugosi (Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó) was a well respected Hungarian stage actor. Once he came to America he forged a legacy that left an imprint on the horror genre, contributing to the mythos as the sexually provocative prototype of seduction and danger. Bela became the model for the confluence of sensuality attraction, romance, and danger in horror. We all became drawn to his stare, and once he instilled in us that familiar dread, he established himself as the beloved face of terror.
In 1937, a small Broadway theater put on a production based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But actors refused to play the lead role, a character who was both man and fiend and wore flamboyant makeup. Dracula would suck the blood of women with a tremulous subtext of sexual penetration.
At the last minute an unknown European actor appeared. His English was not very good but seemed to fit the otherworldly persona necessary to present this romantic menacing evil spirit. Bela claimed he was born in Transylvania, and once he was given the role he only asked that he could interpret the character and make it his own.
And though Bela will always be remembered as the most iconic symbol of Dracula, some of his greatest, and in my opinion underrated, performances lie within his portrayal of Dr. Vitus Werdegast in Edgar Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934). There he evokes pathos as a tormented soul. And he brings a wonderful sardonic irony as Igor in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein.
The rest is history…
Bela Lugosi and Henry B. Walthall in Chandu the Magician (1932
Bela Lugosi, Edmund Lowe, and Irene Ware in Chandu the Magician (1932)
Bela Lugosi and Arlene Francis in Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)
Bela Lugosi in Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Bela Lugosi and Irene Ware in The Raven (1935)
Bela Lugosi and Frederick Peters in White Zombie (1932)
Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, and Robert Frazer in White Zombie (1932)
Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lucille Lund in The Black Cat (1934)
Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in The Black Cat (1934)
Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in The Invisible Ray (1936)
Bela Lugosi and Greta Gynt in The Dark Eyes of London (1939)
Son of Frankenstein 1939 Bela and Boris
Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Basil Rathbone, and Edgar Norton in Son of Frankenstein (1939)
This is your EverLovin’ Joey thinking fondly of the sensual man in the cape — who still gives us shivers and Schadenfreude from the immortal screen. With love always Bela, blood is the life!
CODED CLASSIC HORROR THEORY “The Uncanny & The Other”
“Scenes of excessive brutality and gruesomeness must be cut to an absolute minimum…”
“As a cultural index, the pre-Code horror film gave a freer rein to psychic turmoil and social disorientation because it possessed a unique freedom from censorship… the Hays Office admits that under the Code it is powerless to take a stand on the subject of ‘gruesomeness.‘(Thomas Doherty)
Horror films in particular have made for a fascinating case study in the evolving perceptions of queer presence; queer-horror filmmakers and actors were often forced to lean into the trope of the “predatory queer” or the “monstrous queer” to claim some sense of power through visibility and blatant expressions of sexuality.- Essential Queer Horror Films by Jordan Crucciola-2018
Though Hollywood execs refused to show explicit queerness, they were willing to pay for scripts that dealt with characters that were social outcasts and sexually non-normative. The horror genre is perhaps the most iconic coded queer playground, which seems to have an affinity with homosexuality because of its apparatus of ‘otherizing’ and the inherent representation of difference. The horror genre crosses over boundaries that include transgressions between heterosexuality and queerness. The villain, fiend, or monster plays around with a variety of elements that while usually separate, might merge male and female gender traits.
The horror film, in particular, found its place asserting a queer presence on screen. The narratives often embraced tropes of the ‘predatory queer’ or the ‘monstrous queer’ in order to declare themselves visible while cinematic queers were elbowed out of the way. Filmmakers had to maneuver their vision in imaginative ways to subvert the structure laid out for them by the Code.
As Harry M. Benshoff explains in his book Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality in the Horror Film, “Immediately before and during the years of World War II, Universal Studio’s horror films began to employ a more humanistic depiction of their monsters,” and the films of Val Lewton, like Cat People, reflected “a growing awareness of homosexuality, homosexual communities, and the dynamics of homosexual oppression as it was played out in society and the military.”So even though Hollywood execs refused to show explicit queerness, during the first true horror boom in American cinema, they were willing to pay for stories about social outcasts and sexually nonnormative figures. Horror fans thus found themselves awash in some of the genre’s most iconic queer-coded characters of all time.
On a Greek Island, Boris Karloff plays Gen. Nikolas Pherides in Val Lewton/Mark Robsin’s Isle of the Dead 1945. Driven insane by the belief that Thea (Ellen Drew) who suffers from catalepsy is the embodiment of an evil vampiric force, is a demon called a vorvolaka. Lewton drew on collective fears, and all his work had an undercurrent of queer panic and a decipherable sign of homophobia.
The Vorvolaka has beset the island with plague. Thea- “Laws can be wrong, and laws can be cruel, and the people who live only by the law are both wrong and cruel.”
The Pre-Code era was exploding with American horror films, that reflected the angst, social unrest, and emotional distress that audiences were feeling. Personified in films that used graphic metaphors to act as catharsis, the images were often filled with rage, as Thomas Doherty calls it ‘the quality of gruesomeness, cruelty and vengefulness’. Think of the angry mobs with their flaming torches who hunt down Frankenstein’s monster, eventually crucifying him like a sacrificial embodiment of their fury. James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 1931 was a smash hit for Universal. Other studios were trying to ride the wave of the awakening genre of the horror picture. Paramount released director Rouben Mamoulian’s adaption of the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, published in 1886. The film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1931 stars Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins. During the period of Pre-Code, many horror films proposed grisly subject matter that would shock and mesmerize the audience. For example, actor/director Irving Pichel’s The Most Dangerous Game (1932) starring Joel McCrea, Leslie Banks, and Fay Wray.
In 1932 Michael Curtiz directed Doctor Xstarring Lionel Atwill who would become one of the leading mad scientists of the genre.
Michael Curtiz’s macabre horror/fantasy experiment of homosocial ‘men doing science’, crossing over into profane territories and embracing dreadful taboos!
All scenes below from Dr. X (1932)
Fay Wray is Atwill’s daughter who is the only woman surrounded by a group of scientific nonconformists.
The adaptation of Bram Stoker’s story of the Eastern European incubus was interpreted by Tod Browning in Dracula 1931, immortalized by Hungarian stage actor Bela Lugosi with his iconic cape and mesmerizing stare. While his nightly visitations were blood driven and cinematically sexual in nature, there is a very homoerotic element to his influence over Renfield (Dwight Frye) and his gaze of gorgeous David Manners as John Harker.
Robert Florey directed the macabre Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe. And a film that has no connection to Poe’s story but in the name is one of the most transgressive, disturbing horror films rampant with vile taboos, such as necrophilia, incest, sadism, satanism, and flaying a man alive, is the unorthodox The Black Cat (1934). The film stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, one of four pictures they would do together. A pair of enemies who have a score to settle, ghosts of a past war, and stolen love all take place with the backdrop of a stylish Bauhaus set design and high-contrast lighting.
Paramount released Murders in the Zoo (1933)with Lionel Atwill a sadistic owner of a zoo, who uses wild animals to ravage and kill off any of his wife’s (Kathleen Burke) suitors. Kathleen Burke is well known as the panther girl in Erle C. Kenton’s horrifically disturbing Island of Lost Souls 1932, an adaptation of master fantasy writer H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. Incidentally, Welles, Laughton, and wife Elsa Lanchester had been good friends earlier on, before the filming of Lost Souls. The film stars Charles Laughton as the unorthodox, depraved scientist who meddles with genetics and nature. He creates gruesome human/animals, torturing them with vivisection in his ‘house of pain.’ The film also stars Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, and Bela Lugosi as The Sayer of the Law.
And in 1933 King Kong shows a giant ape grasping the half-naked object of his affection with unmentionable connotations of bestiality between the ape and Fay Wray. With scenes of Wray writhing in his gigantic paws, he lusts after her, until his desire kills him. It’s almost like fantasy noir, the object of your desire, will ultimately kill you!
The 1930s and 1940s — Fear the Queer Monsters
Re-assessing the Hitchcock Touch; by Wieland Schwanebeck -As Rhona Berenstein asserts, the horror genre “provides a primary arena for sexualities and practices that fall outside the purview of patriarchal culture, and the subgeneric tropes of the unseen, the host and the haunted house.”
By the same token, Kendra Bean concludes that Mrs. Danvers is portrayed as “a wraith; a sexual predator who is out to make Mrs. de Winter her next victim.”
Queer characters in horror films during the early period, reveal similarities between Mrs. Danvers and the staging of earlier sapphic characters, such as Gloria Holdens’s well-known portrayal of Countess Marya Zaleska in Dracula’s Daughter 1936. Yet, similar to the self-discipline of Mrs. Danvers, Dracula’s Daughter remains a figure of primacy and pity Ellis Hanson argues Dracula’s Daughter presents “the possibilities of a queer Gothic” early on in Hollywood history, “rich in all the paradox and sexual indeterminacy the word queer and the word Gothic imply.
There was a revival of the horror craze during the period of WWII. The Hollywood studios, both major and ‘Poverty Row” like Monogram and Republic realized that horror movies were a lucrative business. The studios began to revisit the genre looking for, not only fresh formulas, but they resurrected, the classic monsters, dropping them into new plots. They also envisioned uniting the gangster film with horror films, and this homogenizing led to a ‘queering’ of the two styles, that demonstrated phallocentric ( guns, scientific penetration) and homoerotic themes and images into a sub-genre.
Public awareness of homosexuality reached a new height during these years, primarily due to the new set of social conditions wrought by war. Slowly , the love that dare not speak its name was being spoken, albeit in ways almost always obscurantist, punitive and homophobic. The linkage of homosexuality with violence and disease remained strong. Monsters in the Closet -Harry Benshoff
Rhona Berenstein in her insightful book Attack of the Leading Ladies points out that films featuring the mad scientist trope operate with the homosocial principle which speaks of the homo eroticism of males working together in consort subverting science together, as a group of men who hide behind their objectification -the female object of their gaze, are in fact, figures of objectification themselves. They are simultaneously homosocial, homoerotic, and homophobic in aspect; … potentially possessing an extra-normative commitment between the two men.
Mad Doctor movies are homosocial in nature. The mad doctor movie is a subgenre that below the surface glorifies intimate male camaraderie and male homosexuality, and by the close of the picture, society, the prevailing culture must in turn annihilate, that which is repressed. But it is not exclusively a vehicle to express homosexuality through homosocial interactions. There is a component not only of male bonding, a world without women, the thrust is a synthesis of misogyny and patriarchal tyranny and oppression of women. Homosocial relationships between men in these science horrors show the man’s desire for connection to other men, even one created by his own hand.
According to (Twitchell) in his Dreadful Pleasures, and Attack of the Leading Ladies (Rona Berenstein) Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein in all three Universal pictures, was at least performing bisexuality. Whale’s 1933 Frankenstein might give way to the homosocial realm of the mad scientist trope, of ‘homoerotic indulgence’ as these men exclude women from the pursuit of their fulfillment. Twitchell views the scientist’s fluid sexuality in order to examine the concept of a man controlling women’s primacy of giving birth. This might explain Dr. Frankenstein’s venture into unnatural reproduction. A process he wants to divert to himself without women’s exclusive right to motherhood. In the scene where he is as close to giving birth to a full-grown man, he seems to display a sexual arousal, when his creation comes to life. Henry Frankenstein provokes nature and defies his heterosexuality. As Whale was an openly gay director in Hollywood, it can be pondered whether he knew exactly what he was suggesting. Thesiger’s sexually ambiguous, or okay, not so ambiguous Dr. Pretorius, the mad scientist who pressures Henry Frankenstein to revitalize his experiments and create a mate for the monster. Pretorius is the scientist who insists Henry continue his creative efforts in Bride of Frankenstein. Vitto Russo called Thesiger, a “man who played the effete sissy… with much verve and wit.”
George Zucco like Lionel Atwill often portrayed the unorthodox scientist who flirted with taboos. He plays mad scientist Dr. Alfred Morris in The Mad Ghoul (1943) As a university chemistry professor, he exploits medical student Ted Allison (David Bruce) with his experimental gas that transforms Ted into a malleable, yielding macabre ghoul, whom Morris directs to kill and remove the victim’s hearts using the serum to temporarily bring Ted back from his trance like death state. David Bruce’s character is represented as a ‘queer’ sort of young man. Not quite masculine and is unable to get his girlfriend Evelyn Ankers to fall in love with him. As the Mad Ghoul, he becomes a monstrous queer.
In 1932, director Tod Browning’s Dracula based on Bram Stoker’s story of a fiendish vampire who in a sexually implicit way, violates his victims by penetrating them with his fangs. The story pushed the boundaries of storytelling, and there was an inherent subtext of ‘queer’ ravishment when he sucks the blood of Dwight Frye to make him his loyal servant.
In Jonathan Harker’s Journal, the protagonist recounts his impressions of his interaction with the vampire, Dracula “As the Count leaned over me and his hands touched me I could not repress a shudder. It may have been that his breath was rank, but a horrible feeling of nausea came over me, which do what I would, I could not conceal.”For (Noël Carroll) the entry in his diary conveys revulsion by the Count’s closeness and offensive presence, which causes him to become sickened.
But it also could be read that Harker’s ‘shudder’ is not about his revulsion, but rather, an uncontrolled sexual response to the vampire’s looming over him which could be interpreted not just as hunger for his ‘blood’ but an expression of repressed sexual desire and the fear it causes.
Horror movies have always pushed the boundaries of normalcy, by virtue of the fact that these films are inhabited by ‘monsters’, something ‘queerly’ different. And it is natural to observe two diverging responses to the impact of the horror genre and often, its persecution of what is ‘different’ and the source of what causes our anxiety.
Dracula may appear as the image of a man, but the count is far from human. While monsters in classical horror films are based on systems of maleness, they are split from being actual men. Although there are physical interactions and suggestive contact with the heroine, there isn’t the foundation of heterosexuality, but something quite deviant, within their aggressively erotic encounters and/or assaults. The understanding of sexuality and the most narrow identifications that are assigned to varying orientations in a large sense is not translatable for the deeper layers of the monster and their relationship to their victims. In Hollywood, horror films can be seen as heterosexuality being invaded by an abhorrent outside force, inherent in the underlying message could be racism, classism, sexism, and gay panic. Though it can be interpreted as a landscape of heterosexuality that is in the full power of its universal presence, horror films are perfect platforms that can illustrate the collapse of heterosexuality and the subversion of sexuality.
The horror genre is a breeding ground for portrayals of the shattering of heterosexual power. This can be seen in Lambert Hillyer’s Dracula’s Daughter (1936) starring Gloria Holden as the sapphic vampire who lives in a New Village-type artist’s den, it signals her outsider status from domesticity and normalcy.
In White Zombie (1932) Bela Lugosi plays the eerily menacing Legendre. He turns men into lifeless workers who run the sugar mill. Legendre also begins to turn the plantation owner, Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) into one of his zombies. His motivation for his control over people is ambiguous, though there seems to be sexual reasoning for both the beautiful Madeline (Madge Bellamy) and Beaumont. In the scene where Beaumont is nearly paralyzed, Legendre’s control over his male victim parallels the sexual entrapment of the movie’s heroine.
MAD LOVE (1935) I have conquered science! Why can’t I conquer love?
Karl Freund’s Grand Guignol Mad Love (1935) shifts from gazing at the female to gazing at the male. Here the focus is on Peter Lorre in his American screen debut as Dr. Gogol, who has an obsession with Frances Drake as Yvonne Orlac an actress who works at Grand Guignol Theatre. To Gogol, she is the typified defenseless heroine whom he tries to lure away from her husband Stephen (Colin Clive) using his knowledge of scientific alchemy.
Though Gogol tries to become Yvonne’s master, his Galatea, there are critics who read the struggle between the two men, as not just a rivalry for Yvonne’s love, but Gogol’s desire for Stephen as well. Gogol is responsible for grafting new hands onto Stephen’s mangled body after a train crash. Mad Love could fit the criteria for the subgenre of science/horror films where the male gaze is diverted from the female object toward other men, in this case, what connected the two was the preservation of Stephen’s hands. Why then is it not possible that the focus could shift from Gogol’s attraction to Yvonne to the homosocial dynamics between Gogol as a doctor and his subject Stephen?
Mad Lovepossesses some of the horror genre’s most tenacious performances of gender play. (Carol Clover) asks us to take a closer look at Freund’s film, it is less about the “suffering experienced by women, but at a deeper, more sustained level, it is dedicated to the unspeakable terrors endured by men.”
In a similar fashion to Waldo Lydecker’s (Laura) and Hardy Cathcart’s (The Dark Corner) pathology of objectifying Laura and Mari, Gogol worships Yvonne – his Galatea, with a measure of scopophilia that lies within his gaze upon the perfection of female beauty. To control and possess it. The pleasure is aroused by the mere indulgence of looking at her.
Gogol pays 75 francs to purchase the wax statue of Galatea. The seller remarks “There’s queer people on the streets of Montmartre tonight.”
Gogol’s maid Francoise talks to the statue, “Whatever made him bring you here. There’s never been any woman in this house except maybe me… “I prefer live ones to dead ones.”
A Time Magazine review of Mad Love in 1933 notes this queer appeal directly, even comparing Lorre’s acting skills to those of another homosexual coded actor: I find the comment about their faces rude and insulting to both Lorre and Laughton, both of whom I am a tremendous fan.
Mad Love’s insane doctor is feminized throughout the film… In fact, the same reporter who noted Gogol’s sadism argues for his feminine demeanor: “Lorre, perfectly cast, uses the technique popularized by Charles Laughton of suggesting the most unspeakable obsessions by the roll of a protuberant eyeball, an almost feminine mildness of tone, an occasional quiver of thick lips set flat in his cretinous ellipsoidal face. This reviewer came closer than any other to articulate the subtext of mad doctor movies. He seems on the verge of noting that Lorre, Like Laughton is an effeminate madman obsessed by unspeakable homosocial desire.– Attack of the Leading Ladies: Gender Sexuality and Spectatorship in Classic Horror Cinema by Rhona Berenstein
Frances Drake’s heroine masquerades as a wife who deludes herself into believing that her husband is more masculine than he really is. Gogol has a curious empathy with Stephen, whom he touches frequently and prolonged. Although Gogol pursues the heroine, Yvonne, at the theater, forcing a kiss on her, his focus is primarily manipulating Stephen’s body, rejoining his hands and massaging them to stimulate life back into them. When he realizes that Stephen’s hands cannot be grafted back successfully to his wrists, he turns to another man, the hands of a knife thrower who was executed as a notorious murderer. Once Stephen recovers from the surgery, he can no longer continue as a concert pianist but does develop the desire to throw sharp knives.
On the surface the plot of Mad Loveappears to be a heterosexual obsession, the most unspoken context is the connection between Gogol and Stephen. “As is true of Frankenstein’s labor of love in Whale’s first film, Gogol sews men’s body parts together and the result is a monster of sorts. (Berenstein)
In the film’s climax, Yvonne hides in Gogol’s bedroom and pretends to be the wax statue of Galatea. When Gogol touches the statue, she lets out a scream. In a euphoric daze (as in the original story) he believes that he has the power to bring the statue of Galatea to life. Yvonne begs him to let her go as he tries to strangle her.
Stephen then rushes to his wife and holds her in his arms. With his eyes fixed on the offscreen space in which Gogol’s body lies, he croons: “My darling.” The homosocial desire is destroyed when Stephen murders Gogol who intones “Each man kills the thing he loves”— echoing on the soundtrack.
In the film’s closing moments, the secret desire is finally spoken out loud…Has Stephen killed the man he loves? Given that the phrase that Gogol mutters was written originally by Oscar Wilde, whose homosexuality scandalized the British social and legal system in 1895, reading the homosocial desire intoMad Love within the very last moments we are left to decipher the suspended cues. We are left with Stephen’s gazing at Gogol’s face and his knifed body as he lay dying, he speaks the words, ‘My darling” while the camera frames the two men sharing that moment in the closing scene.
The mad doctor narrative is particularly predisposed to homosocial impulses. “intense male homosocial desire as at once the most compulsory and the most prohibited of social bonds” – Epistemology of the Closet (Sedgwick)
Sedgwick investigated early fantasy/horror novels, Shelley’s Frankenstein 1818, Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1886, and Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau 1895. At the beginning of the 1930s, these stories centered around mad doctors who delved into unorthodox, profane explorations and were all adapted to the screen. All of these nefarious or scientific, inquisitive men, cultivated secret experiments, challenging the laws of nature. What Sedgwick found was that the Gothic literary representations of men performing homosocial collaborations were ‘not socially sanctioned and shunned.’
It was considered a necessary narrative element as well as a monstrous possibility that threatened to subvert the status quo. The combination of these two attitudes is expressed in homosocial narratives- male bonding is both horrifying and guaranteed, entailing the simultaneous introjection and expulsion of femininity. (Sedgwick)
James Whale was a gay auteur who often imbued his work intentionally or with the ‘intentional fallacy’ of a ‘queer’ sense of dark humor. This comical, campy absurdity, was always on the edge of his vision of horror and subtle profanity. His picture The Invisible Man (1933)adapted from H.G. Wells’s story and starring Claude Rains, was classified as a horror film by the Code.
Dr. Jack Griffin (Rains) the antihero, is a frenzied scientist, addicted to his formula as he seeks the ability to make himself invisible. His sanity begins to ‘vanish’ as his hunger for power, delusions of grandeur, and bursts of megalomania grow out of control. He plans on assassinating government officials, and he becomes more belligerent the longer he turns invisible. The idea that he displays radical ideas and runs around in the nude didn’t seem to arouse the censors, In 1933, a letter from James Wingate to Hays states, “highly fantastic and exotic [sic] vein, and presents no particular censorship difficulties.”
What’s interesting about the presentation of the story, is that the coded gay leitmotifs were paraded out, right under the Code’s noses, and didn’t stir any indignation for its ‘queer’ humor.
Gloria Stuart and Claude Rains in James Whale’s The Invisible Man 1933
The Invisible Man perpetrates campy assaults on all the ‘normal’ people in his way. With intervals of sardonic cackles and golden wit, and at the same time, a menacing reflection of light and shadow. Claude Rains is a concealed jester who makes folly of his victims.
“An invisible man can rule the world. Nobody will see him come, nobody will see him go. He can hear every secret. He can rob, and wreck, and kill.” –Dr. Jack Griffin (The Invisible Man)
Claude Rains plays Dr. Jack Griffin an outsider (a favorite of James Whale’s characters) who discovers the secret of invisibility which changes him from a mild yet arrogant scientist into a maniacal killer. The film bares much of Whale’s campy sense of humor, with Griffin’s comic shenanigans abound until things turn dark and he becomes uncontrollably violent. “We’ll begin with a reign of terror, a few murders here and there, Murders of great men, Murders of little men, just to show we make no distinction. I might even wreck a train or two… just these fingers around a signalman’s throat, that’s all.”
According to Gary Morris (Bright Lights Film Journal), ‘The film demands crypto-faggot reading in poignant scenes such as the one where he reassures his ex-girlfriend, who begs him to hide from the authorities: “the whole worlds my hiding place. I can stand out there amongst them in the day or night and laugh at them.”
Though Griffin’s (Claude Rains) character is unseen at times, there are potent moments, when he is animated as he skips to the tune, “Here we go gathering nuts in May” flitting around like a fairy. It is suggested that The Invisible Man is a metaphor for the way homosexuals are seen/not seen by society – as “effeminate, dangerous when naked, seeking a male partner in “crime”, tending to idolize his fiance rather than love her, and becoming ‘visible’ only when shot by the police…monitored by doctors, and heard regretting his sin against God (i.e., made into a statistic by the three primary forces oppressing queers: the law, the medical establishment, and religious orthodoxy” (Sedgwick)
The Invisble Man [undressing] “They’ve asked for it, the country bumpkins. This will give them a bit of a shock, something to write home about. A nice bedtime story for the kids, too, if they want it”
He’s Trained His Brood of Blood-Hungry Bats to Kill on Command!
Directed by Jean Yarborough, The Devil Batstars Bela Lugosi at his best as a scientist Dr. Paul Carruthers who develops formulas for a cosmetic empire that makes two families their fortunes– the Heaths and the Mortons, while he remains a measly worker in his lab.
To exact revenge he creates a race of giant bats to attack and kill off those who have slighted him. Anyone who wears his strong-smelling after-shave lotion is doomed to die!
Your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl saying maybe lay off the shaving lotion til after Halloween!
BY NIGHT… A Screeching Devil Bat… BY DAY… A Beautiful Girl… BUT ALWAYS… A Blood-Thirsty VAMPIRE
Devil Bat’s Daughter (1946) Directed by Frank Wisbar with a screenplay by Griffin Jay and Ernst Jäger. Rosemary La Planche (Strangler of the Swamp) plays Nina MacCarron a patient of Dr. Elliot (Nolan Leary) who wants to get rid of his wife. He convinces Nina that she has a compulsion to kill, because of her legacy of her evil father–referring to Bela Lugosi in The Devil Bat (1940) A mad scientist develops an aftershave lotion that causes his gigantic bats to kill anyone who wears it.
Dr. Elliot drugs Nina and disposes of his wife, setting her up not only to believe she has committed the murder but to become the main suspect in the killing.
She Will GIVE YOU Nightmares…FOR EVER!
Blood of Dracula is a spin off of the cycle of teenage horror films of the 1950s–I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1958).
Directed by Herbert L. Strock with a screenplay by Ralph Thornton. Sandra Harrison plays Nancy Perkins and Louise Lewis is Miss Branding, a svengali virago who hypnotizes Nancy in order to see her experiment with primal feminine powers flourish. What all these films have in common is to tap into the burgeoning sex drives of teenagers and their will to explore their sexuality in a moral constrained society. These films also conflate teenage sexual desires with the monstrous. When Harrison is dumped off at the boarding school by her father and his new bride shortly after Nancy’s mothers death, she is disaffected and unpopular, a perfect vulnerable target for Miss Blanding’s the sinister chemistry teacher’s manipulation. She hypnotizes Nancy using an ancient amulet and manifests a grotesque vampiric persona that runs amok with help of the make up design by Philip Scheer. The film also co-stars Gail Ganley, Jerry Blaine and character actor Malcolm Atterbury.
This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying Happy October 1st! There’s a lot of tricks N’ treats coming up here at The Last Drive In…
British Science Fiction/Thriller from writer/director Ken Hughes(Wicked as they Come 1956, The Trials of Oscar Wilde 1960, Cromwell 1970). From a story by Charles Eric Maine.
Stars actor/director Gene Nelson as Mike Delaney, Faith Domergue as Jill Rabowski, Peter Arne as Dr. Stephen Rayner/Jarvis, Joseph Tomelty as Detective Inspector Cleary, Donald Gray as Robert Maitland, Vic Perry as Emmanuel Vasquo, Paul Hardtmuth as Dr. Bressler, Martin Wyldek as Dr. Preston. The film is known as Timeslip in England, a mild British thriller using American stars to boost interest in the film, and was cut by almost seventeen minutes for it’s U.S. release!
A man (Peter Arne ) is fished out of the Thames, shot in the back, the x-rays show that he is radioactive and projects a glowing aura around his body. The man dies on the table and is clinically dead for over 7 seconds, when they perform surgery to remove the bullet. American reporter Mike Delaney (Gene Nelson) decides to interview the man who he bares a striking resemblance to Dr. Stephen Rayner is very cryptic about what happened to him. Dr. Rayner whose face is all bandaged up is however in his laboratory working on an artificial chemical element of atomic number 74, the hard steel-gray metal with a very high melting point. Delaney and photographer girlfriend Jill Rabowski (the intoxicatingley dark eyed Faith Domergue) are curious about what is going on and begin to investigate. While the strange man in the hospital continues to act mysterious Delaney’s investigation lead him to Emmanuel Vasquo (Vic Perry) who heads an organization in South America that produces Tungsten steel.
Delaney and Jilly learn that the man they found in the Thames is in fact the real Dr. Rayner, and since he was clinically dead for 7 1/2 seconds and is radioactive somehow he has fallen into a time shift where he is living that small percentage ahead of time. The reason his answers to questions are so quizzical is because he is responding 7 1/2 seconds before they are asked. Delaney with the help of the real Dr. Rayner try to stop the imposter in the lab who is a double hired by Vasquo to impersonate the scientist so they can blow up the lab and prevent any competition by Dr. Rayner to produce artificial steel and pose real competition from the South American suppliers.
Prepare for a close encounter of the terrifying kind! An unspeakable horror… Destroying… Terrifying!
After his debut with Monster From the Ocean Floor in 1954, The Beast with 1.000.000 Eyes was a great foray into the new market of teenage drive-in movie goes that Roger Corman’sproduction team tapped into. First through the company called American Releasing Corp. which eventually became American International Pictures a year later.
James Nicholson, who was the maestro of promotion, changed the name of the film from The Unseen to The Beast with a Million Eyes, because it just had better shock value for selling more tickets. Nicholson was famous for coming up with the title first, telling the marketing department to design an eye-popping nifty poster, and then actually working a script around that vision. Though there was already a working script Nicholson had a poster made up of a beast with a million… well about 7 eyes tormenting a scantily clad beauty.
Directed by David Kramarsky and Corman with a script by Tom Filer. This cult B classic stars Paul Birch as Allan Kelley, Lorna Thayer as Carol Kelley, Dona Cole as Sandra Kelley, Dick Sargent as Deputy Larry Brewster, Leonard Tarver as Him/Carl, Chester Conklin the silent film comedian plays Ben and Bruce Whitmore is The metaphorically million eyed Beast. A million eyes refer to all the animals in ‘nature’ that would run amok and destroy mankind!
The beastly slave of the alien is a hand puppet created by the cheesy greatness that was Paul Blaisdell. (link to my tribute The Tacky Magnetism of Paul Blaisdell)
Interesting side note: Corman needed someone to design the alien who originally was supposed to be an invisible force marauding through the galaxy hitching rides on various life forms and taking over their consciousness, like the animals in this film. In Bill Warren’s informative book Keep Watching the Skies, Corman contacted friend collector/historian Forrest Ackerman suggesting stop animation genius Ray Harryhausen (who obviously was way out of Corman’s league and price range) Warren-“Corman recoiled in economic in shock.” Then Forrest recommended Jacques Fresco a futuristic eco-conscious architect and designer who had created the space station and rockets for Project Moon Base (1953)
But Fresco wanted too much money for his work, so Ackerman came up with another idea. There was an illustrator who drew covers and did illustrations for his magazines, named Paul Blaisdell. It wasn’t like Blaisdell had the experience building movie models but the young guy did build model kits (the Aurora kind I used to spend the days gluing and painting) and did some sculpting. Blaisdell said he would try it for $200 for the job and another $200 for materials. Still more than Corman wanted to invest, it seemed the last resort if he wanted a creature in his film. Corman sent the poster to Blaisdell as a composite and informed him that it didn’t have to do much more than show itself on screen for a few moments, then collapse. Blaisdell could then make it on a small scale, using only the upper torso since the rest would be hidden by the ship’s hatch. And so he made a hand puppet which was a dragon-like creature with wings he molded from clay and placed a simple latex mold over it. Paul’s wife Jackie modeled its hands. The Blaisdell’s nicknamed him “Little Hercules”
Blaisdell made him a leather jacket, a custom-made eight-starred medallion, and a toy gun and finally added manacles and chains to its arms to point out his slave status. According to Randy Palmer’s book, Paul Blaisdell: Monster Maker he was happy with his work, and so were the crew.
Corman and American Releasing Corp must have been satisfied enough with Blaisdell’s skill and his price, he went on to become the go-to monster-maker for the studio during the 1950s. Including The busty She-Creature (1956), the cucumber alien in It Conquered the World (1956), The fanged umbrella bat in Not of This Earth (1957), The alcoholic google eyed brain invaders in Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), my personal favorite Tobanga the walking tree spirit in From Hell it Came 1957 and the alien stow away in It! The Terror from Beyond Space 1957inspired Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979).
He also acted inside the suits he designed, created special effects and did his own dangerous stunts in Corman’s movies. However, the 60s were not kind to Blaisdell and he decided to retire. He did co-publish a monster movie magazine with fellow collector and friend Bob Burns, but walked away from the industry entirely. Blaisdell passed away in 1983 suffering from stomach cancer at the age of 55.
Roger Corman has a singular touch all his own and it’s not just that he can create cult classics with a shoestring budget. Though filmed on the cheap, his work and so many American International Pictures releases will always be beloved because they possess a dynamism that is pure muddled non-logical magic. Beast with a Million Eyes is no exception. It takes place in the Southwestern desert where Allan Kelley (Paul Birch), his wife Carol (Lorna Thayer), and their daughter Sandy (Dona Cole) live on a dude ranch struggling to keep the weary family together. Carol feels isolated from the world and takes out her dissatisfaction with her marriage on her teenage daughter Sandy and resents the presence of the mute farmhand ‘Him’ who lives in a shack reading porn magazines and stalking Sandy quietly as she takes her daily dips in the lake. Trying to live a normal wholesome life on a desolate farm isn’t easy for Carol, as she burns Sandy’s birthday cake and is unnerved by the jet flying overhead that has shattered her good china. Life in the desert certainly isn’t the good life in suburbia.
They believe it is a plane that flies overhead but it turns out to be an alien ship landed in the hot sun-seared desert landscape. First Sandy’s dog Duke discovers the blinking lights of the spaceship, and when he returns home, he becomes violent and attacks Carol so viciously that she must shoot the poor animal.
Then black birds attack Allan, a docile old milking cow that tramples their neighbor Ben (Chester Conklin) then wanders onto Allan’s ranch and must be shot before it stomps Allan to death. And yes even chickens become menacing when they assail Carol in fury of clucking madness! Some force is causing the animals to go berserk… Later birds fly into the electrical box and cut off the ranch’s source of power.
Oddly enough what ever is effecting God’s simple creatures has also taken control of Allan’s mute handyman Carl (Leonard Tarver) who was Allan’s commanding officer during WWII, wounded during the war because of a mistake he made, Allan feels responsible for what Carl/Him losing a portion of his brain. He is what his nasty wife calls the poor mute. Carl is lured by what ever has piloted the spaceship, most likely because he is most impressionable due to his brain injury. Dick Sargent(yes! the second Darrin Stephens) who plays Sandy’s boyfriend is attacked by Carl who then lumbers off into the desert.
Larry-“That Loony of yours has gone mad!”
Later Carl kidnaps Sandy and delivers her to the craft in an effort to put her under its psychic control. Allan and Carol follow them to the ship and Allan tries to persuade him to let Carol go. Allan discovers that the evil alien is frightened by love, it is the creature’s weakness. The million-eyed alien imparts to us earthlings in voice-over that it has no material form but inhabits the minds of other living creatures, feeding off of them and controlling them. “Hate and malice are the keys to power in my world.” When the family confronts the intruder in its spaceship for a brief moment it materializes and then dies, the spaceship takes off leaving the bodiless creature behind in the form of a rat. The cycle of normal life resumes as an eagle (the representation of American strength and democracy) swoops down and carries the rat off with it. Allan philosophizes in his lugubrious manner “Why do men have souls? If I could answer that I’d be more than human.”
Carol Kelley: out there… all that wasteland and mountains. We might as well be on another planet. Oh, Alan without Sandy I don’t know what would happen to me. It’d be just you and me and… Him
[she sees Him looking at them]
Carol Kelley: . Always watching. Why doesn’t he ever go away on his day off? Always watching us. Heaven knows thinking what thoughts.
Allan Kelley: We’ve been over this before. You must know by now, he’s harmless.
According to American International Pictures head Samuel Z. Arkoff, Roger Corman‘s contract called for four films at a budget of $100,000 each. By the time it came to “The Beast with a Million Eyes,” the fourth film in the series, there was only $29,000 to $30,000 left, so Arkoff signed off on shooting the picture non-union in Palm Springs.
Producer Roger Corman was unsatisfied with the way the film was progressing and took over from director David Kramarsky, without credit.
When Samuel Z. Arkoff of ARC received The Beast with a Million Eyes he was unhappy that it did not even feature “the beast” that was implicit in the title. Paul Blaisdell, responsible for the film’s special effects, was hired to create a three-foot-tall spaceship (with “beast” alien) for a meager $200. Notably, the Art Director was Albert S. Ruddy, who would later win two “Best Picture” Academy Awards for The Godfather (1972) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).
The tiny budget meant music, credited to “John Bickford”, is actually a collection of public-domain record library cues by classical composers Richard Wagner, Dimitri Shostakovich, Giuseppe Verdi, Sergei Prokofiev, and others, used to defray the cost of an original score or copyrighted cues.
It begins where DR. JEKYLL & MR HYDE left off! A weird, fantastic adventure with a mad doctor who discovers how to turn animals into humans-but not how to control them! On a lonely tropical island he practices his black art! Changes wild beasts into creatures whose strangely human appearance and action hide raging animal passions! Something brand new in picture plots, with a specially selected cast, that will bring thrills to audiences and joy to exhibitors. Showmanship Plus!
HE DEFIED NATURE … creating men and women from animals … only to find that he could not control them!
Adapted from H.G.Wells 1895 novel The Island of Doctor Moreau, Island of Lost Souls was directed by Erle C. Kenton (The Ghost of Frankenstein 1942, House of Dracula 1945, The Cat Creeps 1946) Wells was not content with the film version of his story, though it’s a stunning adaptation of his novel.Karl Struss’ (Murnau’s Sunrise 1921,Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1931, The Sign of the Cross 1932, The Great Dictator 1940, Journey into Fear 1943, Rocketship X-M 1950, Limelight 1952, Kronos 1957 and yeah no laughing please… The Alligator People 1959) extraordinary cinematography constructs a perfectly smothering atmosphere though the story’s milieu is the openness of a savage jungle. With fantastical make-up effects by Wally Westmore(Sunset Boulevard 1950, The War of the Worlds 1953, Rear Window 1954, Lady in a Cage 1964, Village of the Giants 1965)
The first adaption of Well’s novel was filmed in France in 1913 called L’Ile d’Epouvante, then it was revisited in 1959 as Terror Is a Man starring Francis Lederer, and finally remade once again in 1977 starring Burt Lancaster as Dr. Moreau in The Island of Dr. Moreau, also starring Barbara Carrera as Lota and Richard Basehart as the Sayer of the Law. The 1977 version lacks the stifling ambiance that Erle C. Kenton’s film possessed.
Charles Laughton with his devilishly cherubic smile is perhaps at his most deliciously wicked as an evil scientist with a god complex the cruel, fiendish and merciless Dr. Moreau, who brandishes his bullwhip like Ilsa the Wicked Warden or me– eating chocolates when I go on a classic horror movie bender!
Moreau performs profane experiments, learning how to accelerate evolution by experimenting on animals turning them into hairy men-beasts by surgically grafting the organs, flesh and genes together. In order to keep his creations under his thumb, he cracks his aforesaid whip while gathering them together like a bestial congregation where they all chant the ‘laws’ set down by the Mephistophelean Moreau.
Moreau has been banished to his faraway Island by the scientific community for his bizarre experimentation with plants. Island of Lost Souls is a Darwinian nightmarish journey -from The Monster Show by David J. Skal-“There is an evocative social metaphor here as well: the animals have been given the promise of progress and social elevation. They have dutifully played by their master’s incantatory ‘laws.’ And yet it has all been an ugly trick; their elevation is simultaneously a degradation, and a bloody revolt ensues.”
Also Skal’s book points out a really interesting fact about Laughton’s casting of Dr. Moreau-“already acclaimed for his 1928 stage portrayal of another mad vivisectionist in the Grand Guignolesque A Man with Red Hair at London’s Little Theatre. It was in that production that he learned to crack a bullwhip, a skill also required for Island of Lost Souls…)… Laughton hated the part, though it remains one of his most memorable, an epicene gentleman-monster in a white tropical suit.”
Laughton’s portrayal of Dr. Moreau as an effeminate mad scientist is also noted by David J. Hogan in his terrific book Dark Fromance-Sexuality in the Horror Film- “As filmed, the story is a particularly unpleasant Frankenstein variant, remarkable for it’s oppressive ambience and unrelieved sadism. Charles Laughton played Moreau, a plump, primly bearded genius whose fussy manner and ice cream suit suggest a eunuch, or a malevolent child.”
Bela Lugosi is wonderful as the ‘Sayer of the Law’ —“Are we not men?” through his hairy make-up he conveys a pathos and ambivalence that must be credited to his fine acting skills, beyond wearing a cape, hovering over nubile maidens and climbing cobwebbed stone steps.
Drop dead gorgeous Richard Arlen plays Edward Parker who one his way to meet up with his fiancé Ruth Thomas (Leila Hyams) becomes shipwrecked on a remote Island when he interferes with the ships brutal Captain Davies (Stanley Fields) abusing one of the crew who is a hybrid man-dog M’ling (Tetsu Komai). Davies throws Parker overboard and Parker becomes Moreau’s unwelcome guest. Also on the island is Moreau’s reluctant assistant Dr. Montgomery played by Arthur Hohl who drinks himself numb on the road to redemption. Parker is surrounded by Moreau’s strange ‘Manimals’ servants and laborers who resemble monkey’s, bears, pigs and dogs.
Paramount conducted a nationwide search for the beauty who would play Lota The Panther Woman, which garnered a lot of publicity for the prerelease of the film. They chose a winner from each state, the prize being crowned the Panther Woman of America and the extra benefit of Charles Laughton getting to turn her into a beast!
Island of Lost Souls possesses a perverse eroticism as Moreau’ cold scientific intellectualism seeing neither the animals nor men nor beast-men as anything more than ‘subjects’ of his experimentation into genetic freakery, in particular his most gratifying creation of The Panther Woman Lota, played by Kathleen Burke. Parker is drawn to Lota “You’re a strange child” but he is repulsed when he discovers her panther like claws.
Unfortunately not not only does Lota begin to revert back into her feral origins- Moreau exclaims- “It’s the stubborn beast flesh, creeping back! I may as well quit. Day by day it creeps back!” –But she is as smitten as a kitten with Edward Parker. And while Moreau’s curiosity pushes him to see what would happen if he mates the lusting Lota with pure speciman of an exquisite man, Edward, his jealousy can not be subverted by his systematic spirit of inquiry. Laughton conveys even through his enigmatic silences, this ambivalence as he sweats and broods about the compound watching like a voyeur their every move. Dr. Moreau: “Did you see that, Montgomery? She was tender like a woman. Oh, how that little scene spurs the scientific imagination onward.” and watching while Lota and Parker sit close together her raw sexuality spilling over into the shadows, Moreau whispers, ” I wonder how nearly perfect a woman Lota is. It is possible that I may find out with Parker.”
Ruth (Leila Hyams) and Captain Donahue (Paul Hurst) track Edward down on the island and also become prisoners of Dr. Moreau’s tropical nightmare. Eventually she is chased around the island by Ouran, the man-ape played by Hans Steinke.
Not only is Island of Lost Soulsinflammatory with its deviance put forward by the idea of bestiality and the sexual attraction between Parker and Lota as The Panther Woman, one of the most provocative aspects of Island of Lost Soulsis it’s dealings with the vicious desecration of the body when Moreau explores his scientific delights in “The House of Pain” the operating theatre where he performs vivisectionist orgies on these poor beasts, their screams remain in my head as something I cannot un-hear or un-see. When the ‘natives’ realize that Moreau has himself broken these laws by killing Donahue (Paul Hurst) who tries to rescue Edward Parker–their prime rule not to kill or spill blood, in the epic fatalistic climax they drag him off to his own ‘House of Pain’.
from The Overlook Film Encyclopedia-Horror: edited by Phil Hardy-“Interestingly, though, Island of Lost Souls anticipates King Kong (1933) in its embodiment of the underground spirit of revolt, a spirit extremely timely in its appeal to victims of the Depression years, who not only resented their material deprivations but were all too willing to blame a system which appeared to thrive on an arbitrary suspension of the individuals’s inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. The delirious final revolt here, with the master dragged away to the ‘house of pain’ in which he created his subservient brutes, echoes the wilder excesses of the French Revolution…)…Presumably because of its vivisectionist aspects, the film was banned in Britain until 1958. Lost somewhere among the beast-men are Randolph Scott and Alan Ladd. Also appearing as one of the ensemble of beast-men-billed as a furry Manimal is Schlitze from Tod Browning’s Freaks 1932.
From David J. Hogan-“The atmosphere of the island is heavy and foreboding. Vegetation is obscene in its lushness and fertility. Humidity hangs like a curtain. It is in this unforgiving milieu that Moreau, the loveless father, passes his undesirable traits on to his children, and ultimately suffers for it. The manimals are merely extensions of Moreau’s own unchecked cruelty.”
Your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl saying “they’re restless tonight” and so am I-hope I won’t see any of ya in the house of pain- Yikes…!!! Are we not film lovers!