Boris Karloff

Frankenstein DVD Commentary

IT’S ALIVE! IT’S ALIVE! For 81 years, those words have surely been said from at least one person to another every year around Halloween time, and for good reason. Not only is Frankenstein arguably the best of the Universal monsters from the 1930s, the monster at the film’s center has become a pivotal image for October 31st. So, to round our horror slate of commentaries, we’re diving into the classic original, our oldest film covered to date. Naturally, this means we aren’t listening to any of the cast or crew from the film (although we get some quotations from director James Whale). Since the first commentary track came out in 1984 – King Kong Criterion Collection, which will be covered at some point here – films from days of old have to settle for film historians to talk shop while they play out. That’s not to say there aren’t invaluable bits of information found here, but expect lots of film theory and LOTS of snobbery. Who knows? Maybe Rudy Behlmer, who is featured here, likes to check his brain at the door with the rest of us. Checking brains at the door. Frankenstein’s monster. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but probably not a very funny one. Let’s get the commentary started, shall we?

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Criterion Files

There was a period in the early to mid-1950s where the horror genre, in hindsight, was appearing to go through somewhat of a period of transition. Not just caterpillar to butterfly in terms of the material, but also the beginnings to a passing of the torch from the Universal Pictures horror icons to the next generation of scare feature personalities.

The 1940s, arguably, began the period of movement away from the creature features of the Universal monster pictures and started to explore deeper psychological, and supernatural elements of the horror genre over the course of the decade with the output of films from the Val Lewton team of collaborators at RKO. That period could possibly mark the first time that a major studio distributed a sequence of psychological thrillers sold as horror pictures over that length of time here in the United States, and probably the most significant since the silent-era German Expressionist pictures of the 1920’s.

In the 1950’s the drive-in crowd and genre enthusiasts began to be transfixed by the earlier period of science-fiction thrillers, which boomed all throughout the decade and into the next; thus leaving a relatively barren hole for patrons looking for either that next stage of evolution on the horror ladder, or even trying to find a decent number of pictures akin to the films of the Universal monster pictures of the 30s or Lewton inspired thrillers of the 40s.

Enter Britain’s Hammer Studios who began to re-explore the classic monster characters of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and others in the mid-to-late 1950s. Their output would be monumental over the course of the next few decades, as well as their artistry and the performance prowess of oft-used actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee; and the pictures would prove to be considerably popular.

So, the Universal films enthusiasts would have their reminiscence reignited; what of the fans of the Lewton form of horror?

Enter Britain’s Robert Day with his late 1950s double-punch of Corridors of Blood and today’s entry into the Criterion Files – The Haunted Strangler

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Criterion Files

The 1958 film Corridors of Blood is a loose depiction and dramatically hightened story about the discovery/invention of anesthesia in 1840’s London. Dr. Thomas Bolton (played by Boris Karloff, the godfather of horror actors) is the surgeon destined to find the cure for patient suffering in medically necessary amputations and other major surgical procedures after seeing the traumatic aftereffects on one of his former patients. His desire evolves into obsession, and his obsession leads him into unintentional addiction to the drugs he’d been testing primarily on himself. His reliance on the chemicals to both feed his compulsions and further his research causes others with less noble intentions to blackmail the doctor into fraudulently signing death certificates so that money can be claimed for the cadavers of murder victims.

None of this sounds particularly horrific, does it? Well, it’s about as horrific as it sounds. It truly is an emphatic representation of a horror gray area. The only components in the film that are found commonly in the horror genre are murders (though not gruesome) and a few actors who appeared frequently in many of the Hammer horror productions (Christopher Lee and Francis Matthews) of the 1950s through the 1970s. However, contained within the content of the film is an unintentionally representative depiction of human attraction to withstand watching others in serious pain. Dr. Bolton is not only a surgeon, but a professor and all of his surgeries in the film are done in the presence of spectators who are either wanting to learn, or want to see how quick the doctor can be in order to minimize the extent of excruciation.

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culturewarrior-horror60

1960 changed horror filmmaking forever. Don’t believe me? Read on.

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31daysofhorror-reckoning

For those of you Halloween lovers with little monsters at home, pop in this (mostly) family friendly monster dance party disc!

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Boris Karloff as Frankenstein

If you don’t think a 77-year old movie can make you wet your pants and think about your own existence, you haven’t seen James Whale’s Frankenstein.

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Yetis rule in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor!

In a weird, roundabout way, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is a lot like the old “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Christmas special.

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Guillermo Del Toro and Frankenstein

Despite getting his feet dirty with the first two Hobbit movies in the series, Guillermo del Toro still has his mind on Frankenstein.

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