Experience Universal Horror – The Golden Age of Movie Monsters!

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For a comprehensive and what I consider a definitive history of one of the original Hollywood Studios – Universal, check out the Documentary – “Universal Horror.”  Universal was founded in 1912 by Carl Laemmle and is the world’s fourth oldest major film studio.

Originally airing on Turner Classic Movies in 1998, “Universal Horror” showcases the golden age of 1930’s movie monsters. The film also highlights Carl Laemmle’s family and Carl Laemmle, Jr’s game-changing vision of producing films based on classic horror tales.

 

 

The studio is known for such horror classics as Frankenstein (1931) and Dracula (1931), the Universal monster franchise. Dracula is a 1931 American Pre-Code vampire-horror film directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula. The film was produced by Universal and was loosely based on the novel by Bram Stoker.

Casting for the film became problematic initially since Laemmle was not at all interested in Lugosi, in spite of good reviews for his stage portrayal. Laemmle instead considered other popular actors of the day, including Paul Muni and Chester Morris.

 

Frankenstein is a 1931 American Pre-Code horror monster film from Universal Pictures directed by James Whale. The film stars Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles and Boris Karloff and features Dwight Frye and Edward van Sloan. Trivia: Bela Lugosi turned down the role saying the monster was just a hulking beast.

In 1991, the Library of Congress selected Frankenstein for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.

Throughout the documentary, we hear personal accounts and behind-the-scene stories from early stars such as Rose Hobart – co-star in the original film version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Gloria Stuart – The Invisible Man (1933) and Lupita Tovar – Dracula (1931) Spanish Version.

 

 

Forrest Ackerman, (November 24, 1916 – December 4, 2008) was editor and principal writer of the science fiction magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland and recalls his experiences in the documentary of seeing these films first hand. Ackerman’s magazine would provide inspiration to many who would later become successful artists, including Joe DantePeter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Stephen King, George LucasDanny ElfmanJohn Landis and countless other writers, directors, artists, and craftsmen.

Also affectionately called “Forry,” Ackerman was central to the formation, and spread of science fiction fandom, and a key figure in the wider awareness of science fiction as a literary, art and film genre. Famous for his wordplay he coined the genre nickname “sci-fi”.

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Universal Monsters Tribute

 

The end of Universal’s first run of horror films came in 1936 as the Laemmles were forced out of the studio after financial difficulties and a series of box office flops due partly to censorship and a temporary ban on American horror films in Britain. The release of MGM’s Mad Love and The Raven (both 1935) were the final nail in the coffin for monster movies, being too strong for 1935 tastes, with its themes of torture, disfigurement, and grisly revenge.

 

The monster movies were dropped from the production schedule altogether and would not re-emerge for another three years. In the meantime, a theater owner revived Dracula and Frankenstein as a double feature, resulting in an immediate smash hit and leading to the original movies being re-released by the studio to surprising success.

Be sure to checkout these films and experience the original horror classics from the original horror classics studio – Universal!

 

The Legend of Dracula

 

“Listen to them, children of the night; what music they make.” Count Dracula

 

 

Dracula is the immortal 1897 Gothic horror novel by Irish author Bram Stoker. It introduced the famous character Count Dracula and established many conventions of subsequent vampire fantasy.

 

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The first edition cover of Dracula

Of all the film adaptations of the classic novel, the 1931 Dracula directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi is most synonymous with Stoker’s legendary character, Count Dracula of Transylvania.

The film was produced by Universal and is based on the 1924 stage play Dracula by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, which in turn is loosely based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. The 1924 stage play was substantially revised in 1927 and was the first authorized adaptation of Bram Stoker‘s novel Dracula, and has influenced many subsequent adaptations.

The 1927 Broadway production starred Bela Lugosi in his first major English-speaking role, which he reprised in the 1931 film adaptation of the play. A 1977 Broadway revival designed by Edward Gorey, starring Frank Langella, won the Tony Award for Best Revival.

 

 

Bram Stoker’s novel had already been filmed without permission as Nosferatu in 1922 by German expressionist filmmaker F. W. Murnau. Bram Stoker’s widow sued for plagiarism and copyright infringement, and the courts decided in her favor, essentially ordering that all prints of Nosferatu be destroyed.

 

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Nosferatu

Enthusiastic young Hollywood producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. also saw the box office potential in Stoker’s gothic chiller, and he legally acquired the novel’s film rights. Initially, he wanted Dracula to be a spectacle on a scale with the lavish silent films The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). (Wikipedia)

 

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The decision on casting the title role proved problematic. Initially, Laemmle was not at all interested in Lugosi, in spite of good reviews for his stage portrayal. Laemmle instead considered other actors, including Paul Muni, Chester Morris, and Ian Keith.

Today, Dracula is widely regarded as a classic of the era and of its genre. In 2000, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

 

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To many film lovers and critics alike, Lugosi’s portrayal is widely regarded as the definitive Dracula. Lugosi had a powerful presence and authority on-screen. The slow, deliberate pacing of his performance (“I bid you… welcome!” and “I never drink… wine!”) gave his Dracula the air of a walking, talking corpse, which terrified 1931 movie audiences.

He was just as compelling with no dialogue, and the many close-ups of Lugosi’s face in icy silence jumped off the screen. With this mesmerizing performance, Dracula became Bela Lugosi’s signature role, his Dracula a cultural icon, and he himself a legend in the classic Universal Horror film series.

 

Where it all started 😱

 

Abraham “Bram” Stoker (8 November 1847 – 20 April 1912)

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Bram Stoker

 

Stoker’s visit to the English coastal town of Whitby in 1890 is said to be part of the inspiration for Dracula. He began writing novels while a manager for Henry Irving, as well as, director of London’s Lyceum Theatre, beginning with The Snake’s Pass in 1890 and Dracula in 1897.

During this period, Stoker was part of the literary staff of the The Daily Telegraph in London, and he wrote other fiction, including the horror novels The Lady of the Shroud (1909) and The Lair of the White Worm (1911). (Wikipedia)

 

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Stoker was bedridden with an unknown illness until he started school at the age of seven when he made a complete recovery. Of this time, Stoker wrote, “I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave the opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years.”

 

 

Before writing Dracula, Stoker met Ármin Vámbéry, a Hungarian writer, and traveler. Dracula likely emerged from Vámbéry’s dark stories of the Carpathian mountains. Stoker then spent several years researching European folklore and mythological stories of vampires.

 

 

Dracula is an epistolary novel, written as a collection of realistic but completely fictional diary entries, telegrams, letters, ship’s logs, and newspaper clippings, all of which added a level of detailed realism to the story, a skill which Stoker had developed as a newspaper writer.

At the time of its publication, Dracula was considered a “straightforward horror novel” based on imaginary creations of supernatural life.”It gave form to a universal fantasy . . and became a part of popular culture.” (Wikipedia)

 

 

After suffering a number of strokes, Stoker died at No. 26 St George’s Square, London on 20 April 1912. He was cremated, and his ashes were placed in a display urn at Golders Green Crematorium in north London.