Universal Horror – The Golden Age of Movie Monsters



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”.



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.

As I celebrate this Halloween, my film line-up would not be complete without those original horror classics from the original horror classics studio – Universal!


13 Ghosts❗️ 👻👻👻👻👻👻👻👻👻👻👻👻👻



Let me start by saying, I absolutely love William Castle! His “effects”, and his campy, “spooky” movies made him the “Master of the Movie Gimmick”! He financed his first movie, Macabre (1958), by mortgaging his house and came up with the brilliant idea to give every movie-goer a certificate for a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London in case they should die of fright during the film. He also stationed nurses in the lobbies with parked hearses outside the theaters. Macabre was a hit!


Each of his films featured an “effect” or gimmick. With “House on Haunted Hill,” it was “Emergo”, the “flying skeleton.” It didn’t always work, but the kids in the audience had a good time anyway trying to knock it down. (kids will be kids:) Trivia Fact: William Castle produced the Roman Polanski horror hit “Rosemary’s Baby.”


“House on Haunted Hill” Skelton


  “13 Ghosts” is jammed packed with “effects” and filmed in “Illusion-O”. Knife-wielding ghosts, headless ghosts, and murderous ghost Emilio, who has a thing for totally destroying the kitchen. As Buck Zorba (Charles Herbert) tells the story, seems Emilio killed not only his wife but his mother-in-law as well. Whack, whack! (nice sound effect Buck)

The “13 Ghosts'” storyline begins with Dr. Plato Zorba dying and leaving his broke nephew, Professor Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods), an old, rundown LA mansion. The catch is Cyrus, his wife Hilda,(Rosemary DeCamp), daughter Madea (Jo Morrow) and son Buck can’t sell the house so are forced to share the joint with the 13 ghosts. “They come with the house.”

Ghosts or not the family is so broke that it’s common place for their furniture to be repossessed on a regular basis. In fact, the night they receive a telegram (from a little person in the dark) to meet with Uncle Zorba’s attorney Benjamin Rush (Martin Milner), they’re sitting on the floor exchanging gifts and slicing birthday cake for their youngest son, Buck – Once again, the furniture’s been repossessed.

Move-in day at their new digs includes meeting their Uncle’s housekeeper who turns out to be the green one herself, the Wicked Witch of the West! (Margaret Hamilton)


Margaret Hamilton (Elaine the housekeeper)

The best is yet to come as attorney Benjamin Rush goes to extremes trying to find the supposed fortune in cash Uncle Zorba stashed somewhere in the house. Ghosts run wild and the ghost viewer lets you catch all the action. Here’s where Illusion-O comes in:



Audiences received viewers with red and blue cellophane filters. Choosing to look through the red filter intensified the images of the ghosts while the blue filter “removed” them. Being brave or coward, the choice was up to you.


“13 Ghosts” is the fourth collaboration from director William Castle and writer Robb White and lives up to the Castle touch. Two of his films were remade by his daughter Terry Ann Castle, who co-produced House on Haunted Hill in 1999, and Thirteen Ghosts in 2001 (the latter retitled Thir13en Ghosts).

A documentary focusing on Castle’s life, Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, had its premiere at AFI FEST 2007 in Los Angeles on November 8, 2007. It won the Audience Award for Best Documentary.

William Castle Spine Tingler

The Trick Is To Stay Alive!

SpectiCast Presents


John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN


October 29th at 7:30 pm

A special event in cinemas nationwide


In my opinion, John Carpenter’s “Halloween” is the quintessential All Hallows Eve movie. It still freaks me out to the point where I can only watch it during the daytime. So sad:(

Fathom Events and SpectiCast is presenting this special screening of “Halloween” on October 29th at 7:30 pm. Go, Go, Go, see it on the big screen! It’s frightening enough on the small screen and in the theater, I bet it’ll have you curled up in a ball! My favorite lines from the film are – Tommy: “What’s the Boogey Man?” Dr. Loomis: “As a matter of fact… it was.”

This movie is credited with the first strong female in a slasher film and redefines the genre. Jamie Lee Curtis, in her film debut, plays the title role of Laurie Strode. Laurie is not only book smart but has a strong sense of survival. She’s the ‘I’m gonna fight you tooth and nail’ type babysitter who doesn’t just scream and lay there making easy pickings for the killer. Watch out Michael Meyers, she’s no easy win.

A classic film all the way! A must see for every true horror fan.



John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN
In Select Cinemas Nationwide

Thursday, October 29
7:30 p.m. (local time)

Buy Tickets

 “It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.”

Michael Meyers returns to Haddonfield, and the big screen, for one terrifying night on Thursday, October 29th with John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. One of the most successful independent movies of all time, the original HALLOWEEN redefined the horror genre as we know it and has spawned a horror franchise of seven sequels.

In 1963, six-year-old Michael stabbed his 15-year-old sister to death. Institutionalized for the next 15 years, Michael manages to escape and heads for his hometown of Haddonfield the day before Halloween. Meanwhile Laurie Strode, a serious student, is spending Halloween night babysitting for the neighbors. Little does she know the danger she and her friends are in with Michael on the prowl.

This special one-night event will also feature an introduction with director John Carpenter, providing exclusive insights into his iconic horror indie.



Scary Kids Halloween!

Countdown to Halloween!


Getting closer to All Hallows Eve! Continuing my series of film recommendations for Turner Classic Movies Horror Fridays at 8:00 pm. This week’s DVR choice is “The Bad Seed” (1956). Talk about scary kids!  This flick is a cult classic that is truly shocking and begs the question – Is evil inherited? “The Bad Seed’s mother – Christine Penmark (Nancy Kelly) must confront that possibility as she begins to suspect that all is not quite right with Rhoda (Patty McCormack), her perpetually well-mannered child. Mom is finally forced to confront the possibility that her daughter may actually be a murderous sociopath after circumstances become too real to ignore.

“The Bad Seed” (1956)

Let’s start with our angelic, eight-year-old darling – Rhoda Penmark who oh so sweetly plays the French song “Au Clair de la lune” on her piano while screams emanate from the basement. Don’t ever threaten to narc on her. Looks like they’re going to be needing a new caretaker.

This child is cold blooded! In her case, trinkets are a girl’s best friend. So, when an old woman promises to leave Rhoda a gem, she – the old woman – apparently couldn’t die fast enough so our little darling volunteers to help the process along. Oh boy, a Penmanship Medal, a very tasty trinket indeed. But Rhoda loses out to classmate Claude Daigle and feels cheated so of course she takes matters into her own hands to acquire what she feels she deserves. Oh well, poor little Claude Daigle.


This film was the first of its kind since the censors forbade movies that featured children as killers. But Warner Bros.’ Studio was able to get away with it by adding an “adults only” tag to the film’s advertising and altering the original ending. The film is based upon a play (of the same name) by Maxwell Anderson, which in turn is based upon William March’s 1954 novel The Bad Seed. The play was adapted by John Lee Mahin for the screenplay of the film.



The play’s principal players, Nancy Kelly (Christine Penmark), Eileen Heckart (Mrs. Daigle), Henry Jones (LeRoy the caretaker) and Patty McCormack (Rhoda Penmark) all revised their roles in the film adaptation.


“The Bad Seed” was one of Warner Bros.’ biggest hits of the year, grossing $4.1 million and one the year’s top 20 at the box office. Academy Award Nominations were given to Nancy Kelly: Best Actress, Eileen Heckart: Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Patty McCormack: Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Cinematography (Black-White) Hal Rosson. Eileen Heckart won a Golden Globe Award for her performance.

Since I always follow the film fan rule, I won’t divulge the ending. Plus I promised Warner Bros.’ at the end of the movie.


Happy Viewing!

Halloween – Friday Night Frights!


TCM Horror Fridays in October

In my countdown to Halloween, I’ve already started watching my Friday night fright movies with help from my favorite classic film channel Turner Classic Movies. Fridays in October at 8:00 pm, they’re featuring theme-based horror flicks. The theme for Friday, October 9th is ‘Rogue Body Parts’. (sounds like fun!) To help other fans with fright flick selections, I’ll be recommending my DVR worthy choices for the TCM Horror Fest. So fire up the DVR, grab your favorite go-to snack and settle into the Halloween spirit!


Mad love

Mad Love (1935) – Peter Lorre, Frances Drake


My DVR choice of movies featured in the ‘Rogue Body Parts’ theme, is “Mad Love” (1935) directed by German filmmaker Karl Freund and starring Peter Lorre, Frances Drake and ‘Dr. Frankenstein’ himself, Colin Clive. An adaptation of Maurice Renard’s story The Hands of Orlac, it’s probably one of the most bizarre movies you’ll ever see.


Peter Lorre as Dr. Gogol

“Mad Love” was so disturbing for the time that the studio released the film with an opening disclaimer that began, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer feels that it would be a little unkind to present this picture without just a word of friendly warning….” The Hays censorship office had objections to the showing of the train wreck or any “gruesome” images. It also had issues with the torture scenes and a shot of Dr. Gogol fondling the wax replica of Yvonne. Oops!


This movie is Lorre’s American film debut and he portrays the strange Dr. Gogol – his name alone evokes an unsettling mood. Well, Gogol seems to have a thing for sadomasochism which he enjoys at the ‘Théâtre des Horreurs’. Actress Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake) is the object of Dr. Gogol’s obsession as she embodies his fantasy on stage in the theater company’s latest torture production.

So sorry Dr. Gogol but Yvonne is married to Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive) – accomplished concert pianist – but anyway, she is so NOT into this creepy little man who has a standing box seat and has attended every performance. Gogol is so obsessed with Yvonne that he buys the wax figure of her after the show’s final performance. Mind you this is a life-size replica that he enshrines in his home so he can “always possess her.” Told you he was creepy.

Yvonne Orlac in wax – Dr. Gogol

The brilliant Dr. Gogol is a renowned surgeon with whom Yvonne, in desperation, must plead with to save her successful pianist husband’s hands and career after a gruesome train wreck. Well, of course, he’ll help his love but during emergency surgery on Stephen he comes up with the twisted idea to graft the hands of a knife-wielding killer who has just been put to death on the guillotine. (And of course, Gogol attended the decapitation.) However, soon afterward Stephen begins to suspect that something is seriously wrong with his new found extremities.

This is where we add another level of freaky to the plot. I’m not going to give anything away – that goes against every film fan rule. So, check it out and let me know on a scale of 1 – 10 the creep/freak factor in the comments. Also, be sure to stay tuned for next week’s DVR worthy fright flick. Theme – ‘Scary Kids’.


Happy Viewing!


Countdown to Halloween!


October holds a special place in my holiday heart because I get to celebrate my favorite day of the year, Halloween. Just picture it. A darkened theater, a bucket of popcorn, sitting terrified and curled up in a ball;  just for the scare of it!


‘Cause this is thriller, thriller night.’

An essential part of the ritual is breaking out my awesome Halloween decorations and filling up the trick or treater candy bowl with first-class, yummy confections. Envisioning kid’s faces as I proudly hand out M&M’s, Reese Cups, Skittles and no candy bowl would be complete without my personal choice – Snickers! As a seasoned Halloween aficionado, the mood wouldn’t be complete without a spooktacular horror classic marathon streaming on the big screen TV!


The ultimate Halloween night experience would include waiting in line with fellow enthusiasts to enjoy a horror classic on the big screen. The first scary movie I remember seeing as a kid is William Castle’s “House on Haunted Hill” and man was I thrilled to be able to re-live my first time when a friend told me a neighborhood theater had a special Halloween presentation of my beloved “House on Haunted Hill”. Cherry on the top was that they also sponsored a Best Costume competition and Best Scream Award. It was everything I could hope for; even performing the movie’s gimmick, the flying skeleton!


Vincent Price in ‘House on Haunted Hill’

This Halloween, movie friends, Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events is presenting in select theaters nationwide, a special double feature screening of the 1931 Universal Horror Classic, Dracula starring Bela Lugosi and Helen Chandler as Mina Harker. Based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. In addition to the original, moviegoers will also enjoy the added treat of the Spanish version starring Carlos Villarías as Conde Drácula and Lupita Tovar as Eva Seward.


Long thought lost, a print of Spanish Dracula was discovered in the 1970s and restored. I own and love my Legacy Collection DVD which was released in 2004 and contains both versions. The collection also includes – Dracula’s Daughter (1936) Son of Dracula (1943) starring Universal’s Wolfman, Lon Chaney, Jr. and House of Dracula (1945). A must-own addition for every classic horror movie fan’s collection. For ticket information about the Dracula Double Feature, check out Fathom Events or your local theater.

Trivia: For a period of time in Hollywood, studios would produce Spanish language version films for overseas distribution, using the same sets. Tod Browning directed the English production which was shot during the day. George Melford (who did not speak Spanish) was the director for the Spanish version, filming during the evening. The Spanish crew had the advantage of watching the English dailies when they came in for the evening, and they would figure out better camera angles and more effective use of lighting in an attempt to “top” it. There are critics who believe the Spanish production was better, incorporating more interesting and varied camera angles and perspective. I agree with the critics point that this production explored more visual dimensions and created more overall excitement. It also had a sexier edge.


Dracula 1931 – Spanish Version

So, if you have the opportunity, I highly recommend adding this special event to your calendar. If you do attend, let me know your reaction in the comments.

Happy Viewing!