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Home > Movies > Spooktober, Part 1

Spooktober, Part 1

October 26th, 2007

As has been the case for the past several years, I’ve found myself in a Halloween funk. I know that I could–and believe that I should–do more for what was once my favorite holiday, but it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm when we get so few trick-or-treaters.

That said, I’m trying to work up a bit of Halloweenie spirit by immersing myself in various old horror film DVDs. Last night I got through two-and-a-half of them, though my screening of The Invisible Man was interrupted by DVD player problems. (In years past, I’d found that most any disc that failed to work on my dedicated DVD player would play without a hitch on my Playstation 2, but just the opposite was true on this occasion.)

First up was Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in the 1935 version of The Raven. As was the case with the 1963 film starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Karloff (again), it has virtually nothing to do with Poe’s poem.

Instead, Lugosi is a skilled surgeon with a Poe fixation and a secret dungeon full of working torture devices. Urged to come out of retirement to save the life of a beautiful dancer, he falls in love with his patient, much to the disgust of her father. Lugosi plots revenge with the aid of a fleeing criminal played by Karloff who, coming to the doctor in hopes of receiving a new, kinder-looking visage, is instead transformed into the spitting image of Batman’s foe Two-Face.

Lugosi’s a lot of fun in this one, cackling with ghoulish glee as he metes out punishments on the rest of the cast. He’s certainly credible as a batshit crazy dilettante whose great joy is crushing people to death. I only wish that his accent wasn’t so damned hard to understand; it’s one of the main reasons he never became the matinee idol he believed he should have been.

The best thing about The Raven is that it’s only an hour long. I don’t mean that in a cynical manner; it’s refreshing to see a film that gets to business right away and shuffles off the stage before it has a chance to wear out its welcome.

Next up was 1957’s The Deadly Mantis, the heartwarming story of a hundred-foot-long prehistoric insect that thaws out of a glacier and flies around in search of human flesh.

While this is by no means a high-budget film, it was released by Universal and so I found it surprising just how much of it consisted of stock footage. I swear that fully half of its 80-minute running time was comprised of library film of radar stations, jets in flight, airplane spotters, anti-aircraft guns and fleeing Eskimos.

The mantis itself is pretty good for the time, though the main model–an oversized puppet–is a bit stiff. (Ironically, one of the most effective special effects shots has what is clearly a real-life mantis climbing a model of the Washington Monument.) Unfortunately, it doesn’t show up all that often before the creatures hides in a New York City traffic tunnel and is promptly gas-bombed to death.

There’s an unintentionally hilarious scene in which the military’s chief scientific adviser on the case–a paleontologist, of all things–and his girl photographer discuss the mantis while the beast itself ever so slowly approaches outside the huge picture window, the two of them absurdly oblivious to its presence until the moment of impact.

Finally, I saw the first half of the 1933 version of The Invisible Man, with Claude Rains as the transparent Dr. Griffin and Gloria Stuart as the love interest added to the otherwise largely-faithful adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel.

When I read the book for the first time a couple of years ago, I was impressed by how much thought Wells had put into the ramifications of becoming invisible, not the least of which was the need to carry out one’s activities naked, no matter the temperature. Despite Griffin’s boasts of world conquest, invisibility comes off as more of a deficit than an advantage. He has to swathe himself in bandages to interact “normally” with others, and when attempting to travel unseen, there are far too many things that give him away. Happily, much of this thought is carried over in the film.

The Invisible Man was directed by James Whale (whose not-especially-closeted homosexuality was profiled in the bio-pic Gods and Monsters), and bears some of the hallmarks of his later take on Bride of Frankenstein, including a good dose of black humor. Unfortunately, it also shares actress Una O’Connor, whose shrill, babbling housekeeper I hated in Bride, and who plays exactly the same character here.

I still have another twenty minutes to go, leaving off just as the Invisible Man makes his escape wearing only a pair of pants and singing about “gathering nuts in May.” This flick ain’t subtle.

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