Bad Movie Studios: The Wolf Man (1941) Film Review


The Wolf Man (1941)

A Bad Movie Studios Review

When it comes to the Universal Monsters, right up with Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster, you have the Wolf Man. He’s an iconic character and the 1941 film starring Lon Chaney Jr (real name Creighton Tull Chaney) is probably the most famous werewolf movie to date, being the one most people think of when you mention werewolves. At least civilized people, you know, not Twilight fans. Anyway, this movie was the one that made Lon Chaney Jr. a star in the genre and features a few other Universal Monster regulars like Claude Rains and even Bela Lugosi. In fact, a lot of people don’t even know that Lugosi is in the picture even though his name is on the poster. Now Lon Chaney Jr. is also famous for being many different monsters in Universal’s classic films, also appearing as the mummy Kharis three times, The Frankenstein Monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1948) and the Wolf Man five times in total (including the original). Interesting enough, he isn’t the only famous horror actor in his family. His father Lon Chaney Sr. was a star in the silent era playing the title characters in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). So you could say that Horror was in his blood. Lon Chaney Jr. was in a lot of ways, the horror icon of the 40’s. I can’t think of anyone who made more of an impact to the film genre at the time than him.

The opening credits to the film are interesting. They basically give a rundown of the major actors in the film, showing stills and short clips from later on in the movie. It by no means sets the tone like Dracula’s (1931) opening did. But it is short and that’s good. The basic sum-ups of the plot is that Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) returns to his family home after the death of his brother. He meets with his father Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains) whom he has an estranged relationship with. Eventually he ends up meeting the films female lead Gwen Conliffe, played here by Evelyn Ankers, and the two fall in love. Gwen owns an antique shop, and later Larry ends up saving her friend Jenny from a wolf attack with a silver headed cane that he buys from her, but he gets bit by the wolf during his heroic deed. He gets told by a Gypsy fortuneteller that what bit him as actually a werewolf, and not only that but that the werewolf that bit him was actually her son (Bela Lugosi, the character’s name is Bela too by the way). She tells him that he too will change into a werewolf. As a side note, whenever someone talks about werewolves in this movie, different keep reciting the same poem, one which explains the lore of the creature. Well, eventually Larry does become a werewolf and he begins to hunt the villagers. This goes on, with him having an incredibly hard time dealing with his problem, until his father intervenes when Larry tries to attack Gwen. Hopefully that doesn’t spoil the whole movie for you, and it shouldn’t, there’s more to it than that.

Lon Chaney comes across as a fairly blue collar every man. A stark difference to Claude Rains. He actually seems like someone with a lot of money, and does a good job with the role. Something that does big me is that Chaney doesn’t seem like he’d be Rains’ son. They come off as long lost buddies maybe, but not father and son. That doesn’t hinder the actors performances though, even Chaney’s character being an educated but simple man is done well, with some decent subtleties that actually make him seem like a “wolf” well before he gets bitten. Bela Lugosi does a good job as well, even though his role is pretty small. It shows his acting ability, being such a big change from the role that got him famous in the states, Dracula. As a side note, something that I find weird is that even though the movie takes place in Wales, there are more than a few people that don’t speak with a Welsh accent, or really any accent from the region in general. It isn’t really a big deal nor does it take away from the film as a whole, it’s just something I noticed.

The sets are great, showing how far Universal had come with their productions since Dracula. I know I keep referencing Dracula, but to me it’s pretty much THE classic Universal Monster movie. It isn’t my favorite, but it’s still the measuring stick in my opinion. In short, I’m saying that you need to get used to me talking about Dracula. Anyway, I really like the sets that take place in the dark marsh area where the Gypsys live. The lighting is cool, shadowing the different actors in pools of black, but allowing you to see their silhouette outlined against the background. Also the heavy fog is another nice touch, making it seem like a gloomy and foreboding place.

Something else I feel is worth noting, is that for the most part the movie kind of plays more towards the idea that Larry Talbot has Lycanthropy. Lycanthropy is a form of hysteria in which one believes they will turn into a werewolf essentially. Basically it plays out like a mental thriller. The whole movie, there is a lot of talk about wolves (considering the shortness of the film) and there is plenty of wolf imagery and talk about superstition. So it kind of makes it seem like Talbot is possibly going crazy over this werewolf situation after the attack on Jenny. It isn’t solidly founded, but it would have been an interesting way to have taken the movie and the film could have pulled it off if it wanted to. Of course though, that goes all out the window about 40 minutes into the movie when Lon Chaney Jr. actually turns into a werewolf. Not that it’s a bad thing, I just feel I should point out that the movie doesn’t lock itself into either idea until the third act.

There’s no way I can talk about a werewolf movie, especially the most famous one of all, without talking about the transformation scene. Well, to be honest, The Wolf Man doesn’t really have one. All we see is some hair growing on Larry’s legs and then we cut to him already transformed all the way, walking around that cool foggy scenery I talked about earlier. I’ve got to tell you though, I’m glad special effects have advanced since then. Because the cross fade effect they used here and would later use for when the Wolf Man transforms in other films, is kind of dull in my opinion. It doesn’t look like a wolf transformation, it just looks like a series of short stills taken of the actors face while they applied the make up. And guess what? That’s pretty much exactly how they did it. They applied the make up and stuff and filmed Lon Chaney Jr. in the process to create the scenes of him turning into the monster. The guy who designed the look of the creature and did the make up was Jack Pierce. He also worked on Dracula and Frankenstein (1931). Anyway, I’m a sucker for a good transformation scene that uses a lot of cool practical effects, so my cup of tea wouldn’t come until later, probably the most famous one being the scene in An American Werewolf in London (1981). that film even won an Academy Award for the effects in that scene.

Overall, The Wolf Man is a decent film, and I would consider it a must see for fans of werewolf movies. But that really only stands on it’s sheer importance to the sub-genre. As a whole, it’s understandably a classic, but I wouldn’t say it’s a must see film. And that goes for if you’re a horror fan as well. Personally, I didn’t hate this film, but I didn’t enjoy it. Thankfully it’s only just over an hour long so it doesn’t keep you there feeling bored and waiting for the end.

Rating: 70

Final thoughts – I really think that werewolf films got better as time went on. The inclusion of gore later on and the increasing ability of special effects. These movies just seem to get better the better the effects got. It seems kind of hard for a werewolf movie to be character driven and rely on atmosphere and pacing. I’m not saying it’s impossible, it just seems difficult. That being said, I think that really applies to the “traditional” werewolf movie. I think a film that was about the mental syndrome Lycanthropy would probably be best if it embarrassed those story driven qualities. Same for a film that was about, say, Wendigo Psychosis (where one believes they must eat human flesh to survive, named after the Native American myth). With the idea that werewolf movies have gotten better over time, the next film I’m gonna look at is the 2010 remake to this Universal classic, The Wolfman starring Benicio Del Torro and Anthony Hopkins.


Bad Movie Studios Review: House on Haunted Hill (1959) *spoiler warning*


House on Haunted Hill (1958)

A Bad Movie Studios Review

On the table for a review today is House on Haunted Hill, a bit of a cult classic starting Vincent Price. It was directed by William Castle, who’s also known for his his work on The Tingler (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960), and The Old Dark House (1963). He was also a producer on Rosemary’s Baby (1968). I personally like his work for making the experience in the movie theater a fright house, where seats would be rigged to shake and actors planted so that the audience got more than just a movie. This is a movie that I own a few copies of because it tends to appear on those 50 Horror Movie compilations a lot. In fact the one I’m watching today is part of a 15 Film Cult Classics Collection, one that includes White Zombie (1932) with Bela Lugosi, George A. Romero’s Night of The Living Dead (1968), The Little Shop of Horror’s (1960) featuring Jack Nicholson, The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) a Hammer Horror film from their Dracula series starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and The Terror (1963) another film featuring Jack Nicholson as well as Boris Karloff. This set is great. I get Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price along with William Castle, George Romero and Roger Corman in the Directors chairs. Now of course that’s not all 15 films on the set, but they are the standout ones. An interesting note about the DVD, the from cover has made up posters for each movie, but they have nothing of the original films on them. And the DVD menu’s are awkward. But a lot of them don’t make any sense. There are three different Vincent Price films on this list, House on Haunted Hill, Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Bat (1959). But only The Bat and The Last Man on Earth show him on the poster, and the picture they show, is the exact same one! How lazy can you get?

This film opens on of the most unexpected ways that I really should have seen coming. A woman’s scream blares from a black screen and some groaning is heard along with chain rattling. Then a head zooms into sight. The head belongs to a man who reveals his name to be Watson Pritchard, played by Elisha Cook Jr. He was also in Rosemary’s Baby, another tie to William Cook, and the Salem’s Lot miniseries which was an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Stephen King, directed by Tobe Hooper (Director of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre). He gives us backstory on the House on Haunted hill and tells us that since it was built 100 years before hand, 7 people have been killed there including his brother. Then he fades from view and we see a still image of the house itself, and again another head comes into frame, this time belonging to Vincent Price. He delivers a short monologue, explaining that he and his wife are throwing a haunted house party, and that anyone who can stay in the house for 12 hours will receive $10,000.00. He also tells us that we can expect ghost and a few murders and that if someone can manage to stay for the 12 hour time limit they’ll receive the money but if they die their earnings will go to their next of kin. What’s interesting is that he delivers that lines in such a way that make it seem that he’s talking to the viewer. But at the same time the lines make sense in context because it could easily be him reciting the invitations. It reminds me of when you;re watching a play and someone comes out in the opening and addresses the audience, engaging them in the experience. Remember, this is what William Castle is known for. Either way it’s and Price’s signature voice gives it an uneasy subtlety.

Price then introduces the other characters. We have a test pilot, a writer, a psychologist, an employee of Vincent Price, and we are reintroduced to Watson Pritchard. They all have the common theme of being hard up for money, whether its to feed their family, or because they have a gambling addiction etc. After that we’re given a bland title sequence that shows off shots of the house and our characters meeting. The music in the background is foreboding, but somewhat out of place. It seems like it would fit better in an episode of the Twilight zone.

When they get into the house, we are immediately given exposition. The characters just talk about things they’ve heard about regarding Vincent Price’s character, relieved to be a millionaire named Fredrick Loren. Shortly thereafter we get our first sign of odd activity ad a steel door gets slammed shut and a chandelier falls to the floor. It’s intended as a jump scare but fails to deliver. We see Fredrick at the top of the stairs and follow him as we are introduced to his wife Annabelle, played by Carol Ohmart. They exchange a dialogue that lets us in on the fact that they probably don’t have the most normal of relationships and that there’s a possibility of trouble in their love life. The lines are great and delivered with a wonderful subtext that points to those relationship troubles. Carol Ohmart is a beautiful woman and we get her character right off the bat. She has a coldness about her that works well with Vincent Price’s eccentric qualities. She has a hard stare and the two have great chemistry on screen.

Fredrick introduces himself to the party goers and runs down why they’re there. Now they all act normal with the exception of Walter. He seems like the only one who knows what’s going on with the house and goes on and on about ghosts and murder. He comes across as crazy and a tad over the top. One thing that doesn’t make any sense is that if he’s so scared about the ghosts, why did he go to the party in the first place? I know they mention that he needs money, but he actually owns the house, he tells you that back in the beginning when he’s just a head. So why not just sell the damn thing? It’s a nice house, I’m sure he could have made some money off of it. Anyway, the group is told the rules of this excursion and Loren tells Walter to give everybody a tour. While on the tour, the writer woman stands under a blood spot on the ceiling, and blood drops on her hand. Walter tells her that she’s been marked. She takes it rather well, with the psychologist agreeing that it must be something benign like a leaky roof. They proceed to the wine cellar as Pritchard gives us more exposition. He keeps talking about how violent the murders were and really drives home the weirdo vibe. Vincent Price has a look on his face like “What the hell is wrong with you? Get away from me”. Nora Manning, the girl who works for Fredrick Loren (played by Carolyn Craig), has a moment that’s kinda hard to understand. She looks like she nearly faints and then catches herself with the aid of the test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long). It’s weird because it’s really hard to tell what they were trying to get across. Walter tells here that she almost fell into the acid that’s in a pool in the wine cellar. He tells them that is melts away all the flesh from a body and leaves nothing but the bones. He throws a dead rat into the acid and as the smoke and bubbled rise from the water, we see it’s skeleton float to the surface. The effect is pretty lame. Walter just sort of shrugs it off as everyone else is freaked out and Loren leads them back upstairs.

Nora and Lance stay down in the cellar and trade back stories. You know, that’s something that’s kind of annoying about this film. There’s so much exposition. Only 20 minutes in you’ve been given 3 scenes of it. It’s tedious. Price and Ohmart were able to get a lot of information out in their scene together without talking about backstory. You learn that Fredrick is controlling and jealous, and that Ohmart is really into him for the money all through effective dialogue. That’s not to say that there isn’t exposition in that scene, it’s just delivered much better. Anyway, Lance decides to start opining doors that go to who knows where, and of course the door shuts on him leaving Nora alone. The lights go out and the music kicks up as a strange woman approached Nora from the darkness but then retreats. So she runs upstairs and tells everyone Lance is gone, making mention of the strange person she saw. They all run out to go look for him, except Walter. He just slowly saunters out behind them. What a little shit.

As they find Lance, he’s laying on the floor and when they pick him up he awakens and is bleeding. Walter tells the writer woman Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum) that he’s surprised that the ghosts didn’t kill the test pilot. They tend to his wounds and Loren asks what the ghost looked like. She tells him but it doesn’t really go anywhere in the scene. We get more ghost fearing from Walter too. Nora and Lance go off to look for what attacked him in the cellar.

As they looking around, we get another jump scare that is just nonsense. An old woman wearing ridiculous make up and in a goofy pose just stands there making weird faces at Nora. She floats off out of the room and disappears. It’s just so funny that it’s hard to believe anyone could be scared by it. She tries to tell Lance what happened but he doesn’t believe her and she storms off. She meets Annabelle and Mrs. Loren takes Nora to her room. Annabelle tells her that they’re all in danger and that Nora shouldn’t wander the house alone. Annabelle leaves her and runs into Lance. They talk about what happened in the cellar and she asks Lance if she can rely on him if something happens, and we’re given more exposition. Carol Ohmart just doesn’t work as well with anyone like she does with Vincent Price and this scene shows that. It comes off as part of that tedious group from before. She’s still good in it though, and we get the impression that she’s more than just cold, but cunning and seductive as well.

We get another short dialogue with the Lorens. It sets in that there might be some sinister motive for Fredrick throwing this party. He tells Lance and Nora to meet everyone downstairs at 12 O’clock. Nora then finds a severed head in a box in her room and runs out and down the hall. The head looks silly and her reaction isn’t at all what you;d think it would be. When she gets to the end of the hall. She runs into a curtain that partisans the hallway from another section, presumably the maids quarters. She’s grabbed from behind by a man who tells her to come with him before she’s killed. Of course that doesn’t go over well and she runs away screaming again. The thing that fails to process is how didn’t anybody else hear her? She screams at the top pf her lungs and both Annabelle and Lance are only a few doors down. Besides, Fredrick just went downstairs, shouldn’t he still be close enough to hear her? Whatever.

Nora Manning says that she doesn’t want to stay, and the strange man and funny looking old lady from before are revealed to be the caretakers of the house. The old woman is apparently blind too. The caretakers disappear randomly and the house is locked up before midnight. But that seemingly alarming fact is brushed over quite fast, and we move on to a series of Colt .45 pistols that are handed out to each member of the party. They have sort of a half ass debate over whether or not it’s a good idea to give them all loaded weapons and Nora tells them about the head she found in her room. Before they leave to go look at it, Annabelle gives her gun back to Fredrick saying that she doesn’t need it and he puts it back in the mini coffin it came in. Oh yeah, by the way, the guns were kept in mini coffins. They dismiss Nora’s claims and she yells at the rest of the group to leave her alone. The Psychologist tells Fredrick that Nora shouldn’t be frightened anymore. Real degree earning knowledge there guy.

Lance tries to find Nora who seems to have mastered Jason Voorhees’s ability to vanish completely, and stumbles across another jump scare in the form of, what appears to be a hair ball hanging in a closet. I really don’t know what to call it, it just looks like a balled up cat hanging on a wall. It turns out to be a head thought and Lance grabs it and loos around for Nora. He brings it to Walter who tells him that the ghosts have taken her and that soon she’ll be one of them. A scream is heard and Lance runs off as we find Annabelle has been hanged. Now, see this is the nonsense I was talking about earlier. When Annabelle makes half a croak people hear her, but when Nora Manning does it, it’s like she might as well be a Katy Perry album from when she sang gospel because nobody hear it. The Psychologist meets Lance at the scene and they cut Annabelle’s body down. They bring her to her room and Fredrick comes in. Lance leaves and finds Nora who tells him that Mr. Lorens tried to strangle her, but that he thought she was dead when she wasn’t and now she wants Lance to hide her. They talk about Annabelle’s death and wonder if it was a suicide or murder. Lance leaves Nora his pistol and goes downstairs for another meeting.

Lorens checks up on his wife’s body one more time, and at first we get some idea that he might have been the one to kill her. But when Walter enters the room, Fredrick nearly strangles him, asking why he dared to come in in the first place. It makes you see that he clearly isn’t 100% happy at his wife’s passing, and again Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart have a good scene together. Even though Carol’s dead.

The groups meeting effectively becomes a game of Clue, as they ponder who tried to crush Nora with the chandelier, murdered Annabelle, and attacked Lance. The blame loos to be put on Fredrick, and Vincent Price hits home a good performance. He legitimately looks pissed that anyone would accuse him of killing her, but chooses to defend himself no more than he has to. And that;s just great. He’s a millionaire, why would he waste the time with the riff raff right? It’s a good scene. He’s had enough of the nonsense. They all agree to part ways and go to their rooms, Lance even vowing to shoot anyone that enters. Walter again comes in to the dialogue to give some more “we’re all doomed” stuff and the group one by one splits off into their bedrooms. When Fredrick gets to his room, he breaks a martini glass. That’s at least one thins this movie does right. It really tows the line with his character making it an effective “who done it” for a little while. You really aren’t sure whether or not he did kill his wife. There’s plenty of evidence for him to have done so, and he even admits it. But yet he stands his ground on the matter and has some subtle moments that really deepen his character. And guess what? No damn exposistion. Basically at this point, you get the idea that he did love his wife, he just really didn’t like her. At least, that’s my interpretation.

We then see Walter he’s loading his pistol and waiting for whatever he thinks is coming. Then we cut to the psychologist, who lights some candles and starts writing. We assume about who may be the killer. The knob on his door starts turning like there’s someone trying to get it, but when he gets up to check, there’s nobody there. The writer woman is just standing around in her room when more blood drops on her hand from the ceiling. Thank god she has something going on because ever since the start of the movie we’ve been waiting for something to happen to her and there hasn’t been a pay off. Lance wanders around looking for a way to get out and ends up locked in a secret passage way. We transition to Nora again for one of the worst scenes in the whole movie. She’s just waling about her room, when the storm that just sort of magically started outside picks up. Through her barred windows, a rope slides across the floor like a snake and proceeds to wrap itself around her feet and legs. And she just stands there! She doesn’t even make a noise, she just gawks at it like some moron. She then see’s the ghost of Annabelle hovering outside her window and getting closer to the room. And then she just fades off into the distance, like the woman from the beginning of the film. But in the worst cut I have ever seen in a Horror movie, the ropes unwrap themselves from her legs, but all they did was reverse the footage. They literally repeat the same shot in reverse. It looks ridiculous. And the lighting effect in the scene is bad too. All they did was a simple strobe light effect by turning the lights on and off. Anyway, Nora runs out of her room, grabbing the pistol Lance left her, and see’s that Annabelle’s body is back hanging over the stairs again. I actually didn’t see it coming and it would have been a decent moment if they didn’t show the shot of her body twice. Then a creepy deformed hand comes around the corner trying to grab her. It looks like the hand on the cover of the Goosebumps book Stay out of the Basement. I wonder if there’s a connection.

Ms. Manning runs back to the room that the group keeps having meetings in, and the piano starts playing itself. You know she’s been doing a really bad job at not being alone this whole movie. And again, when she screamed after the hand tried to grab her, nobody comes to check out what’s going on. Even thought she’s closer now than before. But I’m not getting into that garbage again. So, yet one more time, she just runs off screaming.

The psychologist goes to Lorens to tell him that he thinks there might be someone else in the house. After agreeing to work together to search the house, Lorens and the doctor split up. But the psychologist turns on Fredrick and only used the idea as a ploy to get into his room. He does and he goes to the bed where we see Annabelle’s body still laying there. Got this movie is inconsistent. One scene it’s trying to be a psychological paranormal horror film, and the next it’s trying to be a murder mystery. I would really like if it could just pick to one style and work with it. The psychologist talks to Annabelle and it’s revealed that this was a ploy to kill Fredrick. They’ve been working together the whole time and faked Annabelle’s death. They’ve also been trying to drive Nora crazy and into killing Mr. Lorens for them so that it’s “The perfect crime”. It’s actually a decent twist and a nice way to get more scenes out of Carol Ohmart.

Vincent Price ends up stumbling upon Nora in the wine cellar and she shoots him. It’s kind of spoiled because it’s not like he could have really scared her. She turns, looks at him for a good 5 seconds, he says “Nora, no!” and she blasts him. Then she just screams and runs away. God, I really don’t like her character. All she really does in this movie is scream. At least Jamie Lee Curtis added to the story in Halloween. The psychologist shows up from a secret doorway to the cellar and opens the pool of acid. The lights go out and all we hear is a groan and a slash followed by a sizzle. It’s clear someone was dropped into the acid, but to be honest, the film clearly wants there to be a twist. It immediately guts to Annabelle again and the whole ending to the sequence seems fishy. If Price’s character was dead, how would he have made a noise going into the acid? Well we should find out soon enough. As I said we’re back to Annabelle. She heads to the wine cellar looking for the psychologist, but see’s nobody. All the doors in the room close. She peers onto the acid as we see the worst looking skeleton slowly rise from the acid. It’s so terrible. It’s a plastic skeleton on a string being pulled of camera. It’s just so bad. The skeleton walks across the room towards her (Carol Ohmart doesn’t make a noise by the way, she just stares like she got caught sneaking conies) and then it begins to speak! It’s Vincent Price who tells her that she’s going to come with him. Then she backs up directly in front of the acid, and stands there screaming for about 10 seconds, instead of just waling somewhere else (besides this skeleton is moving all of half a mile an hour) and then the skeleton actually pushes her in to the acid. It’s just so bad. You really have to see it to fathom the craziness of this scene.

So it turns out that we have a double twist ending, as after she’s dropped into the acid, Vincent Price steps out from behind one of the wine barrels with this contraption and we figure out that the skeleton was just a puppet. Wait. If the skeleton was just a puppet, how the hell did it push her into the acid? What does it weigh a ton? Was that why it was so slow? It’s nonsense! So basically, Fredrick knew of the doctor and Annabelle’s “perfect” plan to kill him basically used it against them. It kind of spoils what we’ve seen earlier though, because now we know that this whole thing really has been a ruse. Well if the plan was to just kill Annabelle and the doctor before they killed him, why not just do that in the damn first place? This movie is so convoluted it doesn’t make any sense.

So we meet back up with Nora, the writer and Walter and they end up finding Lance. They go downstairs and are shocked to find Lorens alive. He tells Nora that he loaded her gun with blank rounds and reveals to the remaining four members of the party that his wife and the doctor tried to kill him. Then, just like that, he walks off. Walter goes to the acid and gives some more “gonna die” lines, then ends the film by letting us know that they’re coming for us. They being the ghosts.

So that’s House on Haunted Hill. Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart are really the only good things about this movie. The other characters are boring, the effects are laughably bad, and the storyline is the epitome of what a M. Night Shyamalan movie would have been like back int the late 50’s. It has this terrible sense of not being able to pick the style it’s going for. That leads to a really bad inconsistency with the film. When it tries to do horror, it fails so bad it’s funny. When it goes the route of murder mystery, it’s not too bad but not really all that great either. And dammit don’t get me started on the endless amounts of exposition. But you know what the weirdest thing about this movie is? I like it. Yeah, it’s pretty enjoyable. The story makes no sense and Walter is just annoying as hell, but the effects are so cheesy that you can’t help but like them. And Vincent Price is just great in this movie. Also the film is short, only about an hour and fifteen minutes, so it hardly drags. Even with all that exposition. Now there was a remake of this film in 1999 that was interestingly produced by William Castle’s daughter, Terry Castle. That film stars Geoffry Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean series) and Famke Janssen (X-Men series) as the husband and wife, and changes up the story. A lot of the characters are different, with the exception of Walter being in the movie. An cool note though is that the husband and wife’s last name are changed to Price, and obvious homage to Vincent.

Now like I said earlier, you can find this movie pretty much anywhere, I own 3 or 4 copies of it myself. If I’m not mistaken it’s public domain meaning that nobody owns the rights to it. So if you have the time and get your hand on House on Haunted Hill, give it a watch.

Final Rating: 69

Dracula (1931) – Film Review


Dracula (1931) – Film Review
By Nick R

“Dracula”, directed by Tod Browning and released in 1931, is probably one of the most famous horror films of all time, and the first of the Universal Horror films of the Golden Age. It is the first sound horror film, and an immensely important film in the genre and stars Bela Lugosi in the titular role. The movie is based off of the book of the same name by Bram Stoker (Abraham Stoker) which was released 34 years earlier, in May of 1897. The story, and later horror classic, essentially established the myth of the vampire in popular culture for the rest of time. Now there were stories about vampires before 1897, and Dracula wasn’t even the first film based on the book itself. There was Nosferatu in the 1922 a silent film directed by F. W. Murnau. Although probably the most famous silent film of all time, Nosferatu was actually an unauthorized adaptation, and so the names of the characters (most notably the Count himself) were changed, changing Dracula to Orlock. When I went to film school, the print we watched was one that hadn’t had the name reversed back to Dracula as some modern prints of the movie do. Now two things I would like to make mention about Dracula, is that the plot only loosely follows that of the book with more than a few deviations, and that there was also a Spanish version of this film made at the same time as the English version. It used the same sets and was filmed at night when the English actors ad crew had left, and also utilized a completely different cast. There are some differences between the films and some people even prefer the Spanish version of Dracula over the English one.  Okay, enough history, lets get to the review.

Right off the bat this movie hits with a very good title sequence. Technically speaking it’t nothing to write home about, but it;s the music in the background that makes it great. The theme song playing is “Swan Lake” by Tchaikovsky . The song was also used in the 2010 film “Black Swan” with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Just at the title “Dracula” comes into frame, we are greeted by the beginning’s of this song, and and the opening credits continue the song picks up becoming more grandiose and epic, until they finally dull down and we fade into our opening sequence. An interesting note is that the opening theme is the only bit of music in the entire film. The rest, even though this is the first sound Horror movie, contains nothing but the static sounds of the reel and the spoken word of our actors. This scene encapsulates something that we’ve seen in film about 1000 times. Something that now is a cliche, the villagers. They are superstitious and warn about “Nosferatu” and the evils of  Castle Dracula. We are introduced to Dwight Renfield, played here by Dwight Frye. Now Dwight Frye isn’t as famous for his roles in the Universal Films as Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff (real names Bela Forenc Dezsco Blasko and William Henry Pratt) but he was featured in multiple films of the company, being seen here in Dracula, and also in Frankenstein (1931) as Fritz the hunchbacked assistant to Doctor Frankenstein himself (Colin Clive in that adaptation), The Invisible Man (also 1931) in a minor role as a reporter, and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) as Karl a henchman to Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), the rival to Dr. Frankenstein. Although appearing in these other Horror classics, his role in Dracula was his signature one and easily his most famous. Anyway, back to the freaked out villagers. There is a particular dialogue between Dwight and one of the mountain people (as he refers to his townsfolk) that succeeds in being funny and does something I love, in breaking the normal pace of delivered lines. You see a lot times in older films, the lines are kind of whack-a-moled back and forth between performers. There’s a sense of one person just waiting for his turn to speak. This movie has that too, but it also has moments where the dialogue doesn’t feel like that and feels more like how someone talks in real life. And I like that. It happens again a little later in the film in a scene between Dracula and Renfield. Now, Frye is warned about the evils of the night and although his carriage driver doesn’t want to take him out after dark, Renfield insists and ventures off in search of his rendezvous with The Count. Now immediately we are introduced to Dracula (who reveals his name a bit later) and we essentially find out that all the fear that the townspeople had talked about before is with good reason. Dracula rises from his coffin, as well as his brides, and we get a close up of Lugosi’s hypnotic gaze. It is a look that defines the Dracula character, at least for me. Although modern takes on the vampire tale have given us different interpretations (like 30 Days of Night for example) I must state that Bela Lugosi’s portrayal is almost perfect in my eyes. Dracula comes across as very intelligent and calculating, having a certain seductiveness about him. And yet he still retains an ominous presence. His look in the film is hardly accurate to the book, but it is this version that established the popular design of the undead man monster for the rest of time. Bela Lugosi was Hungarian born and spoke very little English, really only learning the language for the roles he would play on screen. So his strange accent that he has in the movie is indeed his own, although that can hardly be said for the delivery of his lines. Dracula speaks much like that look I described before. Hypnotically. His inflections and mannerisms are very peculiar and add a sense of unease to situations. Now it has to be said that today’s average movie goer will probably not see that far into his performance, and will more than likely just view it as hokey and quite silly. But that is just the difference in the times as well as the difference in the Horror genre these days compared to then. Something else that should be noted in this film are the sets. The movie has very good sets that are both spooky and really help set a tone for the story. Now like all of the films I review, I will not be just doing a rundown of the plot scene by scene as I watch it, but instead trying to make mention of the things I feel should be pointed out and talked about. So I will not continue and tell the fate of Renfield, but I will say that he and Dracula end up boarding a ship that takes them to England, and the crew of that ship are found mysteriously dead when it arrives. Dwight Frye’s most famous role, as I mentioned before, is the one he played in this film and it shows why. Again, I will not spoil anything, but his performance here is very well done and really makes you believe that he is the way he is portraying his character to be. It reminds me of wrestling legend Terry Funk, and how he was able to make fans all over the world by into his gimmick in a way that very few in the wrestling business could ever dream of. But enough of that, were here to talk about movies and Dracula not Terry Funk and wrestling. Something else I find very interesting about this movie is the subtly. There are a lot of small and…well subtle things in this feature. A scene where a person is drugged didn’t register with me until I watched it a third time. At first, I just kinda thought they passed out, but upon re-watching I was able to see what was really happening. And it was indeed, foul play. There’s also the relationship between Dracula and his brides. Now I really don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything in telling you that his brides do make an appearance in the film, because they are so common place in films about Dracula now. But in this movie even though they interact, they don’t speak any lines to one another. It;s all done in body language, gestures and Lugosi’s cold, haunting stare. And with just that, you know exactly who’s the one wearing the pants in that relationship.

An interesting addition to the story of the book itself, is that of the character Van Helsing. What makes this interesting is that the characters full name is Abraham Van Helsing.  Abraham is also the name of the writer of the novel, Abraham Stoker, Abraham of course shortened to Bram. This to me seems like Bram Stoker may have identified with the character of Van Helsing especially. This is fairly common with writers really, I an even attest to such things. Although I should only be loosely considered a writer. Unless being a starving artist counts because that’s me. Anyway, Van Helsing makes an appearance in Dracula and is played by Edward Van Sloan. Edward Van Sloan is another actor that made multiple appearances in Universal Horror films, also being in Frankenstein (1931) as Dr. Waldman and The Mummy (1932) as Dr. Muller. Another credit worth noting is his role in Dracula’s Daughter (1936). Dracula’s Daughter was a sequel to Dracula, with Edward Van Sloan reprising his role as Abraham Van Helsing. Van Helsing, known in pop culture today as probably the famous fictional vampire hunter (like you didn’t now what he was doing in this film. Come on.) has been portrayed on the big screen multiple times by many famous actors. By Peter Cushing (who also played Dr. Frankenstein) in the British Hammer Horror films that remade the classics in glorious color, Anthony Hopkins in 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Copula, and Hugh Jackman in Van Helsing (2004), an action adventure film that payed homage and tribute to the Universal Horror and Monster Films.

I find it really cool that even though we have multiple characters in this movie, it’s played off in a way as such that makes it feel as though Dracula is the main character, and in a weird way the protagonist. Of course he is really the antagonist, but we are introduced to him so early in the film and follow him so much and for so long that he’s really the one we invest most into. The other characters are, to be honest and with the exception of Renfield, kind of bland. We really don’t learn that much about them and they’re about as deep in the character development department as a piece of cardboard. They don’t have the same presence as Dracula, aren’t as interesting as Van Helsing, nor do they captivate the viewer like Renfield does when he’s on screen. No unfortunately they just come across as place holders. Time wasters until someone more interesting shows up. They’re not incredibly relatable, and suffer from the same boring you speak I speak whack-a-mole dialogue that I hate. Another gripe about the characters is the complete lack in continuity between the book and the movie on who is even present and who isn’t as well as the one’s who are and fill completely different roles entirely. As to not confuse, as I feel I might already have done, I will say that even though the movie is only loosely based off of the book (as I mentioned earlier) the self contained storylines work perfectly when with the characters doing what they do and filling the roles they fill. They take the places they do just fine. What’s disappointing are the characters that played such a big role in the book like Jonathon Harker, who are downplayed quite a lot in the film. Even Mina Harker, Jonathon’s fiance and Dracula’s love interest, has a role that isn’t as big as it was in the book. She is significant in both tellings of the tale, just lesser so in here. And like I said, there are also those characters that don’t appear at all, like Quincy Morris. A lot of people who didn’t read the novel might not know who Quincy Morris is, but he’s actually a fairly important character, especially in the end of the story. So, yeah. That’s a bit disappointing. I would have liked to see him here, but like I said before, Dracula still holds up its plot fairly well without them.

Really the weakest point to this film, for me, is the ending. Again, no spoilers here but the film doesn’t really have one. It just kind of, stops. Like right in it’s tracks. We don’t actually get to SEE what happens to The Count, and there’s just a rushed finish to things. Also the version I watched didn’t have any credits at the end, it just faded to black. But that’s okay because there’s pretty much all of the ones you need right in the beginning.  So really those are my two major gripes with this film, the poor not-really-an-ending ending, and the lackluster, unrelatable characters. Other than that there is a lot to love about this movie and more than a few neat things that are worth checking out. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula is just great, and you really wish you saw more of him. He is in a good amount of the film though, and with a run time of only about an hour and 15 minutes, that’s a good thing. Still though, it kind of makes you wish that it was really tailored to be about him rather than making us spend as much time with the shallow characters as we have to. And of course there’s Renfield who is easily a highlight to the film. He really helps things move along and you’re genuinely happy to see him on screen when he is. Fitting since he’s the first person we really spend any time with in this movie. And last but not least, there’s Van Helsing, who even though we don’t meet until later in the film, he is still enjoyable and a very welcome edition to the cast of players. With a very interesting trio, wonderful set design, and a grand entrance, it’s pretty easy to see why Dracula is one of the legends of the Horror genre. The film was so innovative for it’s time that its kind of sad that we’ll never be able to recreate the impression it would have had on us as viewers in 1931. Film making and viewing has changed so much in the 80+ years since this films release. Yet there are a lot of things in this feature that are classic horror standards and even cliche’s nowadays. Dracula is the movie that made a star out of Bela Lugosi, and it’s his most iconic role. He was even buried in the cape as rumor has it. After this movie he was offered the role as “The Monster” in Universal’s next Horror project Frankenstein, but turned it down citing that all of the make up would ruin his performance. Interestingly enough, that role would of course make a star out of Boris Karloff, and started a Horror film rivalry of sorts between the two actors. Eventually Bela Lugosi would indeed end up in some Frankenstein films, playing Ygor in Son of Frankenstein (1939) and Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) and even the Monster itself in Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (1943). There is no doubt that this movie and Bela’s interpretation of Dracula have become complete cultural icons, and a mainstay in pop culture as a whole. I highly recommend this film to Horror fans and film buffs alike, or anyone who like to take a peep at a standout in film history.

Overall Score: 80
This film is really good, but it IS dated and that may take some people out of the experience, but I definitely think you should try and look past that and enjoy what Dracula does bring to the table.
Better Than: White Zombie (1932), The Raven (1935), Bride of the Monster (1955)
Not as Good as: The Black Cat (1941), Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Invisible Man (1933)