Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Bearth Day.

Today's a special day here at the Skull & Pumpkin.

Not because it's Earth Day, though we spent many wonderful hours in the yard yesterday, pulling, pruning and planting in anticipation of today's significance and some long-awaited rain.

No, today is special for two main reasons.

Firstly, my stepdaughter Rebecca is celebrating her birthday! Happy Birthday on Earth Day, Rebecca! Everyone raise a toast!

Secondly, another birthday for another beautiful woman...

In 1935, 75 years ago this very day, was released a film many consider to be the greatest of the entire era of the classic horror films.

She was the first crush of many a Monster Kid, not only because she was beautiful but because she was a monster that was a girl; she was 'one of us' who was decidedly not quite like us... like the first girl you all agreed to let enter the boys-only clubhouse, the secret hiding place, the first girl to whom you ever entrusted a real secret and let slip a kiss on the cheek.

She was a revelation.
The finest neck in horror history.

Now, I could launch into days' worth of plot synopses and analyzing of social subtext and the ever-discussed odd life of director James Whale, but those of you who are students of Classic Horror know all of that jibber-jabber because you've seen it a dozen times or more, and have read the myriad words written about the significance of this one film to an entire genre (and modern popular culture).

For any of you who haven't seen it, let me just suggest you try to see it before the weekend's out, and add a little temptation to my nudging elbow with a few words on this unique beauty here...

First, just look at her. Yeah, she's not in much of the film, but that she immediately became (and remains) a legendary icon is a testament to her singular screen presence and beauty. For that we must thank make-up pioneer Jack Pierce, as well as director Whale's unique vision, and the subtle charms of the delightful Elsa Lanchester.

Second, the film offers another unique experience in the form of one of the strangest, funniest, and outright swishiest villains the movie world is likely to see...
Dr. Septimus Pretorius, portrayed by the inimitable Ernest Thesiger, is a dandy, controlled and controlling, the real forerunner of the modern Mad Scientist in the truest sense -- using reason to corrupt reason, blackmail to force loyalty, death to create life, science to become God. All with a lisp, a sneer and a bit of gin... it's his only weakness. You will never forget him or his incredible voice, or the way he says 'lever'...
There it is, above and behind his head, the dreaded 'lever' -- only Pretorius and Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive reprising his 1931 role) both pronounce it 'LEE-vuh!' enough times that now I call anything remotely
resembling a lever a 'LEE-vuh!'
You don't get to see them all together for very long, but this dysfunctional family
is a treat to behold. The seeming calm here only lasts mere minutes, because the oblivious
Bride finally gets a good long look at her Mate...
... and breaks our hearts right along with his, poor Monster! Our only chance of Monster
Love, of finding a girl who 'gets' our Monster geekitude has spurned us! Even as a
kid I knew the heartache over this moment, and understood entirely the Monster's need
to find and pull that LEE-vuh.

Oh, this is a remarkably dark, funny, quirky film. There's so much stuffed into it, so much that James Whale was able to 'get away with' for 1935 and the Hays Code, so much to explore, no wonder so much has been written about it over these 75 years.

If you have time and $15 or so this weekend, do yourself a massive favor and hit your favorite video store to get this historic and hysterical film. Just buy it, you will want to own it, trust me.

If you already have it, then do as I am about to do, and just run it all day long. That's what's on the screen here at the S&P all day and night.

From Karloff and Lanchester to Una O'Connor and Ernest Thesiger (and Valerie Hobson and Colin Clive and Dwight Frye and...) it will delight and delight and delight.

In honor, I have added the brilliant Franz Waxman theme from The Bride of Frankenstein to the jukebox... give it a listen.

Happy Anniversary, Happy Birthday, Happy Earth Day.


DUMDUMSHREKPEEPS!
(and don't touch that LEE-vuh!)

7 comments:

  1. Happy Birthday Rebecca!
    And how cool is it that you and the Bride of Frankenstein share a birthday?

    Man, that Elsa Lanchester was a beauty even under all that costume and makeup she was spellbinding to watch. And I remember seeing "Bride" for the first time (no, it was on TV--not the original release!) When she came to life and saw her intended mate, her reaction was so heartbreaking, I nearly cried. That says something for Whale, Karloff amd Lanchester. They told a story so weird-yet so real that we could get emotionally caught up in it--even after all these years.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm in the middle of my second viewing today (well, second playing and paying attention here and there between chores and so on) and keep finding myself wondering if James Whale didn't invent from whole cloth our now-permanent notion of mad scientists in old castle laboratories using lightning to create monsters... I mean, some of those elements existed separately in books and films before, but the exact formula is entirely Whale's. I keep getting more impressed with this campy movie that somehow brings so many serious messages to the table.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was just looking up Bride of Farnkenstein on the Barnes and Noble Books website and the following was suggested:

    Bride of Frankenstein Doesn't Bake Cookies
    by Debbie Dadey, John Steven Gurney (Illustrator), Marcia Thornton Jones

    The Legend lives on! Apparently, this is part of a series of kids' books(ages 7-10) about some school kids and monster friends.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Absolutely one of our favorite films. HUGE influence on my desire to haunt like I do today. The yard is black, white and gray on purpose, because I am just still so awestruck by the beauty of this film. I agree with you and cannot recommend it enough.

    Oh, happy birthday Rebecca!!

    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Here is an awesome review/remebrance of this movie from one of my favorite authors:

    http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008_04_01_archive.html
    (scroll about 1/3 of the way down, till you see BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN)
    All I can say to people who have never seriously sat and watched it, is ,"Man....it's impossible to explain how great and weird it is....just watch it."

    ReplyDelete
  6. Awesome! The direct link is here:

    http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/04/weebleongdead-switch.html

    ... and it's so worth the read. Neil Gaiman... I must address his brand of genius on this blog one of these days.

    But WHERE do you even start?

    Thanks Chris!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Neil Gaiman: Where to start?

    How about "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone and a blade finer and sharper than any razor?"

    ReplyDelete