October 2007, issue 27
"Crazy, am I? We'll see whether I'm crazy or not!" -- Henry Frankenstein [Colin Clive], Frankenstein (1931).
This month we feature a terrifying trio of boxed (oblong?) sets of horror films. Director Mario Bava, actor Boris Karloff, and producer Val Lewton.
Our boxed set of dvds from this stylish and influential Italian director includes the occult horror of Black Sunday, the tri-part anthology of horror hosted by Boris Karloff Black Sabbath, one of the first giallo films, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, the Viking adventure Knives of the Avenger, and finally another horror story Kill, Baby...Kill!
Horror icon in her own right, Barbara Steele is a re-animated witch in Black Sunday. Karloff not only hosts Black Sabbath with tongue firmly in cheek, but is also very effective as a vampire [for the first and only time in his long career] in 'The Wurdalak' a segment based on a story by Tolstoy. The Girl Who knew Too Much is a prime example of the Italian genre known as giallo, a pulpy mix of violence, sex, crime and thriller, somewhat like American film noir, or Hitchcock's thrillers. Knives of the Avenger? Vikings, 'nuff said. And Kill, Baby...Kill! is more gothic horror, featuring the deadly ghost of a young girl.
Bava on filmmaking: "Movies are a magician's forge, they allow you to build a story with your hands--at least, that's what it means to me. What attracts me in movies is to be presented with a problem and be able to solve it. Nothing else; just to create an illusion, an effect, with almost nothing."
We have long had many of Karloff's best-known films in our collection: Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, Targets, The Black Cat, The Old Dark House, and more. But we recently acquired two recently released sets of some of his more obscure work: The Icons of Horror collection and the Boris Karloff Collection. The former includes four films from the late thirties and early forties: The Black Room, The Man They Could Not Hang, Before I Hang, and The Boogie Man Will Get You. The latter set has five titles that range from 1937 to 1952: Night Key, The Tower of London, The Climax, The Strange Door, and The Black Castle.
If you're only familiar with his more famous roles, these smaller films may surprise you, as there is little here which could be characterized as 'pure' horror, although they are plenty sinister, of course. The Climax, for example, was Karloff's first color film, and it is in sumptuous Technicolor, with sets recycled from the Claude Rains remake of The Phantom of the Opera. Karloff is a sinister doctor who killed his opera singer wife and has a talent for hypnotism. Years after his wife's death, the bad doctor believes that her voice has been reincarnated in a talented younger singer [Susanna Foster, who also was featured in Phantom]. And that just won't do.
Mr. Karloff, by all accounts, was a kind and gentle man with a good sense of humor: "My wife has good taste. She has seen very few of my movies."
Our boxed set of the work of producer Val Lewton includes nine of his films (and three featuring, you guessed it, Mr. Karloff again) and an additional documentary about his career. Lewton's films are a literate high point of psychological horror, working through suggestion and shadow. Working on low budgets for RKO, Lewton was often assigned some of the most lurid titles, and told to work up a story from the name.
In Cat People, one of the very happy pairings with director Jacques Tourneur, a young newlywed is convinced she is cursed so that she will become a deadly panther when aroused. Curse of the Cat People, is a sequel in name only, and is the story of a troubled young girl. For I Walked with a Zombie, Lewton turned to Charlotte Bronte and produced a voodoo version of Jane Eyre. The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead, and Bedlam are three films featuring our old pal Boris Karloff, and deal with grave robbing [from a Robert Louis Stevenson story], a plague-infested island, and an insane asylum, respectively. The last three films in the collection are lesser-known gems of understatement and dread. The Leopard Man has some nice chills in New Mexico, as well as fairly surreal religious procession that wouldn't be out of place in Fellini. A young sailor signs up under a sinister sea captain in the psychological thriller, The Ghost Ship. The 7th Victim concerns both a missing person and Satan worshippers in Greenwich Village.
Lewton, in a letter to his sister as attributed by IMDb, "You shouldn't get mad at the New York reviewers. Actually, it's very difficult for a reviewer to give something called I Walked with a Zombie a good review."
Tales of a Former Museum Guard, Halloween Edition: Young Frankenstein
Back in my museum security guard days, I was working a party one night when none other than comedienne extraordinaire Madeline Kahn asked me directions to the women's room, and she was funny even doing that. While giggling helplessly, I'm pretty sure I pointed her in the right direction.
Remember her hilarious Marlene Dietrich send-up in Blazing Saddles? Ok, yeah, we don't have that. But we do have another of Mel Brooks' best, where, as Gene Wilder's betrothed in Young Frankenstein, she was--well, let's just say, "Oh sweet mystery of life at last I've found youuuu!"
"If this world is ruled by
demons and monsters, we may as well give up right now". -- Dr. John Holden
(Dana Andrews), Curse
of the Demon (1957).
In the Mix: a random shuffle of some movies we've played recently in our Now Playing program.
Other sites we like:
This issue of BCLMC is brought to you all the way from the back row by Monster Mashing Media Assistant Patrick Jewell. Tell your friends.
The Media Center is located on the fifth floor of the Library Learning Center. Come up and see us some time.
I just realized I could have called this month "Six Degrees of Boris Karloff!" Sheesh.
BCLMC BROOKLYN CAMPUS LIBRARY MEDIA CENTER
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