Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hollywood's Golden Age: Behind The Scenes With The Universal Monsters!

What would Halloween be without this one and only group of ghouls and critters to help scare the pants right off of you!

Even though many horror films with bigger budgets and more gore have been made since the genesis of the Universal Monster films, I still say that there is nothing out there that can quite beat the sheer authenticity of terror that these films provoke. Yeah they might look cheesy or corny today due to the low grade effects or simplistic story, but lets face it, the Universal line has to have its props because these films were the ones that started the genre that is Horror.

As a Filmmaker and Cinephile, I always have respect and appreciation for anyone who can put a decent picture together because making films ain't easy! What I found fascinating was the behind the scenes stories of what it took to get these films made, which were horrors of their own. Many people I know have no clue as to what lengths were taken to make these pictures at the time or even watch these great pictures due to the fact that many see them are seen as outdated. Seriously, what could be creepier then seeing The Phantom's face behind that mask or the cold stare of The Creature bearing down on you? That's scarier than any psycho clown on LSD in my opinion.

So in the spirit of Halloween, this week's HGA post is in honor of those wretched creatures that started it all:

The Universal Monsters
Top Facts About The Universal Monsters:

1.The series began with the 1923 version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame".
2."Hunchback of Notre Dame" inspired Universal to produce their first true horror film, "The Phantom of the Opera". The interior of the Opera Garnier was recreated to scale, and remains one of the longest-standing film sets to this day.

3. Many of the horror genre's most well-known conventions—the creaking staircase, the cobwebs, the swirling mist and the mobs of peasants pursuing monsters with torches—originated from the films "Dracula" and "Frankenstein".
4. 1936 marked the end of Universal’s first run of horror films after financial difficulties partly due to a temporary ban on American horror films. The monster movies would not re-emerge for another three years due to independent theatre revivals of the films that would lead to the original movies being re-released by the studio to surprising success forcing the new executives to give the go-ahead to "Son of Frankenstein" (1939).

The Infamous Jack Pierce working on Karloff

5.  By the 1950s, Universal had stopped filming most of its original line of horror characters, with Frankenstein, Dracula, and Wolf Man having been retired in 1948. It was left to the Abbott & Costello monster films to keep alive public interest in the characters but in 1954, Universal's horror films would return to popularity.
6. With the success of "Creature from the Black Lagoon" the revived "Universal Horror" franchise would gain a whole new generation of fans. 
7. By the early 1960s the original monsters were merchandised in the form of toys and model kits, the most famous of which were from the now-defunct Aurora Company.

8. Lon Chaney was given the freedom to create his own make-up for "Phantom", a habit which became almost as famous as the films he starred in. Chaney painted his eye sockets black, giving a skull-like impression to them. He also pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned it in place with wire, enlarged his nostrils with black paint, and put a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the ghastly deformed look of the Phantom. When audiences first saw the film they were said to have screamed or fainted at the scene where Christine pulls the concealing mask away, revealing his skull-like features to the audience.

Chaney's appearance in the film has been the most accurate depiction of the title character, based on the novel's description, where the Phantom is described as having a skull-like face with a few wisps of black hair on top of his head. As in the novel, Chaney's Phantom has been deformed since birth, rather than having been disfigured by acid or fire, as in later adaptations.

Lon Chaney

9. Many scenes in "Frankenstein" sparked controversy and were cut by censorship boards in several states. The line: "It's alive! It's alive! In the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!" were protested resulting in more than 32 scenes being cut in the film and were not shown for decades. In 1986, MCA-Universal restored many of these deleted scenes such as a close up of a needle injection and the little girl being thrown in the water, while the full "Now I know what it feels like to be God!" line would not be fully restored until 1999.

10. In "Wolf Man", Chaney Jr. did not undergo an on-screen transformation from man to wolf, as featured in all sequels. The lap-dissolve progressive make-ups were seen only in the final ten minutes, and then discretely: Talbot removes his shoes and socks, and it is his feet which are seen to grow hairy and transform into huge paws ("boots" made of hard rubber, covered in yak hair). In the final scene, the werewolf does gradually become Larry Talbot through the standard technique. The transformation of Chaney from man into monster was laborious. The original makeup design was uncomfortable to wear and forced Chaney to sit motionless for hours as the scenes were shot frame by frame.

Lon Chaney Jr.

11. In "Bride of Frankenstein", makeup artist Jack Pierce co-created the Bride's makeup with strong input from director James Whale, especially regarding the Bride's hair style. Based on Nefertiti,  Lanchester's hair was given a Marcel wave over a wire frame to achieve the style.

Elsa Lanchester

12. Mishaps plagued the "Frankenstein" production and was thought as a miracle to even get finished.  On the first day, Karloff broke his hip, necessitating a stunt double. Clive (who played Dr. Frankenstein) had also broken his leg.  Due to mishaps, retakes, and re editing days before the premiere, the film was ten days over schedule and budget by 3.46 million resulting in a total of $8.46 million as of 2013), Bride was more than $100,000 ($1.7 million as of 2013) over budget. 

James Whale and Karloff

13.  For "The Mummy",  Jack Pierce studied photos of Seti I's mummy to design his Imhotep, though perhaps notably, Karloff bared more of a resemblance to the mummy of Ramesses III. Pierce began transforming Karloff at 11:00 am, applying cotton, collodion, spirit gum, and clay to his face and hair and wrapping him in linen bandages treated with acid and burnt in an oven, finishing the job at 7:00 pm. Karloff would finish his scenes at 2:00 am then another two hours were spent removing the make-up. Karloff found the removal of gum from his face painful, and the fact that the costume designers forgot to put a zipper in the suit so he could go to the bathroom made this the most trying ordeal he ever had to endure for a film.  Although the images of Karloff wrapped in bandages are the most iconic taken from the film, he only appears on screen in this make-up for a few minutes; the rest of the film sees him wearing less elaborate make-up.

Pierce working on Karloff

Of course there are many other tales to be told about this gruesome bunch, but we wouldn't want to remove too much smoke from the cauldron now would we?

Be sure you nab these films on DVD in time for Halloween!

Available via Amazon

'Til Next Time Ghouls and Ghouletts!


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