Tag Archives: Universal monsters

Classic: ‘Shock’ theater ad for TV

shock theater ad

For those of us who grew up Monster Kids in the Monster World, this marked the epicenter of that world.

Shock – also known as Shock Theater.

I saw this ad bouncing around the internet recently and wanted to share it here. Regular readers of this blog know I’ve written a lot about Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and what an influence it had on a couple of generations of kids. FM came decades after the movies it celebrated – including the classic Universal monster films – so the 1960s monster craze might have seemed unlikely.

Except for Shock.

In October 1957, Columbia Pictures’ TV subsidiary, Screen Gems, released a package of 52 horror films – including the classic Universal horror films like “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” – to TV.

The Shock package was a huge hit. Usually airing late at night – as was the case, a few years later, with host Sammy Terry on WTTV Channel 4 in Indianapolis – but sometimes airing at other times, Shock popularized the old Universal pictures once more.

Everything that followed came because of this. Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, horror hosts, the wave of monster toys, cartoons, comics and novelties that began in the 1960s and continued for decades.

Long live Shock.

Advertisements

Have a Boris Karloff Fourth of July

karloff fourth of july

You don’t necessarily think about Boris Karloff, king of the Universal monsters, on the Fourth of July.

You do think about drive-in movies on the Fourth, and here’s a Karloff-centric drive-in quintuple feature ad.

It’s likely this drive-in Karloff marathon took place in 1965. The top-billed picture, “Die, Monster, Die,” was released that year. All the others were older.

Karloff had been well-known as a horror film actor for decades by that point, since 1931’s “Frankenstein,” and continued to appear in movies and TV up until his death in 1969. Beyond his death, actually. Although his health had declined over the years and he was often confined to a wheelchair, Karloff worked on movies late in life and some of those were released as late as 1971, two years after his death.

In 1965, when this quintuple feature was released, he was considered a horror movie elder statesman at age 77.

Karloff wasn’t known to a new generation of fans, by the way, until he narrated “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in 1966.

Classic: Titles for ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’

abbottcostellomeetfrankcredits

I could probably do a blog just about “Bud Abbott and Lou Costello meet Frankenstein.”

I mean a whole blog. Every entry.

But that would be monotonous, wouldn’t it?

So I thought I would do some research and write a little about the opening credits for the 1948 film.

You all know the story by now: Universal had teamed up most of its titular creatures before and, by 1948, decided to give them a humorous setting by combining them with vaudeville comics Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The comic duo would go on to “meet” several monsters and monster types in several films that followed, and one of my personal favorites is “Meet the Mummy.”

But I wanted to note in particular “Meet Frankenstein,” in which they meet not only Frankenstein’s Monster but also Dracula and the Wolfman.

The movie is so much fun and not, as some would attest, denigrating to the classic creatures.

But I wanted to mention a couple of things that I either knew about the opening titles or found out recently.

First, I should note that I saw that illustration above online recently and I was stumped. I knew I had seen it, but where?

Then in watching the sequence recently – and I watch it every chance i get, including each of its many airings on Svengoolie – I was charmed all over again by the opening titles.

I wish I could know what went through people’s minds when they saw these titles for the first time in a theater. Since the movie came out well before I was born, I never saw it in a theater. I saw it first on TV two decades after the movie debuted, and it was probably on Indy horror movie host Sammy Terry’s show.

The titles perfectly capture the funny/creepy nature of the movie, maybe as well as any movie of its time.

The brief animated sequence not only establishes Abbott and Costello – through their skeletons – as scaredy cats but also establishes the creatures.

abbottcostellolonchaney

First Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman.

abbottcostellolugosi

Then Bela Lugosi playing Dracula for only the second time.

abbottcostelloglennstrange

Then Glenn Strange as the monster.

abbottcostellolenoreaburt

Then Lenore Aubert, whose character isn’t named in the titles but seems to suggest a svelte Bride of Frankenstein (which she is not in the movie, of course).

In looking up the opening titles on artofthetitle.com – which i can’t recommend too highly – i discovered that “Woody Woodpecker” creator Walter Lantz animated the opening titles. Further research indicates Lantz also animated the transformation of Lugosi’s Count Dracula to vampire bat form.

The titles are a piece of movie history, Universal monsters history and are perfect.

‘Universal Monsters’ universe seems to be stop-and-start

universal monsters

Okay, eventually we’re going to be calling this “The Curse of the Universal Monster Franchise.”

I’d been meaning to post a few thoughts about Universal’s proposal to turn its classic Universal Monsters collection into a shared universe. You know, shared universes are the biggest deal in the entertainment industry right now. Marvel has been mapping out, to great success, its Marvel Cinematic Universe since 2008. DC/Warner Bros. are trying to do the same with their superheroes. We’ve heard about shared universe efforts from several directions, including one I wrote about a while back regarding a brilliant plan to create a shared universe that draws from low-budget 1950s movies ala Roger Corman.

I was hoping that the recent “Dracula Untold” movie wasn’t the kick-off of Universal’s efforts, and while news coverage of the Universal universe (ha!) indicates that it was, I wonder if the movie’s underwhelming reception and box-office performance won’t mean it will be officially “forgotten” when the series gets a proper start. Assuming it does.

The studio had planned a reboot of “The Mummy” in June 2016. Now word has come that “The Mummy” will be delayed until March 2017 and another, still-unspecified second movie has been delayed from 2017 to 2018.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing that Universal has delayed the kick-off. If the studio doesn’t have a firm idea of how all these characters fit together, it’s better to wait until they do.

Launching a Universal Monsters shared universe isn’t easy. I think that’s what the studio wanted to do in 2004 with the Hugh Jackman movie “Van Helsing,” considering that the titular action hero met Frankenstein’s monster, a werewolf and Dracula during the course of the story. But while the movie had a few effective moments, all the elements never jelled.

And I’m not sure that Universal should necessarily take its cues from Marvel, which took a slow burn approach to universe-building with solo movies that – if you missed a few Easter eggs or a post-credits scene – gave no overt indication to moviegoers not in the know of the “Avengers” franchise to come.

This despite the fact that Universal wants, apparently more than anything else, to build an “Avengers” team of monsters.

It might be more beneficial for Universal to consider building its universe around a city – London, perhaps – and a time – maybe around World War II. This is just my idea, but the prospect of a great city with so much history, so close in proximity to the European birthplace of so many of Universal’s monsters and heroes, at such a pivotal time, has so much potential.

Characters could come and go, playing roles large and small, with the leads of one movie – a mummy that’s seeking vengeance at the exhibition of Egyptian artifacts at a great British museum – crossing paths with a doctor who is trying to bring life back to bodies sacrificed in the war. And then … this traveling curiosity, an amphibian creature captured in the Amazon, rolls into a quiet town in the English countryside.

Like I said, there’s a lot of potential for stories told by someone who puts more thought into it than I just did in a couple of paragraphs there.

Universal is, of course, the home of the monster rally, with “team up” movies like “House of Dracula” and “House of Frankenstein” and “Abbott and Costello meet …” a part of its past.

Maybe they should look to that past rather than try to force their classic creatures into anybody else’s modern superhero mold.

Welcome to the low-rent universe

war-of-the-colossal-beast

It’s news to no one that shared universes are the big thing in movies right now

Marvel began building its shared cinematic universe in 2008 with “Iron Man” and has announced plans to continue it through at least 2020. Not to mention Marvel’s TV entries in that shared universe, like “Agents of SHIELD,” “Agent Carter” and “Daredevil,” the latter debuting on Netflix in April as the first in a series of “street-level” hero shows that will culminate in a “Defenders” series.

Of course, DC/Warner Bros. are trying to get their superhero universe going; Sony wants a “Spider-Man” universe but I’ll believe it when I see it.

And Universal has announced a shared universe of remakes of its 1930s and 1940s monster films featuring Frankenstein, Dracula and other creatures. I’m still pondering that one for another entry here.

So the other day, a movie company that I’ve never heard of, Cinedigm, announced plans to create, of all things, a shared movie universe. But using what classic cinematic tales?

The 1950s and 1960s exploitation movies of American International Pictures.

Specifically, 10 films: “Girls in Prison,” “Viking Women and The Sea Serpent,” “The Brain Eaters,” “She-Creature,” “Teenage Caveman,” “Reform School Girl,” “The Undead,” “War of the Colossal Beast,” “The Cool and the Crazy” and “The Day the World Ended.”

Strangely enough, I like this idea.

Marvel has this kind of thing perfected, down to an art and a science. I’m not sure DC’s superheroes will ever really come together on the big screen because of, I believe, a wrong-headed approach that seems more like Warner Bros. is ashamed of comic books.

But the AIP films, some of which were originally directed by low-budget auteur Roger Corman?

That’s genius.

Not because the company says it intends to shoot all 10 movies back-to-back from recently-completed scripts. Not because remaking these old AIP classics for cable TV a while back worked so well.

Because these dimly-remembered movies are perfect fodder for the remake machine.

Somebody once said that if you were going to remake a movie, don’t remake a classic. How could a remake of “Psycho” possibly work? (It didn’t.)

But with the AIP flicks, most people won’t be comparing them and, unless the remakes are horrible, they won’t be comparing them unfavorably.

And the idea of a universe shared by the monstrous, mutated “Colossal Beast” and the juvenile delinquents of “The Cool and the Crazy?” How can that possibly work?

The producers say the movies will share “a recurring cast of antiheroes, monsters and bad girls.” I can’t say that’s a bad idea and I base that on what Marvel has done with its movies.

Really, consider how improbable it might have looked, 10 years ago, to propose a shared universe that would include a bone-crunching political thriller, a good-natured space opera, a Nordic fantasy world and a rampaging monster movie. Yet “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the “Thor” movies and the Hulk’s appearances all worked.

Who’s to say those juvenile delinquents won’t end up fighting alien invaders to big box-office returns?

Stranger things have happened.

Classic horror: Universal’s ‘Mummy’ movies

Mummy's_Hand_

It’s hard to imagine how a shambling, vengeance-seeking collection of bones and old cloth ever became a horror film sensation.

And yet: The Mummy.

One of the classic Universal monsters, the Mummy might not have the same level of recognition and shivery admiration as Dracula or Frankenstein or even the Wolf Man, but he’s nevertheless a favorite for some of us, inspiring reboots in recent years and cameoing in movies and cartoons for generations.

Universal’s first entry in the series, “The Mummy,” was released in 1932 and starred Boris Karloff. Made at a time that the world was still fascinated by ancient artifacts discovered – some might say stolen from – ancient Egyptian tombs, the movie was more atmospheric and creepy than monsteriffic.

For me, the best of the Mummy’ moments came with the sequels.

Beginning with the dawn of the 1940s, Universal released four sequels: “The Mummy’s Hand” (1940), “The Mummy’s Tomb” (1942) and “The Mummy’s Ghost’ and “The Mummy’s Curse” (both in 1944).

These movies portrayed the Mummy as a bandage-swathed, limping killer, sympathetic when he’s used by manipulative masters but an inexorable killer – granted, a slowly paced one – that stalks young women who are reincarnated versions of his lost love.

Tom Tyler, who had played Captain Marvel and was best known as a cowboy movie star, played the Mummy, Kharis, in the first sequel. This one was perhaps the creepiest for one of the Mummy’s features: Supernaturally dark eyes visible through gaps in his bandages.

The next three films betray the ever-cheaper budgets Universal was willing to allow for the movies. Each of the four sequels made use of footage from the earlier films, but the practice seemed more standard as the series wore on.

Mummys_Tomb

The three final films in the four-movie sequel series starred Lon Chaney – a star for Universal in “The Wolf Man” following in Tyler’s stuttering footsteps. It was a mark of how quickly Chaney’s star had fallen that he went from playing Universal’s most tortured and likable monster to being unrecognizable as the Mummy.

mummys curse

One of the oddest elements of the series was the passage of time, which meant that later installments took place in the 1970s – albeit a very 1940s-style 1970s.

The time jump was nearly equaled in “say what?” by the switch in locales from Egypt to the United States, finding the Mummy and his masters turning up in first Massachusetts then Cajun country.

As much as I love “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” there’s something to be said for the comedians’ meeting with the Mummy in 1955 that, for pure and simple thrills and laughs, very nearly beats the A&C classic monsterfest that was originally released in 1948.

jonny quest mummy curse of anubis

As for those cameos: One of my favorite episodes of “Jonny Quest,” the classic 1964 primetime animated adventure series, is “Curse of Anubis,” in which Jonny and the Quest gang go to Egypt when antiquities come up missing and murders are committed. There’s plenty of human villainy, of course, but striding through the mix is a mummy – maybe the Mummy. There’s no doubt the wonderfully atmospheric scenes of the Mummy stalking victims – sights familiar to anyone who had been watching the Universal films in their early TV showings – inspired plenty of goosebumps.

Not bad for a shambling bunch of bones.

Movie classic: ‘Francis in the Haunted House’

francis in the haunted house poster

More than a half-century later, it’s hard to imagine a movie studio building a series of films around the exploits of a talking mule and his human sidekick.

Yet Universal, home of classic monsters and classic funny/scary movies, released seven pictures about Francis, an Army mule voiced by veteran character actor Chill Wills (in the first six) and accompanied by straight man Peter Stirling (Donald O’Connor in the first six flicks).

The movies were based on a book and were sent into theaters beginning in 1950 mostly as a post-war military comedy. Francis and Peter went to West Point, joined the WACs and the Navy. Inevitably, Peter got into some kind of jam, Francis dispensed wise-cracking good advice and nobody believed that the mule could talk. Until he did.

My introduction to the series was a 1960s showing on an Indy TV station of the last film in the series, “Francis in the Haunted House,” released in 1956.

francis in the haunted house leads

My view is no doubt skewed by the fact that this, the first in the series that I remember seeing, had a different star – Mickey Rooney – and a different voice – veteran voice actor Paul Frees – replacing Wills as the voice of Francis.

But for a kid who grew up loving not only Universal monster films, including “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” I found the mix of laughs and chills perfect.

In the movie, David Prescot (Rooney) meets Francis and, after the initial surprise at the fact this is a talking mule, they set off on an adventure. The two try to help a woman win her inheritance by staying in a supposedly haunted mansion.

In a formula that became familiar through “Scooby Do,” the haunting is being staged by crooks who want to win the mansion and Prescot is a patsy in more ways than one.

There is, however, a foe that Francis and Prescot can fight together: A ghostly knight on horseback.

It’s no doubt true that the Francis formula was more than a little tired by this point. O’Connor bailed from the series before this entry was made and was widely quoted as saying he knew it was time to go when the mule got more fan mail.

But there’s a lot of pleasure to be found in the final “Francis” movie. It’s perfect for “Abbott and Costello” fans.