The Monster Movies of Universal Studios
By James L. Neibaur
Published by Rowman & Littlefield, 2017. 213 pages.
Anytime there is a book about the Universal monster movies, then count me in, since I’m always up for revisiting these classic films. Of course, the only problem is that since this subject has been written about just a few times before, it might be tough to come up with something new and different for readers to get information that have haven’t several times before. But overall, I think that Neibaur does a good job discussing these films.
After a very brief history of Universal Studios (which could be a book on it’s own), the it follows all the movies from there that feature their main set of monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. So any film that featured one of these monsters, or possibly their descendent, the title is covered. There is a total of 29 features covered here, starting with 1931’s Dracula and ending with The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), with each chapter covering each of the titles. The credits and cast are listed, before Neibaur gets into details of each film, such as the plot, information about the people involved, and some other trivia as well.
Vampire Films of the 1970s
By Gary A. Smith
Published by McFarland, 2017. 240 pages.
Being the ’70s is the decade I grew up in, watching more than my share of flicks on TV, I’m always up for reading more about this wonderful decade and the movies that came out. Decades before zombies would finally take over, at this particular point in time, vampires still ruled both in theaters and television. This is more than proven with the amount of titles covered here by Smith.
The book starts with a brief overview of the sub-genre, some rules of vampires, then we jump right into the Hammer Film era, where he first gives a little history about the famous British studio before jumping to their ’70s Dracula flicks, then moving on to other fang flicks. Since Hammer made quite a few of them during the ’70s, they are all covered here, lumped together in different sub-categories. There are other groups in the book, like Asian vampires, the Mexican Santo movies, even one on vampire porn! So there are plenty of titles to seek out if you are relatively new to the vampire genre, or are always looking ones you have missed.
The Turn to Gruesomeness in American Horror Films, 1931 to 1936
By Jon Towlson
Published by McFarland, 2015. 240 pages
One of the wonderful things about reading up on the history of horror films is that there is always something new and interesting that can be learned once a subject is really put under the magnifying glass. Now this isn’t to say that if you look for something you’ll find it, even if it isn’t there, but Towlson has done a great deal of research to back up his thoughts and ideas in this recent book. It also shows that no matter how long you’ve been a fan, there is always more to learn.
Born 1880 – Died Oct. 25th, 1958
Hamilton Deane was a actor and playwrite back in the late 1800’s, first appearing on the stage before his 20th birthday. While he worked with the Henry Irving Company (the one that Bram Stoker was the stage manager for), he went on to form his own troupe in the early ’20s. He wanted to bring Stoker’s Dracula to the stage and spent 4 weeks writing it out when he was sick with a bad cold.
Deane was the man responsible for turning Dracula from the monster he is in Stoker’s novel, to the urbane, well spoken (with an accent of course), well dressed in a tuxedo and flowing cape. He wasn’t the monstrous creature from the novel, or like the one from the unauthorized German film Nosferatu, where he was a rat-like creature. Deane’s play was a big success, with him playing the role of Dr. Van Helsing, and played for many years.
When it came over the states, it was rewritten by American playright John L. Balderston, where it also was a big success. It was this adaptation, the combined ideas from both Deane and Balderston, which pretty much what the Tod Browning film was based on. A few years later, he would also commission a play adaptation of Shelley’s Frankenstein be scripted as well.
While Little Shoppe of Horrors usually covers only films from Hammer, they occasionally venture into other films. Such as in issue # 20 where they did an incredible issue on the history of Amicus films, or # 29 when they covered the Vincent Price classic The Abominable Dr. Phibes and its sequel. In their upcoming issue # 36, they put the spotlight on the 1979 version of Dracula, starring Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Kate Nelligan, and Donald Pleasence.
Okay Hammer Dracula fans, start saving those pennies, because there will be a book coming out this summer that you’re going to want to add to your library. Thanks to the wonderful (and incredibly talented book publishers) people at Peveril Publishing, they will continue to put out amazing looking volumes dedicated to the Studio that Dripped Blood, and that we all love.
Now that is one name that most of us horror fans do not recognize. But if wasn’t for Mr. Umann, we might not have ever got to see Universal’s Son of Frankenstein, as well as the monster films that followed thereafter. But what exactly did Mr. Umann do to cause this resurgence of the Universal Monsters?
In 1938, with The Bride of Frankenstein now already 3 years old, it seems that Universal had pretty much given up on their monster heritage. Sure, they were still making horror pictures, such as The Raven, The Invisible Ray, and such, but not a lot of them and those familiar characters from just a few years ago were now seemed to have been put to rest. This is where Emil Umann came in to the picture. He ran the Regina-Whilshire Theatre in Los Angeles and on August 5th, 1938, he started a triple bill of Dracula, Frankenstein, and Son of Kong, getting the rentals from the studio for only $99 for 4 days. But much to his surprise, the screenings were selling out and he was getting lines down the block. The triple bill was so popular, he was running them almost 24 hours a day. He even got in contact with Bela Lugosi, who was not in the best financial situation at the time, and hired him to make appearances at the screenings. This not only put the monsters back in the limelight, but Lugosi himself. Lugosi even told the press “I owe it all to that little man at the Regina Theatre. I was dead, and he brought me back to life.”
Once Universal heard about this and the business the theater was doing, they immediately ordered 500 more prints of Dracula and Frankenstein and started renting them out around the country for a double bill. Of course, these rentals were at a much higher rate, so much higher that Umann couldn’t afford to keep them pass the original commitment. In fact, Universal reported in making over $500,000 in new film rentals. So nice of Universal to show such gratitude to someone who showed them how to make so much money. And it was because of this newly discovered interests in these movies that Universal quickly rushed another entry in the Frankenstein series, which would become Son of Frankenstein. Not only would it be the last time Karloff appeared as the creature, but it would also give Lugosi a chance to give one of his best screen performances on his career, as Igor, the twisted-neck friend of the creature.
So to people like Emil Umann, we here at the Krypt salute you for what you did, bringing back the Universal Monsters from their grave.