Sunday, January 31

Happy Birthday John Agar

Today is the birthday anniversary of one of my favorite actors, John Agar.
Born Jan 31, 1921, John Agar would go on to a terrific career as a leading man in Hollywood, and starred in many sci-fi and horror fan favorites including Attack of teh Puppet People, The Brain from Planet Arous, and Tarantula. Here's my recommended movie of the week from last May featuring John in The Brain from Planet Arous - and I also put together a music video for the Dead Elvi featuring their song, John Agar Rules. Check it out below!!

Saturday, January 30

Tribute to Ray Harryhausen

This video is a loving tribute to Ray Harryhausen done by Dave Conover, convention organizer for Wonderfest. It is really, really well done. Check it out!!

Friday, January 29

Shave and a haircut


This promotional pic was obviously taken at the same time as the last one I posted - Lon still has that object in his hand here, whatever it is.

Thursday, January 28

When the Wolfsbane Blooms...

Wolfsbane is mentioned prominently in the poem that is recited several times in The Wolf Man;

“Even a man who is pure of heart, 
and says his prayers by night, 
may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms, 
and the autumn moon is bright”

 …but what is wolfsbane? I’ve always wondered if it’s a real plant, so I did a little investigation.


Wolfsbane is indeed a real variety of plant related to the buttercup. Its scientific name is Aconitum, and there are over 250 varieties of this plant. Aconitum grows primarily in the mountainous regions of the Northern hemisphere. It has dark green leaves with flowers of various colors including blue, purple, white, yellow and pink. It is better known by a variety of names including wolfsbane, monkshood, and aconite.

Aconitum is also highly poisonous. According to Wikipedia “... the sap oozing from eleven picked leaves will cause cardiac symptoms for a couple of hours.” In 2004 Canadian actor Andre Noble died during a camping trip after accidentally consuming aconite (the actual poison contained in the plant).

It has been used throughout history in everything from witch’s brews to poison arrows. Various superstitious beliefs have been attached to the plant which, according to the version you hear, have been rumored to cause, cure or kill werewolves and vampires. It is very likely that Curt Siodmak, the writer of the script, heard these legends while growing up in Germany, and decided to incorporate them, thus adding a bit of old world atmosphere to the 1941 film.

Tuesday, January 26

Werewolf nail salon



Yet another of the promotional pics Lon and Evelyn took for The Wolf Man. They seem to be getting along well here... Wonder what Lon's holding is his paw, er, hand, there?

Sunday, January 24

Midnight Syndicate Video Contest

My buddy Ed Douglas at Midnight Syndicate is running a really cool video contest - check out the info below!!

HAVE YOUR VIDEO FEATURED ON THE DEAD MATTER DVD AND WIN CASH AND PRIZES IN THE MIDNIGHT SYNDICATE VIDEO CONTEST!

Interested in making your own silent film or video cut to Midnight Syndicate music? Midnight Syndicate is conducting a contest to give new or experienced filmmakers a chance to be featured on the upcoming The Dead Matter DVD and win other fabulous prizes.

Entries will be judged on creativity and effectiveness. Our judging panel includes: Dee Snider (Twisted Sister, Van Helsing’s Curse, Strangeland), Tom Savini (Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead), Robert Kurtzman (producer Dusk Till Dawn, Wishmaster), Gary Jones (Xena, Boogeyman 3), as well as Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka of Midnight Syndicate, with a few more industry names to be added shortly.

The grand prize includes having your video featured on The Dead Matter DVD, hundreds of dollars in gift certificates from Screamline Studios (horror props, makeup FX, latex), Robert Kurtzman’s Creature Corps (horror props, costuming), and Conquest Graphics (posters, flyers, postcards), autographed merchandise from Van Helsing’s Curse, autographed props from The Dead Matter movie, and a complete collection of Midnight Syndicate CDs (including out-of-print titles). MORE GREAT FILMMAKING PRIZES TO BE ADDED!

For complete contest rules CLICK HERE!

Saturday, January 23

Just a good ole' boy...


You know, Lon Chaney Jr. was a guy I'd have gotten along well with, most likely. When I interviewed Forest J. Ackerman I asked him about Lon Jr. He said that when they met Lon didn't want to talk about his past film roles, his father, or famous monsters... all he wanted to talk about was fishing.

This was late in Lon's acting career, and he was pretty much burnt out by this time. Years of drinking had taken their toll, physically and mentally. At this point acting was just a job, and I'm not surprised that his main interest was in getting away from it all and relaxing, and apparantly fishing was one of those things he really enjoyed. Growing up in the South I've spent more than my fair share of time holding a fishing rod, and I'm pretty good at catching fish. I'd have loved to spend an afternoon chewing the fat with Lon on a lake. I like down to Earth people, and that definitely describes Lon. Yep, fishin' and drinkin' beer - there are definitely worse ways to spend an afternoon.


Friday, January 22

NOSFERATU


Taking a quick break from the Wolfman posts for a moment, here's a video for a song by one of my favorite bands, the 3D Invisibles. This was put together by my camera man Brian Hickman - good stuff!

Thursday, January 21

The way she walked was thorny…


One of my favorite characters in the 1941 film The Wolf Man is Maleva the gypsy, played brilliantly by Maria Ouspenskaya.


Maria was born in Russia on July 29, 1876. She studied acting directly under Stanislavski, famed creator of the “Method Acting” system. She visited America while performing in a Russian Theater group (the Moscow Art Theatre) and decided to stay in America afterwards.  She co-founded the School of Dramatic Art in New York, teaching Method Acting to intrigued young students.


She inevitably found her way into motion pictures, appearing in 25 films between 1915 and 1949. She received two Best Supporting Actress Oscar Award nominations – Dodsworth (1936) and Love Affair (1939). However, it was a little role as a gypsy fortune teller in The Wolf Man that she would become best known and remembered for – a role which she reprised two years later in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.


The strength of her performance made this an iconic character, one that is synonymous with classic horror. Who can see an old gypsy woman in movies without thinking of The Wolf Man? At least I know I always do.


Maria’s last film was A Kiss in the Dark in 1949. She fell asleep late one night while smoking in bed and her apartment caught fire. Maria died December 3rd, 1949, reportedly from a stroke brought on by her injuries. She was 73 years old.


Wednesday, January 20

A Werewolf’s Best Friend is His Dog


 Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

There is just something about Lon Chaney Jr. that, despite his drinking and personal problems, makes him a lovable guy. And these pictures demonstrate that beautifully.


  Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

I just don’t trust folks who don’t like dogs.  Dogs are honest and loyal, and always happy to see you. With a dog there's no pretensions - what you see is what you get. They are sweet, lovable, and kind companions, and honestly, I like them better than most people. And I think Lon Chaney Jr. probably felt the same way.


 Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

That’s Moose the dog in these pictures with Lon, taken on the set at various films. What a job, where you can take your dog to work with you! Moose was Lon’s faithful companion for a number of years, and reportedly even made screen appearances in at least two Universal horror films, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. In The Wolf Man he played the wolf that bit Larry Talbot and gave him the terrible curse of Lyncanthropy.


 The Mummy'sTomb (1942)


It is obvious from looking at these stills that Lon felt a lot of love for Moose and they shared a deep connection. During the filming of The Cobra Woman in 1944 Moose was hit by a truck at the studio and killed. Not sure what age Moose was at this time,  but it was surely a sad day for Lon and quite a blow.




Below is a shot of me with two of my furry buddies, Kirby (named for comic book artist Jack Kirby) and Kelly. I unfortunately lost both of these dogs over the past year, but they, like Moose, lived happy lives. Here’s to Moose, the Shepherd, and Kelly and Kirby the Dalmatians. I miss you guys.


He has this effect on all the ladies...



A lot has been made of the problems between Lon Chaney and Evelyn Ankers. The two just did not get along all that well... which is interesting because Universal kept casting them in movies together, in a total of 8 films. After the Wolf Man Evelyn swore she'd never work with Lon again, but they made two films together the very next year, two more in 43, two more in 44, and one in 45. Their on-screen chemistry really does work, and audiences obviously loved the duo together.

Films they co-starred in:


1. The Wolf Man (1941)
2. North to the Klondike (1942)   
3. The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
4. Crazy House (1943)
5. Son of Dracula (1943)
6. Weird Woman (1944)
7. Follow the Boys (1944)
8. The Frozen Ghost (1945)

Monday, January 18

Beware the full moon...



Another of the studio shots of Lon and Evelyn Ankers. I wonder how many of these they did in total?

Lon and Evelyn


Another posed shot of Evelyn and wolfie. Universal was obviously proud of this makeup and the upcoming movie, and I imagine the buildup for it was pretty cool. I've been seeing lots of previews of the new Wolfman movie on TV lately, too, as Universal gets the promotional machine rolling for a wolfman movie.

Sunday, January 17

Friday, January 15

Even a Man Who is Pure of Heart...



Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.

Thus goes the poem repeated several times throughout the original Wolf Man movie. But where did this come from? Here is writer Curt Siodmak speaking about this very subject in an interview:

“I made that ditty up. Now people believe it is part of European Folklore…”




Curt Siodmak was born August 10, 1902 in Germany. He moved to America with his brother Robert and moved to Hollywood in 1937. They both worked in Hollywood, writing for movies and tevevision. Curt wrote screenplays for an incredible list of Science-Fiction and Horror films, including: The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman, The Ape, Black Friday, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Agent, Son of Dracula, I Walked with a Zombie, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man , House of Frankenstein, The Beast with Five Fingers, and many more.

Growing up in Europe gave Curt a unique perspective when it came to writing, and tapping into folklore and traditions of Europe no doubt had an influence on the fairy-tale like quality I’ve always felt The Wolf Man movie had about it. Here is Curt speaking about that very subject:

“But these stories also have a deep atavistic meaning. They appeal to our hidden basic instincts which we remember subconsciously since the time our forefathers lives in caves. Man wanted to identify himself with the strongest animal he feared. The wolf was the most dangerous animal in Europe at that time. So, there was the Tigerman in India, the Snakeman in the Pacific. The fairytales are in my opinion the fear of winter. Little Red Riding Hood is swallowed by the bad wolf-the winter-the young hunter, spring, frees her and kills the winter with its cold and hunger. Sleeping Beauty has the same theme: the bad witch-winter-poisons her. Spring, the young prince kills the witch, Sleeping Beauty coughs up the poisoned apple, comes back to life and the thorns start blooming with a million roses. Very poetic!”

Curt was an interesting man who later moved to directing. He even had a small part as an extra in Metropolis. The story goes that while working as a reporter in Germany he attempted to interview director Fritz Lang. This led to his role as an extra as a workman in that 1927 Fritz Lang classic.

Wednesday, January 13

Zombie Apocalypse Barbecue

Fellow Mad Scientists and Rock n Rollers the C.O.G. (Consortium of Genius) recently recorded a lip smackin new song entitled Zombie Apocalypse Barbecue. I am proud to announce that I made a guest appearance on the track as the cook servin up the goods - fresh meat!

You can check it out and even download it free here:
Zombie Apocalypse Barbecue

Check it out and tell em' Doc Gangrene sent ya!!

The Wolf Man Cane




One of the key elements of the 1941 film The Wolf Man is the wolf’s-head cane that Lawrence Talbot picks up at the antique shop in town. This prop is perhaps the single most recognizable element from that film, other than the werewolf makeup (designed by Jack Pierce). That prop is still surviving and well taken care of by avid monster-kid, collector, and friend of mine, Bob Burns.


Bob came into possession of this treasure, one of the gems of his collection, when just a kid. He had a friend in school whose dad was Ellis Berman, a special-effects, makeup and prop man who had worked in several movies in Hollywood. He was also, incidentally, the very person who built the wolf’s-head cane prop from the Wolf Man film. (Ellis had two sons, Tom and Ellis Jr., both of whom worked in films in makeup and effects. I will have to ask Bob next time I talk with him which of the Ellis kids he was friends with).

Bob would often hang out with his friend at the Ellis studio, staring longingly at the wolf’s-head ornament (the wooden stick of the cane had long since been removed, only the top wolf ornament remaining). In Bob’s book “Bob’s Basement” he writes:

"I spent many, many afternoons quietly staring at it. One day (Ellis) said to me, 'You really like that thing, don't you?' Like it? I loved that cane head; it was a real, physical object that had actually been used in one of my favorite movies. 'It's yours. Go ahead and take it,' he said. I thought I would burst as I took it home to put in a place of honor. Thus began my lifelong occupation as custodian of treasures from sci-fi and monster movies."

The wolf’s-head ornament was made of cast rubber and painted silver. It features the head of a wolf in the front, and in the back, a pentagram with a wolf running inside it. The new Wolfman movie, due in theaters next month, also makes use of the element of a cane with a wolf’s head atop it, although I am not sure if it is going to be as prominent of a plot device as in the original film. But it is featured prominently in one of the many posters for the new movie… so I thought I’d place them side by side for comparison.


The new cane is changed slightly from the original design. The wolf’s head itself is similar, but more detailed and meaner looking, with longer, sharper teeth. The pentagram with the wolf inside it is gone, which is actually fine. I think the new cane looks really nice and is a very handsome design. I’m glad they’re including it in the new film, and it’ll be interesting to see if that is how Lawrence is killed in the new film. Maybe Bob Burns can get this cane as well to add to his collection beside the Ellis Burman original.

Oh, and speaking of Ellis Burman – I mentioned before briefly about his kids. Turns out the Burman family has a long history of Hollywood filmwork. Ellis Burman was born in 1902 and worked on several really fun genre films: The Wolf Man (property maker: Larry's Silver Wolf Head Cane), Teenage Cave man (dinosaur sequences), Unknown Island (special effects photographer and creator), and The Ghost of Frankenstein (makeup dept. technician). He died in 1974.

Ellis’ son Ellis Berman Jr. is an award winning makeup and special effects technician who has worked on such films and TV shows as: Prophecy, Star Trek films and TV episodes, Back to the Future II & III, The Goonies, Alien Nation, Starman, Terminator and many others.

Ellis’ son Tom Berman is also an award winning makeup and special effects technician who has worked on such films and TV shows as: The X Files, Robin Hood Men in Tights, Mask of Zorro, The Goonies, Teen Wolf, Halloween III, Prophecy, The Thing with two Heads, Howard the Duck, Cat People, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Frogs and many others.
Ellis Jr. had a son, Ellis Berman III who has worked in sound, music and makeup in such films as: Deceit, Close encounters of the third kind (sound restoration), Night of the Demon (sound restoration), Gone with the Wind (sound restoration), Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and many more.

Tom had a son named Barney Berman who has worked in makeup, special effects, and acting in such films as: Tropic Thunder, The Ring Two, Constatine, Dawn of the Dead (2004), The Haunted Mansion, Men in Black Two, Fright Night 2, Brain Dead, House and many more.

Quite the talented family and what a great list of movies they’ve worked on!!

Tuesday, January 12

Jack Pierce, makeup master

The Following is an article written by my buddy Scott Essman over at Universal - it's an article about Jack Pierce and his ground breaking werewolf makeup on The Wolf Man. Includes quotes by Jack discussing his approach. Enjoy!



THE WOLF MAN

“I don’t use masks or any appliances whatsoever,” proclaimed Jack Pierce about the development of his famous monster characters. The one exception to Pierce’s rule occurred with his striking initial realization of The Wolf Man in 1941. “The only appliances I used was the nose that looks like a wolf[‘s nose]. There you either put on a rubber nose or model the nose every day, which would have taken too long.”



The idea of Jack Pierce re-creating a wolf character from scratch every day of principal photography may seem daunting, but — as with the Frankenstein Monster and the Mummy before — Pierce prided himself on doing things from the bottom up with each new makeup application. When Lon Chaney, Jr. was cast as the title character in George Waggner’s film, Pierce resurrected the conception of a man-wolf that he had originally conceived for Boris Karloff in the early 1930s. Though Henry Hull became Pierce’s Werewolf of London in 1935, that was a scaled down version of the makeup intended for Karloff in the same role.


For the Waggner film, slated as a B-picture by the Universal brass, Pierce and special effects supervisor John P. Fulton knew that they had an opportunity to create a unique project that would harken back to the old Laemmle years at the studio. In Chaney, they had the hulking physical actor who could be used to realize their ideas. The Wolf Man appeared in two key “transformation” scenes— which would became the hallmark of the character—and in several momentous chase scenes, including the final climax in the forest.



“It took 2 1/2 hours to apply this makeup,” Pierce said, indicating the head, chest piece and hands. “I put all of the hair on a little row at a time. After the hair is on, you curl it, then singe it, burn it, to look like an animal that’s been out in the woods. It had to be done every morning.” As a result of Pierce’s methods, audiences were treated to the perfectionism in The Wolf Man.



Pierce’s other key characters in The Wolf Man included 1940s “scream queen” Evelyn Ankers as Gwen Conliffe (opposite top left), Claude Rains as Sir John Talbot (opposite top right), and Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva, the gypsy woman (opposite bottom right). Pierce went on to create the Wolf Man character in succeeding sequels, including Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), above and right, and both House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945), below. The latter, originally titled “The Wolf Man’s Cure” featured an end to the cycle of appearances by the Wolf Man in Universal films, but the character would inexplicably reappear in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein three years later. By that point, Bud Westmore was supervising makeup artists Jack Kevan (the Frankenstein Monster) and Emile LaVigne (the Wolf Man) in their execution of Jack Pierce’s original designs.

Sunday, January 10

Friday, January 8

Wolf Man director George Waggoner

I’d like to pay tribute today to a man who had a huge influence on the success of the 1941 Universal classic The Wolf Man, but whose name is little known to most fans of the film. This man had a hand in one capacity or another in several of my all time favorite horror films: The Wolf Man, Man Made Monster, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, even the Adam West Batman series. I’m talking about director George Waggner.



George Waggner (spelled with two g’s) was born in New York City on September 7th, 1894. He studied Pharmacy at the Philadelphia college of Pharmacy, where I have found conflicting reports about whether he graduated. His plans to become a Pharmacist were put on hold, however, when World War I broke out, and he served a stint in the military. I am not sure which branch he served in, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say the Navy. Several of the scripts he would later write were sea stories, including his very first, Gorilla Ship a.k.a. Vengence Rides the Sea.

After the war George found himself in Hollywood where he initially worked as an actor. This makes me wonder if perhaps he met someone in the service who got him interested in this profession, or if he just somehow stumbled upon this new career. His first acting role was in a 1921 silent film called The Sheik. He appeared in 7 films between 1921-1926, several of them westerns, and even portrayed Buffalo Bill Cody in the film The Iron Horse in 1924 (directed by John Ford).



With the advent of sound in movies (the first feature film “talkie” being The Jazz Singer in 1927) George shifted his interest and began working as a song composer and lyricist for movies. He wrote lyrics and music for songs featured in 17 films between 1929 and 1949, his first being the lyrics for the songs “If I had my Way” and "I'm That Way About Baby (And She's That Way About Me)" in the film The Flying Fool from 1929.

In 1932 George again expanded his creative interests and started what would become a long and successful career as a writer. His first credit is the screenplay for Gorilla Ship in 1932. He’s credited for screenplay, dialogue or writer for 24 films between the years 1932 and 1938. With the film Western Trails (which he wrote under the pseudonym Joseph West) he began writing and directing films. In all George would write for 71 movies and TV series, including the screenplay for one of my all time favorite Universal movies, Man Made Monster (starring Lon Chaney Jr.).



In 1938 George began directing movies. He made 6 that year: Ghost Town Riders, Prairie Justice, Guilty Trails, Black Bandit, Outlaw Express, and Western Trails, all of which he also wrote. I’m not sure which of these came out first, but did read somewhere it was Black Bandit, a western starring Bob Baker the singing cowboy. George would go on to direct 58 films and TV series, including several that are quite significant to the horror genre. In 1941 he directed Horror Island, Man Made Monster, and his best known picture The Wolf Man (what a year!). He directed multiple episodes of The Veil for television in 1958. Between 1966-1967 he directed one episode of The Green Hornet, seven episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and ten episodes of Batman.


Beginning in 1941 George even worked as a producer in Hollywood, racking up 17 producer credits in all including such notable films as: The Wolf Man, Ghost of Frankenstein, Invisible Agent, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and The Phantom of the Opera (1943 version starring Claude Rains). His last producer credit is listed as The Wolfman, an eight minute abridgment of the 1941 feature The Wolf Man, released in 16mm film format (which he also directed).

George was a multi-talented man who had a long Hollywood career. His wife’s name was Danny Shannon, and they had a daughter named Shy Waggner who even had a small role at age 25 in The Fighting Kentuckian, a John Wayne film written and directed by George. He passed away on December 11th, 1984 in Hollywood of natural causes at age 90. Here’s a salute to this multi-talented and little recognized talent of the silver screen.

Thursday, January 7

Trailer for The Wolfman 2010

WOLF MEN : The Men Who Created 1941’s THE WOLF MAN

Over the next few weeks I'll be looking at the Wolf Man film, Lon Chaney Jr., and Jack Pierce. To kick off the month long celebration, below is an article by Universal employee and major Monster-kid Scott Essman. Scott has worked hard to keep classic monsters alive and well, and this is just one of many such articles he's written on all the creatures we know and love. Enjoy!



WOLF MEN : The Men Who Created 1941’s THE WOLF MAN

by Scott Essman

The long-awaited release of Universal Studios’ 2010 version of The Wolfman conjures the history of the men who made the original horror films at the studio in the 1920s through the 1940s. Not only was the original 1941 film The Wolf Man key among them, but the rich history of the other films is directly tied into both why and how that film was created.

In 1928, after his father had appointed 21-year-old Carl Laemmle, Jr. as head of production at Universal Studios, the machinery was in place for a new wave of films based on classic horror stories. By 1931, the studio had both Dracula and Frankenstein as two of its greatest successes, and they followed those up with a few more early 1930s originals, including The Mummy and The Invisible Man.

By 1935, they had produced Werewolf of London, their first film based on the Loup-Garou stories from France of men who turned into wolves at the turning of a full moon. When the Laemmles left the studio in 1937, Universal seemed doomed to a slate of poorly produced sequels to the great films of the Laemmle era as quickly churned out sequels to Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy arrived in droves. However, there was one exception to the rule which arrived in 1941 which would set a new standard and ultimately be ranked with the greatest of the Universal horror classics.

As the 1940s began, horror movies were beginning to take a back seat to sweeping romantic dramas and comedies. But one intended B picture was the landmark The Wolf Man, reestablishing the horror genre at Universal. The film was originally meant for Boris Karloff some ten years earlier, but by 1941, when Karloff had moved onto mad scientists and other older characters, a new actor was positioned as the new Karloff at the studio. His name was Lon Chaney, Jr. Until the late 1930s, the younger Chaney had been less heralded than his silent movie superstar father, but his appearance in 1939’s adaptation of Of Mice and Men put him on the cinematic map. Chaney, Jr. was a star in the making and Universal snapped him up for a run of horror films that lasted throughout the 1940s. With Jack Pierce’s innovative makeup - a more thorough lycanthrope overhaul of Chaney Jr.’s face than had been utilized on Henry Hull in Werewolf of London - The Wolf Man was a remarkable horror movie character and equally as memorable as Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster and Mummy and Bela Lugosi’s Dracula.

In addition to the team of Jack Pierce, director George Waggner, and visual effects wizard John P. Fulton, the craftsmanship of The Wolf Man was also entrusted to editor Ted J. Kent, A.C.E . Of all the monster movie editors, none was more prolific than Kent, an in-house editor at Universal for over a quarter century. Kent's monster tenure spanned no fewer than five ownership changes at the studio. Though research dictates no clear reason for the change, Universal assigned Kent to James Whale's follow-up to The Old Dark House, which had been competently edited by Clarence Kolster and was released only a year after Frankenstein. This film, released in 1933, The Invisible Man, would prove among Whale’s most challenging films, with equal contributions by Kent and Fulton. No doubt, both Universal and Whale were enamored with Kent's work, and he cut three of Whale's last several films with Universal, including Show Boat in 1936 and The Road Back in 1937. But the one film that elevated Whale's reputation beyond that which his earlier films offered him was a picture he didn't even want to make.

By 1935, the idea of The Bride of Frankenstein didn't appeal to the man who was wary of being labeled a horror director. Nonetheless, many consider Whale's long-overdue sequel to be superior to the original Frankenstein with its mixture of unforgettable sequences, demonic characters, and wistful comedy. In a likely homage to Clarence Kolster's work on that first film, Kent cut Bride in similar fashion, most notably in the reveal of Elsa Lanchester's hideous title character in the final scenes; we see her in the same three matching closeups that Kolster implemented so effectively to show us Karloff's monster in the original film. Even after Whale and the Laemmles departed Universal, Kent was recruited by studio brass to cut 1939's final sequel with Karloff as the monster, Son of Frankenstein, featuring a towering performance by Bela Lugosi as Ygor that Kent surely played up in the editing room. He even cut Vincent Price's 1938 debut film, Service de Luxe! But though he likely didn't realize it then, Kent's Universal career was just starting to peak.

For the Waggner Wolf Man film, slated as a B-picture by the Universal brass, Pierce and Fulton knew that they had an opportunity to create a unique project that would harken back to the old Laemmle years at the studio. In Chaney, they had the hulking physical actor who could be used to realize their ideas. With The Wolf Man, Kent, along with major contributions by studio mainstays Pierce and Fulton, created the film's showpiece "transformation" sequences which became standard fare in the many spin-offs that followed. Witness the lap dissolves that Kent and Fulton implemented for transformations from man to wolf, and especially, in the film’s tragic climax, from wolf back to man. Kent also cleverly orchestrated the noted end of the film where Claude Rains unknowingly beats his own son with a silver-tipped cane, later realizing that it was his own flesh that he killed. In their tussle, an especially marked cut to a close shot of Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man struggling with Rains makes for one of the film’s most fascinating moments.

During pre-production of The Wolf Man, Jack Pierce worked diligently to create the makeup for the title character, having been disappointed with his reduced makeup for Henry Hull in Werewolf of London. Pierce pulled out all the stops for The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney, Jr. in the title role. Though the two did not reportedly get along--Chaney did not like wearing the makeup or undergoing the lengthy application and removal period--Pierce excelled again with his werewolf concept, utilizing a design he had created for Boris Karloff a decade earlier when the Laemmles were planning a werewolf film. Thus, even though it was originally intended as a B movie, The Wolf Man was a true horror classic, and Pierce's version of the character has been the model for the numerous werewolves that have since come to the screen.

The idea of Jack Pierce re-creating a wolf character from scratch every day of principal photography may seem daunting, but — as with the Frankenstein Monster and the Mummy before — Pierce prided himself on doing things from the bottom up with each new makeup application. “I don’t use masks or any appliances whatsoever,” proclaimed Jack Pierce about the development of his famous monster characters. The one exception to Pierce’s rule occurred with his striking initial realization of The Wolf Man in 1941. “The only appliances I used was the nose that looks like a wolf[‘s nose]. There you either put on a rubber nose or model the nose every day, which would have taken too long. It took 2 1/2 hours to apply this makeup,” Pierce said, indicating the head, chest piece and hands. “I put all of the hair on a little row at a time. After the hair is on, you curl it, then singe it, burn it, to look like an animal that’s been out in the woods. It had to be done every morning.” Pierce’s other key characters in The Wolf Man included 1940s “scream queen” Evelyn Ankers as Gwen Conliffe, Claude Rains as Sir John Talbot, Béla Lugosi as Béla the gypsy, and Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva, the gypsy woman. As a result of Pierce’s methods, audiences were treated to the perfectionism in The Wolf Man.

Alas, what might have been was never realized with the stunning originality and critical and commercial success of The Wolf Man. As the U.S. entered WWII, a slew of sequels and remakes of the original horror films were cranked out at Universal with few standouts as momentous as their antecedents. Pierce went on to create the Wolf Man character in succeeding sequels, including Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), and both House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945). The latter, originally titled “The Wolf Man’s Cure” featured an end to the cycle of appearances by the Wolf Man in Universal films, but the character would inexplicably re-appear in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein three years later. By that point, Bud Westmore was supervising makeup artists Jack Kevan (the Frankenstein Monster) and Emile LaVigne (the Wolf Man) in their execution of Jack Pierce’s original designs. The classic monster movie era, in effect, was over.

Upon the occasion of Jack Pierce’s death in 1968 and Ted Kent’s death in 1986, the last of the monster makers were gone, but their work continues to live on again and again, as new audiences begin to discover their treasured films. Perhaps with the fresh perspective now available to audiences with Universal's recent re-release of many of the classic horror films on DVD, including a new Legacy Collection of The Wolf Man (1941) due on DVD from Universal Studios Home Entertainment in winter, 2010, the talented craftspeople who realized these films will ultimately be recognized for their singular efforts. Alongside the collection of actors, directors and executives responsible for Universal's great horror collection, editors including Kent deserve due credit for bringing the original monsters and their movies to life.

Wednesday, January 6

The Wolfman vs. The Wolf Man

The new upcoming Wolfman movie got me thinking about the casting for the new film. I put together a few pics comparing the actors playing the main roles.

Lawrence Talbot:
In the role of the tortured soul Lawrence we have Benecio Del Toro playing the part made famous by Lon Chaney Jr. I'm really happy about this choice, as Del Toro has a bit of that rugged athletic quality that Lon shared.





The Wolfman vs. the Wolf Man - note the movies spell the title creature differently. Wonder if they did that just to differentiate them more easily? It is a remake, after all - the one word change doesn't really matter all that much, just is interesting. At any rate the new test shots of the makeup for the wolfman certainly look amazing. They enlisted Rick Baker to do this design, and wow - it totally knocked my socks off. Hopefully the computer effects will be minimal, and they'll rely on makeup more - and the wolfman won't change clothes this time around when he transforms!

 

Gwen Conliffe - in the role of Lawrence's love interest we have Emily Blunt playing the Evelyn Ankers role. Emily is gorgeous and sexy, but doesn't really resemble Evelyn too much. But that isn't really necessary for this part, and I think she'll do great in the role.



In the role of John Talbot, Lawrence's father, we have Anthony Hopkins in the Claude Rains role. You need an actor of considerable range to fill these shoes, and you don't get much better than Anthony Hopkins.


 

 Maleva the Gypsy, originally played by Maria Ouspenskaya, is played this time around by Geraldine Chaplin. I don't know too much about her, but according to IMDB she's been in over a hundred movies, mostly foreign. She most likely has the accent that the role requires, and certainly looks the part.



And lastly, in the role of the Inspector Abberline we have Hugo Weaving. Now, this isn't a straight replay of a former character. Best I can tell the new film takes the role of  Colonel Montford, played by Ralph Bellamy (Twiddle, take a note!), and splits it into two characters - Colonel Montford and Inspector Abberline. Montford was the one investigating these murders before, if I'm not mistaken, but this time around we have an inspector to do the investigation. I really like Hugo as an actor, and he'll lend a quirky air to the role.



All in all an amazing bit of casting. I am very much looking forward to this movie, as well as the new dvd release of The Wolf Man! Here's hoping they both live up to expectations!

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