CLASSIC SILVER SCREEN MONSTERS ARE ON THE LOOSE IN THIS INSTALLMENT OF “TERROR IN BLACK AND WHITE”
When fans of classic black and white horror films are asked what they love most about the genre, monsters are usually at the top the list. Iconic creatures like Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man come to mind immediately. It seems only fitting, then, that this opening installment of TERROR IN BLACK AND WHITE is dedicated to three of our favorite creepy creatures. We’re about to unleash one pissed off alien, an aquatic beastie with a thing for the ladies and the original Bridezilla. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD)
DIRECTED BY: Christian Nyby SCREENPLAY BY: Charles Lederer (based on the 1938 short story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr.) STARRING: Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Douglas Spencer, Robert O. Cornthwaite and James Arness ORIGINAL US RELEASE: April 27, 1951 by RKO Radio Pictures.
Something has fallen from the sky and ditched in the vast, frozen wasteland at the North Pole. With the help of dashing US Air Force Captain Patrick Hendry (Tobey) and his fellow crew members, a team of scientists from a nearby research facility ventures out to investigate. At the crash site, it quickly becomes apparent that what they’ve found is not from Earth.
In addition to the wreckage, they locate a second object buried nearby. Upon closer inspection, the men realize they’ve stumbled upon the body of an alien creature thrown from the spacecraft. In the name of scientific discovery, they bring the thing back to their camp, still frozen in a block of ice. Oh yeah, he (or it) is also about eight feet tall. So, our alien “visitor” is really big, stranded on a faraway planet and probably not too happy about it. Boy, would it suck if someone accidentally thawed the ice and revived the monster. Guess what happens next?
There’s a reason THE THING endures as a sci-fi and horror classic: it’s a fantastic film. Beautifully shot and exceptionally well cast, it brought an A-list pedigree to a genre that was awash in low budget cheapies. Unlike many “creature features” of the day, THE THING was made for adults and took a more measured and intelligent approach to post-War paranoia about nuclear war and science run amok. It holds up well to this day and pairs nicely with John Carpenter’s excellent 1982 re-make. CLICK HERE to read more about that film and others in our “Scariest Movie Moments” feature from the RONTHINK archive.
- The iconic moment when the team of scientists and Air Force crew members spread out to form the shape of the crashed craft. When they end up in a perfect circle, it’s a chilling and effective visual.
- James Arness was still a relatively unknown bit player when he was cast as the murderous monster from outer space. Less than five years later, he would become a huge star, playing Matt Dillon on GUNSMOKE from 1955 to 1975.
- Though Christian Nyby gets the director’s credit, rumors have swirled for years that it was really Howard Hawks calling the shots. All the classic Hawks touches are certainly there: overlapping rapid-fire dialogue, a strong sense of camaraderie among male characters and the “Hawksian woman.” Margaret Sheridan might be the only female in the cast but she’s no shrieking violet. Pay special attention to her scenes with Tobey; they crackle with a level of overt sexuality that was definitely not the norm for films of the early 1950s.
CLICK HERE to buy THE THING on DVD. As of this writing, there is still no announced date for a Blu-ray release of this title.
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)
DIRECTED BY: Jack Arnold SCREENPLAY BY: Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross STARRING: Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Whit Bissell, Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva, Ricou Browning (uncredited) and Ben Chapman (uncredited) ORIGINAL US RELEASE: February 12, 1954 by Universal International Pictures.
Deep in the wilds of the Amazon lies the Black Lagoon, a dark and mysterious place from which no visitor has ever returned. What better setting could there be for a horror movie about an ill-fated scientific expedition and a creature that picks off cast members one by one?
In the mid-50s, most big screen beasties were marauders from outer space or the byproduct of something radioactive here on earth. Taking a dramatic detour from the pop-culture paranoia of that period, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON turned to evolution for its title monster. Tacit endorsement of Darwinism and a focus on the science behind the scary stuff made this title a true outlier when it was released. Also unique: humans are the interlopers who draw first blood. This creature is as misunderstood as it is manic.
The Gill Man, as The Creature is more affectionately known, is one of the classic Universal Monsters. While separated by fifteen or more years from titles like DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLF MAN and THE MUMMY, this moody and atmospheric film is a genre favorite. CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON might not get the same respect as its creepy compadres, but it remains one of my favorite black and white fright fests.
- When Kay (Julie Adams) goes for a dip in the Black Lagoon and is totally unaware that she’s not alone. The Creature is swimming underwater just below her and she’s almost within reach of his webbed fingers.
- The look of the now famous Gill Man costume also marks a sad chapter in cinematic sexism. Though credited to noted make-up artist Bud Westmore (at his insistence), the bulk of the development and design of The Creature was actually the work of former Disney animator Milicent Patrick. Universal publicized Patrick as “The Beauty Who Created the Beast” and sent her on tour to promote THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. That didn’t sit well with Westmore, who went into overdrive trashing Patrick to studio execs. His hissy fit eventually worked and she was sent packing. Westmore successfully swept her contribution to the film under the rug and stole the credit for himself. CLICK HERE for an excellent article on the life and career of the mysterious Milicent Patrick.
- The movie was originally filmed in 3-D but most audiences didn’t get a chance to see it that way. By 1954, 3-D was a fast-fading fad. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER (released the same year), CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON saw its widest distribution in the traditional flat, 2-D format.
- The Creature was actually played by two different actors. Ben Chapman wore the rubber suit on land and Ricou Browning handled things in and under the water. Both actors were not credited on screen for their work in the film.
CLICK HERE to buy CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON on Blu-ray. Both 3-D and 2-D versions of the film are included in this package.
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)
DIRECTED BY: James Whale SCREENPLAY BY: William Hurlbut (adapted by Hurlbut and John Balderston) STARRING: Elsa Lanchester, Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Gavin Gordon, Douglas Walton and Una O’Connor ORIGINAL US RELEASE: April 22, 1935 by Universal Pictures.
Picture it: England…a long time ago. It’s a dark and stormy night; the perfect setting for a tale of monsters, mayhem and madness. Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) regales Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) and Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton) with the further tales of Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his diabolical craft projects. In this chapter: The Monster (Boris Karloff) demands a mate and Dr. Frankenstein delivers.
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN towers above all other classic monster titles from Universal Studios. In fact, the film has transcended the horror genre entirely and is regarded as one of the finest movies of all time by many critics and historians. It is that rare sequel that surpasses the original by just about every measure.
While some ding DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN and THE MUMMY for slow pacing and dated cinematic style, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN has stood the test of time. The big, iconic set pieces still pack a punch and the campy humor that simmers just below the surface adds a welcome dash of levity to the macabre mise en scène. By any measure, it’s a gorgeous production and director James Whale’s master work.
- The scene where The Bride (Elsa Lanchester, doing double duty) is brought to life is probably one of the best known in the entirety of the horror genre. When Henry declares his creation alive, the moment is electric (no pun intended). Alas, it is but a fleeting triumph. The Bride rejects the advances of The Monster with a scream that still stings as hard as it did in 1935.
- Due to the whims of Hayes Code officials here at home and censors in countries around the world, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was subjected to a host of nips and tucks prior to its release. The biggest offenses were images of overt sensuality, murders deemed too violent for the day and comparisons between the stitch wizardry of Henry Frankenstein and the creative prowess of God.
- James Whale let his gay flag fly in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. From The Bride’s infamously fabulous shock-do to over-the-top performances by Una O’Connor and Ernest Thesiger, this was as out and about as a movie could get in the otherwise repressive cinematic landscape of the mid-30s. For a more intimate look at the life of James Whale, check out director Bill Condon’s excellent 1998 feature GODS AND MONSTERS starring Ian McKellen (as Whale) and Brendan Fraser.
CLICK HERE to buy THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN on Blu-ray.
CLICK HERE for “Murderers! Terror In Black and White (Part Two)”