Monday, October 24, 2011

Reader’s Poll Result: Psychobabble’s 120th Most Essential Horror Movie…

400th post!

The people have spoken and they’ve spoken in overwhelming favor of…

120. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943- dir. Roy William Neill)

In Universal’s finest opening since the prologue of Bride of Frankenstein, a pair of grave robbers tip toe through a leaf-swept graveyard beneath the full moon. They creep into a crypt and crack open one of the sarcophagi inside. Removing the stalks of wolfsbane is a bad idea. A clawed hand reaches from the sarcophagus. A graverobber drops his lantern and ignites a blaze. Once-dead Larry Talbot is back, and no one is unhappier about that than Larry Talbot. Tormented by the knowledge his unwilling killing spree has resumed, the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.) begins his search for the one, true death that will lead him to the journals of the man who has already discovered life and death’s most awful secrets. Since Dr. Frankenstein is dead (the real kind of dead, not the temporary kind Universal’s other ghouls enjoy), Talbot must call on the talents of budding mad doc Mannering (Patric Knowles) to help him commit suicide. This could make way for a meaningful dialogue on the right to die. Instead, we get the inevitable meeting between the Wolf Man and the Frankenstein Monster. When we last left the Monster in Ghost of Frankenstein, he was blind and motored by the brain of Bela Lugosi’s evil Ygor. In Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Lugosi finally plays the role he was offered in 1931 but reportedly turned down because he felt unspeaking roles were beneath him. Sadly, his Monster would be rendered speechless in post-production because, as screenwriter Curt Siodmak was quoted in Philip J. Riley’s book on this movie, Lugosi’s voice “sounded so Hungarian funny that they had to cut it out!” And since his blindness is never mentioned in Meets, anyone who missed Ghost will have no idea why the Monster lumbers around with his arms extended as if feeling around for unseen obstacles. Despite that bungle, Lugosi’s floundering was adopted by Universal’s next Monster, Glenn Strange, and instantly became Frankenstein-shorthand for future generations of charades players. Lugosi was also in poor health during the production, so a stuntman obviously fills the flattop in several shots. Such clumsiness isn’t easy to ignore. Neither are the intricate sets or Roy William Neill’s mobile camerawork. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man also boasts Universal’s smoothest use of lap-dissolve transformations and its final appearances by Dwight Frye and Maria Ouspenskaya. The film’s greatest legacy is the strain of similar monster meetings it birthed. The direct-sequel Wolf Man vs. Dracula, which also continued Son of Dracula, didn’t survive beyond Bernard Schubert’s script. Columbia’s The Return of the Vampire, which starred Lugosi as a non-Drac vampire leading his werewolf assistant through the London Blitz, filled that gap fairly well. King Kong vs. Godzilla, Freddy vs. Jason, Alien vs. Predator, and all the other monster tête-à-têtes owe a debt to Siodmak and Neill. As for the Wolf Man and the Frankenstein Monster, they’d return in House of Frankenstein with the unintentional comic undertones Abbott and Costello would make wholly intentional before the decade’s end. Ironically, neither the Wolf Man nor Abbott and Costello would ever actually meet Frankenstein!

Note: Technically, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man isn’t Psychobabble’s 120th most essential horror movie. Chronologically, it’s number 26.

Tune in October 26th for the final installment of this series.
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