Orange Horror in Black and White
You can have your slashers, rolling heads, exploding guts and psychos who eat human liver, topping it off with fava beans and a nice Chianti. Halloween movies should be shadowy, mysterious, suspenseful, a bit scary and fun for the kid in everyone.
Call me an old coot, but I can’t watch anything during Halloween except the alluring, unmatched black-and-white classics from Universal Studios during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.
Halloween might have colors of orange and black on the outside, but it’s black and white on the inside — when it comes to movies.
Halloween means haunted houses, creaking floors, trap doors, howling winds outside, specters in the night or hollowed-out places in the ground.
And, of course, it is defined by monsters. But they are monsters you feel sorry for, even if they do attack the innocent. It wasn’t their fault they were bitten by wolves or subjects of experiments gone horribly wrong.
When they lunge at their prey, you know the sorry victims are being ripped apart — but it’s only a movie, so you don’t get the visual details. Instead, Universal monsters scare your socks off through suspense. What a novel approach.
Sit down in a comfortable chair or sofa this evening after turning off all the lights with only the brightness from the screen illuminating the room, and watch some of these Halloween monsterpieces:
The Dracula/Frankenstein/Mummy series started with the horror landmark films Dracula and Frankenstein in 1931, followed shortly by The Mummy (1932). Dracula introduced the world to Bela Lugosi, while Boris Karloff took on the duties of the Frankenstein Monster and the Mummy. Each film became a series of its own. Dracula and the Monster would occasionally run into each other, and would later meet the Wolf Man.
The Old Dark House (1932) has Boris Karloff and director James Whale teaming up again just a year after Frankenstein. It has all the ingredients for a superior gothic horror film. Travelers are forced to escape a thunderous storm into a gloomy mansion occupied by a strange family, threatening butler and psychotic brute.
The Wolf Man (1941) stars Lon Chaney Jr., who tries to fill the shoes of his dad, but it gets real hairy (sorry for that one). Chaney, as Lawrence Talbot, makes the mistake of saving a damsel in distress from a beast and gets bitten, by the beast that is. Hollywood’s queen of the gypsies, Maria Ouspenskaya, delivers the famous line, “You have the mark of the werewolf.” Shut up and get back in the wagon.
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) continued the Monster series, following Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939). The 1940s introduces us to another son of Frankenstein trying to revive his father’s creation. He inadvertently winds up transplanting sidekick Ygor’s brain into the Monster’s body. It gets better, and maybe a little confusing.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) has perhaps the spookiest opening shot of all time, complete with dark graveyard, mist and foreboding trees that loom over two creepy figures. These characters turn out to be grave robbers hoping to open the tomb of Lawrence Talbot, the Wolf Man. Are they in for a surprise! This time Bela Lugosi plays the Monster (he played Ygor in the previous movie, get it?) against Chaney’s Wolf Man.
The Mummy’s Hand (1940) is easily the best of the four-part Kharis the Mummy series, and one of the best of the Universal monster flicks. It has the trimmings of comic relief to go along with genuine horror. It includes a down-and-out archeologist, his sidekick, an eccentric magician and his daughter, who go on a search for an ancient Egyptian tomb. They bump into a sinister high priest, played by George Zucco, and his pal, Kharis the Mummy.
The Mad Ghoul (1943) brings us George Zucco again, this time as a mad scientist who uses a serum from ancient nerve gas to turn his assistant into a zombie. The assistant and the good doctor’s lab monkey go on nightly prowls under the scientist’s orders so they can continue to receive fluid they need from human hearts.
House of Dracula (1945) is one of several movies where Universal monsters show up together. John Carradine plays Dracula with Lon Chaney stepping in as the Wolf Man and Glenn Strange as the Monster. This one is notable because it is the only movie in the Universal series in which the Wolf Man is finally cured! Don’t worry, he’ll be back.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) is my personal favorite Halloween movie. Chaney as the Wolf Man, Lugosi as Dracula and Strange as the Monster play it serious while Bud and Lou play it for laughs. The chemistry is terrific! When Chaney tells Lou the moon will soon be full and he will turn into a wolf, Costello replies, “You and 50 million other guys.”
The Mole People (1956) has John Agar and Hugh Beaumont (Beaver’s dad) searching through creepy caves where they stumble upon a 5,000-year-old civilization deep under the earth. Universal had to dig up some unusual monsters this time. The residents have been underground so long they can’t tolerant the sun and use the hideous mole people as their slaves, who actually turn out to be good guys.
Happy orange, black and white Halloween!