Ray guns rock!

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My short post the other day on sci-fi weapons and some cleaning around my house had me thinking about rayguns from 30’s through the 50’s shows and movies. They were mostly used by aliens or by us earthers in the future. They were normally large, bulky, metallic and frequently really cool. That’s why olders of today spend time and money trying to make models of old style ray guns. I still have to follow up on my old dried up marker rockets, but now I hope to make a ray gun out of junk as well. There are tons of how to’s and pictures around on various sites done by people with far more skill than myself. However I will draw my vast knowledge of having seen way too many ray guns over the years and try to put one together at some point. If I get hold together and it doesn’t look too rotten I’ll of course post pictures of it here. A lot of people make steampunk guns too which is great. Although growing up I liked the Verne and Wells era sci-fi I spent far more time wanting to be Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers so ray guns for me please.

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The Vampire Bat

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Hey, weren’t you in that movie with that big monkey?

1933

Who’s in this?

Lionel Atwill as Dr. Otto Von Nieman the local doctor. i mentioned Atwill a few weeks ago when I reviewed Son of Frankenstein. He worked quite regularly from the silent era up until his passing in 1946.

Fay Wray as Ruth girlfriend of Karl. Of course Fay Wray is most known for her role in King Kong. She acted from the early 20’s up until the late 40’s then she was in a few things here and there up until her last role in 1980. She lived to be 96 and passed away in 2004.

Dwight Frye as Herman the town simpleton and friend of bats. Frye was known mainly for playing freaks and oddballs as Renfeld in the 1931 Dracula and he was was also Fritz in the first two Frankenstein films. A great character actor who had steady work from the late 20’s up until his untimely passing due to a heart attack in 1943 at the age of 44.

Melvyn Douglas as Karl the local police who doesn’t believe in beasties. This was one of the earliest roles for Douglas. He would go on to have a long successful career winning two Oscars, and Emmy and a Tony. He did suffer due to political views in the 1950’s when the blacklist kept his acting in Hollywood to just a few roles, but after it was lifted he roared back in the 60’s and 70’s and did some of his most aclaimed work at that time.

What’s this about?

Residents of a small town are being killed off and there are bite marks on their necks and they have lost blood! It must be ghouls, ghosties or vampires. Well, let’s go with vampires due to the marks on the neck. So lock your doors and windows! Not so fast Karl says thre has to be a reasonable explanation to these murders he just doesn’t know what it is yet. Figure out soon Karl because the citizens are dropping like flies. Speaking of flies, former fly eater Dwight Frye is playing the not far off from Renfeld character Herman who likes bats-uh, oh. Not for treats, but as friends. So the local knuckleheads form a lynch mob and go after Herman. He flees and falls off a cliff. For good measure they stake hum through the heart, but this part is unfortunately not shown. The time of Herman’s death came after the last murder which means a killer is still on the loose. Come on something needs to happen to wrap this thing up. Ruth discovers Von Nieman has a secret lab and it’s not for home brewing either, he’s doing dasterdly experiments. He catches her and ties her up. Meanwhile he sends his lackey to kill Karl. Karl turns the tables and takes down the hired killer then goes after Von Nieman. The hired killer offs Von Nieman, Karl and Ruth hug and make jokes of sorm sort and roll the credits because somehow this film is over.

The negatives-Wow the plots starts strong, but never quite gets enough explanation and the ending happens really fast. It wasn’t bad , but it could and should have been better and it just would taken slightly better writing to do that. There is also a bit too much humor in the film overall, it kind cuts into any edge the film really needed

The positives-As always Lionel Atwill is right on the money with his character, he actually helps hold the film together longer than it may have deserved. Dwight Frye pulls much from his Renfeld character in Dracula, but original or not he’s still such a nut case here that he steals every scene he is in. Fay Wray didn’t have much to do, but she looked stunning. Some good performances propel this film further than the script did. It’s alright, but could have been better. However given who is in it and particularly the performances from Atwill and Frye I would say fans of 30’s horror/suspense films should see it at least once. I also have to add that even though my version was a dollar store version the print was actually quite decent for an 80 year old film.

Son of Frankenstein

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1939

Who’s in this?

Boris Karloff as the monster. This was his third and last go around as the monster for Universal. Playing the monster was the role that launched a long career in horror film whether Boris like it or not. You know him for playing this monster, the mummy in the first of Universal’s Mummy films, he of course voiced the Grinch and was tons of other stuff for decades.

Bela Lugosi as Ygor the crazy old dude who survived being hanged, but has a big chip on his shoulder over it. Lugosi is best known for having played Dracula in the 1931 version of the film. He also did tons of other mostly horror films including some great ones like the Black Cat and White Zombie, but unfortunately a bunch of crap too including his brief ties with Ed Wood in the 50’s. Lugosi starred in a lot of films, but he gave some fine supporting roles too like in this film and the Island of lost souls.

Basil Rathbone as Baron Wolf Von Frankenstein son of Henry who originally made the monster. He returns to the family home with his wife and son. Rathbone is likely best known for having played Sherlock Holmes in a series of movies in 30’s and 40’s. He was in quite a few other movies frequently playing a stuffy or arrogant villain. Rathbone had a great voice and a really cool nose too, he could use his nose to it’s best ability.

Lionel Atwill as police inspector Krogh who has a wooden arm due to the monster having ripped his arm out years ago. Atwill acted for decades and was in quite a few monster and detective films in the 30’s and 40’s. He frequently played policeman,  doctors and mad scientists. My favorites roles he did were this one and playing  Moriarty to Rathbone’s Holmes in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon.

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Uh, I meant that you were a monster in the good sense of the word.

 

What’s this about?

Wolf Frankenstein decides to return to his family home and take his family with him. He figures since time has elapsed the people of the village will be forgiving about what happened with his dad and the big square headed monster-he’s wrong.  The townspeople don’t like that he’s coming back as they would love to forget about anyone named Frankenstein and they don’t like that old broken neck Ygor who hangs around the old castler either-what a kook. The Frankenstein family move into the old castle which is now a rather empty and everything seems to have been built at odd angles. Eventually Wolf meets Ygor and learns that the monster is still around. Wolf decides to revive it you know to prove his father was really doing something noble and to clear the family name. Yeah, good look with that. The monster is revived but only responds to nutjob Ygor whose goals seem to revenge and village domination. Eventually Wolf stops Ygor, but he and Krogh have to go after the monster who has taken Wolf’s son Peter. We are left to think that Wolf destroys the monster, but hey this film made money so we know old Frankie will be back again. Roll the credits.

The negatives? Fans of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein will see that film spoofs several parts of this film and it’s funny, but those parts work in this film. Karloff is given less to do or say and some fans of the series feels this robbed the character of some of the sympathy that was important to the character in the previous two films. Rowland V. Lee took over as director of this one and you can notice the sets and style are different from what James Whale did in the previous films. I like what Lee, but not everyone will.

The positives? There had been a brief dip in Universal Horrors for a few years before this one, but this film got the series back in style and launched even more films for almost another decade. The cast is one of if not the best in the Universal Frankenstein film. Lugosi and Atwill almost steal the show from Karloff in their supporting roles. Lugosi with those crazy eyes as Ygor and Atwill sticking darts in his wooden arm add to the oddness and greatness of their respective characters. The sets are also top notch for the time. Really a great film that doesn’t always get the respect that it deserves.

That’s going to wrap up Frankenstien week. Hope you enjoyed it.

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Who’s a good monster, who’s a good monster? Yes, you are.

Horror in the 1930’s

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By the 1930’s the “talkies” had only been around for a few years. Horror had been explored in the silent era and some real classics were made in that time, but filmakers had really only scratched the surface. In the early 30’s films like Dracula, Frankenstein and others were made and it was quickly discovered “hey, people like to be scared”. Universal studios in particular became masters of horror films during this decade. Actors like Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff became big names playing various monsters and madmen. In addition to monsters and madmen we saw castles, mad scientist labs and scream queens in these films. Everything was in glorious black and white with the real masters making great use of shadows and contrasts. If I think of a castle or a graveyard in a horror movie it’s usually one from this time period. There were some films like Freaks and M that went beyond just the mad scientist/monster formula and those were perhaps even scarier than the traditional monsters. By the end of the decade we were seeing some sequels and films falling back on formulas that worked on films made in the earlier part of the decade. Over the years cartoons and movies had spoofed films and actors from this era of horror. Films from this decade are not loved by everyone although most should be. There’s no denying the impact on future decades from many of these films. Why not? Monsters were everywhere, vampire didn’t sparkle, horror was about fear not gore and Kong was King. One of my favorire decades for horror films.

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***Feel free to add in any thoughts on the decade or chime in any of your favorite films from the 1930’s.

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