26 August 2014

Dear Frankie

Dear Frankie A Stunning Little Picture
By Kristin Battestella

Although it gets me every time and by the end I’m cursing at it for making me weep like a blubbering child, I never get tired of watching the endearing 2004 family drama Dear Frankie.

Young Frankie’s (Jack McElhone) dad has been perpetually away at sea but writes letters to his son sharing his location and adventures. Frankie, his mother Lizzie Morrison (Emily Mortimer) and her mother Nell (Mary Riggans) soon move to a new Scottish seaside town, where after receiving a letter from the other side of the world, less than friendly schoolmates surprisingly inform Frankie that his father’s ship will be in port soon. How can this be? Unbeknownst to her son, Lizzie has been writing the letters through a secret post office box after leaving her violent husband almost a decade ago. Desperate to maintain the charade and not hurt Frankie, Lizzie and her new downstairs neighbor and coworker Marie (Sharon Small) hire a Stranger (Gerard Butler) to pretend to be Frankie’s father for a day. Frankie can best his friends for the weekend the ship is docked, and then the Stranger will be on his way. However, the new emotions and bonds formed between the isolated family and the mysterious Stranger may be stronger than any of them anticipated. 

Debut director Shona Auerbach and writer Andrea Gibb’s (AfterLife) tale may not technically pass the Bechdel test, for the women of Dear Frankie do spent a significant amount of time discussing ex-husbands and strange men with no pasts but romantic potential. However, the majority of conversations are about the impact of fathers, brothers, and sons – which isn’t exactly the same thing as chicks giggling over a man. Dear Frankie is very feminine in this honest look at how the male familial relationships have effected these women in largely negative ways. However, the beautiful dynamics between fathers and sons also lend a masculine appeal, and tender simple acts of kindness that turn into significant life altering events are never remiss. Neighbors willing to help new tenants, a kindly sister-in-law forced to represent the beastly, a gentle Stranger treading lightly on an special situation – each character in Dear Frankie has far reaching impacts at varying degrees of emotion or pain, yet most recognize the right thing to do. Smart dialogue does double duty in many places, as adults speak for the eponymous deaf boy and say something about themselves in the process. “I thought you had the one day? This is the second half of it.” Will this be the second half of their lives finally starting fresh? Abuses are not seen but strongly felt and visually suggested through angry shouts, hands afraid to touch, and literal running away, further raising the subtext and layers here.

The onscreen newspaper says Emily Mortimer’s (Lovely and Amazing) Lizzie is 28 and her son Frankie is nine and a half – obviously, she was pregnant and married fairly young and has spent almost all of her adult life gun shy and on the run. Along with the pressure of keeping up this ruse for her son and doing the best she can as a single parent, she has understandably fearful and stunted perceptions. Mortimer brings excellent sitting alone on a park bench all night despair as Lizzie seems unable to prevent the shattering of her son’s world. She’s desperate enough to have a completely un-background checked Stranger spend the day with her son, but the seemingly alarming prospect of allowing anyone into their small world helps her overcome her fears. The Stranger is correct in saying she gave him the right to sweep into their lives and that she has to trust someone – he sees this as the moment for which Lizzie and Frankie have both waited. Lizzie opens up by sharing Frankie’s photos and letters – the only way she can hear her son – plus her written responses, but she insists there will be nothing beyond business. She doesn’t quite know how to come out of her shell and won’t take the Stranger’s compliments. However, it’s wonderfully endearing to see the more traditional moments like brushing her hair, putting on nail polish, and dressing up return to her sense of being. Lizzie is pleasantly surprised by how easily the Stranger fits into their life, and the subtle looks, touches, pretense that isn’t really pretense, and silent performance from Mortimer are spot on. Lizzie tells Frankie she’s the parent who has been there and she’s entitled to something. Will she be burned again? Perhaps, but the slow letting her guard down excellence from Mortimer anchors Dear Frankie beautifully.

While Lizzie keeps all her stuff in her bag ready to move on, the Stranger’s bag is empty and ready to be filled, and anyone who thinks Gerard Butler isn’t worthy of his near top actor status should see Dear Frankie. If Chasing Mavericks was a personal father/son movie for him, then imagine this filming a stone’s throw from his Scottish roots, Butler’s being raised by a single mother, and the hearing troubles in his own youth. Amid a film so full of tender performances and endearing, memorable moments, Butler still almost steals this show with physical movements, incredible silent facial reactions, and tear inducing drama. Through his soft spoken delivery and excellent dialogue, the audience must infer, deduce, and speculate. The nameless Stranger never directly says anything about his life, but he has earned some silver at his temples and seems to have a past that he too is ready to leave behind. The Stranger wears the same clothes for his entire visit, and I’ll even acquiesce in my Butler beard preference because this close shave and regular look feel so natural for Dear Frankie. Nowadays it is either tabloid notoriety or bad romantic comedies and poorly received films with Butler. However, Dear Frankie proves that not only can he put a lot of performance in what is technically a little amount of material, but he irrefutably shines when the tale gives him the room to dig deep and bring forth those personal Method connections. I’m biased toward my favorite actor Montgomery Clift, who was notoriously intense and Method onscreen and off much to the torment of his directors, but I never in a million years thought that I would ever talk about Gerard Butler and Montgomery Clift in the same breath until I saw Dear Frankie. I do honestly like Butler, but it’s downright infuriating to see he is capable of something like this when he makes so many inferior pictures. Does he not give himself the credit, just take the paychecks as they come, or is he not seeing the right scripts? Somebody give this man another film like Dear Frankie, please! Why, why is Gerard Butler making crap comedies when he can make films like this? (And I know I said that exact same thing in my Coriolanus review. So please, scriptwriters, directors, casting agents, somebody, anybody, pretty pleasssseee cast this man in something of merit!)

Dear Frankie may seem like a woman’s film or a man’s bonding event but it also appeals to young audiences thanks to the titular, pint sized protagonist and his adorable little friends. Ironically, however, the story is not all about Frankie as it may initially seem. Certainly Jack McElhone (Stacked) is immediately lovable, and the audience is as equally charmed as those onscreen, but despite some scene stealing work, Frankie is most brilliant when he’s a growing, un-stagnant counterbalance catalyst for his mother. McElhone and Mortimer have some beautiful scenes together, too, and McElhone holds his own with the adult ensemble. Likewise, the late Mary Riggans (Take the High Road) as pesky mom Nell only wants the best for her daughter and grandson, and Riggans does well in a difficult fearfully protective yet uplifting and loving supporting role to anchor Lizzie. Sharon Small (Inspector Lynley Mysteries) as Marie is also a kind, intriguing lady. She seems wild at times, imperfect sure, yet she’s doing all right with her own business. She doesn’t have to be kind to the new girl in town, give her a job, feed Frankie, or help broker The Stranger. It would have been easier to put her head in the sand and never say anything to them as we so often do today. For whatever reason, out of kindness or her own relatable sympathies, Marie recognizes a woman in need and wonderfully does the right thing. Sister in law Anne Marie Timoney (Taggart) unfortunately has the small but critical and unenviable role as the go between contact for Lizzie. She completely understands why she left and doesn’t blame these circumstances on Lizzie at all. However, that doesn’t make her man in the middle trying to do what’s right an easy position, and a final act conflict does wonders for Dear Frankie.

Perhaps the decidedly hometown Scottish setting and accents may not be for everyone, but I’ll be darn Dear Frankie is perfectly steeped in quaint, authentic locations. Yes, the behind the times, lower quality of life living may seem sparse to spoiled Stateside audiences, too, and beyond the Macarena, the music will also be dated and unfamiliar. Thankfully, those music montages match the emotional tone and wonderfully reflect the niceties to be found in a simple, paired down existence – skipping stones along the shore, going for ice cream, roaming harbors with cool ships, and visiting exotic aquariums at the local pet shop. Though the essential to the plot deafness in Dear Frankie may not be all that accurate – I myself have known deaf and hard of hearing persons who make more sounds and talking attempts instead of being almost exclusively silent – the warmth here forgives the artistic license. Dear Frankie looks cold due to its windy, wet settings and locals bundled up in shabby sweaters, layers, and somewhat ugly clothes. However, these dressings also smartly represent the bulky, to be shed barriers surrounding these lovely characters. Dear Frankie’s aesthetics make the viewer want to come inside for tea or fish and chips, sing a song, and stay awhile regardless of the difficult situation.

I can talk a lot more about this movie or write more than I’ve written – and there’s a separate spoiler analysis essay following below this review proper, too! Simply put, however, Dear Frankie is a must see picture that moves you and makes you think. One should definitely have multiple rewatches to catch each subtlety, and like a well done treasured book, enjoy discovering something new each time. As in life, not everything is answered nice and tidy for the audience, yet viewers young and old can come away from Dear Frankie satisfied in mind and soul with every time. 

Dear Frankie: Spoiler Edition!

Dear Frankie, The Spoiler Fest!
By Kristin Battestella

Are you ready for a new spoiled filled and conjecture laden analysis on the 2004 charmer Dear Frankie? 


This is your last call to stay with my straight laced review here before getting down and deep with the lingering juicy and thought provoking this lovely little film provides! 

1. When does Frankie know The Stranger isn’t his Father?

Young Frankie seems to immediately know something isn’t right when he reads and crumbles the newspaper in his pocket, and most likely has his suspicions confirmed when he gets home and checks his now unrealistic map. He has to make the bet with his friends to save face, but he’s angry on his way home, running up the stairs and tracing the boat motif on the wall as he goes up in physical representation of his silent realization – they have been the ones on the move, not the Accra ship he’s read about in his letters. He later writes a letter, perhaps coming to terms with it by saying he understands if his dad can’t get shore leave but hopes he’ll be at the soccer trials nonetheless. Is this Frankie’s way of asking for his mother’s help? He knows the truth, but not the why and is reluctant to look in his mother’s locked closet for answers.  She’s loves him and has gone through so much trouble – Frankie wants an explanation, but doesn’t want to hurt her. He even says right from the beginning that he knows about the boat and thinks that his dad just doesn’t want to see him. Later, Frankie also writes that he suspected his dad may have been sick a long time already and either can’t or won’t see them. He also suspects that they moved there because his mom wanted to have his dad find them, suggesting that he has already let go and now it’s her turn to leave the past. He writes his shortest letter to accompany the drawing he knows is going to his real dying father. At that point he has apparently known for awhile, and has already forgiven his dad.

It’s also possible that Marie tells Frankie everything when he runs out on the morning before the Stranger’s arrival, or he may tell her he knows and they all go along with it for Lizzie’s sake. Either way, Frankie knows all along the Stranger is not his dad, but he loves the book and is impressed with the lengths taken for this new charade. The Stranger has taken the time to read his letters, doesn’t eat fish at Frankie’s behest, and willingly helps win his bets. The dear boy wants to enjoy the illusion for the day, and writes to Marie on her order pad that this is his dad, perhaps telling her he is pleased with the Stranger and agrees with the matchmaking possibility. We don’t hear their conversation, but Frankie was probably the one who wanted the Stranger to take him the dock and as close to the ship as he would get. The Stranger gives himself away as a non-seaman by saying “go on” instead of ‘onboard,’ but is also implying he would break the ship’s rules and take Frankie aboard if he so desired. Frankie in turn, keeps the skipping rock rather than tossing it in new appreciation of the Stranger’s devoted efforts.  Honestly, it’s not a case of when Frankie knew, it’s why we ever thought he was so fooled because the charm of Dear Frankie had us fooled.

2. Why do they have the second day with The Stranger?

It is the Stranger, not Frankie who suggests the idea of a second day with all three of them, and Frankie looks over their stair railing while the Stranger talks to his grandmother – knowing Lizzie was not at home because she was following them throughout their day. The Stranger has asked Frankie to chaperone a new date – they have had their day to resolve his bet and now it is her turn. This notion certainly confirms Frankie has known all along, for his mother said his father would see him, but not her. Now, however, the Stranger has asked for more time for all of them together and she is dressing up and wearing make up for their afternoon. Where Nell had always spoken ill of his father before, she now sits on the bed with Frankie and compliments the skipping rock his “daddy” gave him. She wears her hair in rollers, puts on nail polish, and has a girl’s moment with her daughter as if all is well again. Until the ill news about the real dad Davey has her symbolically wiping off that polish thereafter.

The Stranger also tells Frankie he is in charge for the second day, and the boy sits the adults next to each other whenever possible, runs ahead as they walk together, has them eat from the same snack bag, and even rolls his eyes at the way they are looking but not looking at each other. He nudges Marie into making them stay for the dance, and Lizzie plays with her wedding ring several times. She is definitely thinking about the possibilities of the Stranger despite her insistence to the contrary. Frankie also seems to pick up on the fact that Marie’s boyfriend and the Stranger have already met – he gives a thumbs up when the men comment about all the beers they can drink. Is it a coincidence that they sing Lizzie’s favorite song at the dance? Of course not, and the music fades out because we are seeing and hearing Frankie’s perspective of his ‘parents’ dancing and falling in love.

Frankie may even pretend to be asleep so he can be carried by the Stranger. He stresses that he wants him to come back, not his real dad, and gives him the sea horse to remember their moment at the aquarium together. The Stranger answers he doesn’t know if he’s coming back – not because he and Frankie haven’t bonded or that the Stranger doesn’t want to, but because Lizzie has to make the call. She has to make the first romantic strides. Rather than saying something like ‘I love you, son,’ the Stranger says, “We are all connected,” confirming if Frankie had any doubts about him not being he real father. They both know they are not united by blood or law but have connected over this time, and hopefully that will be enough for her, too. That unforgettable doorway minute, the way the Stranger waves goodbye at the window, even Nell seems sad over her cigarette the next morning – it’s clear no one wants the Stranger to leave but not the week before they had been running from Frankie’s dad. Clearly, a new page has been turned for not just Frankie, but now Lizzie as well.

3. What did the Stranger actually do?

Was the Stranger truly a sailor with a ship soon departing? Probably not, although he does claim to have business at the docks. Is it some nefarious cargo perhaps? He repeatedly claims that his ship sails on Monday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is setting sail. The Stranger drinks Americano coffee and doesn’t quite dress like a sailor or merchant man either. He obviously pays the man to stand on the ship, for though it’s not subtitled, you can hear someone yell something like ‘Hey! Who’s that?’ when the Stranger waves from the Accra. He maintains he’s not a betting man, but he makes several bets just like Frankie and insists on not revealing his own history even when Lizzie says their arrangement has changed. He seems to agree on the change as well, even though he initially only expected a paying job for a day. He picks up the baby photo of Frankie, is almost overcome by Frankie’s reaction to his gift book, and feels uncomfortable fully embracing him despite his apparent success at the fatherly ruse. Did he loose a child perhaps? How did Marie know to set up her brother with Lizzie unless she knew they might share a similar pain and healing need? The Stranger stares at Frankie, studies his face against the fish tank, and enjoys experiencing these childhood races and simplicities. Were these opportunities previously taken from him? Marie says Lizzie need not fear that the Stranger will take Frankie from her, but he has no problem interacting with the boy. Yes, the Stranger forgets Frankie is deaf from time to time but he doesn’t go out of his way to treat him differently, either. The Stranger also doesn’t seem to need the money, as he buys the book, tips the dock man, and pays for all the food and beers before he secretly gives Lizzie back her unopened money envelopes. Why does he let her think he was doing it for the pay alone, to keep up the pretense that her ruse is a success? He and Marie cover up on the beer and cigarettes mistake and tell Lizzie what she wants to hear. In the end, does it matter who he was before? Now he is everything Lizzie and Frankie want him to be.

4. Does the Stranger come back to Lizzie and Frankie?

Frankie takes down his map and throws the skipping stone away after his last letter, meaning they are all starting fresh without the previous charade. Why does the Stranger even go at all? Lizzie was still technically married, and perhaps the Stranger did have business that needed to be attended to, but these are small hurdles compared to what Lizzie and Frankie have already overcome. They need to grieve for Davey briefly, close the final chapter on the bleak past before facing the bright future. When the Stranger returns, he will do so as himself totally, without Frankie’s real father overshadowing them. Lizzie tells the dying Davey that Frankie has a new father and waits until he is dead before asking Marie who the Stranger was. She closes her post office box thereafter, and is surprised to find Frankie’s letter to the Stranger there. How else was the boy to share his thoughts on the matter? He wanted his mom to know and sends the picture for her – he also posted the letter on his own, proving he knew she was the one who handled them previously. Frankie addresses the last letter with “thanks for the book…Ma and I had a shock… Your friend, Frankie.” He has let go of his real father, the Accra illusion, and now remains open to a future with the Stranger. Mother and son now sit hopefully in wait, with Lizzie having accepted that she doesn’t have to be both parents any longer.  Sniff sniff.

5. Why, why have the director and writer not done a sequel to Dear Frankie or made more films?

Beat the $%^@ out of me but I wish they would! 

22 August 2014

Horror Documentaries, Again!

Horror Documentaries, Again!
By Kristin Battestella

Well I suppose we can’t watch horror all the time, so this is the next best thing – a whiff of askew non-fiction, horror informatives, and otherwise macabre programming to tide over our terrible little minds.

Biography: Stephen King – This 2000 television hour chronicling the best selling horror author details his quiet, poor early life in Maine, the abandonment of his father, awkward school years, and his initial love of reading, making primitive newsletters, and adoring horror movies. Although fans of the man himself probably feel this profile could have been longer – heck, just a full forty-five minutes of talking to King would be delightful – anyone who has delusions of grandeur about being an author can learn something here. Interviews with King, his wife Tabitha, and other family and friends keep the presentation from getting into the entertainment hyperbole style that so many of the more recent Biography episodes unfortunately offer – however some of the New England accents might be amusing or tough to distinguish for broader viewers. Thankfully, the natural, honest conversations and smooth narration focus on King’s efforts as a struggling young writer and family man, and it’s refreshing to see these behind the scenes difficulties discussed so candidly by the man we so often raise as the twisted and macabre industry standard. Newer King readers can have a thoughtful, pensive introduction here along with longtime horror audiences interested in the spooky King craft. 

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel – “By mistake he made a good picture every once in awhile,” a tearful Jack Nicholson sums up the campy but beloved tone of this 90 minutes plus with extras spotlight on Roger Corman featuring interviews with Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Ron Howard, Dick Miller, Joe Dante, Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, William Shatner, brother Gene Corman, and many more. Frank conversations on the cheap, trashy, tastelessness of Corman’s low budget style are counterbalanced with insights from the unassuming gentleman himself, and time is well spent on his early Hollywood dissatisfaction before becoming a one man movie making team for American International Pictures. Interesting retrospectives on the current outrageous blockbuster obsession and Corman’s under appreciated legacy also harken back to then radical perspectives about leaving the Golden Age studio system to develop the new wave of teen cinema and social commentaries thru lesser known, controversial work such as The Intruder and favorites like Easy Rider. There’s not a major horror focus here beyond mentions of the offbeat A Bucket of Blood and The Little Shop of Horrors or House of Usher and the success of the Price and Poe cycle, and exploitation film clips, language, nudity, gore, and LSD talk make this tough for a classroom viewing. Sadly, the references and politics of the time may also not be fully understood by today’s younger audience. However, film school aficionados and cult geeks will love seeing how many Hollywood stars and styles have a Corman independent film touch.

The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Created a Monster – Found on the 1931 Frankenstein video releases, this bemusing and self-referential 45 minutes begins with the Mary Shelley source and continues with the still standing film iconography. Interviews with Sara Karloff, film historians, and modern filmmakers discuss the early stage presentations, make up designs, difficulties in going from page to screen, and the long lasting sympathy of the monster and his childlike innocence. These scholars, family, and film friends have a lot to say and the presentation may seem too fast paced or all over the place to some – a little bit of everything including German expressionism, James Whale influences, clips from Gods and Monsters, Dwight Frye typecasting, and Karloff opinions is covered in the time here. Most of the time is also spent on the first Universal film before touching on Bride of Frankenstein and other sequels, the monster mash ups films, and Hammer retellings in the final ten minutes, but increasing plot implausibilities and film flaws are also frankly discussed. A lot of the material is second hand reminiscing, too. However, the anecdotes will be charming for horror fans and classic film lovers alike.

The Road to Dracula – The recently late Dracula co-star Carla Laemmle – niece of Universal head Carl Laemmle – hosts this half hour look at the Stoker phenomenon’s rise from page to screen. Film historians, museum curators, and interviews with Clive Barker, Bela Lugosi Jr, and Dwight Frye’s son anchor comparisons to the 1931 Spanish version of Dracula and clips of the Universal 1979 adaptation. Laemmle’s narration is understandably a bit wobbly and sprinkled with a few old lady saucy quips, but the wealth of insights shared is too much fun for a horror enthusiast. The discussion could certainly have been longer as well, with an all encompassing look at Dracula films and adaptations, but talk on Stoker’s genesis, silent film interpretations, Lugosi casting gold, and long lasting capes and widow’s peaks setting the vampire standards are more than enough to chew on here. Intimate, nostalgic insights accentuate the behind the scenes points, making this retrospective perfect for the classroom and horror or classic movie buffs.

05 August 2014

Bela, Boris, Lon, and John

Bela and Boris and Lon and John
By Kristin Battestella

Well it’s no Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. However, what horror fan doesn’t want a night in with any of these terrifically terrifying gents? 

Gallery of Horrors – It’s known by numerous titles and there are certainly better anthologies, but host John Carradine classes up “The Witch’s Clock,” the first tale in this 1967 amalgam. Colorful mists and ominous music over the opening credits set the mood along with old décor, cobwebs, and typewriters, but the low budget production shows in the hasty editing, rushed plots, and cliché spooky double talk. This hokey scripting and telling instead of showing doesn’t help the mostly wooden second tier cast either, and the period “King Vampire” story serves up commonplace crime theories instead of capitalizing on its small town suspicion and hysteria. “Monster Raid” also goes for a nonsensical over the top narration instead of its intriguing mad scientist experiments, but Lon Chaney Jr. gets his Dr. Frankenstein on in “Spark of Life.” Despite heavy possibilities, fun performances, and an intriguing one room laboratory setting, this leg moves entirely too fast. I’d love to have seen Our Man Creighton tackle this in his prime! The fifth and final “Alucard” tale has better scripting and delivery, and the twist makes up for any confusing action. The film as a whole isn’t bad – in fact, it can be fun to spot the reused backgrounds and footage from the Corman/Poe cycle films in some sort of mash up drinking game. However, the video is dark and tough to see at times with some innate flaws, and the fast, harmless fun feels designed for juveniles or short attention spans. Maybe that wasn’t the intention at the time, but the none too scary, moody, and atmospheric fun is perfect for a kid’s sleepover or family movie night. 

House of Frankenstein – Before House of Dracula (already reviewed here), sad wolfy Lon Chaney Jr., slick wannabe mad scientist Boris Karloff, and seductive vamp John Carradine ganged up for this 1944 70 minutes along with Universal horror company hunchback J. Carrol Naish, carnival showman George Zucco, and inspector Lionel Atwill. Yes, there are loose connections to the titular tellings – a brother who was supposedly an assistant in the monster raising – and even more timeline questions and canon fodder from Frankenstein meets the Wolfman. However, great lightning, storms, prison escapes, macabre atmosphere, shadows, and fun plot twists keep up the intensity. All these monsters somehow afoot on the continent! Though hokey at times today, the moody sets, contemporary dressings, carriage chases, ice caverns, and neat effects for Dracula’s resurrection, trick rings, and bats must have been wartime wild to see. The whiff of romances and young couples are dated as well, and Anne Gwynne (The Black Cat) is more fun under Dracula’s brief spell. Some of this monster action feels like mini vignettes moving from one spooky segment to the next rather than concurrent interwoven plots, but everyone has his scene of ominous and there’s plenty of conflict for this Universal monster road trip. Longtime fans can wing it with the rally fun, but younger audiences interested in classic horror might find this to be a bemusing starter piece, too. 

The Human Monster –A poor print, primitive video release, and woeful audio mar this 1939 75 minutes also called The Dark Eyes of London. It’s tough to tell what’s happening at times, and the usual cop colloquialisms litter the plodding pace along with unnecessary transitions featuring people walking to and fro or telephoning up for tea. Fortunately, Bela Lugosi is looking suave in a pre-war stylish suit and belying his nefarious doctoring swindles. His switcharoo subtlety between a generous façade and the slick power of suggestion is disturbingly entertaining. Though the creepy organ music and destitute conditions add to the eerie portrayal of the blind, there’s isn’t a lot of macabre or enough Bela onscreen – most of the focus is on the generic cops and their one step behind antics or the amiss humor. Screaming damsels in straight jackets and the shootout finale, however, make up for some of the obvious crimes. And did I mention the fashion nostalgia and spinning newspaper montage? Today’s audiences won’t find this one that scary and a proper restoration would do wonders, but Lugosi fans can enjoy this fun in a marathon with other lesser known Bela treats.

The Old Dark House Bride of Frankenstein director James Whale opens this 1932 70 minutes with a bemusing Karloff disclaimer insisting that this is the same versatile actor from Frankenstein before serving up Oscar nominee Gloria Stuart (Titanic), winners Melvin Douglas (Hud) and Charles Laughton (The Private Life of Henry VIII), and more over the top character archetypes and cliché family crazy. Yes, Douglas’ playboy hero is too flippant to start, the of the time delivery is a bit much, and some of the song and dance mannerisms, humor, and Jazz Age attitudes won’t be appreciated by today’s viewers. I wouldn’t call this a black comedy per se either, but the self-aware wit is wonderfully conscious of the contrived circumstances, each one thing after another situation, and every suspense increasing psychotic family member. That lovely roadster and more vintage style anchor the firelight, shadowy reflections, and dark framing – this is a well-filmed picture with no hokey stunts or action speed. Thunder, lightning, rumbling mudslides, and a creepy Welsh manor match the off kilter camerawork, shock moments, and near brow beating harshness of the titular owners. There are only a few sets, but the stage-like atmosphere builds its mood through character reveals. While it may be tough to hear or understand without subtitles, interesting personal dialogue, awkward interwar conversations, and religious arguments add intellectual substance to the family secrets and romantic tiffs. Expected Whale suggestions and a whiff of scandalous pre-code lingerie add some juicy, too – not to mention our simpleton but drunk, touchy, and menacing butler Karloff! Despite a somewhat quick resolution and a few innate flaws in this once lost film, the surprisingly fun but creepy old age make up, unexpected twists, and horror smarts hold up delightfully for today’s gothic thriller audiences. 

And Two Documentaries!

Karloff: The Gentle Monster – This 2006 38 minute documentary is not the hour long Biography episode of the same name but rather a lovely little retrospective found on the Frankenstein blu-ray releases. Although the beginning briefly mentions Karloff’s pre-Universal film appearances, the focus here is with the subtle, silent sympathy of Karloff’s monstrous characters and his long lasting horror appeal. From Frankenstein to later stage work beyond horror such as Arsenic and Old Lace, film scholars and historians discuss early comparisons to Lon Chaney, difficulties with horror make up’s infancy, and more scary film glory with classics such as The Mummy and The Black Cat. Attention is given to Karloff’s quiet success as a character actor thanks to his physicality and ability to be both frightening and sensual at the same time along with his spooky television series and his tireless work across mediums and generations. This is the voice of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, people! It’s also interesting to see movie buffs theorizing on the over reaching and decreasing quality of the studio’s Frankenstein series, beating it into the ground as the franchises, sequels, and remakes do today. Boris fans and horror lovers can eat up the clips and nostalgia here, for sure.

Lugosi: The Dark Prince – Like Karloff, Bela Lugosi’s early life and acting career before Dracula go unnoticed in this 36 minute documentary accompanying the 1931 Dracula blu-ray video. Interviews with genre directors Joe Dante, Jimmy Sangster, and other film scholars and authors instead spend the majority of time here on Lugosi’s quintessential appearance in the budding horror cinema and discuss how his phonetic learning of lines accentuated his hypnotic, handsome, somewhat scandalous and always sensual acting style. This masterful paranormal charisma of course unfortunately typecast him, but clips and analysis on Murders in the Rue Morgue, White Zombie, Son of Frankenstein, and The Raven will be a treat for those interested in the irony of Lugosi’s long lasting iconography but relatively short-lived success and underatedness as an actor. Even if the talk isn’t about the man’s personal life per se, there are great insights into the craft here, making for a lovely little bittersweet study on the quick rise and fall of a horror icon.