Universal Horror

All posts tagged Universal Horror

Horror Mash-Up: Mae Clarke and Lon Chaney, Jr.

Published April 25, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Lon NAAS

Screen legend Robert Mitchum tussled with such bad asses as Lee Marvin, George Kennedy, Jean Simmons and Jane Russell onscreen throughout his career as Hollywood’s smoothest tough guy. In 1955’s melodramatic medical drama Not As A Stranger this maverick met his match, though, while appearing opposite two of Universal Horror’s shining lights.

Here the incomparable Lon Chaney Jr., who appeared most famously as the original Wolf Man, dominates his tiny bit of screen time opposite Mitchum’s emotionally remote medical student Lucas March. As March’s alcoholic father, Chaney brings his own experience with that insidious disease to the fore, creating a truly sorrowful, emotionally impactful presence. Of course, those who have appreciated Chaney’s latter-day work in such projects as Spider Baby know what an amazing dramatic performer that he was.

Mae NAAS

Once March graduates, he wanders into the orbit of Mae Clarke’s steely Odell, a nurse who questions his knowledge and authority. A far cry from Frankenstein’s victimized Elizabeth, Clarke resonates with a determined attitude and a sense of unique force. Nicely, her final moments opposite Mitchum do give her a chance to show a tart sympathy, allowing her to create a rounded portrait within the few quick scenes that she is given to perform in.

Mae Lon Classic

Masters of their craft. Chaney and Clarke deserve recognition for all their celluloid contributions. A quick online search of their credits should lead you into many fascinating cinematic journeys.

Happy hunting and…

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Music to Make Horror Movies By: Virginia Bruce

Published February 17, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

VB Invisible Woman

If I had been an old Hollywood diva, I would have wanted the career of Virginia Bruce. An important figure in the world of Universal Horror due to her pert and powerful essaying of the leading role in The Invisible Woman, Bruce also worked with such notables as Jimmy Stewart, William Powell, James Cagney and Abbott and Costello.

Significantly, while trying to earnestly woo Stewart in Born to Dance, she also introduced the Cole Porter classic I’ve Got You Under My Skin.

Pretty much fading from the screen by the late ‘40s, this silver streaked celluloid wonder still left behind a legacy of dreamy magnificence, permanently drifting beneath the fantasies of old school movie lovers worldwide.

Virigina Bruce

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Va-Va-Villainess: Virginia Bruce

Published January 24, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Virginia Bruce Born to Dance cigarette

As Broadway diva Lucy James in 1936’s Born to Dance, smoldering pixie Virginia Bruce causes much havoc between enthusiastic hoofer Nora Paige (Eleanor Powell) and her shy, devoted sailor beau Ted Barker (Jimmy Stewart).

bruce-stewart-born-to-danceInitially using him as a publicity ploy, James soon grows serious about Barker. This, nicely, gives Bruce a chance to add layers of soft pain to her characterization. This humanity doesn’t stop this character’s out of control anger issues, though. After destroying a hotel suite and getting Paige fired from her understudy job, James is decidedly left on the outskirts of the film’s grand and happy finish. Virgina BTD2

Not surprisingly, the talented Bruce still comes out the winner, though. Born to Dance’s score was composed by none other than Cole Porter and, with sweet elegance, she introduced his classic I’ve Got You Under My Skin, which was nominated for an Academy Award, here.


Horror Hall of Fame:


Bruce filled the title role of 1940’s The Invisible Woman, a more comic take for the classic Universal horror series. This natural celluloid wonder also tangled with eternal mad scientist Lionel Atwill in the Abbott and Costello comedy Pardon My Sarong.

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Holiday Horror History (Valentines Day) : Dead Men Walk

Published February 15, 2019 by biggayhorrorfan

31BEF7EC-BD66-4D7F-8228-EBCFC8ACEF66.jpegDead Men Walk was released on Valentine’s Day in 1943. It features a skilled dual performance from refined terror legend George Zucco. Other significant participants include Frankenstein’s Dwight Frye and under appreciated character actress Fern Emmett, who turned up in many minor roles in the classic Universal horrors. For a poverty row production, there is plenty of misty moodiness and fun vampiric action here. Thus, this easily accessible public domain title is well worth checking out.

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Music to Make Horror Movies By: Vito Price

Published July 1, 2018 by biggayhorrorfan

vito price

Recorded by both Anita O’Day and Bing Crosby, the song Beautiful Love played in the background of the ball scene in Universal’s classic The Mummy. Serving as atmosphere there, jazz saxophonist Vito Price put the tune itself to the fore on this joyous take for his well regarded LP Swingin’ in the Loop.

It’s a recording that definitely makes you feel like you’re the participant in a sophisticated virtual reality experiment – you experience the neon joy of an old school Chicago music club like The Green Mill in every bouncing note that bursts from Price’s ebullient horn.

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Horror Mash-up: Maureen O’Hara and Maria Ouspenskaya

Published April 28, 2018 by biggayhorrorfan

Dance 3

The scarlet streaked Maureen O’Hara began her career in such gothic offerings as Jamaica Inn, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and the classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame, both featuring her mentor Charles Laughton. Famed as an acting teacher, the luminescent Maria Ouspenskaya is best remembered for the spooky warnings that she gave to the unfortunate Lon Chaney, Jr. in the original The Wolf Man. Reprising that favored role in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Ouspenskaya also gave a humorously vibrant performance in the Universal shocker The Mystery of Marie RogetDance 2

Thankfully, these two dynamic forces met face-to-face in the 1940 romantic-comedy musical Dance, Girl, Dance. Here, O’Hara is the strong willed Judy O’Brien. Longing for a career as a professional dancer, O’Brien’s extreme pride finds her turning a blind eye to true offers of help while establishing herself as a joke act in burlesque – setting up her rival, Bubbles, played with sharp intent by Lucille Ball, for applause.

Ouspenskaya, meanwhile, plays O’Hara’s loving movement mentor, Madame Lydia Basilova. They two have a tender and affectionate relationship, one that is cut short when tragedy removes Basilova from the scene…just as she is about to help launch O’Brien on a true artistic journey.

lucille danceDirected by Dorothy Arzner, one of the few female directors working in Hollywood’s Golden Age, this truly enjoyable outing, nicely, has several moments of feminist intent. The last act, in particular, features a truly fiery O’Hara, excelling as O’Brien blasts society’s double standards with pointed fervor.

But, overall, this is simply just a fun romp wherein,  unsurprisingly, Ball nearly steals the show here with her snappy demeanor. But , importantly, it is O’Hara and Ouspenskaya  who decorate it with visual significance and real heart.

Dance 1

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Spring Byington: Scarier Than A Werewolf?

Published July 9, 2014 by biggayhorrorfan

Spring_Byington
In the 1930s, Spring Byington (1886-1971) arrived on the screen (at the age of 44) to find herself, immediately, cast as dowager aunts and kindly mothers. This was a format she played, with much success, throughout the entirety of her cinematic career. Occasionally, though, she was able to show her range with an oddly antagonistic role or two.

One hairy shadow!

One hairy shadow!

Portraying a character both daffy and prone to hysteria, she brought a flighty grace to her Miss Ettie Coombes in the classic 1935 Universal monster flick Werewolf of London. But Byington, also, adds a bit of flinty menace to her characterization, as well. With calculating will, Byington/Coombes tries to drive her beloved niece (played by Bride of Frankenstein’s Valerie Hobson) away from her scientist husband (Henry Hull) by reintroducing her to a childhood beau (Lester Matthews). Of course, once Hull’s Dr. Glendon turns into a werewolf, this earns her his eternal wraith.

Seventeen years later in 1952’s No Room for the Groom, another Universal picture, Byington, also, helps turn a cute programmer into something more sinister. As Mama Kingshead, Byington radiates with malevolent purpose. Hiding behind a seemingly innocent exterior, Byington/Kingshead tries to destroy her sweet daughter’s chances with the man of her dreams. Taking over his household, she even is willing to have him declared insane to get her way. Haunted by the specter of The House Committee on Un-American Activities (with Byington even accusing Tony Curtis’ young husband of Communist leanings), this Douglas Sirk outing doesn’t have the luxurious energy of his later works. But Byington’s sweetly evil characterization (contrasting nicely with Piper Laurie’s defensive innocence) helps make this much more than just a silly romantic romp.

Dead Faint! Byington with Laurie.

Dead Faint! Byington with Laurie.

On an interesting side note, despite a marriage and children, there are reports (including books such as David Tucker’s The Women Who Made Television Funny) that lay claim to the fact that Byington was one of Hollywood’s well known lesbians. There are even rumors of a long term affair with (fellow character actress) Marjorie Main. If true, this would make 1949 MGM musical In The Good Old Summertime one of the gayest ever. Featuring Byington as the loving companion of a music shop owner, Summertime also stars queer icon Judy Garland along with Van Johnson as her romantic counterpart. Johnson, known in plenty of circles as a closeted gay man, would go onto appear in such Euro exploitation terror flicks as Scorpion With Two Tails (1982) and Killer Crocodile (1989) making him an interesting figure to queer horror lovers, as well.

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R.I.P. Carla Laemmle!

Published June 13, 2014 by biggayhorrorfan

Carla+Laemmle+Academy+Motion+Picture+Arts+HqVNI4runaYl
She danced for Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and spoke the first words in the classic 1931 Dracula – and now the iconic Carla Laemmle has breathed her last breath on this planet.

laemmleThis beloved host of 1999’s The Road to Dracula (and one of the remaining heirs to a Hollywood film dynasty), passed away on June 12th, 2014 at the age of 104.

Loving and appreciative of her fans to the end, Laemmle’s energetic spirit will always reside, though, in those glowing embers of gothic celluloid and the ever sparkling photos that she left behind.
CarlaLaemmleDraculaBaja
R.I.P., Carla! May your current journey be much smoother than that legendary (cinematic) one from 70 years ago!

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Unsung Femmes: The Corpse Vanish’s Elizabeth Russell

Published February 20, 2014 by biggayhorrorfan

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My hypnotic stare has always read as catatonic. Just ask the neighbors who consistently try to call emergency services on me.

Thankfully, graceful beauty Elizabeth Russell (1916-2012) was much better at magnetism than me. Enacting a series of emotionally troubled, occasionally murderous dames in low budget genre films in the 40s, Russell often brought haughty imperviousness to mystical heights. Historically, her work at RKO, Universal and Monogram brought her into performance-contact with the monstrously popular Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr., as well.

The Corpse Vanishes

The Corpse Vanishes

One of Russell’s biggest roles was in 1942’s The Corpse Vanishes. Portraying Lugosi’s evilly aging wife, Russell radiates with poisonous intentions. When she isn’t busy slapping heroine Luana Walters in the face, she spends her time encouraging Lugosi to drain young brides of their blood for their rejuvenating effects.
Curse of the Cat People

Curse of the Cat People

Weird Woman and Curse of the Cat People (both 1944) showed her off to vengeful effect, as well. But in each of these roles, Russell provides moments of true heart, bringing out these characters’ inherent emotional agony.

The 7th Victim

The 7th Victim

1943’s The 7th Victim, meanwhile, allowed her to show off a broad variety of her skills. As Mimi, a victim of agoraphobia, she withers with cautious fear. But as another character chooses to end her life, Mimi emerges from her shell. With quiet optimism, Russell grandly provides this spooky tale with its haunting denouement.
Bedlam

Bedlam

Nicely, as Karloff’s gin loving niece, Mistress Sims, in 1946’s Bedlam, Russell was able to prove her comic worth, too. With arch sauciness, she provides a number of comic interludes, easing the gravity of the film’s asylum based horror and proving, beyond a doubt, that she is one of classic horror’s unsung femmes.
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Patricia Morison: B Movies’ Regal Queen

Published March 18, 2013 by biggayhorrorfan

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As pink studded buildings collapse and the twisted spirals of despair clutch at his nightmare ridden feet, Big Gay Horror Fan reaches out, desperately, and always the ebony Rapunzel-like hair of stage goddess Patricia Morison comes floating past. Clutching at it, he is once again, pulled from his hideous dreams, waking up to a new morning.

calling%20dr%20deathRegal to the point of otherworldliness and always exquisitely beautiful, exotic Patricia Morison gained eternal fame as Cole Porter’s muse for his classic 1948 musical Kiss Me Kate. For many, this artistic opportunity saved her from appearances in a variety of low budget Hollywood programmers. But, for cinematic fetishists in the know, these cheap wonders always highlighted Morison’s eclectic grace.

In 1943’s Calling Dr. Death, Morison radiates with concern as Stella Madden, Dr. Mark Steel’s (Lon Chaney, Jr.) prized assistant. But Morison always allows a tone of mystery to pervade her actions – a grand move as Stella soon appears to know more about the death of Steel’s wife than she is letting on. Indeed, during a nightmarish sequence Morison finds herself running between shadowy, toppling set pieces in a brilliantly conceived dance of guilt. The presence of Chaney and J. Carrol Naish (The Monster Maker, House of Frankenstein) along with the moody direction of Reginald Le Borg (The Mummy’s Ghost, Weird Woman) makes this among Morison’s more fright based efforts. But, the dedicated Morison always gave up the exploitation gold in a number of other genre projects, as well.patriciabuilding

dressed-to-kill-1946-jj As Mrs. Hilda Courtney in the 1946 Sherlock Holmes adventure Dressed to Kill, Morison truly gives distinguished Basil Rathbone (Tales of Terror, Queen of Blood, The Black Cat, The Mad Doctor, Tower of London) a run for his money. She excels at sophisticated villainy here, but she is obviously having the most fun when duplicitously disguised as a homely working class matron. But whether grand or downtrodden, Morison shows all her fabulous colors here making one marvel at the fact that the studio system never figured out a grand scheme for her.

In 1947’s Queen of the Amazons, Morison shows much spunk and zeal as Jean Preston. Determined to find her missing fiancé in the wilds of the jungle, Morison sparks immediately with Robert Lowery as experienced guide, Gary Lambert. The two are destined for romance in the Hepburn-Tracy variety, but only after it is discovered that Preston’s fiancé has fallen in love with the vicious and vengeful Zita, the queen of the jungle. Morison’s gritty elegance here is in direct contrast to the extremely awkward (thus thoroughly enjoyable) performance of Amira Moustafa as Zita.
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Be sure to check back often as Big Gay Horror Fan (https://www.facebook.com/biggayhorrorfan ) frequently exposes the wondrous exploitation foibles of the most glorious femmes of entertainment.

Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!