Universal's movie monsters: September gathering with the most famous movie monsters!

Author of the article: Josip Grozdanić

September in the Tuškanac cinema is largely dedicated to legendary celluloid monsters, those created under the auspices of the Universal studio mostly during the 30s of the last century, but also partly during the 40s. Although films with Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Werewolf and some other favorite creatures were filmed until the end of the 50s, in the last phase with a noticeable ironic departure and often with comic approaches, such as the one in the two productions with Abbott and Costello, which we present in the cycle, the most important period for the profiling of Universal's monsters and their acquisition of cult status, which they have largely managed to keep until today, was precisely the thirties.

More precisely, the story of the creatures of the Universal studio (the term "monsters" because of their character traits and dramatic functions in certain films and is not always completely accurate or fair) begins in 1923, when the director Wallace Worsley along with the later powerful producers Carl Leammle and Irving Thalberg and screened the famous novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo with master of masks and actor Lon Chaney in the title role. That work turned into a huge hit and the most commercially successful silent film of all time, with earnings of a whopping 3.5 million dollars, and the film, apart from Chaney's interpretation of Quasimodo and his brilliant mask, also went down in history because of the extremely large and luxurious sets on which Paris from the 15th century has been reconstructed.

Two years later, Lon Chaney embodied Universal's next 'monster', the Phantom of the Opera in the horror film of the same name based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, in a film he also directed with Rupert Julian and Ernest Leammle, and in which there is a particularly impressive scene in which the young opera singer Christine He removes the mask from the Phantom. The 1920s were the golden period of the career of Lon Chaney, who was nicknamed the 'man with a thousand faces', because his title of the most famous interpreter of film images hidden behind demanding and mostly uncomfortable masks in the 30s would be taken by Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Thanks to the emblematic roles in some of the films we show, especially Dracula and Frankenstein, the two actors will become synonymous with Universal's horror films and will mark the history of the seventh art during the first half of the last century.

From a kind of herald period of Universal horror in the 20s, Paul Leni's The Laughing Man from 1928 should be singled out, with Conrad Veidt in the character of Gwynplaine, a man whose disfigured face is marked by a permanent terrifying smile. In the film, he is not the villain, but the victim, and his specific grimace served as inspiration for Batman's archenemy, the Joker, both in the comics and later in the film.

The period of the Great Depression from the late 1920s to the beginning of World War II was, on the one hand, fertile ground for anxious stories about monsters (and 'monsters') threatening young ladies in distress, but on the other hand, it led to a large drop in viewership. in American theaters. From 1930 to 1933, the previous 90 million weekly cinema tickets sold decreased by as much as a third, to 60 million, with a tendency to further decrease, the prices of cinema tickets also decreased proportionally from 30 to 20 cents, and all this is a few Hollywood study led to bankruptcy. But not Universal, which survived mainly thanks to the exceptional popularity of its monsters.

For people who were tormented by the daily fears of job loss and poverty, and at a time when the winds of war were blowing over Europe, escapist fear and screen spooks were welcome vents and ways to relax. Tod Browning and Karl Freund's Dracula with Bela Lugosi was a great success in 1931, earning about half a million dollars, and while Lugosi's charisma and magnetism with which he portrayed the prince of the night brought him great popularity and fame, at the same time he was permanently marked and typecast as an actor . Still, his Dracula is an enduring cinematic icon that can't be harmed even by the hawthorn stake of vampire hunter Van Helsing.

On the wave of the success of Dracula, James Whale's Frankenstein was created in the same year, which, with a profit of over a million dollars, proved to be even more commercially successful. Fully deserved, because not only did Frankenstein's monster masterfully come to life under the guise of the wizard Jack Pierce, but Karloff also breathed emotional layering into it. She will come to the fore especially in the sequel Bride of Frankenstein from 1935, again directed by Whale and with Elsa Lancaster in the role of the woman whose unrequited love makes the 'monster' unhappy and confused. The actor himself later referred to the creature as 'my dear old monster', and claimed that it was also his best friend.

During the 1930s, viewers were introduced to two more legendary monsters of the Universal studio. The year 1932 was extremely successful for Karloff, among others he appeared in Scarface by Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson, in Whale's horror The Old Dark House and in the entertaining horror-adventure The Mask of Fu Manchu by Charles Brabin and Charles Vidor, and finally in Freund's The Mummy replaced Frankenstein's monster suit with embalming bandages as the revived ancient Egyptian priest Imhotep.

Unlike Dracula and Frankenstein, the story of The Mummy was not based on a prose work, but offered an original story in which the actor once again excelled. The cult status of the character and the film was once again due to mask master Jack Pierce, and before each shooting, the mask was applied to the actor for a full eight hours. And then in 1933, Universal executives again reached for a literary work, this time for The Invisible Man by H.G. Welles, and the result was another great film by James Whale, in which the distinguished British theater actor Claude Rains made his American film debut as the chemist Jack Griffin. . Although his face is not often on screen due to the nature of the story, Rains' vocal performance is truly impressive, and John P. Fulton earned an Academy Award nomination for his innovative special effects.

These are just some of the films that we show in the cycle dedicated to Universal's monsters, because Dracula and Frankenstein, just like the Mummy, the Invisible Man and the Werewolf, will return many times, both in films by other authors and in works in the comedy genre, and they will scare you too also entertain the Monster from the Black Lagoon. Universal's movie monsters still offer a lot of attractions and excitement today, and the spirit and features of some other times as well as the patina of past decades give them additional charm.