Friday, May 18, 2012

Classic Monsters Spotlight Collection [Dracula, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, Creature from Black Lagoon] (Universal's 100th Anniversary) (1931)

as the cliche' goes, they don't make 'em like they used to. that's not necessarily a tragedy when it comes to most movies, since every generation has it's geniuses, innovations, and viewpoints. but alas, there is one major exception. my apologies in advance if what i'm about to write makes me sound like a prude, but well, when it comes to this particular subject, damn it, i AM a prude!
it's easily the all-time tragedy of Cinema that horror in the fright sense of the word is dead. the Independent Filmmaking movement that began in the '60s (the "permissive society" in general, really) did many ideals a world of good, but it must be held accountable for enabling one horrendous miscarriage of justice: the seedier element of Independent Film had been trying to find a way around the artistry requiring nature of the classic DRACULA/FRANKENSTEIN type of movie, and it perhaps inevitably dawned on them that, for about one 20th the budget, not to mention about one 50th the effort, they could just pour red syrup on everything in sight. to describe it as all downhill from there would be like saying "Charles Manson brainwashed people into killing for him? how gauche!!"

for my entire life characters like Dracula and Frankenstein's monster have been routinely written off as tame, Saturday morning cartoon level fair. there are people my age, even one or two my parents' age, who'd be sure i was pulling their leg if i were to point out that during the original run of DRACULA, it was considered so edgy that nurses were stationed at every theatre where it played, and it was equal parts publicity stunt and safety measure. but the good news is that i wasn't alone in appreciating them, however out-of-style they were. what the "gore" movies that the horror genre has degenerated into don't understand is that blood is NOT scary, it's GROSS, and there's a difference.
Universal's classic monters, even if they might've seemed positively sensationalistic at the time, are built on storytelling and craftsmanship, which has enabled them to last long after they were technically "scary" anymore. the characters in the spotlight have depth and dimensions: Dracula, while technically the most genuinely evil of the bunch, has a poignant tragedy in the form of the fact that he was hasty enough to thwart death, only end up cold and hollow. Frankenstein's monster is not only similarly tragic, but almost lovable, given that he's as innocent a victim as Cinema has ever presented. after all, he didn't ask to be (re)born. The Wolfman isn't nearly so scary for being such a primal ghoul as he is for having sprouted from the psyche of as likable, relatable an "everyman" as Lon Chaney, Jr.
the most significant problem with the more recent equivalents is that they are zombies in the automaton as well as the undead sense of the word. you mark my words: if something even more turgid and sensationalistic, something EVEN LESS WHOLESOME, than gore movies was to come along tomorrow, Jason and Freddie would be swept under the rug and completely forgotten within a decade. because those zero-dimensionsal characters would literally have NOTHING LEFT.
that's one of the great regrets of my life. despite my being a sizable history buff, that's an element that will always elude me. even if i could find the Doctor and persude him to take me on-board the TARDIS, i'm just too much a product of the modern world to ever be able to perceive, to FEEL, precisely how horror-in-the-horror-sense movies affected the audiences of their heyday. i greatly regret as well as strongly resent that.
ironically, one of the things i like best about the two-volume Classic Monsters Spotlight set is that it settles on the nitty-gritty. i've always felt that sequels deserved to be cut a little slack, and i've tried to act as Sequel Advocate in my reviews, but even i have to admit that there are those films - JAWS, for instance, or HIGHLANDER - which qualify as "well enough" that should've been left alone. the previous Universal sets of these films had tried to a big deal by loading up on every installment of a given Monster's resume, but the fact is that somehow the sequels in question didn't always justify the effort. there is of course the exception of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, officially cited as the world's very first superior sequel, but on the whole they'd done as much as they could with Dracula, The Wolfman, The Invisible Man, and the Creature From The Black Lagoon the first time around. it took comedy, in the form of the magnificent Abbott & Costello, to create a new angle on the characters worth seeing.
(if geniune horror can't quite handle the sequel concept, what does that say about an abomination like FREDDIE VS. JASON?)
one inherent gyp, however, is the DRACULA disk. the rest feature the documentaries and commentaries from the aforementioned earlier releases...but the only extra to be had on the DRACULA disk the Spanish-language "doppleganger" version. there was much jubilation around the turn of the century when the film was discovered, some even overblown to the point of suggesting it outdid the more famous American release. it's not actually much more than the same script translated, and it's incredibly slow. (it is half an hour longer, after all.) but even if the rumors of it's superiority weren't ludicrously innacurate, i for one would rather of had the corresponding special features to those offered by the rest of the ghoulies.
also, it's a little odd that they put CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON in this set rather than THE WOLFMAN, so as to complete the famous unholy triumvirate. well, (a) THE WOLFMAN is featured in Volume 2, and (b) BLACK LAGOON is a pretty good film in it's own right. so all in all, it may be confusing but it's not a tragedy.
i don't expect to sway any of those who've grown up in a world where the horror genre serves as a safe-haven from artistry and crafstmanship in movies. i'm very well aware that this will end up a case of preaching to the choir. but the choir is out there, and for this Classic Monster Spotlight set, we say Hallelujah!

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