Thursday, October 29, 2009

Horror Classics

With my love of vintage, and possibly the reason for my love of vintage, is my absolute adoration of old vintage movies. Vintage being Golden Hollywood stuff. From the cheesy, sing-songy, synchronized swimming romances of Esther Williams to the dark and somewhat misogynistic James Cagney mob thrillers, I love them all. Included in this wide range of vintage movie options, and particularly at this time of the year, I absolutely love old horror classics. Certainly some of them like Creature from the Black Lagoon and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, albeit entertaining to watch, walk a fine line between Classic and B Movie. What makes them classic is that they were the first and B horror movies are ripoffs of these. Then there are the very original German inspirations for the Hollywood horror classics such as the silent movies The Cat and the Canary and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari that are ridiculously creepy to this day, even though they still seem a little silly just because they are sooooo old. To us now, characters like Dracula and Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and The Mummy, are staple horror characters that we have known about since we were small and are mostly just overdone costume options. (though when I use the genre Horror I am being broad- these ones would probably more specifically be classified as Creature Features)

These days horror movies come out all the time, but what would it have been like to have gone to the theater in 1931 and seen Frankenstein brought to life for the first time, when having special effects at all was a ground-breaking art for movies and horror was a completely new and revolutionary movie genre? My Anniversary Edition of Frankenstein has a fantastic documentary about the origin of the horror movie and it is fascinating to hear some of the people talk about how honestly shocked and horrified they were when they saw Frankenstein and Dracula the first time, even though no one would really be scared of those version now (except for very small children (see my random Sharlie the Lake Monster story) and people named Jessica Jane Doxey Plowman (love you girl! ;)) The movie industry has come incredibly far in the last eighty years concerning special effects, but you have to respect the old horrors for being the first of their kind and for the effects they were able to accomplish with oddly-colored lighting and shadows and music without the graphics of today. For being released in 1933, I will forever be impressed by the smooth effects in the scene in The Invisible Man when he finally sort of goes crazy and unwraps the cloth from around his head as he rants and cackles wickedly and we finally see the nothingness beneath...

I know its cheesy, but try to think of it from the perspective of the time it was made. I always try to do that with old movies, and it makes the experience so much richer.

Even today we don't see a lot of original horror figures- certainly if you want to call Freddy Kruger and Michael Meyer modern classic horror figures that is your prerogative, but they lack the mythology and the pathos for their former humanity that the real classics have. What we mainly see are retellings of the staples. So, as All Hallows Eve approaches, I would like to declare my respect and appreciation for the Hollywood horror classics. Without them, the 31st of October would not be what it is today.

In parting, as we learn from The Wolf Man:

Even a man who is pure in heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms...
And the Autumn Moon is bright!

Happy Halloween ...


SisterPresidentMann said...

Very nicely done! So tell me - how much of this love for classic movies came out of the summer you watched TCM while you scanned all our family photos into the computer??

Haylscat said...

Haha, I am sure it definitely made a difference- your old movie collection didn't hurt either, to get me started ;) I guess its partly my love of history- When I watch old movies I love to know all about the cast and the directors and how the story influenced society at the time. The writing had to be so good because they couldn't distract the audience with racy scenes and explosions.