THE BORIS KARLOFF / Bela Lugosi horror express kept on trucking along for Universal Pictures, but this was definitely Karloff’s showpiece and this lesser known film from the iconic duo probably deserves more recognition than it currently holds.
Karloff plays the eccentric scientist, Dr Janos Rukh, a man with a wild belief that he can use a telescope to reach out to the Andromeda Galaxy and use images of light to capture Earth’s past as seen from space.
Scoffed at by his colleagues, it is only when he is able to present his findings to Dr Benet (Lugosi) and Dr Stevens (Walter Kingsford) and is able to capture when a meteor had crashed into the Earth, that his skeptics sit up and take notice.
An expedition is planned where Rukh is charged with finding the fallen meteor.
When Rukh finds the meteor, he is unwittingly exposed to the radiation, Radium X, which effectively makes him glow in the dark with a fatal touch with skin to skin contact.
He is aided temporarily by Benet who discovers an antidote that can keep the radioactive poison at bay, but it’s not long before it starts to eat away at his mind and Rukh goes on a killer rampage fuelled with jealousy.
By this time, Rukh’s estranged wife has fallen in love with Ronald Drake, the nephew of Dr Stevens.
At first, Rukh reluctantly let’s her go, but this soon turns to hatred and moulds into his vicious plan to rid the world of those responsible (or so he believes) for his downfall.
Rukh succeeds in killing the Stevens’s and then ventures to off the remaining few.
As the film proceeds, it feels certain that the only person who can stop him is Benet, but even he is thwarted in a surprise move considering the casting of Lugosi attached to this character and perhaps more could have been done to play with this encounter.
Instead, it comes down to Rukh’s mother, (who is magnificently played by Violet Kemble Cooper)
to intervene and destroy the antidote, thus rendering Rukh to succumb to the radiation and go out in a blaze.
It’s a painful story, which treads a similar path to The Invisible Man, but in this instance there is more sympathy laid out to the central character, which is a testament to Karloff’s handling of such a role.
Special mention should go to Kemble Cooper, who almost steals the show with every scene that’s she’s in, deftly displaying a balance of eeriness with her psychic ability and blindness combined with the motherly love and protectiveness that she bestows upon Rukh.
Not a lot has been written about this movie and from what I have read, they err on the side of negativity, but I feel that there’s enough of a plot and structure to this movie that it warrants further scrutiny.
I found it a lot more engaging than Karloff and Lugosi’s previous outings and that The Invisible Ray could potentially be a forgotten classic as a result.
IN THEIR THIRD appearance together for Universal Pictures, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi have the routine down pat.
Lugosi oozes maniacal glee as the Poe-obsessed surgeon with a torture chamber in his basement.
And Karloff, (who was billed with just his surname for this picture, which goes to show how symbolic his name had become in the industry) plays a fugitive on the run from the police.
The film begins with an actress, Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) hanging on for dear life after a car accident.
Her father and her betrothed seek the help of a retired surgeon, Richard Vollin (Lugosi) to pull her through.
Vollin then develops an unhealthy infatuation towards Jean, who is indebted to him for saving her life.
Vollin attempts to sway her much to the reluctance of Jean’s father.
A crazed plan only comes to light for Vollin when a chance encounter with Edmond Bateman (Karloff) seeking refuge with a proposed operation to change his appearance.
Bateman’s words hang firmly in the mind of Vollin when he mentions how being ugly may have led to him doing ugly things.
In what Bateman hopes will be a transformation for good, Vollin seizes upon this and turns him into a disfigure monster followed by a promise that he will aide him in exacting revenge on the Thatchers.
The conclusion of the movie centres on a dinner party which soon descends into the basement of torture, where one by one the guests face the likes of the pit and the pendulum, and the shrinking room.
It is Bateman’s tortured soul that wins the day though, as he searches for a good heart within and turns the tables on the fanatical Vollin, forcing him into the shrinking room and in turn his demise, but not without inflicting a fatal bullet wound in the process.
Upon release the movie received poor box office receipts, which is a shame, as I found the narrative and performances to be one of the strongest outside of the ‘monster’ features.
Both Lugosi and Karloff are particularly strong in their respective rolls, but it was deemed the subject matter of torture and disfigurement (themes that would be welcomed today among cinema-goers) too strong for the audience.
The following year would see Universal Pictures change hands, and the proprietors were less interested in the stories of the macabre and The Raven’s poor performance was evidence enough for them to make this decision. It not for long.
IT SEEMS ALMOST criminal that this movie has been somewhat forgotten albeit from the hardcore cinephile.
Werewolf of London will forever be cemented in history as the first mainstream Hollywood feature to centre on lycanthropy and as such contains all the ingredients that would inspire more well-known horror films down the track, chief among these would be An American Werewolf In London.
The film centres on Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull), a wealthy English botanist who ventures into Tibet in search of the rare mariphasa plant.
Whilst on his expedition, Glendon is attacked by a werewolf but lives to tell the tale, but must carry the curse inflicted upon him.
Glendon’s quest was not a complete failure as he was able to obtain a sample of the mariphasa plant and as luck would have it contains the antidote (albeit a temporary one) to the traits of lycanthropy.
Upon his return to London, Glendon meets a fellow botanist, Dr Yogami, with a peculiar background, and just do happens to also be a werewolf.
A conflict arises between the two of them, particularly as Glendon learns that Yogami was the same werewolf that bit him in Tibet.
As his condition escalates, Glendon ventures transformed into the streets of London raising havoc and carnage and attacking and killing people along the way.
Glendon’s plight increases further when Yogami steals the plant sample for himself.
The rage boils over and an almighty clash arises, resulting in Glendon overpowering his foe.
Now succumbed to the curse, Glendon is drawn to his one true love, Lisa (Valerie Hobson) and is finally ploughed down when he is shot and killed in his attempt to murder her.
His dying words are ones of gratitude, as he transforms back to his former self, a tragic tale, which would be conveyed to its cinema going audience and many werewolf tales to come.
Hull’s performance is impeccably sound as Wilfred Glendon and captures both his profession and eventual transformation with great believability.
In fact, one could go on to argue that it is because of his performance and believability grounds this movie into reality and harnesses his despair even further.
Credit must also go to Jack Pierce, the man responsible for Boris Karloff’s make-up as The Monster in Frankenstein, and would produce the make-up here too, although a minimal version from what he had intended.
According to accounts from Hull’s family, he had insisted on pairing back effects so that his face could be more visible and recognisable.
Despite Pierce’s disapproval, Hull would succeed in getting what he wanted with the support of studio head, Carl Laemmle.
Pierce would however get to flex his creativity once more, six years later on Lon Chaney Jr in The Wolf Man, but event that didn’t go down too well and Pierce fast got a reputation that was unlikeable among his peers.
Despite all this, director Stuart Walker was able to steer the ship and deliver a solid movie as a result, which can feel a little dated by modern standards.
Classic horror enthusiasts may enjoy the trip back to where it all began, but it is tame compared to the films being generated today.
AT FIRST WHEN Universal first posed the concept of a shared Universe, now known as the Dark Universe, in order to release a string of movies that would link all their classic monsters together, I wanted to say that it was a bold approach, but it’s not exactly new.
As a fellow horror enthusiast pointed out on a social thread, Universal were the originators of the crossover worlds with the likes of House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula.
They were though, wanting to relaunch this product into a modern world for a contemporary audience, but there are a few things that prove as an obstacle to completing their vision.
And with these obstacles, Universal find themselves navigating a minefield of troubles which leads the picture to snag on every component along the way and unravel before our very eyes.
So let’s take a look at these obstacles, starting with the elephant in the room, otherwise known as…
I’ve been reading a lot about this in the past few days and something that strikes me a little is that people are very quick to point their fingers at Mr. Cruise, citing too much involvement and interference on his part.
But here’s the thing, whether or not this is true, the buck has to stop with Universal and their director.
They decided to cast Cruise in this vehicle and with that you have to expect him to bring some weight and opinion to the piece.
He is known for getting hands on with every project that he takes on, including all the stunts that he performs himself.
So why so surprised when this turns into a Tom Cruise project?
Director Alex Kurtzman may have handled big picture projects as a writer, but prior to The Mummy, he has handled only one other feature at the helm, People Like Us.
So was this a case that veteran actor, Cruise took advantage of this and began to steer said film instead?
Perhaps more questionable is that the script itself is so disjointed and incoherent that you wonder how someone like Kurtzman, (who also wrote this movie) with the vast amount of writing credits to his name managed to make such a botch job of it.
Which comes to the second point.
Lack of character.
Sure enough we are presented with a back story to Princess Ahmanet, but at no stage do we engage with her or identify with her plight.
This basically means that her level of menace is weakened and the fear element is lost – the anchor of the PG-13 rating on it and like the Mummy, the film spends most of the time restrained and unable to break free.
By the time that she does, it’s all too little too late.
I really had high hopes for the female Mummy component and seriously wanted her to kick arse, but when it did happen, it was fleeting and reduced to a whimper.
The supposed transformation of Russell Crowe
So restricted were the creative team behind The Mummy that even Russell Crowe was reduced to a feeble example of Mr Hyde.
On paper, this casting sounded perfect as we have seen portray some notably dark characters on screen before.
Instead we’re present with a gruff version of himself with yellowy eyes.
Sure, I get that they may have wanted to go with a more subtle approach, but why do this if the whole point is to let the monsters loose?
“You can be my wing-zombie anytime.”
While it was good to see Nick Morton (Cruise) spa with his buddy Vail at the beginning of the movie, which highlighted his recklessness, and I know I might be sounding fickle here, but it kind of got my goat, when they started riffing off An American Werewolf In London and have Vail come back as a zombie-buddy.
Even more so in the films climax, when they walk off into the sunset, ready for their next adventure.
The question is, will there another adventure?
Going off the poor box office receipts, you’d be forgiven to think that Universal would scrap their plans, but my overall feeling is that they’ll give it another push to win over their audience, which means there would be a lot riding on their next feature Bride of Frankenstein in order for them to see any payoff.
If the dominoes are now set in place for the crossover stories to take hold, then maybe, just maybe the producers will be free to flex their writing muscles and let the narrative go into some bold, new territory.
Ironically for their Dark universe to truly see any reward, Universal need to consider living up to the brand they’ve living by and take it darker.
As such, The Mummy was a mess that was placed too far into the light feel-good category for it to have the impact that horror fans were craving for.
BACK IN 1999, Universal looked to resurrect The Mummy franchise with a fresh, new approach.
The last time the bandaged fiend had graced the screens for the picture company, was in 1955 accompanied by comedy icons Abbott and Costello.
Apparently the original premise for this remake had British horror/filmmaker Clive Barker at the helm with the offering of a much darker route that was sexually charged and filled with mysticism.
One can only wonder at the concept of Imhotep taking on the Hell Priest, Pinhead.
As it was, Universal decided on a different approach when hiring Stephen Sommers and for the next 10 years, a second wave of Mummy movies was formed.
THE MUMMY (1999)
Prior to stepping on board to write and direct the feature, Sommers had four movies under his belt with Catch Me If You Can, The Adventures of Huck Finn, The Jungle Book, and Deep Rising.
So enough charge to take the lead in a bold, new direction, one that was in complete contrast to Barker’s vision, dialing down the horror and injecting more action, special fx, and comedy.
The result saw an Indiana Jones style romp through Egypt, as the rogue-ish Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser), (who accidentally discovers the city of the dead, where the High Priest, Imhotep rests) teams up with the bookish Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) and her bumbling buffoon of a brother, aptly played by John Hannah.
The trio head back to the city, despite being warned by an Egyptian warrior, Ardeth Bey not to intervene, to discover the Book of the Living.
As they discover the statue of Anubis, deep within the tomb, they also encounter the remains of Imhotep.
Meanwhile, their counterparts, a group of Americans led by the cowardly Beni discover the Book of the Dead among some jars, which carry the preserved organs o Anch-su-Namun, mistress of Pharaoh Seti I, and lover to the afore-mentioned Imhotep.
When Evelyn reads a page from the Book of the Dead, she unwittingly awakens the High Priest, who casts the 10 plagues back to Egypt.
One by one, the Americans are dispatched with great fashion, heightening the scare partially through darkened alleys, and all-out assault on the victims.
It is down to our trio of archaeologists to put an end to Imhotep’s reign of terror and entomb him once more.
It may be nearly twenty years on since it’s release now, but I think that it’s fair to say that The Mummy still stands the test of time, partly due to the great mix of comedy and action on display, plus the chemistry between Fraser and Weisz on screen is enjoyable to watch.
Credit should also be cast towards Arnold Vosloo, who portrays Imhotep with enough menace to make it the fear placed on our protagonists seem genuine and his performance has come close in signature to his predecessor Boris Karloff some 67 years prior.
The Mummy proved to be a perfect mix to entertain and generated a generous draw at the box office, which could only mean one thing. A sequel would be a certainty.
THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001)
The inevitably would occur a couple of years later and would see the return of O’Connell, Evelyn, (now married), Jonathan, Ardeth Bey and as the title suggests, the return of Imhotep.
The original players would come back to resurrect their roles and to ignite that much-loved chemistry once more for the silver screen.
Joining them in this movie is Alex O’Connell, the son of Rick and Evie, and the instigator of Imhotep’s rise from the grave.
With Alex’s life on the line, our intrepid heroes must try to save him within seven days, thus providing a tension of sorts to the mix.
Added to this is the unerring threat of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as The Scorpion King, who vowed to give Anubis his soul for the power to defeat his enemies. Here is a hint of an inevitable showdown with two foes on the horizon.
Along the way, Evelyn is captured by the reincarnated Anck-su-namun, who is eventually released but not without discovering that she lived a previous life as the Princess Neferiti. Go figure – let’s just crowbar that subplot in there.
There’s more drama in the mix as Alex is kidnapped too, then Evelyn is killed, only to be resurrected when Jonathon and Alex recite from the Book of the Dead.
The final showdown sees our heroes triumph over evil, of course, and riding off into the sunset, but the paying audience couldn’t help but feel slightly cheated by the special fx overriding care towards the character and plot, and because of this, some of the magic wasn’t carried across from its predecessor.
That didn’t deter our filmmakers from a third installment though, but first…
A VAN HELSING HIATUS – VAN HELSING (2004)
The last attempt that Universal took to amalgamate their Monsters universe would arrive in 2004, and would once again see Sommers at the helm to deliver the success received at box office with his previous two outings.
However, any harsh criticism that The Mummy Returns received seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as the same mistakes were repeated and furthermore, delved deeper still in the dire and diabolical.
Sommers goes hell-bent to deliver a CGI in fuelled overload with little or no care factor for the characters involved.
The result is that despite the desire to thrust the ”Monsters’ front and centre in an adrenaline, action-packed thrill-ride, there is no audience connection to said creatures and the desired impact leaves us wanting.
The usual ticks are there, with the distraught Frankenstein’s at the loss of his father who not only carries more compassion than the entire cast combined, but also the key to life – one that the melodramatic Dracula (and all-out bad-guy in this movie) played by Richard Roxburgh.
In fact the whole movie screams at high volume and extreme velocity that there’s no time to stop and think, but this is perhaps the director’s ruse all along – a vein attempt to hide that there is no substance or heart to the film at all.
As much as they try to inject some humour into the mix, with David Wenham’s friar, Carl, it’s not enough to elevate Van Helsing.
It’s saving grace if we can call it that comes in the form of the film’s leads, Kate Beckinsale as Anna Velarious (hot off the back of Underworld) delivering attitude aplenty, and Hugh Jackman as the titular character, dialling his Wolverine shtick up to 10.
Ultimately though, Van Helsing was a doomed experiment that falls short of Universal expectations and with it, the audience satisfaction.
THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008)
The final effort during this era would come to an end in 2008, which says a lot about how the movie was received.
However, there was a lot going for the final act in the trilogy that shouldn’t be so easily scoffed at.
But let’s look at these pros and cons with a little bit of further dissection.
Firstly, out of the picture goes Stephen Sommers, which may actually be a good thing when you scrutinise his last couple of efforts.
Sommers has since gone on to what exactly? Directing the start of another franchise with GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra before disappearing into Egyptian dust.
In his place steps Rob Cohen, who had overseen action fare with Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Daylight, The Fast and the Furious, and XXX.
Also out was Rachel Weisz, for supposedly ‘citing problems with the script’ and to look after her newborn son.
This already sparked debate, as part of the appeal of the original movies was the chemistry between the leads.
The role of Evelyn O’Connell went to Maria Bello, who as fine an actress she is, couldn’t capture Weisz’ magic on-screen.
The script-writers do go some way to replicate this obvious change in dynamic by having Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser who does return) and Evie bored with the lack of adventure in their lives, but the damage is already done.
The leads are left to claw their way out of an impossible sandstorm of dialogue to try find that gem or sparkle between them.
The last of the returnees is John Hannah as Jonathon, but despite he’s spot on comic ability struggles to haul the deadweight of a script to life.
The injection of youth to the fore rests solely on the shoulders of a now grown up Alex O’Connell played by Luke Ford an actor schooled on the Meisner technique (a form of Method acting) in which you can’t fault him on his approach to authenticate his character, but once again the humour is missing which you could look to the script for its fault here.
Ford is believable enough, and is able to pull off the action-based moves with ease, but his character simply isn’t engaging enough.
The strengths though do reside with the Eastern contingency of the movie.
The choice to move away from Egypt and set up in China was bold, but the right one.
The franchise could have been in danger of stagnating, and this choice allowed for fresh new life to enter the fold.
Likewise the performances from Jet Li as Emperor Han aka The Dragon Emperor helped to lift the action from page to screen
As does Michelle Yeoh as Zi Yuan who performs with such gravitas that she puts the other actors to shame, such is the strength of her delivery.
It’s hard though to look beyond the faults though.
Despite the cast and crews best efforts, the audience is left with feeling like they’ve just witnessed the story as a square peg being rammed into a round hole.
A shame, as the ideas were there, but with too many of the original players falling by the wayside, the whole notion of recreating the magic.
Despite talks of a fourth instalment and Luke Ford attached to another 3 movies in the cabin, the truth was written in the sand with the poor box office return.
– Paul Farrell
I remember first time that I watched this film guided by the critical praise that had been heaped upon it and feeling somewhat bewildered by this.
I couldn’t get beyond Doctor Pretorius’ invention of the little people, which the FX were incredibly convincing for it’s time, but I just found that it threw me out of the picture because it defied logic and reasoning.
The science behind the novel and indeed it’s predecessor were ground in reality, but this felt like it had crossed a line and into the world of fantasy.
Some people out there might suggest that this is a good thing, but despite Bride of Frankenstein being described as James Whale’s masterpiece, I struggled.
Fast forward to today, when I sat down to review the movie once more, I still stinted at Pretorius’ revelation, but pushed this aside to discover a new-found appreciation for the film.
The opening in particular was a refreshing nod to the inspiration, and creator behind the novel, Mary Shelley.
It recounts of the now infamous discussions between Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron.
In this instance she recounts how the original story was only the tip of the iceberg and ventured to tell the tale of more monsters lurking within.
It is here that the story picks up where Frankenstein left off, with the supposed demise of the monster within the burning windmill and Dr Frankenstein (Colin Clive resurrecting his role) being rescued from the rubble.
When lo and behold the monster resurfaces and swiftly dispatches a local and his wife along the way.
Our maniacal Doctor Frankenstein has softened, seeing the error of his ways and is hell bent to put an end to his studies, but is lured back into the laboratory by a fellow scientist, the afore-mentioned Pretorius.
Pretorius seeps into a place of darkness, as he journeys into a mad new “world of Gods and Monsters” in order to see through his experiments.
The strength of the movie though doesn’t come from our protagonists but instead by our antagonist, The Monster, who is once more played by Boris Karloff.
This is his movie and his chance to shine, and shine he does as the script allows him to show more of the human, loving, and misrepresented character.
One of the most powerful scenes comes about when The Monster is stumbling around in the woods and happens to come across a blind man.
This man befriends The Monster and is not swayed by judging him by his appearance.
The friendship is a strong one, as they share in the delights of music and smoking, but this world of companionship would soon come crashing down as some passing hunters discover The Monster and he is forced to flee once more.
The subject of companionship is a strong one in this movie, and drives the plot line forward.
Pretorious seeks the companionship of a fellow scientist as he seeks to carry out his experiments; Frankenstein ultimately is willing to end this in favour of the love he has for his wife; and of course The Monster seeks friendship and when he stumbles upon Pretorius, his offer is all too great and he is willing to follow the mad man.
The cruelty would come at full force though, when The Bride (played by Elsa Lanchester, who also doubled up as Mary Shelley in the film’s prologue scene) is ‘awakened’ but finds the sight of The Monster too horrible to comprehend.
All hell breaks loose and the walls come tumbling down, crushing all but Frankenstein and his wife, who manage to escape just in time.
The film is beautifully shot with some of the framework simply stunning, and along the way has heralded some of the most iconic images to fall in the Universal Monsters universe.
Karloff hits the heart with perfect pain and angst, and his harrowing demise (albeit a rushed conclusion) is the only fitting way for his life to find closure…
Forced into a world that wouldn’t accept him and then just as swiftly dispatched from it, with a cold and abrupt end.
It is worthy successor to the original movie and probably one of the finer sequels to ever have been made.