Saw the movie House of Dracula on TV the other night. It’s a 1945 Universal Monsters flick that contains three of their most popular monsters: Dracula (duh) the Wolf-Man, and Frankenstein’s monster. It was fairly well-done for what it was. John Carradine is great as Dracula. Also, the film features the stereotypical hunch-backed assistant to the mad scientist, but for a change the character is female, and fairly attractive apart from the hunch-back. It’s an unusual role, and the actress, Jane Adams, does a pretty good job.
But what was especially notable about the movie was that it falls into the awful horror movie pitfall of trying to explain the source of the horror scientifically. So, it turns out that Dracula has a blood disease, and that the Wolf-Man can be cured by brain surgery and some kind of weird fungus that the aforementioned scientist grows in his castle.
Folly! I’ve blogged about this before: horror movies should not rationalize or explain the horror in any way. When they do, it becomes less frightening. They make this mistake all the time in horror movies. It’s much better when the scientifically-inclined are skeptics and shown to be wrong, and the monster is an inexplicable violation of the laws of nature. The intelligent, scientific types being wrong is how you know you’re in trouble.
If you try to explain everything, it is less scary. This applies not only to trying to give explanations for the monster’s origin or condition or whatever, but to every element in any scary story. Just give people a few hints of the monster, and let them piece together the rest, that’s what I say.
I’ve been watching the “Universal Monsters” movies on TV lately. It’s a Mystery Science Theater 3000-like comedy show called “Svengoolie“, but for the most part the comic interruptions do little to either enhance or detract from the film.
It is rather amusing how all the movies follow the same basic templates, but it kind of makes sense once you remember these movies were made in the 1930s and ’40s and it must have been a treat just to get to see a movie, even if it was almost the same as the previous movie. People were probably less critical of movies then.
It’s also hilarious how often a torch-wielding mob shows up in these flicks. There’s a scene in The Mummy’s Tomb where the Sheriff or somebody says to the assembled townspeople: “You’re not gonna believe this, but there’s a 3000 year-old monster on the loose. We’ve got to run him down.” (Close paraphrase.) The next scene is a mob of people marching to the cemetery with torches, on the grounds that somebody saw an Egyptian guy there the other day.
I never liked the Mummy movies; he moves hilariously slow. And the plot is just too sloppy and incoherent, even by horror movie standards. The only Mummy movie I ever liked was the 1999 one, which wasn’t even a horror movie, but a very amusing action-adventure.
Now, the Dracula movies were much better, even if they were also very predictable. But Dracula seemed like a dangerous monster, what with the turning into a bat and a wolf and magically opening locked doors and whatnot.
One other note: The Mummy’s Tomb has a character in it who looks exactly like Ron Paul. At least, I thought he did. (I admit I tend to see resemblances to people in movie characters very often, and my fellow viewers don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s like the TMBG song “Certain People I Could Name“.) That was perhaps the most frightening thing in the whole movie. The actor’s name, by the way, was Otto Hoffman.