Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween 2009!

Today being a holiday, I thought I would not do a full fledged blog entry. Instead I will leave you with a really cool picture that evokes Halloween quite nicely and some holiday oriented videos.

As to the picture, this is the great Boris Karloff browsing comic books with a little girl. I am not sure when the picture was taken, but it must have been shortly after October 1954 when the Comics Code was enacted (notice the huge Comics Code seal on the sign), but before February/March 1955 when Tales from the Crypt ended its run. At any rate, I thought nothing could evoke the holiday better than Karloff and classic EC Comics.

Next up is one of the quintessential Halloween songs, "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Öyster Cult. Contrary to popular belief, the song is not about suicide. According to Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, "Don't Fear the Reaper" is actually about how love transcends time. Indeed, the final verse of the song seems to evoke Poe's "Eleanora" than Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."

Next up is the original video to "Living Dead Girl" by Rob Zombie. The song is a pot-pourri of horror references. The title may be taken from the 1982 horror movie directed by French horror auteur Jean Rollin, La Morte Vivante ("The Living Dead Girl"). The song also contains a line from the trailer of the film Lady Frankenstein and the music at the start of the song is taken from the music in the trailer for Wes Craven's Last House on the Left. The song also contains a reference to Vincent Price's Dr. Goldfoot from two beach party movies, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine and Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs

As to what I'll be doing today, aside from handing out candy, I'm watching a marathon of The Brides of Dracula, Isle of the Dead, Bedlam, Shadow of the Vampire, and Kronos! Happy Halloween to all and to all a good night!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Horror by the Decade: Q

(As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, each year to celebrate Halloween I post on topics relevant to that holiday. This year I have decided do something slightly different and write a post on a classic horror film, one from each decade from the Twenties to the Eighties, during the seven days preceding Halloween. This is the final post in this series, featuring a movie from the Eighties)

In 1982 there was a terrible sameness to the horror movies being released. The genre was dominated by the ongoing cycle towards slasher movies. It was the era of the endless Friday the 13th sequels, Pieces, and Slumber Party Massacre. There were a few holdovers from the occult horror cycle of the Seventies (Evilspeak, Invitation to Hell), and a few movies about ghosts (Amityville II: The Possession and Poltergeist). Very few horror movies stood out. Among them was John Carpenter's remake of The Thing (actually a more faithful adaptation of the novella upon which both were based, Who Goes There). There was also the horror comedy Basket Case and the anthology film Creepshow, a collaboration between George Romero and Stephen King. It would be another famous, low budget horror director besides Romero who would give 1982 another one of its better horror movies. That director was Larry Cohen. The film was simply entitled Q.

 In Q,  New York City is beset by a rash of murders in which the victims are skinned alive, apparently by a modern day Aztec cult. At the same time, there have been reports of a giant monster flying about the city. The police, including detectives Shepard (played by David Carradine) and Powell (Richard Roundtree) are sceptical of such reports until the monster starts eating people. Into this mix entered petty thief Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty), who stumbles upon the creature's lair atop the Chrysler Building and decides to make the city pay for the information. It is from the gigantic creature that is at once reptile and bird that Q takes its title--"Q" is short for  "Quetzlcoatl," an Aztec god and the monster of the film.

Larry Cohen had worked in television (he created the shows Branded, The Blue Light, and The Invaders) before going onto become a notable director of low budget, independent films. He worked in many genres, including comedy and Blaxploitation, but it was for his horror movies that he would become best known.  Indeed, he had directed one of the most frightening horror movies of the Seventies, It's Alive, which featured a most unlikely monster--a mutant, cannibalistic baby. While on the surface his films would appear to be mere exploitation, in truth all of them contain commentary on modern day society.

It was in the early Eighties that Larry Cohen, veteran writer and producer of TV shows and B-movie director, had been hired to write and direct another adaptation of Mickey Spillane's I, the Jury. While he did write the screenplay, Cohen was fired after one week as the film's director, allegedly because the film's budget had spiralled out of control. To prove to the film's producers that he should not have been fired, Cohen decided he should make a what could be a very expensive film for much less than the new adaptation of I, the Jury cost. As to how Larry Cohen came upon the subject for his next film, it was quite simply the Chrysler Building in New York City. He was looking at the Chrysler Building one day and thought that it should have its own movie. After all, the Empire State Building had been featured in King Kong. When he turned his attention to the gargoyles on the sides of the Chrysler Building's towers, he thought that a giant bird looking for a place to nest in New York City would surely choose the Chrysler Building.

While there can be little doubt that the Chrysler Building provided much of the inspiration for the film, another possible source of inspiration for Q may have been the 1946 horror movie The Flying Serpent, produced by Poverty Row studio PRC. In The Flying Serpent George Zucco played a crazed archaeologist who stumbled upon a winged serpent, Quetzlcoatl, and then figured out a means to use the monster to take revenge on his enemies.

Pre-production on Q only lasted a week. Fired from I, the Jury, Larry Cohen decided not to waste the hotel room in New York he had rented and set to work on the film. Not only did he have a shooting script finished in six days, but he had also cast the movie as well!  Of course, the cast could have been very different. Cohen had considered Eddie Murphy (who was still on Saturday Night Live) for the role of Jimmy Quinn, and a relatively unknown actor at the time, Bruce Willis, for the role of Shepard.

With pre-production taking place so swiftly, Larry Cohen did not have a clear idea of what the film's monster would look like when he started the film. Having seen Alien, Cohen was struck by how little the monster was seen in that film. He thought that perhaps he could deliver the film's frights by  only offering glimpses of Quetzlcoatl's beak or claw, with no full shots of the monster. It was after a rough cut was made of the film that Cohen realised he would have to show the monster or audiences would be disappointed. Fortunately for Cohen, Steve Neil (who did special makeup effects on the film) was friends with stop motion animator Randall William Cook. Cook made a deal with Cohen to design the movie's monster. Cook then brought  fellow stop motion animator David Allan, as he did not own his own facilities for photographing the monster. David Allen brought model maker Dennis Gordon onto the project to help with creating the miniatures. Allen had to work in a hurry to get the special effects completed in time and his facilities were somewhat limited. The end result is that the special effects are sometimes uneven.

Just as the pre-production on Q happened at a breakneck pace, so too was it shot. The film was shot in only eighteen days. With such a brief period of pre-production and  a hectic shooting schedule, with shooting sometimes lasting from 18 to 20 hours a day. Many times Larry Cohen shot the film on the New York streets without a permit. Indeed, the film used no extras--everyone in the background of the film are ordinary New Yorkers, not actors.

Ironically, Q opened in New York City on October 8, 1982, one day before the movie from which Larry Cohen had been fired, I, the Jury, did. In the end Q made four times as much money as I, the Jury, even though it only cost an eighth as much. It must also be mentioned that Q received much better reviews than the new version of I, the Jury. Both The New York Times and Variety gave the film good reviews, while Roger Ebert seemed to have enjoyed the film while only giving it two and a half stars.

For a film that was made extremely swiftly and on a shoestring budget, Q is surprisingly good. The film's strengths rest in Larry Cohen's script and the performances of its leads. As might be expected of Cohen, Q has a very intelligent screenplay, one which once more deals with social issues. At the heart of  Q is the subject of religion, as the characters ponder whether Quetzlcoatl is a god, a monster, or possibly both. While examining the nature of godhood, the film also puts in swipes at politics, petty criminals, and the city of New York. This is not to say that Q is a dead serious, message film. The movie is filled with Cohen's usual humour, featuring some of the best dialogue he had ever written. Indeed, one of the great things about Q is that the film does work on many levels. It is at once a police procedural, a black comedy, and a monster movie.

Of course, even as great as Cohen's script was, the movie would not be nearly as good if it wasn't for the performances of its leads. Nearly every critic who reviewed the movie noted Michael Moriarty's performance as Jimmy Quinn. In fact, it may well have been the best performance of his career, surpassing even the one he gave in Bang the Drum Slowly. Quinn's cowardly, scheming Quinn is matched by David Carradine's straight arrow, hard working detective Shepard. In what could have easily been a one note performance in the hands of other another actor, Carradine gave Shephard depth. Richard Roundtree also delivers a good performance as the bad cop, Powell, to Shephard's good cop. In fact, the interaction between Powell and Quinn is one of the best things about the movie, given Powell's distaste for the petty hood.

Q is also very effective as a horror movie. There are a number of scenes which will make viewers jump from their seat. And for those who like gore, there is a good deal of that in the film. This is, after all, a movie in which modern day followers of the ancient Aztec religion flay people alive.

Q does have its flaws. While the special effects are very good for the most part, there are a few moments, particularly when Quetzlcoatl comes into full view, which are not quite convincing. Here I wish to stress that there is no fault on the part of Dave Allen and his special effects crew in this. They were brought onto the picture in post-production, rushed for time, and working with limited resources and a limited budget. There are also some scenes in which Larry Cohen's direction is less than stellar. Here again it must be kept in mind that Cohen was working very quickly, and often under less than desirable circumstances. Given the swiftness with which the film was made and its limited budget, it is perhaps a testament to Cohen's skill as a producer and director that the film is as good as it is.

At the time Q was released it was an oddity among horror movies. It was in many respects an anachronism, an old fashioned, giant monster movie released in the middle of a cycle towards slasher films. Even as a giant monster movie, however, it was different from any that had come before it. The film boasted a good screenplay that had plenty of intelligence, wit, and humour behind it. If the film has become a cult classic, perhaps it is because it is a genuinely good film.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Horror by the Decade: Phantasm

(As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, each year to celebrate Halloween I post on topics relevant to that holiday. This year I have decided do something slightly different and write a post on a classic horror film, one from each decade from the Twenties to the Eighties, during the seven days preceding Halloween. This is the sixth post in this series, featuring a movie from the Seventies)

By 1979 the cycle towards occult horror which had begun in the late Sixties was finally coming to an end. At the same time the cycle towards slasher films had not really gotten started, even though Halloween had just been released the year before. With no one type of horror movie dominating the genre at the time, it should not be surprising that a few of the horror movies released in 1979 were decidedly different. Ridley Scott's Alien took horror into outer space, as the crew of a spaceship faced a monstrous extraterrestrial. Another movie also blended science fiction and horror, although in a wholly different way. Phantasm may have been the first movie to ever blend elements of Gothic horror with elements of science fiction.

Phantasm centred on thirteen year old orphan Mike Pearson (A. Michael Baldwin) and his twenty four year old brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) who was taking care of him. The two become suspicious of a mysterious undertaker known only as The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) when people start dying mysteriously in their small town. Aided by Reggie (Reggie Bannister), the local ice cream vendor, the three young men learn the terrifying truth about The Tall Man, whose weapons include killer dwarves (once the souls of the damned) and mysterious chrome spheres which are utterly deadly.

Don Coscarelli, the man who created Phantasm and its sequels, was only 19 when he became the youngest director to ever have his film distributed by a major studio. His film, Jim the World's Greatest  was a drama about a teenage boy dealing with an alcoholic father. It was distributed by Universal Pictures in 1976. His second film, Kenny and Company, also released in 1976, was a gentle comedy about a twelve year old boy. It was after Coscarelli had attended a sneak preview of Kenny and Company that he realised he should be directing horror movies. One of the scenes in Kenny and Company was set in a haunted house in which a man in a monster costume leaped out. It was at that point that the whole audience screamed.  It was then that Coscarelli decided his next film should be a horror movie.

To write his horror film, Coscarelli hid himself away in a mountain cabin isolated from civilisation, just outside Los Angeles. For inspiration he drew upon a nightmare he once had when he was in his late teens. In the nightmare he was running down marble corridors which never seemed to end. Pursuing him was a silver, metallic sphere whose purpose was apparently to sink the sharp razors it contained deep inside his skull. Coscarelli based the lead characters in the film upon actors from his previous films. In all Coscarelli stayed at the cabin for three weeks, at the end of which he had produced the rough draft of Phantasm. He chose the name Phantasm as it is a word that occurs frequently in the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Casting Phantasm would not be an overly difficult chore as Don Coscarelli based the major characters upon actors with whom he had worked. A. Michael Baldwin, who played Mike in the film, had been the star of Coscarelli's film Kenny and Company. Reggie Bannister, who played Reggie, had appeared in both of Coscarelli's prior films. Angus Scrimm had appeared in Coascarelli's film Jim the World's Greatest. It was only in the case of Mike's older brother Jody that Coscarelli did not get the actor he had originally conceived in the role.  Gregory Harrison, best known for his role in Trapper John M.D., was the actor Coscarelli had originally wanted in the role. He had previously appeared in Coascarelli's film Jim the World's Greatest. Harrison turned the role down, forcing Coscarelli to find another actor. The part of Jody ultimately went to Bill Thornbury.

Like Coscarelli's previous two films, Phantasm would be a low budget, independent film. Its budget was a mere $300,000. To keep costs down, it was decided that the movie would only be filmed in two locations. One was a warehouse in San Fernando Valley in which sets were built. The other was a house which not only serve as Mike and Jody's house in the film, but as a home for the film's crew while the movie was shooting. Initially Coscarelli had wanted to shoot parts of the film in a real mausoleum, but after visiting many mausoleums in the area decided against it. It simply would not have been possible to shoot many of the film's action sequences in an actual mausoleum.Graphic artist Mark Arnel, one of Coscarelli's friends from school, was then hired to design the film's mausoleum. The mausoleum set simply consisted of a single corridor, intersected by two hallways at its midway point and ending in an eight sided rotunda. With some ingenious camera work, the crew of Phantasm was able to create the illusion of a huge mausoleum using this one set.

Central to the success of Phantasm would be The Tall Man's most memorable weapons, the silver spheres. The spheres were designed by Willard Green, who only asked $1,100 for their creation. Sadly, he died before he could even be paid. Of course, the spheres that Green designed could not actually fly, so that the production crew had to find a way of making them do so. Different means of making the spheres fly were tested, including firing the spheres, powered by model rocket engines,  down tight piano wires. Unfortunately, none of the tested ways of making the spheres fly looked convincing. At last the crew arrived at a simple solution to make the spheres fly. The spheres would be hurled from behind the camera by art director David Gavin Brown, who had been a baseball pitcher in high school. The footage of the sphere was then shot in reverse. To make it appear that a sphere had embedded itself in someone's head, the sphere as simply stuck the person's head and then pulled off. This footage would then also be reversed.

Other effects on Phantasm were also very simple. At 6 foot 4 inches, Angus Scrimm was already very tall. To make him appear even taller, he wore suits that were several sizes too small and boots with three inch lifts in them. In a sequence in which The Tall Man lifted a coffin and put it in the back of hearse all by himself, the coffin was simply made of balsa wood and a rope attached to it, out of sight of the camera. The Tall Man's killer dwarves were simply played by children.

Because Phantasm was made on a shoestring budget, certain cost cutting measures were taken. Don Coscarelli did not own the equipment necessary to film Phantasm. As a result, he rented the equipment necessary to film the movie on Friday, shot the film all weekend, and then returned it on Monday. In doing so he could use the equipment for two days, while actually only paying for one. Although the credits would seem to indicate that the production design, makeup and costume design were done by more than one person, they were actually done by only one individual. Coscarelli's mother, Kate Coscarelli handled all of this, from decorating the sets to even designing the original makeup for The Tall Man.

Upon completion Phantasm had a running time of over three hours. Don Coscarelli decided that this was far too long and pared the film down to 88 minutes. While some of this footage was lost, much of it would be used in the third sequel to the movie, Phantasm: Oblivion. Even with so much footage cut from the film, Phantasm would run afoul of the MPAA ratings board. They initially gave Phantasm an X rating  because of two scenes in the film. The first was the notorious scene in which one of the silver spheres kills a man. the second was a scene in which a man, after having been killed, urinating on the floor beneath him. In the days before the NC-17 rating, the X rating was the kiss of death as far as a movie's box office potential was concerned. Fortunately, Los Angeles Times movie critic Charles Champlin, who had seen the film,  intervened and made a call to one of his friends who was on the ratings board. Phantasm was then given an $ rating with the infamous silver sphere sequence in tact.

Released on March 28, 1979, Phantasm seemed to a movie that critics either loved or hated. Charles Champlin of The Los Angeles Times and Vincent Canby of The New York Times gave the film sterling reviews. Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin both gave the film rather poor notices. Audiences proved to be a bit more fond of Phantasm. Made for only $300,000, the film grossed $11,988,469--an impressive number for a film which was produced, written, and directed by one man with a minimal budget. In the years that have followed it has become considered a cult classic among horror movie fans. In the end it would be followed by three sequels and inspire a good deal of merchandising.

Don Coscarelli set out simply to make a scary movie with Phantasm, and there can be little doubt that he succeeded.  Phantasm may have been the most frightening movie of 1979, even more so than Alien. What makes Phantasm so effective as a horror movie is that Coscarelli chose to capitalise on the common, childhood fears. The movie deals directly with the fear of abandonment as twelve year old Mike worries that his older brother Jody will leave him. It also deals with the fear of death in the form of The Tall Man, a villain posing as an undertaker, whose base is a mausoleum and who utilises the dead to his own evil ends. More than anything else, Phantasm deals with the fear of the unknown, as young Mike is thrown into a world of deadly silver spheres, killer dwarves, gateways to other worlds, and the inhuman villain known as The Tall Man. It is perhaps significant that Mike is twelve years old, an age where he is not quite a young child, but not quite an adolescent either. In some respects the strange world of Phantasm could be seen as a metaphor for the rather strange world of growing up.

Although shot on a very low budget, Phantasm looks like a much more expensive film. While most of the effects were simple, they look very convincing and hold up even today. The sets also look quite realistic--it is hard to believe that the mausoleum scenes were filmed using only one set.

Phantasm also benefited from good performances from its two leads. A. Michael Baldwin was quite effective as Mike, the young orphan who must face his fears of abandonment and death incarnate (The Tall Man). Angus Scrimm was also superb as The Tall Man, turning the otherworldly mortician into one of the most iconic villains of horror movies in the past thirty years.

Of course, none of this is to say that Phantasm is a perfect film. There are times when the movie seems disjointed. And beyond A. Michael Baldwin and Angus Scrimm, the acting is not always up to par. There are times when the movie nearly borders on camp. Fortunately, these flaws do not detract from a film, the whole of which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Phantasm became a cult classic for the simple reason that it is a scary movie that actually delivers on its promise to scare individuals. In centring on common childhood fears, Phantasm struck directly at the child within all of us. It is for that reason that Phantasm is still remembered, while so many of its contemporaries were forgotten.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Horror by the Decade: The Devil Rides Out

(As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, each year to celebrate Halloween I post on topics relevant to that holiday. This year I have decided do something slightly different and write a post on a classic horror film, one from each decade from the Twenties to the Eighties, during the seven days preceding Halloween. This is the fifth post in this series, featuring a movie from the Sixties).

Prior to the late Sixties, films which touched upon the subject of Satanism were few and far between. In the classic Universal horror movie The Black Cat, Boris Karloff played a rather blatant diabolist. The Val Lewton film The Seventh Victim also dealt with devil worshippers, although they were called Palladists, a term used for an alleged Masonic diabolic order in the 19th Century. All of this began to change in the late Sixties with the release of such films as Rosemary's Baby and Witchfinder General. Hammer's entry into the genre of Satanic horror would be The Devil Rides Out, released in 1968.

The Devil Rides Out was a change of pace for Hammer Films. The studio entered the field of Gothic horror in 1957 with the movie The Curse of Frankenstein. Its success was followed in 1958 by Hammer's adaptation of Dracula. The success of these two films led Hammer Films to make yet more Gothic horror movies from the late Fifties into the Sixties, to the point that Gothic horror became the genre most identified with the studio. The success of the Hammer horror movies also sparked a new cycle towards Gothic horror which lasted well into the Sixties. The Devil Rides Out differed from the vast majority of Hammer films in that it was an occult horror movie rather than a Gothic horror movie. Indeed, alongside such films as Rosemary's Baby, Witchfinder General, and Curse of the Crimson Altar, all released in 1968, The Devil Rides Out showed that the cycle towards Gothic horror was coming to an end and a new cycle towards occult horror was beginning.

The Devil Rides Out was based on the 1934 novel of the same name by Dennis Wheatley. Both the novel and the film were set in the 1930s and  featured the hero of several of  Wheatley's novels, Duc de Richleau, a French aristocrat who with an extensive knowledge of the occult (played in the film by Christopher Lee). In both the novel and the film de Richleau does battle with a Satanic cult in the south of England, led by the warlock Mocata (played in the movie by Charles Gray, best known as the Criminologist from The Rocky Horror Picture Show).

Dennis Wheatley was first published in 1933 with the novel The Forbidden Territory, which introduced the world to Duc de Richleau. It proved to a rather huge success, and was adapted as a feature film the following year. Wheatley followed The Forbidden Territory with yet more thrillers, each of which  sold exceedingly well. After paperback editions of Wheatley's novels had first appeared in the Sixties, his sales skyrocketed into the millions. It would not be the sales of Wheatley's books that would lead to Hammer Films adapting The Devil Rides Out, but one of the studio's biggest stars instead. In the mid-Fifties Christopher Lee had met Dennis Wheatley at one of the author's lectures and was a huge fan of his work. It was Lee who urged Hammer Films to adapt the author's work. It was then in the autumn of 1963 that Hammer Films optioned the rights to The Devil Rides Out and some of Wheatley's other occult novels. Hammer would not adapt The Devil Rides Out right away, however, as they felt that it would not receive a certificate from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

Fortunately, on both sides of the Atlantic, strictures regarding feature films would become liberal, so that eventually Hammer Films felt secure enough in adapting the novel The Devil Rides Out as a feature film. John Hunter, who co-wrote the Hammer adventure film Pirates of Blood River, wrote the original script for the film. Unhappy with Hunter's screenplay, the studio then hired legendary science fiction, fantasy, and horror writer Richard Matehson to write a new script. Still concerned over possible censorship, Hammer Films submitted their shooting script to the BBFC. The BBFC made it clear that they did not want to see "...any misuses of Christian emblems or any parodies of Christian prayers." As a result, Hammer was very careful in what it showed on the screen in The Devil Rides Out.

While the film changed writers, from the very beginning it was intended that Christopher Lee should play the lead character, Duc de Richleau. Hammer had originally wanted Gert Fröbe (best known for playing Goldfinger in the movie of the same name) to play the role of the villain Mocata, the leader of the Satanic cult in the film. The role of Mocata ultimately went to Charles Gray, who would later play the Bond villain in Diamonds Are Forever and would become most famous as the Criminologist in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Australian opera singer and actor Leon Greene played de Richleau's oversized and impulsive sidekick Rex Van Ryn.

The director on The Devil Rides Out was Terence Fisher, the man who directed Hammer's first forays into Gothic horror (The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula), as well as many of the studio's classic films. While The Devil Rides Out was set in the Twenties and it was an occult horror film, it looked very much like the Hammer horror films from 1957 to 1963. Like those films (many of which were directed by Fisher), The Devil Rides Out is characterised by balanced composition in its scenes and balanced editing. While Hammer was able to get the writer, lead actor, and director of their choice, they were not so lucky when it came to the movie's special effects. Michael Staivers-Hutchins co-owned the rights to the novel and demanded that he do the special effects in return for his rights to the book. Hammer Films was understandably displeased with this deal, and the end some of the bigger effects would be accomplished by an uncredited Les Bowie, the man who had provided special effects on such Hammer classics as The Quatermass Xperiment and Dracula. The Devil Rides Out had a respectively big budget for a Hammer production, at £285,000. This allowed a very convincing recreation of the Thirties, from its wardrobe to classic Bentleys and Rolls-Royces.

The Devil Rides Out would not fare particularly well after shooting on the film ended in the summer of 1967. It was producer Anthony Nelson Keys who decided that Leon Greene's voice would have to be redubbed. It is unclear what Keys' reasoning was in this, although it is possible that Leon Greene sounded a bit too Australian for Rex Van Ryn, who was supposed to be English. Greene was revoiced by Patrick Allen, who also provided the voiceover for the British trailer for The Devil Rides Out. In the United States the film's American distributor, 20th Century Fox, cut several seconds of some of the film's more controversial footage. As it was thought that the title The Devil Rides Out sounded too much like a Western, its title in the United States was changed to The Devil's Bride.

Released July 7, 1968 in the United Kingdom and December 18, 1968 in the United States, The Devil Rides Out did not do well on either side of the Atlantic. It is difficult to say why The Devil Rides Out did so poorly at the box office, but it seems likely it was a case of bad timing. In the United States, the similarly themed Rosemary's Baby was released on June 19, 1968. Witchfinder General, Trigon British Film Productions' period horror film, was released in May 1968 in the United Kingdom and in August 14, 1968. Even though it had been conceived in 1963 and filmed approximately the same time as Rosemary's Baby (the summer of 1967), The Devil Rides Out was not released in the United Kingdom until July 20, 1968 and until December 18, 1968 in the United States. With two films dealing with Satanism having beat it to cinemas, there was probably little audience left over for The Devil Rides Out.

Regardless, The Devil Rides Out would go onto become a cult film and a favourite of many Hammer Film fans. The reason is that it is quite simply a very well crafted film. Much of this is due to the script by Richard Matheson. Matheson remained loyal to the basic plot of the book while still improving upon it. It was in part Matheson's skill in weaving fantastic events into a realistic milieu which makes The Devil Rides Out such an effective film.

Complimenting Richard Matheson's script are the performances of the leads. Duc de Richlieu is one of the very few heroes Christopher Lee ever played. He not only endowed de Richlieu with an aristocratic air, while also giving him a cool and dignified presence. It is arguably one of the best performances of Lee's career. Charles Gray also did a great job as the villain Mocata. Loosely based on Aleister Crowley, Charles Gray's Mocata is at once charming and threatening, with such confidence that it seems he would be impossible to defeat. Perhaps no better actor played opposite Christopher Lee short of Peter Cushing and Edward Woodward. Terence Fisher's direction must also be given much of the credit for The Devil Rides Out. With Matheson's script as a guide, Fisher created some of the most memorable set pieces of any Hammer film. An experienced horror director, Fisher endowed the film with a sense of horror without resorting to gore or graphic violence.

The year 1968 marked the beginning of the end for the cycle towards Gothic horror and the start of a new cycle towards occult horror. It would only be within a few years that the horror genre would be dominated by such movies with Satanic themes as The Exorcist and The Omen. The Devil Rides Out would be one of the first movies in the new occult horror cycle. Conceived in 1963, plans for the film actually pre-dated both Rosemary Baby and Witchfinder General. The Devil Rides Out is then a very historic film. That it is also a very good film is why it is remembered today.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Horror by the Decade: The Quatermass Xperiment

(As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, each year to celebrate Halloween I post on topics relevant to that holiday. This year I have decided do something slightly different and write a post on a classic horror film, one from each decade from the Twenties to the Eighties, during the seven days preceding Halloween. This is the fourth post in this series, featuring a movie from the Fifties).

The cycle towards horror films in the Forties finally played out around 1946. A new cycle towards horror would not begin until the early Fifties. The horror films of the early to mid Fifties would be very different from their predecessors. For the most part horror movies of the Thirties and Fifties tended towards Gothic horror. The horror films of the early to mid-Fifties tended to be science fiction oriented. This was not just true of American productions, but British ones as well. A case in point is The Quatermass Xperiment.

The Quatermass Xperiment is significant in film history as the first horror movie produced by Hammer Films, a studio which would become famous for its horror movies in the coming decade. It is also significant as one of the first film adaptations of a television programme on either side of the Pond. The Quatermass Xperiment was based on the BBC mini-series or serial (as they are called in the United Kingdom) entitled The Quatermass Experiment. The Quatermass Experiment was created by Nigel Keane and was run on the BBC in the summer of 1953. The serial centred around Dr. Bernard Quatermass (Reginald Tate), a scientist in charge of the first manned space flight. Unfortunately, when the space flight ended, two of the three astronauts are missing, while the third astronaut returned to Earth very different from what he was before. The Quatermass Experiment proved to be a television phenomenon in the summer of 1953, average 3.9 million viewers throughout the serial--an rather astounding number for British television at that time. It also received top marks from the nation's critics.

Among the viewers who watched The Quatermass Experiment was Anthony Hinds, producer at Hammer Films. It was only two days after the broadcast of the final episode that Hammer contacted the BBC to enquire about the film rights to the serial. At the time the BBC rebuffed Hinds, as they felt that Hammer as a producer of B-movies would tarnish their reputation. Instead the BBC favoured Group 3 Productions, as well as the production team of Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat. In the end Hammer Films would win the rights to adapt The Quatermass Experiment for two simple reasons. The first was that the studio offered the BBC £2,000 and 20% of all profits from the film. The second it that, unlike the others pursuing the rights to The Quatermass Experiment, Hammer had no fear of the film receiving an "X" Certificate (for those who do not know, the "X" certificate was a film rating created by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) in 1955 for films were were deemed only "Suitable for those 18 and over").

The first draught of the screenplay for The Quatermass Xperiment was written by American screenwriter Richard Landau, who had written Hammer's first foray into science fiction, Spaceways. Director Val Guest would revise the script even further. The BBC possessed the right to approve the script and asked Nigel Kneale to do further revisions. In many respects, The Quatermass Xperiment was not a particularly easy movie to write. The original serial had consisted of six forty minute episodes, for a total running time of 240 minutes. This had to be cut down to a more reasonable running time for a feature film--in the end  The Quatermass Xperiment ran 82 minutes. The screenplay would also run afoul of the BBFC. BBFC Secretary Secretary Arthur Watkins said of the script, "I must warn you at this stage that, while we accept this story in principle for the ‘X’ category, we could not certificate, even in that category, a film treatment in which the horrific element was so exaggerated as to be nauseating and revolting to adult audiences." Ultimately, The Quatermass Xperiment would be certificated, and with an "X" Certificate as expected. In fact, Hammer having observed the success of Les Diaboliques (which had received an "X" Certificate), decided to exploit the fact that the film was certificated "X," not only in its title, but in its advertising as well (the tagline "X is not an unknown quantity").

The casting of Bernard Quatermass in the film would prove to be a point of controversy between Hammer Films and the serial's creator Nigel Kneale. Hammer cast American actor Brian Donlevy, veteran of several Preston Sturges comedies,  in the role to help the film appeal to American audiences and to find distribution in the United States. Donlevy would play a very different Quatermass than Reginald Tate had in The Quatermass Experiment. Tate's Quatermass was very British and very cerebral. Donlevy's Quatermass tended to be more gruff and no nonsense. This did not sit well Nigel Kneale, who did not care for Donlevy's portrayal of Quatermass at all. The cast was rounded out by Jack Warner, on loan from the Rank Organisation (at the time he was best known for the series of Huggerts comedies) as Inspector Lomax; Richard Wordworth, the great great grandson of poet William Wordsworth, as the tragic astronaut Victor Carroon; and Margia Dean, former beauty queen, as Carroon's wife Judith.

Val Guest, who directed The Quatermass Xperiment, had directed Hammer's first two feature films in colour: the Robin Hood movie The Men of Sherwood Forrest and the thriller Break the Circle. Val Guest had decided to shoot the film as if it was a newsreel, giving a realism it might not have had otherwise. To achieve this Guest made extensive use of a hand held camera for much of the film, a practice that was virtually unheard of at the time. In part due to concerns over the BBFC and in part due to the film's extremely low budget, Guest kept the film's source of horror offscreen for most of the film. Much like American filmmaker Val Lewton, he reasoned that audience's imaginations would create something more frightening than anything he could create on screen.

To maximise the film's potential at the box office, Hammer Films timed the release of The Quatermass Xperiment to coincide with the BBC's broadcast of the sequel to the original serial, Quatermass II. Quatermass II was broadcast from October 22, 1955 to November 25, 1955. The Quatermass Xperiment went into wide release on September 28, 1955. The film's premiere was held on August 26, 1955 at the London Pavilion in Piccadilly Circus. It was shown on a double bill with The Eric Winstone Band Show. Because the BBFC only allowed so many films to be certificated "X," The Eric Winstone Band Show would be dropped from the bill for the wide release of The Quatermass Xperiment. Instead, the film would be shown on a double bill with the French caper film Rififi, directed b Jules Dassin. It proved to be the highest grossing double bill of the year in the United Kingdom.

Finding a distributor in the United States for The Quatermass Xperiment proved troublesome. Initially the film was to be released in the United States by 20th Century Fox. Unfortunately, Darryl F. Zanuck had decided that all 20th Century films would be shown the studio's Cinemascope or another widescreen process. Having not been shot in Cinemascope or any other similar widescreen process, 20th Century Fox then passed on The Quatermass Xperiment. American producer Robbert L. Lippert, who had provided part of the financing for the film, had interested Columbia in distributing the film. Ultimately, Columbia declined to do so. Retitling the movie The Creeping Unknown, Lippert finally interested United Artists, who paid $125,000 for the rights to the film. The film proved to be such a success that United Artists went further than simply asking Hammer Films for a sequel. They also offered to partially finance the sequel and to double its budget!

The success of the original serial, The Quatermass Experiment, would lead to three sequels on the BBC, two of which would be adapted by Hammer Films (Quatermass 2 in 1957 and Quatermass and the Pit in 1967). The Quatermass Xperiment itself would be a precursor to the horror films which Hammer would make from the late Fifties into the early Sixties, beginning with The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957. The Quatermass Xperiment is in many ways a very different sort of film from Hammer's later horror movies. It is shot in black and white in a cinema vérité style, with its frights based in science fiction. Hammer's later horror films would be shot in colour, with their frights based in Gothic horror. Still, The Quatermass Xperiment proved that a British horror film could be successful on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Quatermass Xperiment would prove to have a lasting influence. It was Hammer's first horror movie, paving the way for the horror films for which the studio would become best known in the next two decades. Director John Carpenter always counted The Quatermass Xperiment as one of his biggest influences, even going so far as to recruit Nigel Kneale to write the original screenplay for Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Kneale had his name removed from the credits after producer Dino De Laurentiis insisted on adding more gore and violence). In his book Danse Macabre, Stephen King counted The Quatermass Xperiment as one of his favourite horror movies. The 1999 film The Astronaut's Wife is often considered a near remake of the film I Married a Monster From Outer Space, but actually bears enough of resemblance to The Quatermass Xperiment that is very probable that it was influenced by that film.

It should come as no surprise that The Quatermass Xperiment would have a lasting influence. While it is a science fiction horror film like many produced in the United States during the same period, The Quatermass Xperiment stands apart from most of them. Although abbreviated a great deal from Nigel Kneale's original serial, the implications concerning Britain's interest in science and technology present in the serial remain in the film. As a result, The Quatermass Xperiment was very much a thinking man's horror movie, delivering frights as well as food for thought.

This is not to say that The Quatermass Xperiment could not be appreciated simply as a horror movie. The cinema vérité style which Val Guest used on the film actually made it more frightening, giving the movie an immediacy it might not have had otherwise. What is more, Guest's choice to keep the film's horrifying elements off the screen actually made the film even scarier still, the horrors in viewers' imaginations being much more terrifying than any cheap special effects he could have shown on the screen. The Quatermass Xperiment was also greatly aired by the performance of Richard Wordsworth as the tragic Victor Carroon. It has often been listed among the greatest performances in a horror film, along side those of Boris Karloff.

Today The Quatermass Xperiment remains one of the most effective horror movies to emerge from the Fifties. Moving at a deliberate pace, the film not only offers plenty of frights, but plenty to think about as well. Although it is in some respects a very different horror film than those for which Hammer would become famous (shot in black and white, its premise based in science fiction rather than Gothic horror), it was a worthy start for the studio in the genre for which they would become best known.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Horror by the Decade: Val Lewton's Bedlam

(As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, each year to celebrate Halloween I post on topics relevant to that holiday. This year I have decided do something slightly different and write a post on a classic horror film, one from each decade from the Twenties to the Eighties, during the seven days preceding Halloween. This is the third post in this series, featuring a movie from the Forties).

When it comes to horror movie producers, perhaps no name is as respected as Val Lewton. From 1942 to 1946 Lewton produced some of the greatest horror movies of all time at RKO. Even then he became known for his trademark use of  the suggestion of horror rather than rather than more obvious scenes of horror. Such films he made as Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, and The Seventh Victim would come to be regarded as classics of the genre. Ironically, his masterwork would also be his least financially successful film at RKO, Bedlam.

Before he went to work for RKO, Val Lewton had arranged the scenes of the French Revolution in A Tale of Two Cities and served as a story editor on both Gone With the Wind and Rebecca. Initially at RKO Lewton had nearly complete artistic freedom and reported directly to  Charles Koerner, the head of the studio. After the films  The Seventh Victim, The Ghost Ship, and Curse of the Cat People did not fare as well as his first three movies, Jack J. Gross was appointed by RKO as executive producer to supervise Lewton. Gross hired Boris Karloff, then identified very strongly with the Universal horror movies, to star in Val Lewton's next few movies. While Lewton was initially unhappy with the hiring of Karloff, the two became friends and made three films together. The Body Snatcher (based on the Robert Louis Stevenson short story) and Isle of the Dead would prove to be two of Lewton's best films. It would be their third film together, Bedlam that would prove to be the best film Lewton and Karloff made together, arguably, Lewton's masterpiece.

Initially entitled Chamber of Horrors: A Tale of Bedlam, the title was eventually shortened to Bedlam. Like The Body Snatcher and Isle of the Dead, Bedlam was a period piece. Unlike Val Lewton's earlier horror movies, Bedlam contains no supernatural elements, instead relying on horror created by the inhumane treatment that man can dole out to his fellow man. Bedlam was based on the final prints in 18th century painter William Hogarth's series A Rake's Progress. These final prints were entitlied "Bedlam" and dealt with conditions at Bethlem Royal Hospital (better known as "Bedlam"). From the 17th century into the 18th century, Bedlam was notorious for brutal treatment often dealt to its patients (then simply called "lunatics").

As might be expected, Bedlam is set in a fictionalised version of Bethlem Royal Hospital in 1761. Anna Lee played the lead character, Nell Rowen. It was after Nell attended a performance by  the patients of Saint Mary's of Bethlehem Hospital for the Insane that one of the inmates died, leading her to campaign for better treatment of the hospital's patients. Unfortunately, Nell found a powerful opponent in the form of the asylum's apothecary general, Master Sims (played by Boris Karloff). Even worse, Nell's opponents eventually have her committed to the very mental hospital she is trying to improve, where she is entirely at the mercy of the corrupt Master Sims. Although marketed as a horror movie (and having no shortage of horror), Bedlam  is as much a historical drama about mental illness and the historically poor conditions at Bethlem Royal Hospital as it is a horror movie. In fact Boris Karloff even said of Bedlam, "It is not a horror picture, it is a historical picture."

It is difficult to argue with the great Boris Karloff, as to a large degree he is right. Master Sims himself was very loosely based on Dr. John Monro, Physician of Bethlem Hospital.from 1752 to 1783. Bedlam is also accurate in its portrayal of the inhumane treatment of mentally ill patients in the 18th century. It was a time when it was not unusual for patients to be chained, fed through the bars of their cells, forced to sleep naked on beds of straw, and even whipped. Even at a time when psychiatric treatment included such practices as bleeding,  induced vomiting, and purging the bowels, Bedlam was considered unusually harsh in its treatment of its patients. Sadly, Bedlam was fairly accurate in its potrayal of Bethlem Royal Hospital. Indeed, its portrayal of the hospital may have been much milder than what actually happened there.

Although it had a bigger budget than any other film Val Lewton made at RKO, Bedlam still had what would be considered a low budget even then. Fortunately, Lewton was able to make the film look like it cost much more than it really did  by using properties previously used on other films. The moive's art directors and set designers recycled and "renovated" the church from The Bells of St. Mary's for use as Saint Mary's of Bethlehem Hospital for the Insane in the film. For a Quaker council room, they reused a dining room set that had been used in several of Edgar Kennedy's comedy shorts. Even some of Anna Lee's costumes had been previously used on other films. The green velvet riding habit which Lee wore at one point in the film had originally been the dress which Scarlet O'Hara made from curtains in Gone With the Wind. A ball gown which Lee wore in the film had originally been worn by Hedy Lamarr in Experiment Perilous (ironically directed by Lewton veteran Jacques Tourneur). Even some of the sound effects had originated in other films. The scream emitted by an inmate falling at the start of the film had originally been the scream of one of the sailors in King Kong!

Bedlam was well received by critics upon its released on May 10, 1946. In The New York Times Bosley Crowther said of Bedlam, "This is a production several cuts above the average run so-called horror films." The Motion Picture Herald wrote of the movie, " will make itself remembered as a powerful use of the camera to tell a story of importance." Bedlam was praised in a way that few horror movies at the time was. Unfortunately, it did not receive as a warm a reception from audiences. Even as the motion picture was in production, the cycle towards horror movies in the Forties that had begun with Universal's Son of Frankenstein had come to an end. Even though Bedlam was not purely a horror movie, it was advertised as such. As a result viewers tended to ignore the film.  Here I must point out a common misconception regarding Bedlam. The film was never banned in the United Kingdom. Instead, RKO never submitted it to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). As a result it was not released in  UK. Over the years it was aired on British television a few times, but it would not be submitted to the BBFC until 1998. Then it was given a PG certificate with no cuts to the film.

Regardless, Bedlam and the other films he made with Lewton would provide a boost to Boris Karloff's career. After he finished Bedlam, Boris Karloff was cast in three big budget, major motion pictures: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Lured, and Unconquered. 

Bedlam benefits from a well written script by Val Lewton and director Mark Robson. The screenplay works on several levels, as a historical drama, as a social conscience film, and as a horror movie. As a historical drama Bedlam features a wealth of period detail, capturing the look and feel of 18th Century London perfectly. As a social conscience film it also works quite well, making a strong argument for the humane treatment of the mentally ill. And although Boris Karloff argued that Bedlam was a historical movie, it works very well as a horror movie as well. In one scene Nell is placed in a cell with a convicted murderer. In another scene Hannay (Richard Fraser), a stonemason, sneaks into Bedlam. As he walks down the corridor of the most violent patients' quarters, several hands reach out to try to grab him. As a film that is at once a historical drama, a social message film, and a horror movie, Bedlam is a very literate film. While many over the years have claimed that Bedlam is a bit too talky, I have to disagree. Its dialogue is literate, lively, and even at times witty. Indeed, it has some of the most quotable lines of any of Lewton's films.

Bedlam also benefits from very strong performances from its leads.Boris Karloff also delivers a strong performance, making Master Sims one of the most memorable characters from any of his films.  Anna Lee gave a very fine performance as Nell Rowen,  the actress who goes from decadent to social crusader. Nell Rowen ultimately emerges as one of the most sympathetic characters to appear in one of Lewton's films. Nell was an unusuallystrong heroine for a horror movie made in the Forties. She is even a strong heroine for a Val Lewton film, whose films usually featured several strong female characters over the years. In the end, Nell could easily be considered the forerunner of such more recent horror heroines as Laurie Strode in Halloween, Ripley in Alien, and Kirsty in Hellraiser.

Bedlam would be the last film that Val Lewton would make for RKO. Lewton had long wanted to make big budget feature films and was given the chance to do so by RKO, being placed in charge of Woman on the Beach to be directed by Jean Renoir. Sadly,  a heart attack would prevent him from ever working on the film. Lewton would go onto work on films for Paramount, MGM, and Universal. He died in 1951 when another heart attack ended his life.

Not only do I think Bedlam is underrated as one of Val Lewton's films, I also believe it is his very best film. While Lewton made some very effective horror movies, it is only Bedlam that is effective as a period drama, a social message film, and a horror movie all at once. It has what could possibly be Lewton's most literate script, as well as what could be the best performances of any Lewton film. Indeed, even seen today Bedlam can be both intense and disturbing. It is arguably his most powerful film.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Horror By the Decade: Island of Lost Souls

(As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, each year to celebrate Halloween I post on topics relevant to that holiday. This year I have decided do something slightly different and write a post on a classic horror film, one from each decade from the Twenties to the Eighties, during the seven days preceding Halloween. This is the second post in this series, featuring a movie from the Thirties).

When people think of horror movies produced in the early to mid-Thirties, it is usually Universal Pictures which comes to mind. that having been said, other studios jumped on the horror bandwagon in the early to mid-Thirties, including RKO and even MGM. Among these studios was Paramount, which produced what may have been the best adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ever made (Classic Movies Digest has an excellent post on that film). Paramount also made an adaptation of H. G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Entitled Island of Lost Souls, it was  the first movie adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau, and remains the best of the adaptations of the novel. As in the original novel, the film featured a shipwrecked man (Parker, played by Richard Arlen) who is picked up by a ship and taken to the island of Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton). It soon became apparent that Dr. Moreau's goal was to turn animals into human beings. What was more, Dr. Moreau had his own plans for Parker and his greatest creation, Lota the Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke).

Island of Lost Souls was no mere B-movie, but a big budget blockbuster in the same vein as Universal's Frankenstein. The film was shot on location on Catalina Island at a time when many films were still being shot on Hollywood sets. It also boasted what was at the time a fairly well known cast. Charles Laughton was already a well established veteran of both stage and screen, who already had one horror movie to his credit (the classic The Old Dark House). Laughton threw himself wholeheartedly into the role of Dr. Moreau, whose appearance he claimed was based on that of an eye specialist he had visited over the years.  He already knew how to use a whip, a skill he had learned for a stage play from a London street performer.

Co-star Richard Arlen had appeared in such films as Wings, Beggars of Life (starring Louise Brooks), The Four Feathers, and The Virginian. Alongside Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi was already one of the big names in horror movies, having played the title role in Dracula and appearing in the films Murders in the Rue Morgue and White Zombie. In the film he played the Sayer of the Law. One important member of the cast was an unknown who was entirely new to motion pictures. During the film's pre-production a well publicised talent search was made for an actress to play the pivotal role of Lota the Panther Woman. Kathleen Burke, whose dark haired beauty evoked that of a cat, not only won the role, but an expenses paid, three week stay at the upscale Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Over the years there have been claims that Buster Crabbe, Randolph Scott, and Alan Ladd all played uncredited roles as man-beasts in the film, although those claims would seem to be wholly unsubstantiated.Among the actors who did play the various man-beasts on the island was Joe Bonomo, an actor who not only appeared in many bit parts over the years, but had also served as Lon Chaney's stunt double in The Hunchback in Notre Dame. Island of Lost Souls very nearly cost Bonomo his life. He fell in a water tank and the foam rubber in his costume began to soak up water, very nearly causing him to drown.

Central to the film was the makeup created by Wally Westmore for the half human, half animal inhabitants of the island. Wally Westmore had previously did the makeup on Paramount's version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He would go onto serve as the makeup artist on Sullivan's Travels, several of Hope and Crosby's Road movies, My Favourite Brunette, and a few of Alfred Hitchcock's films. The incredible makeup he created for the man-beasts  created a bit of a stir at  Paramount, particularly when the actors went on break and walked about the studio lot. The language of the man-beasts was created by sound man Loren L. Ryder, who recorded a mix of foreign languages and animals sounds, then played them back at varying speeds. Sadly, Ryder's masterful creation of the man-beasts' language would have an unexpected side effect on movie goers--the sound made some in the movie's audiences nauseous, some of them enough to actually throw up in the cinema!

Upon its release Island of Lost Souls was enthusiastically embraced by horror movie fans, but proved to be controversial elsewhere. Critics were disturbed by the sexual undertones in the relationship between Parker and Lota the Panther Woman, which for some of them hinted at bestiality. Critics were also disturbed by the extreme cruelty inherent in Dr. Moreau's experiments and particularly the film's climax, which involved the suitably named "House of Pain." Among the film's most vocal critics was H. G. Wells himself, who objected to the film as it changed Dr. Moreau from a well intentioned, but misguided scientist to a sadistic madman and its emphasis on horror.

The critics and Mr. Wells were not alone in their objections to Island of Lost Souls, as the film proved to be controversial. Across the United States various local film censorship boards banned the movie outright. In the United Kingdom, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) rejected the film outright. Foremost among the BBFC's concerns was the animal cruelty they felt was inherent in the film, as well as the fact that in performing his experiments Dr. Moreau could be seen as usurping the authority of God. Following the creation of the new "X" certificate in 1951, Paramount resubmitted Island of Lost Souls to the BBFC, who once more rejected the film. Ultimately the film would remain banned in the United Kingdom until June 9, 1958, over 25 years after it had been released! Not only was Island of Lost Souls banned in the United Kingdom, it was also banned in Germany, Holland,  India, Latvia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa,  Singapore, and Tasmania. Alongside other pre-code horror movies such as Todd Browning's Freaks, Island of Lost Souls was one of the films that would lead to the creation of the Breen Office, Hollywood's self censorship board. Indeed, before Island of Lost Souls could be re-released in the United States in 1941, the MPAA required extensive cuts to the film.

Seen today it is easy to understand all the uproar caused by Island of Lost Souls. Even by modern standards, Island of Lost Souls is a very intense film. The vivisection experiments and, in particular, the climax are horrific in the extreme. And even with today's more tolerant attitudes towards sex, the relationship between Parker and Lota, as well as Dr. Moreau's encouragement of that relationship, is very disturbing. With Island of Lost Souls, as well as their adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Paramount proved that they could produce horror movies every bit as effective as those created by Universal.

The effectiveness of Island in Lost Souls rests in the fact that it is simply a very well done movie. The script was written by science fiction legend Philip Wylie (who also wrote Murders in the Zoo and The Invisible Man) and Waldemar Young (who wrote London After Midnight and would go onto write The Plainsman), who endowed the film with an intelligence rare even then in horror movies. The film also benefited from some strong performances from its cast. Charles Laughton not only gave one of the best performances of his career as Dr. Moreau, but also his most terrifying performance. Laughton's Dr. Moreau is brilliant, yet at the same time sadistic, tyrannical, and entirely power mad. Bela Lugosi also gave one of the best performances of his career as the Sayer of Law, endowing the character with both dignity and pathos. It is Lugosi who has some of the best lines in the film, as he tells Dr. Moreau of the Law of the man-beasts.

Island of Lost Souls would prove to be a very influential film. It is perhaps its stature as a horror classic which would result in two more adaptations of The Island of Dr. Moreau, as well as the 1972 film The Twilight People, which borrowed liberally both from this film and the original novel. The film would be referenced in rock music in the form of both album titles and songs. The "What is Law" dialogue between Dr. Moreau, the Sayer of Law, and the man-beasts provided the inspiration for the title of Devo's first album, Question: Are We Not Men? Answer: We Are Devo! The same dialogue provided inspiration for the Oingo Boingo song "No Spill Blood." It has also been referenced in everything from The Sopranos to The Simpsons.

Even today Island of Lost Souls  is a very disturbing movie. Over the years it has retained its ability to frighten and even to unsettle viewers, in a way that very few horror movies today can. And like such true classics as Universal's Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, it is also a very thought provoking film. Not merely a horror movie or a science fiction movie, Island of Lost Souls asks the very important question, "What is it to be human?" After two remakes and various imitators, Island of Lost Souls not only remains the best adaptation of Island of Dr. Moreau, but one of the best adaptations of any of H. G. Wells' works. It also remains one of the greatest horror movies ever made.