Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Horror Movies of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford

At the height of their careers Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were two of the most profitable actresses of all time. What is more, beyond doing well at the box office, Miss Davis and Miss Crawford were both known for delivering great performances. Indeed, Miss David won two Oscars and Joan Crawford won one. Both were nominated many more times. Despite their previous successes, the two long time rivals would seen both of their careers take turns for the worse. Indeed, by the late Fifties into the early Sixties, much of the two great movie stars' careers were spent on television. It was perhaps for that reason that in the Sixties the careers of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford took a most unexpected turn. The two began starring in horror movies.

The movie which started it all would be the only film in which the two rivals ever appeared together, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1964). Directed by Robert Aldrich and based on the novel by Henry Farrell, the movie centred on two ageing sisters: one time child star Baby Jane (Bette Davis) and her handicapped, but one time movie star sister Blanche (Joan Crawford). Baby Jane, envious of her sister's success in adulthood, outright abuses her sister, such abuse only getting worse when she learns Blanche plans to sell their mansion and place Jane in a sanatorium. Stories conflict over how the two divas were cast in the film. Robert Aldrich claims that he came up with the idea of casting the two in a film together. According to Joan Crawford, she told Mr. Aldrich that she wanted to work with him once more (having worked with him on Autumn Leaves from 1956) and actually suggested Bette Davis as her co-star.

As in the case of how the two long time rivals were cast in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, reports vary as to how much the two actresses fought with each other on the set. Robert Aldrich has said that the two did got along together on the set, even though it was clear they detested each other. According to other reports, however, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were often catty with each other on the set. In the scene where Jane assaults Blanche with a telephone, Miss Davis actually kicked Miss Crawford in the head, something the latter maintained Miss Davis did on purpose. Later, in the scene where Jane must carry Blanche from her bed, Bette Davis asked Joan Crawford not to be dead weight, as she had a bad back. When Miss Davis went to carry Miss Crawford, however, she found the actress so heavy that it put her back in a good deal of pain. Miss Davis claimed Miss Crawford lined her costume with lead weights.

Regardless of whether the two openly feuded during the shooting of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, they certainly did after the movie was released. Bette Davis was nominated for the Oscar for Best Lead Actress, which infuriated Joan Crawford who was not nominated. Joan Crawford actually campaigned against Bette Davis winning the Oscar and even telephoned the other nominees with an offer of accepting the award on their behalf! Regardless of how much the actresses may have fought during the shooting of the film and afterwards, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was a smash hit. With such success, Robert Aldrich wanted to reunite the two stars for another film.

Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte was based on an unpublished short story by Henry Farrell. Like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, this film also dealt with familial horror, in this case a poor cousin , Miriam (ultimately played by Olivia de Havilland), moves in with her mad, rich cousin Charlotte (Bette Davis). Originally cast in the role of Miriam, Joan Crawford was on the set for only four days before dropping out due to illness. The actual reason may have been that Miss Crawford still resented Miss Davis for having been nominated for an Oscar for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? when she was not. To make matters worse, reportedly Bette Davis and Agnes Moorehead treated Joan Crawford wretchedly, perhaps angry that Miss Crawford had campaigned against Miss Davis for the Oscar for Best Actress. Shooting was suspended for a time, while a replacement for Joan Crawford was sought. Katherine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Barbara Stanwyck, and Loretta Young all turned the role of Miriam down. It was Bette Davis who suggested Olivia de Havilland for the part.

Regardless of how she was treated on the set, Joan Crawford may have been better off staying with the film. Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte was another smash hit. Indeed, it is notable that Bette Davis' career would be much healthier than Joan Crawford's film following the release of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, although both would make more horror films. Indeed, Joan Crawford's first movie following Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? would be a horror movie. The movie was Strait-Jacket, a film directed by William Castle and written by Robert Bloch. Originally, Joan Crawford was not set to star in the movie, despite her success in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The actress originally cast in the role of Lucy Harbin was Joan Blondell, a woman who is released from a mental hospital after having spent twenty years there after the axe murder of her husband. Miss Blondell was injured at her home, however, so she could appear in the film. Joan Crawford was then cast, although it took a good deal for William Castle to hire her. She demanded approval of the script and cast, a salary of $50,000, and 15% of the film's profits. Although regarded well by fans of the genre today, Strait-Jacket received mixed reviews. Being a B-movie, in budget if not in quality, it did not do the business that either Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

Sadly, Miss Crawford's remaining career would mostly be spent in horror B-movies and television. Fortunately, one of those horror movies were directed by William Castle, so it had a level of quality lacking in most B-movies. Indeed, one other beyond Strait-Jacket is today regarded as a classic. I Saw What You Did (1965) is nearly forgotten by all but horror fans and William Castle fans, but it is well regarded. Although Joan Crawford was top billed, she was actually one of the secondary characters. The primary characters were two teenagers (Sara Lane and Andi Garrett) whose prank calls inadvertently set off a murderous chain of events. Joan Crawford played a somewhat sympathetic neighbour.

Unfortunately, Joan Crawford's next horror film would not be as good as I Saw What You Did. Berserk (1967) is not a classic by any means. A low budget film distributed by Columbia, the film centred on murders at a travelling circus. Joan Crawford and Ty Hardin played the circus's owners. Although Miss Crawford received mostly positive reviews for her performance, Berserk received mostly negative reviews. Joan Crawford's remaining film would be even worse. Trog (1970) came from the same production team as Berserk, and was not an improvement. The movie dealt with a caveman discovered living in a cave who then goes berserk. Joan Crawford played a scientist studying him.

Joan Crawford did do television as well as movies, but following Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, her appearances on television were primarily horror related. The exceptions on guest appearances on Route 66, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Lucy Show, The Name of the Game, and a stint on the soap opera The Secret Storm. She appeared in the pilot film for the series Night Gallery. She also appeared in a horror oriented episode of The Virginian, in which she played a woman with E.S.P. She was also host of the telefilm compiled from episodes from the British horror series Journey to the Unknown. She ended her career starring in the horror telefilm Beyond the Water's Edge and a guest appearance on The Sixth Sense.

In contrast to her long time rival Joan Crawford, Bette Davis actually had a fairly good career following Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. She appeared in movies and on television in projects that had nothing to do with the horror genre. She appeared in the French film The Empty Canvas (1963), the thriller Dead Ringer (1964), in the melodrama Where Love Has Gone (1964), the comedy Bunny O'Hare (1971), and other films that had nothing to do with horror. Indeed, the horror movies Miss Davis made actually comprise a minority of her later work, unlike Miss Crawford.

Of course, Bette Davis did make quite a few horror movies and on the whole they are still well regarded to this day. The first horror movie she made after Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte was The Nanny (1965), produced by the legendary Hammer Films. Based on Meriam Modell's novel, Bette Davis played the nanny, whose grasp on sanity was very tenuous indeed. Today it still regarded as of of he best "psycho-biddy" films (horror movies like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? featuring, well, crazy, old ladies). In 1968 Miss Davis appeared in another Hammer Film, although this one was a black comedy as well as a horror film. The Anniversary Mrs. Taggart celebrates the 10th anniversary of her husband's death by reminding her sons precisely who is in charge. The film is still well regarded today and considered one of Hammer's better comedies.

In the Seventies Mrs. Davis drifted away from the horror genre, although she continued to appear in horror related projects in that decade. In the telefilm Scream, Pretty Peggy, Scream, aired in 1973, Miss Davis played another pyscho-biddy, in this case the quite mad mother of a sculptor who hires some unfortunate co-eids to care for her.  In 1976 she appeared in the horror movie Burnt Offerings, directed by Dan Curtis. The movie centred on a house that was not so much haunted as possessed. In 1978 Bette Davis appeared in the two part television movie The Dark Secret of Harvest Home. in which a New England village has never quite given up the practices of an odd form of paganism. In 1980 she appeared in the Disney produced horror film The Watcher in the Woods. In the film Miss Davis played the owner of a home into which a young family movies. As it turns out, the house and its surroundings (particularly the woods), are the focal point of strange happenings. The Watcher in the Woods would be the last horror movie in which Bette Davis appeared. She would appear in several more films before her death in 1989, but not one of them was even vaguely related to the horror genre.

Over all, not only was Bette Davis' career considerably better than Joan Crawford's career following Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, but the horror movies in which she starred were considerably better as well. Many of Miss Davis's horror movies are considered classics today, while the rest are well regarded. Beyond Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Miss Crawford would have only one other horror movie regarded as a classic (Strait-Jacket), the rest are, well, regarded as junk. It is difficult to say why this was the case. Certainly the fact that Bette Davis was nominated for an Oscar for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? may have played a role. Prior to the nomination, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was regarded as Miss Davis' film. The nomination only confirmed that thought in many people's minds. The reason for this was not that Miss Crawford's performance was any less than that of Miss Davis, but simply that as Baby Jane Miss Davis played the role over the top, while Miss Crawford gave a quieter, more subtle performance.

The fact that Miss Crawford dropped out of Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte may have played a role in Joan Crawford not having the career which Bette Davis did following Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. After all, this meant that Miss Davis now had two hit horror films, both hailed by critics and nominated for Oscars (Agnes Moorehead received a nomination for Supporting Actress for Hush..Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and the film was nominated for many other Oscars). Joan Crawford only had one. This certainly put Bette Davis at an advantage over her old rival.

Of course, it is possible that Joan Crawford herself may have played a role in undermining her career in her later years. Miss Crawford left Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte after only four days, claiming illness. In 1968 Miss Crawford guest starred on The Lucy Show. Miss Crawford had some trouble during rehearsals, and even drank on the set. The situation was so dire that Lucille Ball even suggested replacing her with Gloria Swanson. Miss Crawford was not replaced, however, and on the night of the taping she did so well that both Miss Ball and Miss Crawford received a standing ovation. The one thing that keeps me from accepting the idea that Joan Crawford herself played a role in damaging her career is twofold. First, Miss Crawford left Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte after alleged mistreatment from Bette Davis and Agnes Moorehead. Given the venom that Miss Davis and even Miss Moorehead could occasionally speak, one cannot blame Miss Crawford for leaving and I doubt directors and producers at the time would have. As to her guest shot on The Lucy Show, while Miss Crawford may have had trouble during rehearsals, she did well come the actual taping  For that matter, I know of no other reports from later in Joan Crawford's career of unprofessional conduct. At the very worst, the one thing that Miss Crawford may have done to hurt her later career was choose extremely bad scripts!

Regardless, the fact that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford would make several horror movies later in their careers is quite interesting. It is true that many classic stars would turn to the horror genre later in their careers (indeed, Rory Calhoun's best performance may be in Motel Hell). And after the success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, there bloomed a whole psych-biddy genre, in which actresses such as Shelley Winters and Tallulah Bankhead appearing in such films as Who Slew Auntie Roo (1971) and Die! Die! My Darling (1965). That having been said, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford would star in more horror movies than any other classic actresses. Indeed, the fact remains that they were the only stars of their level to regularly make horror movies. Other actors in the genre either started out in supporting roles (Vincent Price), bit parts and roles as heavies (Boris Karloff), or the horror genre itself (Bela Lugosi). Only Bette Davis and Joan Crawford would be queens of the box office who actually turned to the genre.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Second Golden Age of Horror Movies

(This is another post from the first year of A Shroud of Thoughts, first published on 30 October 2004. It discusses what I call "the Second Golden Age of Horror Movies," the years 1939 to 1948. I reprint it here because it is a bit of a companion piece to the "Golden Age of Horror Movies (reprinted yesterday)," not to mention adding pictures to posts was very difficult in 2004!).

Sunday is Halloween, so naturally my mind is on horror movies today. Of course, the thought of horror movies brings to mind the classic monster movies released by Universal in the Thirties and Forties. Most film historians and films buffs agree that Universal's release of Dracula in 1931 marked the beginning of a Golden Age for horror films; however, there is no such agreement as to when this Golden Age ended. Some believe that the Golden Age ended in 1948 with the release of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Others believe that it ended in 1936 with the release of Dracula's Daughter. By this time horror movies had been banned in Britain and as a result the possible box office that the American studios could see from any horror movie was drastically reduced. For this reason, Universal ceased production of horror movies for three years. I have always fallen into the latter category as to when the Golden Age of horror movies ended, feeling that the release of Dracula's Daughter marked its end. For me the horror movies of the 1940s constitute a second Golden Age of horror films.

As I said earlier, in 1936 Universal stopped making horror movies due to the ban on such films in Britain. Most other American studios followed suit, so that virtually no horror movies came out for three years. In 1937 the studio re-released both Dracula and Frankenstein. Both films did an incredible amount of box office, enough for Universal to rethink their position on horror movies. It was then that they decided to produce a second sequel to Frankenstein. Son of Frankenstein was released in 1939 and was a smash hit at the box office. Its success started a new cycle of horror movies that would last into the late Forties. Son of Frankenstein marked the final time that Boris Karloff would play the Monster, who, oddly enough, was speechless after his speaking role in Bride of Frankenstein. Son of Frankenstein concerned Wolf Frankenstein, the son of Henry, who returns home to claim his inheritance. He soon finds himself persuaded by corrupt former blacksmith Ygor (played by Bela Lugosi) to revive the Monster, who wants to use him for his own purposes. Although not as good as Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein was still a top notch production and a very fine film.

With the success of Son of Frankenstein, Universal was back in the business of making horror movies. With 1940, they returned to the subject of mummies. Contrary to popular belief, The Mummy's Hand was not a sequel to 1932's The Mummy. In fact, the mummy of The Mummy's Hand, Kharis, was not even related to the mummy of The Mummy, Imhotep. Of course, the plots of the two movies are similar. In both an Egyptian tomb is disturbed and in both the mummy who resided in that tomb wreaks his vengeance. The Mummy's Hand was so successful that Kharis appeared in three sequels: The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Ghost (1944) and The Mummy's Curse (1944). Oddly enough, despite the success of the Kharis movies, he never encountered the other Universal monsters in the crossovers Universal did in the mid to late Forties.

Nineteen forty one saw the release of a movie that would establish the third of Universal's iconic movie monsters. The Wolf Man starred Lon Chaney Jr. as Lawrence Talbot, the son of a Welsh lord who has the misfortune of being bitten by a werewolf and thus becoming one himself. Like Son of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man was a top notch production, with a creative script by writing legend Curt Siodmak. It also involved far more special effects than any previous Universal horror movie, the transformation scenes marking a turning point in the history of FX. The Wolf Man was incredibly successful, cementing Universal's status as a maker of monster movies and establishing Lon Chaney Jr. as a horror movie star. Indeed, the Wolf Man is the only Universal monster played by only one actor--Lon Chaney Jr.

Bela Lugosi returned as Ygor in the fourth sequel to Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, released in 1942. This time around it was Lon Chaney Jr. who played the Monster. The plot concerned yet another Frankenstein, Wolf's brother, Ludwig Frankenstein, whose field of expertise was brain transplants. Needless to say, Ludwig has a unique solution to the Monster's supposed murderous streak. Ghost of Frankenstein is generally considered the weakest of the Frankenstein sequels, although it was still a top notch production and still displayed some of the originality of the earlier Universal horror films.

Nineteen forty three perhaps marked the height of the Universal horror film in the Second Golden Age of horror. It was that year that the studio released no less than three of their most classic horror movies. The first of these was Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man marks a turning point in the history of Universal horror films, as it is the first time that two of Universal's classic monsters would meet. In Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Lawrence Talbot seeks out Dr. Frankenstein to find a cure for his lycanthropy. As it turns out, he fails to find a Dr. Frankenstein, although he meets his daughter, not to mention the Monster. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was a well written and well directed, upscale production that matches Son of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man for quality. It is remembered as a classic to this day.

The second classic Universal horror film released in 1943 was a remake of the silent classic Phantom of the Opera. In this version Claude Rains (of Invisible Man fame) plays the Phantom, Erik, who becomes obsessed with opera star Christine. Phantom of the Opera had top notch production values, although it does fall short in quality when compared to the original Phantom of the Opera and other Universal horror classics. The largest complaint with the film has always been that it focused too much on opera and not enough on horror. Still, the 1943 version of Phantom of the Opera is enjoyable in its own right and holds up well today.

The third and final major horror movie Universal released in 1943 was the second sequel to Dracula. Son of Dracula is a strange film in which the legendary count (this time played by Lon Chaney Jr.) journeys to the American South under an assumed name (Alucard). The movie benefits from a good script (the screenplay by Eric Taylor, based on a story by Curt Siodmak) and good direction (it was directed by Robert Siodmak, Curt Siodmak's brother). Son of Dracula also benefits from great use of atmosphere; indeed, it is one of the creepier films Universal released in the Forties. Unfortunately, Son of Dracula would be the last upscale horror film that Universal would release in the Second Golden Age of horror. Following Son of Dracula, it almost seemed as if Universal was content to rest on their previous laurels.

Of course, just as Universal was not the only studio making horror movies in the First Golden Age of horror, so too was this the case in the Second Golden Age of horror. Perhaps the most notable of horror movies made by studios other than Universal in this era was a series of films which Val Lewton produced for RKO's B movie unit. Although made on shoestring budgets, Lewton's films are generally considered among the very best horror movies ever made. The Val Lewton horror movies were made with subtlety in mind. Partially because his budgets would permit little else, Lewton depended largely on atmosphere in his films. Rather than outright showing monsters or whatever other things might go bump in the night, Lewton's films depended on the mere suggestion of horror. Much of Lewton's success was due to his ability to spot new talent. Among the young directors he worked with were Mark Robson and former film editor Robert Wise.

Lewton's films stand apart from many other horror films of the time in being very literate, not to mention very original. One need look no further than Lewton's first horror movie for RKO, Cat People, for the innovation that marked most of his films. Released in 1942, Cat People deals with the time honoured idea of people transforming into dangerous animals, but does so in a way that is starkly original. A Serbian born fashion artist believes that she is descended from the Cat People and that any emotional arousal will result in her transformation into a panther. Lewton's originality can also be seen in I Walked with a Zombie released in 1943. It was one of the earliest films to deal in voodoo and zombies ever released. And like all of Lewton's horror movies, it dealt more in suggestion than images of the walking dead. Also released in 1943 was The Seventh Victim, one of the earliest films to deal with Satanists (called Palladists in the film to avoid offending religious sensibilities) as a source of horror.

Most notable among Lewton's films are those he made with Boris Karloff. At first Lewton was not looking forward to working with Karloff, associating the actor with the Universal monster movies which he detested. After meeting the actor, however, he learned he had found a kindred spirit. The two made three horror movies together, the first of which was an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Body Snatcher, released in 1945. Not only did Karloff play John Gray, the cabman who obtains bodies (through exhumation and more sinister means), but Bela Lugosi played Joseph, the evil servant who turns to blackmail. The second Lewton/Karloff outing was Isle of the Dead, in which several people are stranded on a Greek island quarantined by the plague, and which may be stalked by a vampire-like demon called a vorvolaka. Lewton and Karloff's third collaboration was also the last horror movie Lewton ever produced. Bedlam, released in 1946, featured Karloff as the sinister figure who runs the notorious British asylum. With the success of his horror films, Lewton graduated from B movies to more upscale films.

Universal and RKO were not the only studios making horror films in the Forties. The Poverty Row studios, such as Monogram and PRC, made many throughout the era. And the major studios followed Universal's lead in jumping on the horror bandwaggon. In 1939 Paramount released one of the all time classic horror movies, Dr. Cyclops. Dr. Cyclops featured Albert Dekker as Dr. Thorkel (the doctor of the title), who has learned how to shrink both humans and animals. Dr. Cyclops was an upscale production and, in fact, it was the first horror movie released in Technicolour. Nineteen forty saw the release of Before I Hang from Columbia (a studio that always bordered on Poverty Row and the majors). The film featured Karloff as Dr. John Garth, a man who conquered death. It was the first of a four film contract Karloff had with Columbia, which was never completed. In 1941 MGM released another version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this time starring Spencer Tracy as the doctor and his alter ego. Unlike previous versions of the tale, the 1941 version did not depend heavily upon makeup to denote the difference between Jekyll and Hyde, but rather upon Spencer Tracy's acting talent. Also in 1941, Warner Brothers released The Hidden Hand, another film dealing with a spooky old house. In 1942 Twentieth Century Fox released Dr. Renault's Secret, featuring George Zucco in the title role (Zucco virtually made a career of playing mad doctors). In this film Renault has broken the evolutionary barrier and figured out how to turn apes into men. There were many other horror movies released than these, many of the B variety, from 1939 to about 1948.

Indeed, by 1944 it became apparent that Universal had mined the genre much too deeply. The days of upscale horror movies with quality production were over at Universal. Instead, the studio sought to repeat the success of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man by featuring its iconic monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, and the Wolf Man) all in one film. The first of these was House of Frankenstein, released in 1944. House of Frankenstein featured Boris Karloff as scientist Gustav Niemann, who has been trying to revive the dead just as Frankenstein had, and Lon Chaney Jr. once more as the Wolf Man. While both Lawrence Talbot and his furry alter ego get a good deal of screen time in this film, it seems the other monsters did not fare so well. Dracula, played by John Carradine, appears only in the first half of the film, while the Frankenstein Mosnter (played by Glenn Strange) spends most of his time strapped to a table. Despite this, House of Frankenstein is an enjoyable film, particularly for Karloff's performance as the mad Dr. Niemann and Chaney's performance as the tormented Talbot.

The success of House of Frankenstein led to a second "monster mash" movie, House of Dracula, released in 1945. The film features both Lawrence Talbot and Count Dracula seeking out the kindly Dr. Edelmann for a cure to their conditions (althogh Dracula does seem to have another agenda entirely on his mind...). Like House of Frankenstein, Dracula is gone midway through the movie. Unlike House of Frankenstein, the Monster has even less of a role in House of Dracula. Like House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula is an enjoyable film, although both pale when compared to Universal's earlier work--particularly the classics of the Thirties.

With House of Dracula, Universal appears to have exhausted the monster movie formula. There would be no House of the Wolf Man. In fact, the only thing left was for Universal to feature their classic monsters in a comedy. Throughout the Forties, the two biggest money makers at the studio had been their classic movie monsters and the comedy team of Abbot and Costello. It was perhaps inevitable that all of them should meet. And, indeed, they did, in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein released in 1948. The movie features the hapless duo as freight handlers who have the rotten luck of delivering the remains of Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster to a house of horrors. Not surprisingly, Dracula is revived and soon plotting to revive the Monster, too. Only Lawrence Talbot, Bud, and Lou stand in Dracula's way. The genius of Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein is that the monsters themselves are never played for laughs. The comedy comes not from the monsters, but from Bud and Lou's reaction to them. Lon Chaney still plays Talbot as a tormented soul and Bela Lugosi once more plays the role that made him famous. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a unique combination of frights and laughs, and quite possibly one of the greatest comedy films of all time.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein marked the last time that Universal's monsters would appear in a major motion picture. It therefore marks the end of the Second Golden Age of horror movies in my mind. The Fifties would see new monsters, from the intellectual "carrot" of RKO's The Thing to Universal's Creature from the Black Lagoon. Universal would re-release the classic horror films Dracula and Frankenstein in 1954. Following the successful TV debut of the RKO classic King Kong on March 5, 1956, Universal decided to sell the television syndication rights to their pre-1948 horror movies to Screen Gems in 1957. The package was released under the title Shock and contained many of the classic Universal horror films, including Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man (although enough, not Bride of Frankenstein). For the first time classic Universal horror films from both the First and Second Golden Ages of Horror movies could be seen on local stations. This inspired an absolute craze for the classic movie monsters, resulting in tons of merchandise, from posters to Aurora model kits. Indeed, this would so successful that in 1958 Screen Gems followed the Shock syndication package with the Son of Shock package, which did include the classic Bride of Frankenstein.  Since that time the classic Universal films and other movies from the First and Second Golden Ages of horror have been inspiring new fans. It is safe to say they will do so well into the future.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Golden Age of Horror Movies

(This is another reprint of an article from the first year of the existence of A Shroud of Thoughts. The article looks at the years 1930 to 1936, considered by many to be the Golden Age of Horror Movies. This is when Universal's biggest classics were released, as well as a number of films from other studios. I reprint it now as, as I've said before, it is much easier to include pictures on Blogger than it was in 2004. I also added some information on some significant films that, for whatever reason, I left out in the original piece! Without further ado, then, here is "The Golden Age of Horror Movies.")

Most people would agree that in 1931 a Golden Age of the horror film began with the releases of Dracula and Frankenstein that year. Individuals can debate when that Golden Age ended. Some would end it in 1936 with the release of Dracula's Daughter. Others would end it in 1948, with the release of Abbot and Costello Meet Frakenstein. Regardless, there is almost no debate as to when it began.

For that matter there is almost no debate as to where it began either. Universal Studios was founded in 1912 by German immigrant Carl Laemmle. As early as 1913 the studio was making horror movies--The Werewolf and a version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In 1920s Universal made a number of horror movies and near horror movies with Lon Chaney, the most famous being the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera. Carl Laemmle himself was not that fond of the genre, although his son, Carl Laemmle Jr., loved horror movies. When Carl Laemmle Jr. took over the company in 1929, he then naturally turned to the horror genre. It was Universal that made the first horror talkie, Dracula, released on Valentine's Day in 1931.

With Dracula, Universal had a huge hit. Its star, Bela Lugosi, became a household name. In the process he was typecast forever. It also arguably set the tone for Universal horror movies to come. The opening, set in Transylvania and eventually winding up at Castle Dracula, would have a lasting influence on Gothic horror films to come. I personally don't think the film has stood the test of time too well. The plot seems to bog down once the action moves to England and the film seems terribly talky, even for a film of its time. And while Lugosi handles the role of Dracula quite well in many parts of the movie, there are a few scenes where he just seems to overact (particularly the scene where Dracula tries to mesmerise Van Helsing). Regardless, it is still considered a classic by many. In fact, it is one of the oldest talkies that is still shown commercially.

The success of Dracula led Carl Laemmle Jr. to seek out other classic horror movies which could be adapted to the screen. He eventually settled on Frankenstein, the classic novel by Mary Shelley. Universal acquired the screen rights to the 1927 British play Frankenstein: An Experiment in the Macabre. Initially, Robert Florey was set to direct the movie and Bela Lugosi would play the Monster. Eventually, Florey was replaced by James Whale. As to Lugosi, not particularly being thrilled with working in make up (he feared he would not be recognised), he was not cast as the Monster. Instead, James Whale cast veteran actor Boris Karloff in the role. Karloff had been acting in movies for literally years, usually playing heavies, when he got the role that would make him famous.

Frankenstein, released in late 1931, proved to be an even larger hit than Dracula. It was literally the Titanic or Star Wars of its day. And it is undeniably a classic. From James Whale's direction to Karloff's performance as the Monster to the art direction of the film, it is nearly perfect. Perhaps no other horror film would ever have the impact or the influence of Frankenstein. It success insured that Universal would make even more horror films in the years to come.

One of these horror films would be The Bride of Frankenstein, the first sequel to the 1931 Frankenstein, released in 1935. It would be one of the few sequels in the history of film to actually surpass the original movie in quality. The Bride of Frankenstein successfully combined frights, humour, philosophical content, and strong characterisation in one film. It is arguably the greatest horror film of all time, its influence perhaps surpassed only by the original Frankenstein.

Of course, Universal made more movies than those featuring Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula. Throughout the early Thirties they made a variety of horror movies, often with Karloff, Lugosi, or both in lead roles. The Old Dark House, released in 1932, was directed by Frankenstein director James Whale himself. It is a combination creepy house movie, comedy of manners, and horror movie spoof, with Karloff playing the forebear of all creepy butlers to come. It was during this era that Universal also did its first werewolf movie, The Werewolf of London, released in 1935. While not nearly as successful as the Frankenstein and Dracula movies, Werewolf of London is a very interesting movie. Eschewing the ravenous beast portrayal of a werewolf, the movie plays out like a cross between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Universal's The Wolf Man.

Among the most notable films released by Universal Studios during this era was The Black Cat (1934) starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Although Edgar Allan Poe is listed in its credit, the movie owes almost nothing to the short story "The Black Cat." In the film, Bela Lugsoi plays psychiatrist Dr. Werdergast, who faces off against old friend Hjalmar Poelzig, openly a diabolist. With strange art deco sets and a good deal of atmosphere, The Black Cat was one of Universal's most effective horror movies.

Of course, other studios followed Universal's lead in producing horror movies during this period. Paramount produced two of the best horror movies of the time. One was a new version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, directed by Rouben Mamoulian and released very late in 1931. This version of the story featured Frederic March in the lead role, a role for which March would later receive the Oscar for Best Actor. Many consider this film to be the quintessential version of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel. Another Paramount horror film of the period is perhaps one of the greatest horror films of all time, although it is largely forgotten now. Island of Lost Souls was based on H. G. Wells' novel The Island of Dr. Moreau and featured Charles Laughton as the mad Dr. Moreau. Released in 1933, the movie caused considerable controversy in its day with its tale of Dr. Moreau crossing animals and men--particularly controversial was Moreau's none too subtle hints to the hero (Edward Parker played by Richard Arlen) that he breed with half panther/half woman Lota (played by Leila Hyams). Viewing the movie today it is no surprise that it would cause controversy--it is an intense film even today.

Surprisingly, another controversial horror film was produced by MGM, better known for musicals and costume dramas. Released in 1932, Freaks was directed by veteran horror director Todd Browning (who, among other things, had directed Universal's Dracula). The movie centred around the scheme of a trapeze artist (Cleopatra) and her strong man lover (Hercules) to rob a midget (Hans) of his fortune and the consequences which stem from their actions. Browning chose to cast actual freaks and carnival performers in many of the roles, which led to part of the controversy regarding this film when it was first released. The other part of the controversy stemmed from the violence in the movie. Indeed, even today Freaks is a disquieting film to watch.

MGM would also produce another classic horror film, although nowhere near as controversial as Freaks, in the form of Mad Love (1935). Based on Maurice Renard's story The Hands of Orlac, the film marked the American film debut of Peter Lorre. In the film Lorre plays Dr. Gogol, a physician who replaces the mutliated hands of pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive) with the hands of an executed murderer.

None of these movies had the lasting impact that Universal's horror movies did, with the exception of a movie produced by RKO. King Kong would be the smash hit of 1933. Its star, the giant ape called Kong, would become as well known as any of the Universal's monsters. Its lead actress, Fay Wray, would forever be remembered as the beauty who "killed the beast." For its day, King Kong was absolutely revolutionary. For one thing, its effects were state of the art. With King Kong, stop motion animation took a giant leap forward. For another, it was one of the first horror movies (along with the Frankenstein films) to evoke sympathy for the antagonist (in this case, Kong). Many viewers truly felt saddened with the great ape fell from the Empire State Building. Even today, in the age of CGI, King Kong still holds up.

Of course, not every horror film of the era was produced by a major studio. Released in 1932, White Zombie was produced by the Halperin brothers, Edward and Victor (Victor also directed). The movie featured Bela Lugosi in one of his bigger roles, as Legendre, a man who turns people into zombies. Although made on a shoestring budget, the movie definitely has atmosphere and is still somewhat effective today. Indeed, it paved the way for all voodoo/zombie movies to come.

By 1936, two events happened that would prove pivotal in the Golden Age of the horror film. First, the Laemmele family lost control of Universal Studios. The stockholders, unhappy with Carl Laemmele Jr., voted them out. Universal continued making horror movies even after the removal of the Laemmele, although not for long. That same year the United Kingdom banned all horror movies. This caused a considerable dip in Universal's overseas revenue, as well as that of any other studio which made a horror movie. On top of this, horror movies had been declining in revenue Stateside as well. Quite simply, horror movies weren't economical to make any more.

It is for that reason that Dracula's Daughter, released in 1936, would be the last horror film Universal would make for three years. Although hardly remembered now, the first sequel to Dracula is an effective film and, in my opinion, superior to the original. It possesses a strong hint of eroticism rarely found in films of that era, as well as a strong sense of atmosphere. And in Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Krueger) and his secretary, Janet Blake (Marguerite Churchill), it had two of the best developed protagonists in horror movies of the era.

Because it would be three years before Universal would make another horror movie and no other studios were making horror films either, many consider the release of Dracula's Daughter to be the end of the Golden Age of the Horror Film. Or, at the very least, the end of the First Golden Age of the Horror Film. Universal would not make another horror movie until Son of Frankenstein in 1939. While Universal had stopped making horror movies in 1936, it re-released both Frankenstein and Dracula in 1937 to big box office. That success led the studio to reconsider making horror films and led to Son of Frankenstein. The success of Son of Frankenstein would lead to a new round of Universal horror movies, as well as RKO's classic Val Lewton chillers, and horror movies from other studios. Whether this was a continuation of the Golden Age of Horror or a Second Golden Age or even a Silver Age, I suppose, is a matter for debate...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Appeal of The Addams Family

(This is another reprint from the early days of A Shroud of Thoughts, this one from 22 June 2004. The Addams Family remains one of my favourite TV shows of all time and I love the work of cartoonist Charles Addams to this day. I am reprinting it now because adding pictures on Blogger is much easier than in the old days, Too, since this post was published, there has been a Broadway musical based on the comic strip and the TV series. Of course, The Addams Family are a perfectly suitable subject for Halloween).

Last night I watched Addams Family Values. I have always liked both of the feature films, but then I have fond memories of the TV series. I was much too young to remember the original run of The Addams Family (it ran on ABC from 1964 to 1966), but I remember the syndicated reruns very well. It seems that I am not the only one. Since the show went off ABC in 1966, there has been television reunions, two animated series, two feature films, a TV movie, a new series, and a Broadway musical.

Of course, the Addams Family did not have their origins on television. They originated in the single panel cartoons of Charles Addams. The first Addams Family cartoon appeared in 1937. It featured Morticia and Lurch. Eventually, Gomez, Wednesday, Pugsley, and Grandmama would be added. In the comic strip the family was never given a name, although the general public termed them "the Addams Family" after their creator. The family did not earn first names until David Levy approached Addams about the TV series. It was then that Addams gave the characters the names we now know them by. Addams continued to draw the Addams Family cartoons until his death in 1988.

As to the appeal of both the comic strip and the subsequent TV series and movies, I think a large part of it lies in its macabre humour. The average American tends to fear death and injury. Even those who do not outright fear death and injury tend to be very uncomfortable about these subjects. The Addams Family cartoons, TV series, and movies allowed people to laugh about death and injury, thus overcoming their fear or discomfort, if only temporarily.

Another part of both the comic strip, TV series, and movies' appeal may lie in the fact that the Addamses are non-conformists. The Addams Family is a family in love with the macabre. They prefer the night to day, misery to happiness, dark colours to bright colours. In many ways, they were "Goth" long before the "Goth" movement ever began. As a family that refuses to conform to the rest of society, the Addams Family thus reinforces the idea of being oneself rather than conforming to someone else's expectations. The cartoons, the TV series, and the movies place importance on individuality over conformity.

With regards to the TV series and movies, another large part of the appeal of the Addams Family is the fact that they are a family. In a society where single parent homes are all too common, the Addams Family stick together. Indeed, it must be pointed out that not only the nuclear family lived in the Addams mansion, but the extended family as well--Morticia, Gomez, Wednesday, Pugsley, Lurch, Grandmama, and Thing all under the same roof. Furthermore, other family members did visit, some often, most notably Cousin Itt and Morticia's sister Ophelia. And while Wednesday and Pugsley occasionally make a game of trying to kill each other, the Addamses never fail to come to the aid of one of its members when he or she is in trouble. Indeed, perhaps the closeness of the Addams Family is best demonstrated by the passion exhibited by Gomez and Morticia for each other. While other TV husbands and wives might simply kiss each other on the cheek, Gomez would kiss Morticia all over her arms! At any rate, while the Addams Family may not conform to most of society's mores, they are a highly traditional family, closely knit and very devoted to each other. In fact, I think that the closeness of the Addamses may be what appeals to me the most about the TV shows and movies.

I grew up watching the Addams Family as a child and as an adult I seem to have developed an even keener appreciation of the series (a lot of the humour in the show would be lost on an 8 year old). To this days it remains one of my favourite shows of all time.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lights Out

Before there was Tales From the Crypt, before there was Tales From the Darkside, before there was even Thriller, One Step Beyond, or The Twilight Zone, there was Lights Out. Lights Out was not the first horror radio show, but it was one of the earliest and probably the one which made the most impact. With Grand Guignol plots which sometimes ran to very dark humour, Lights Out was to radio shows what E.C. Comics were to comic books and Thriller was to television.

Lights Out was conceived by writer Wyllis Cooper, a writer at NBC in 1933. According to an article in the November 28, 1933 issue of Variety, Mr. Cooper developed the idea of  "...a midnight mystery serial to catch the attention of the listeners at the witching hour." He soon dropped the idea of a midnight mystery serial, but kept the idea of a series which would air at the witching hour, namely a horror anthology series. That idea would become Lights Out.

Lights Out debuted on January 1934 on WENR in Chicago. In the beginning it was only 15 minutes in length, but the show proved so successful that it expanded to a half hour in April 1934. Very much in demand as a writer, Wyllis Cooper's workload grew as he worked on Lights Out. Indeed, he wrote radio plays for NBC's award winning Immortal Dramas, which adapted tales from the Hebrew Bible. For that reason in January 1935 Lights Out was cancelled. Listeners would demand its return in droves, however, so that Lights Out returned after only a few weeks. Indeed, in April 1935 Lights Out went nationwide on the NBC Red Network.

Under Wyllis Cooper Lights Out emphasised sound effects to depict action over descriptions read by a narrator. What is more, Lights Out was very gruesome, although often played tongue in cheek. Indeed, Mr. Cooper endowed Lights Out with a sense of the bizarre that would not be seen on any other horror anthology. The episode "Cat's Wife" featured a woman who could turn into a human sized cat (this was several years before Val Lewton's Cat People). In "Death Robbery" a scientist who has developed a resurrection serum planned to use it on his dead wife. Naturally, because of the nature of the subject matter featured on Lights Out, NBC only aired the series late at night. Sadly, only a few of Mr. Cooper's original recordings survive.

Wyllis Cooper left Lights Out in 1936 to write for Hollywood (writing among other things the screenplay for The Son of Frankenstein and many entries in the "Mr. Moto" series). NBC then turned to writer Arch Oboler to take over the series. If anything Arch Oboler would be even more outrageous with his scripts than Wyllis Cooper had been. Indeed, his first radio play for the series, "Burial Services," concerned a paralysed girl who is buried alive. Because of the episode NBC received 50,000 letters in complaint! Mr. Oboler kept the tradition of graphic sound effects which Mr. Cooper had established, but at the same time made Lights Out all his own. He experimented with narration, even bringing something to Lights Out rarely heard on other radio shows--stories told from a specific point of view. Among other things he used on a series were a stream of consciousness technique and monologue techniques, allowing listeners to get into the heads of characters.

While Wyllis Cooper created the series, Arch Oboler arguably wrote the most memorable episodes. Indeed, the most famous radio play of all time besides the "War of the Worlds" broadcast of The Mercury Theatre on the Air, may have been "Chicken Heart," in which a chicken's heart grows to enormous sizes and devours everything in its path. In "The Dream" a character accused of murder (played by Boris Karloff) is haunted by an unearthly siren urging him to kill. In"Revolt of the Worms," common earthworms grow to gigantic proportions after a scientist disposes of a formula in his backyard. In "Murder Castle" a man finds a novel way to finance his dream home.

It was in 1938 that Arch Oboler decided to leave Lights Out. He had tired of fighting with NBC's Broadcast Standards over the content of the show, and had a desire to write plays as well. The show would continue until it was finally cancelled in 1939. Lights Out would not remain dead, however, as Arch Oboler would bring it back to life in October 1942 on CBS. For this revival of the series, Oboler re-used material from the original run of the show, as well as material from his plays. It lasted until September 1943. NBC would revive Lights Out from July to September 1945 and again from July to August 1946. ABC revived the show from  July to August 1947. From 1970 to 1973 episodes from the 1942 to 1943 run were syndicated under the title The Devil and Mr. O. Since the Sixties many collections of episodes of Lights Out would be released, first on vinyl records and later on cassette tapes and CDs.

It was in 1946 that NBC brought Lights Out to television in a series of four specials produced by Fred Coe and aired live. It would be in 1949 that Lights Out  would become a regularly scheduled programme, including both original episodes and adaptations of Wyllis Cooper's radio plays. It ran until 1952. In 1972 Lights Out was revived as a telefilm, adapting episodes from the radio show.

As popular as Lights Out was, it would have an enormous impact on pop culture. The episode "Chicken Heart" would inspire Bill Cosby's well known comedy routine of the same name. The episode "What the Devil," in which two drivers are stalked by a truck drive they can't see, may have inspired Steven Spielberg's movie Duel. It would also have a lasting impact on horror anthology series on both radio and television, including stylised introductions and gallows humour. In the end, shows from Starring Boris Karloff to Alfred Hitchcock Presents to The Twilight Zone to Thriller, all owe their existence to Lights Out.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

It was 17 years ago that the great Vincent Price died from lung cancer. It is natural , then, that my thoughts should turn to his many films. In particular, I am thinking of one of his later works, yet one that is still one of his best. I am talking about The Abominable Dr. Phibes, released 18 May 1971.

In some respects The Abominable Dr. Phibes was a bit of an anachronism when it was released. In 1971 the cycle towards Gothic horror which Hammer Films began with the release of The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957 was finally coming to an end. Although set in 1925, The Abominable Dr. Phibes feels very much like a classic, Gothic horror movie. Indeed, it looks and very much like the classic Hammer \and American International Gothic horror films released in the Sixties.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes centres upon the title character, one Dr. Anton Phibes (played by Vincent Price),  a talented organist who holds degrees in both Music and Theology. Four years earlier Dr. Phibes and his beautiful wife were in a horrible crash which disfigured Dr. Phibes and would leave his wife dead. Dr. Phibes would create a realistic mask to replace his damaged face and use his skill in music to create technology that would allow him to "speak" despite the damage to his vocal cords. Dr. Phibes would not stop there, however, as he would seek revenge on those he blamed for his wife's death, killing them one by one in the most terrifying ways. Seeking to stop Dr. Phibes' reign of terror are Dr. Vesalius (the great Joseph Cotton), one of the men Dr. Phibes blames for his wife's death, and Inspector Trout of Scotland Yard (Peter Jeffrey).

The Abominable Dr. Phibes has often been classed as camp. And there is some justification in this to a small degree. It features beautiful, but extravagant art deco sets and the murders Dr. Phibes commits, although horrifying in the extreme, are admittedly over the top. That having been said, I truly do not believe The Abominable Dr. Phibes is camp. Things that are truly campy elicit laughs more than anything else, while The Abominable Dr. Phibes elicits screams rather than laughs. The Abominable Dr. Phibes is no more campy that the classic Hammer or American International horror of the movies. It is much closer to Hammer's version of Dracula (1958) and the American International Pictures classic The Masque of the Red Death (1964), in which Vincent Price also starred) than the Sixties Batman TV series or the movie Hairspray (1988).

Indeed, while both the art deco sets and the means through which Dr. Phibes commits his murders are over the top, Vincent Price's performance as Dr. Anton Phibes is remarkably restrained. It is arguably one of Vincent Price's best pieces of acting in his his long career. This is all the more incredible given that, because Dr. Phibes never actually speaks in the film (he only "talks" through the sound system he created), Mr. Price had to dub all his lines after the film had been shot! This would lead to Joseph Cotten complaining that he had to remember and deliver lines, while Mr. Price would dub all of his lines in post production, to which Vincent Price replied, "Yes, but I still know them, Joe." Here it must be pointed out that Vincent Price's capacity for memorising lines was so great that he could not only memorise his own character's lines in scripts, but that of every single character!

Of course, there should be little wonder that Vincent Price should play Dr. Anton Phibes so well, as he is an archetypal Vincent Price character. While Mr. Price would play a variety of roles in his career, many of his best known characters from his horror movies were tragic figures who elicited our sympathy even as they committed unspeakable horrors. In House of the Seven Gables (1940),  he played Clifford Pyncheon, the victim of his evil brother Jaffrey's scheming.  In House of Wax (1953) Vincent Price played wax sculptor Prof. Henry Jarrod, whose original wax museum was burned in an arson and whose body was badly burned in that fire. In The Last Man on Earth (1964, the first film based on Richard Matheson's classic novel I Am Legend), Mr. Price played Dr. Robert Morgan, one of the few survivors of a plague that turned its victims into vampiric creatures. Dr. Phibes, who was disfigured in a wreck and the love of whose life died in that wreck, is a similarly tragic character. We may not condone what he does, but we can certainly understand why he is doing it.

Of course, Vincent Price does not offer the only great performance. Joseph Cotten may have had difficulty remembering his lines, but he does a very good job as Dr. Vesalius, a man who knows he is targeted by Dr. Phibes and knows that if Phibes is successful, then he will die a most gruesome death. Peter Jeffrey also gives a good performance as Inspector Harry Trout, the dedicated police detective trying to unravel the mystery of some of the most horrific crimes ever committed in London.

While The Abominable Dr. Phibes unmistakably belongs to the Gothic horror genre, it does a fantastic job of capturing the feel of the Twenties. The sets are art deco, the preferred style of the time. It also utilises a good deal of the music from the era, including "Charmaine," "Darktown Strutter's Ball," "You Stepped Out of a Dream," "Close Your Eyes," and "Elmer's Tune." Arguably, The Abominable Dr. Phibes has one of the greatest soundtracks of any horror movie.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes was produced by American International Pictures and released in May, 1971. It did remarkably well at the box office, so much so that a sequel would be made, Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972). Other sequels would be considered, with such titles as Dr. Phibes in the Holy Land,The Son of Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Resurrectus, Dr. Phibes, and The Seven Fates of Dr. Phibes. A Dr. Phibes TV series was even pitched to NBC. Bands from The Misfits to The Damned to Angel Witch have released songs based on Dr. Phibes.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes would be Vincent Price's best film released in the Seventies and remains one of the best films he ever made. It is truly terrifying, but at the same time Mr. Price played a character with whom any one who has ever been in love could sympathise. It was set in a time period rarely utilised in horror movies (the 1920's), evoking that era quite well, but still feeling like a classic Gothic horror film. It makes great use of music, including classic songs from the era. Quite simply, The Abominable Dr. Phibes  is a remarkable horror film of the sort that even people who not fans of the genre can enjoy. It is, quite simply, a classic.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Starring Boris Karloff and The Veil

Given his status as the best known actor in horror movies in the mid-20th Century, it was inevitable that Boris Karloff would host a horror anthology series on television. Most people know that he hosted Thriller, the legendary horror anthology show which ran from 1960 to 1962 on NBC, but Boris Karloff would host two other horror series before Thriller. Indeed, one of them may was the second horror series to ever air on American network television.

In the late Forties Boris Karloff was represented by David Susskind at the powerful talent agency MCA.Mr. Susskind put together a deal for Mr. Karloff, whose movie theatre was in the doldrums at that point, hosting a radio show and television series. Starring Boris Karloff, also known as The Boris Karloff Mystery Theatre and Boris Karloff Presents, was a half hour anthology series which debuted on September 22, 1949 on the American Broadcast Company (ABC). Starring Boris Karloff aired on radio on Wednesday, followed by the television broadcast on Thursday. From reports the series was very similar to Mr. Karloff's later show Thriller. Its debut episodes, "Five Golden Guineas" dealt with a hangman who unknowingly executes his own son. It very closely resembles the later Thriller episode "Guillotine."Another episode, "The Shop at Sly Corner," was an adaptation of the Edward Percy play of the same name, in which a Devil's Island convict operates a suspicious antique shop.

Boris Karloff put in a good deal of work on the show, so much so that MCA wanted to credit him as a producer. Ever the professional, Mr. Karloff objected most strenuously.  He maintained he handled none of the production duties and should not be credited as such, and that the credit should go to actual producer and director Alex Segal. The next payday Mr. Segal noticed his pay cheque had increased from $75 a week to $125 a week. While Mr. Segal was not given a producer credit, Mr. Karloff's anger had convinced MCA to give him a pay raise!

Sadly, Starring Boris Karloff would only last thirteen weeks. Even more sadly, not one episode survives. This is particularly sad given the fact that it may be the second horror anthology series on American television, pre-dating Inner Sanctum (Suspense, the adaptation of the famous radio show, only occasionally adapted horror stories, more often concentrating on the traditional mystery) and debuting only a few months after Lights Out (which premiered in July of 1949).

It would be almost ten years later before Boris Karloff would host another anthology series. Produced in 1958, The Veil sprang from the mind of Frank P Bibas, and produced by Hal Roach Studios. Although also a horror anthology series, The Veil was very different from Starring Boris Karloff and Thriller. It was supposedly based on real life accounts of supernatural occurrences, making it in some ways similar to Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond. Episodes dealt with such events as a teenager possessed by the ghost of a dead girl, an Indian woman who claims to have been reincarnated and knows minutiae from her past life, and a ghost who tries to make a pilot crash a plane.

Sadly, The Veil would never air. Its production would prove to be a troubled one. An co-production agreement that Hal Roach Studios had made with syndicator fell apart early in the show's history. Worse yet, in 1958 Hal Roach Studios was in dire financial straits. After only ten episodes, the studio ran out of financing for the show. Ten episodes were considered too few even for a syndication run, so the show remained unaired. Four episodes would be edited into the movie Destination Nightmare (1958), and the entire run of the series would be released on DVD in  2001 (a full nine years before Thriller).

Boris Karloff would go onto host the legendary series Thriller. He would also appear frequently on television, guest starring in such shows as Lights Out, Suspense, Climax, Studio One, Playhouse 90, Route 66 (as himself, alongside Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney Jr.), The Wild Wild West, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., and The Name of the Game.He also starred in the series Colonel March of Scotland Yard, which featured more than its fair share of supernatural plots. When it comes to television, however, he is perhaps best known as the host of Thriller. Despite this, it was actually the third show he hosted, after Starring Boris Karloff and The Veil.