(On TV, July 2018) It’s amazing to realize how much standard Halloween iconography (“Halloween” being used here as “mainstream watered-down portrayal of horror”) can be traced back to a handful of 1930s Universal movies. In-between The Wolfman, The Mummy, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and Dracula (released in 1931–1933, except for The Wolfman in 1941), you have the five classic monster archetypes and the associated iconography. A ridiculous amount of what has become associated with vampire movie portrayals is owed directly to Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Count Dracula, down to the exaggerated vocal performance (equally taking from the theatrical and silent movie acting styles) and quotable material. It means that Dracula is still worth a look today … but those very same qualities also make it an overly familiar borderline-dull experience. Much like Frankenstein, the film moves through an intensely well-worn plot that was made just as well earlier (Nosferatu) and much later (Bram Stoker’s Dracula). That certainly does not make it a bad film (its legacy can still be found everywhere come late October), but it does nibble at some of the basic enjoyment of watching a film to see what’s going to happen: In this case, we know exactly what will happen and that makes it more like a repertory piece—even to first-time watchers! I’m still glad I saw it, but the rough early-1930s production values mean that if I’m going to watch something based on Bram Stoker’s original novel, I’m going to volunteer the rather entertaining Coppola version.
(On Cable TV, February 2018) I was surprised to find out that the original Universal Monster movie The Mummy is such a restrained piece of work. Eschewing easy scares and thrills, this surprisingly romantic film seems to run long even at 73 minutes, relying on repeated full-face shots of Bela Lugosi as Imhotep to carry much of the movie. It’s not bad, but it moves surprisingly slower than you’d expect. The brute-force stereotyped Egyptian flavour feels comfortable, but in-between the laborious exposition and the pauses for romance there is a lot of time to contemplate the way the film doesn’t move forward very quickly. At least Lugosi is convincing as the Mummy, and Zita Johann still looks surprisingly good with longer curly hair. As someone who saw the 1999 remake in theatres and immediately liked it a lot, I’m satisfied to have finally seen the original … but I’m not going to claim that it is anything other than a film of its time.