Thursday, October 1, 2015

Countdown to Halloween 2015 - Counting Down the Monsters #1 - Frankenstein's Monster

Over the years, I've watched a lot of monster movies, and when October/Halloween rolls around, almost everything I watch movie-wise is a classic (or not-so-classic) horror film. As the producer of Monster Kid Radio and a co-producer of 1951 Down Place, I'm already watching them, but there's something about watching these movies when the weather outside has a slight chill in the air, the trees have turned a beautiful autumn color (that I can actually see despite a slight case of color blindness!), and trips to the grocery store can result in a sighting of Halloween masks or decorations. As far as I'm concerned, THIS is the most wonderful time of the year, and I love to celebrate it with my monster movies.

And they wouldn't be monster movies without the MONSTER.

It shouldn't be any surprise that when I first started discovering and exploring classic horror film, the Universal monsters were there to welcome me with outstretched (Bela-Lugosi-as-the-Monster) arms. The Crestwood House books featured more Universal monsters than any other, so I became aware of Dracula, the Wolf Man, and the rest fairly early. Watching the movies for the first time was AN EXPERIENCE for me. By renting them on VHS, and eventually buying them (on VHS, then DVD, then Blu-ray, and sometimes even more than once on Blu-ray!), I've become used to having the monsters in my life, so much so that sometimes, I worry that I might be "too used" to them.

This Countdown to Halloween, I'm going to look at the monsters that populate some of my favorite classic monster movies and remind myself why I love them so much.

Frankenstein's Monster (Universal)

I think it's appropriate that I start this Countdown with perhaps the most identifiable of the Universal classic monsters. Frankenstein (dir. James Whale) wasn't the first Universal monster movie, but it's certainly become one of the most iconic for a number of reasons, not just the monster.

But, come on, the movie's great!

Frankenstein's Monster IS Boris Karloff. Of course the monster was played by other actors, and while your mileage may vary, I personally think every one of the other actors who did time in the flat top did something interesting with the character. But none of them surpassed what Karloff did with the character.

Perhaps because we monster kids know now that Boris Karloff was a gentleman and a genuinely nice guy, some of what made the monster scary and thrilling might have been dulled a little bit over the years for me. There is a childlike quality to Karloff's performance, and I can and empathize with that every time I watch the film, and maybe that's part of the reason I'm not scared of this Frankenstein's Monster.

But maybe that's the point. Frankenstein is a wonderful horror film, but it goes so much deeper than that. This monster, who demonstrates that he is capable of great destruction, is also an innocent and at times, it's his own . . . I hate to use the word ignorance, perhaps lack of understanding or experience is more appropriate . . . it's his own lack of understanding that leads to the death of other innocents. No matter his intentions, no matter how hard he tries, he's a monster first, and the world isn't ready to accept him or embrace him.

I can see how that might have resonated with a younger Derek who was tall and gangly growing up, who had asthma and wasn't athletically inclined or interested, who spent more time reading books or working on a computer than playing with the other kids at recess. (I suspect this isn't tied exclusively to my love of the Frankenstein Monster!).

I dressed up as the Frankenstein Monster for Halloween one year. I borrowed a set up children's football shoulder pads from someone, and made the headpiece out of strips of plaster fitted around the base of a baseball helmet. What I remember most about that costume is going to the roller skating party and tromping around the roller rink in that get up! I wasn't the best roller skater, and I fell a few times. Every time, I didn't use my hands to try to stop my fall. Instead, my hands always went up to my head to make sure the headpiece didn't fall off!

(This may be the only Countdown entry that relates to an old Halloween costume of mine.)

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