A Couple Of Horror Movies Later Tonight

Later this evening, TCM will broadcast, back to back, the first two of the three films in the Karloff Frankenstein trilogy (why they omitted the third installment is beyond my understanding).

The second film of the series (which extended to seven films, but Karloff withdrew from the series after the third film), the Bride Of Frankenstein, is considered to be one of the most artistically successful sequels ever filmed.

My love of the Universal horror films, and, then, beyond that, of the macabre in general, began on Christmas Day of 1963.  My father had defied my mother's preferences and purchased for me two of the Aurora Plastic Company's models, the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man.  I did not know the stories that explained them; but I immediately identified with the Monster, and he/it became my favorite go-to Monster for the remainder of my childhood.  My parents told me that both models were based upon movies they had seen as children, but I had little concept of what a movie was.

On Friday, January 18th, or the 25th (I am not sure which) of 1964, my parents and my father's sister and her husband celebrated my father's birthday on a Friday night.  They usually played cards at least once a month, anyhow.  One of my parents discovered that the Bride of Frankenstein was already being broadcast on the late night Shock Theater, and they woke me from a sound sleep to view it.  I was not able to remain awake very long, and saw only the sequence in the blind hermit's hut.  

By the time I turned eight years old, one of our two local VHF broadcasters ran a Saturday afternoon Shock Theater, featuring all of the Universal films in the "Shock Theater Package" that the Screen Gems Company marketed for syndication beginning (I believe) in the late fifties.  The third of film of the Karloff trilogy, Son of Frankenstein, was broadcast on the Saturday that my birthday fell upon in 1967; that was like the best birthday gift ever, even if entirely coincidental.

Later that summer, the eccentric couple across the street began to build a patio behind their home and invited the neighborhood children to assist them.  In their mid-thirties, they were childless.  They also walked around their home's interior nude, and some of my peers at that time actually claimed to have glimpsed them, more than once, standing in the front of the picture window in the street-facing side of the house.  Anyhow, they had not yet become so eccentric that they were shunned (that was coming later), so most of us children who lived on that dead=end street "helped"---although, admittedly, there was little we could do to assist in such a project.  The promised reward for this was a cook-out, and when the patio was finally poured, and had become operational, they scheduled the cook-out for a Saturday afternoon, starting at 5pm.

When the TV Guide for the new week arrived on the day before the cookout, I was both excited and a little dismayed to find out that, on the very same Saturday, the local Shock Theater was to broadcast Bride Of Frankenstein at 5:30pm.  Because of my very vague memories of it from January, 1964, I wanted very much to see it.  The next day, promptly at five p.m., the cookout began.  Immediately, I explained to my host and hostess that I needed to leave their premises at 5:25pm in order to view the film.  The lady of the house became very irate, in fact she was very disrespectfully irate and presented a tantrum that silenced and shocked all of us.  

I did not know, however, that on that very day (of which I was not mature enough to record the date), an even more momentous event was awaiting me.  In the first five minutes of the film, a prologue is presented in which the Poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley are discussing the composition of the novel, Frankenstein, with . . . my girl, Mary Shelley . . . a part performed by Elsa Lanchester.  This was my first exposure to any knowledge of her.  Leaving the cookout was a small sacrifice to make in order to view the film in its entirety and to see, for the first time, a depiction of Mary Shelley.  The eccentric couple across the street began to treat me with a slighty stand-offish attitude, which, later on, proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Later, in December, when I was asked what kind of gift I wanted from the cousin with whom I exchanged Christmas gifts at the annual part that my mother's extended family held, I asked for a copy of the novel.  When I saw its length, and before I began to read it, I childishly believed that all seven films in the Universal series would be part of the narrative.  Imagine my shock when I discovered that the novel has very little to do with any of the films.

Years later, during my Sophomore year at college, Mary Shelley was the subject of my Sophomore project.  (At that University, part of the requirements for graduation was the completion of a Sophomore project and a Senior Thesis, and this was required of every graduate from every academic department.)  In the History Department, the class that featured the Sophomore project was called "The Craft Of History" (which we often called "The Crap Of History"), and it taught us (in those days before the internet) the proper bibliographic aspects of original historical research.  The Project, as defined by the History Department, was to gather a collection of one hundred index cards, and upon each card was recorded a monograph, a professional or academic journal article, or an article from an established periodical; newspaper articles were excluded.  I decided to base my project on the critical reaction to Frankenstein from 1818, its publication year, to 1978---one hundred and sixty years.  And I found more than a hundred items to choose from.  But Mary Shelley, however, was out of favor in the Literature department (which I had learned the year before*) and I began to receive certain verbal pressures from my academic advisor, the course instructor, and even some of my fellow students, to seek a more acceptable subject.  I insisted on my choice---an act of defiance of which I was reminded, from time to time, during my remaining two years there; and, even at private reunion lunch in 2001, it was brought up again.


*In the spring of 1977, I took a course called "Pastoral Literature" in which we studied the bucolic tradition from the ancient Greek poets to the present.  (Vergil, who was also out of favor in the department, was omitted, and his Eclogues were not ever mentioned.)  I wrote my term paper on the pastoral aspects of the novel, Frankenstein.  Our instructor promised to mail our papers to us during the summer break, as he gave us almost the entire term to write them, and there was not enough time to grade them.  When I received mine, I was horrified by the amount of red marks, and sarcastic statements, on my paper.  I showed it to my mentor in High School, who was, at the time, chairman of the School's English Department and one of the most powerful educators in our local school system.  I had worked as her TA during my Senior year in High School, and she had encouraged my ambition to become a Poet.  When we met for a glass of lemonade, about a week after I dropped the paper off to her, she told me, in these words, "I have never seen a college paper as savagely and brutally judged as this one."


View s74rw4rd's Full Portfolio