Thursday, December 30, 2010
Horror Explorer (Sneak Peek): 1933
Another version of the famous W.W. Jacob's short story The Monkey's Paw hit theaters on January 13, 1933. It followed the construct of the original tale quite faithfully--a family finds themselves in possession of a mystical monkey's paw that grants three wishes; wish one accidentally sends the son to the grave; wish two returns him to life; wish three banishes him again out of sheer fear--although, unfortunately, the entire ordeal turned out to be just a dream. This version was directed by Wesley Ruggles and starred C. Aubrey Smith, Ivan Simpson and Louise Carter.
The film was produced and directed by Merian C. Cooper, based on a story of his own devise. It was co-directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack, who would direct the sequel Son of Kong later the same year, and the 1949 rip-off feature Mighty Joe Young. The script was written by James Ashmore Creelman (1932's The Most Dangerous Game) and Ruth Rose (wife of director Schoedsack), but the real behind-the-scenes star was Willis O'Brien, the chief special effects technician who utilized ahead-of-its time techniques and was most famous for his role in 1925's The Lost World.
The less-than-creatively named Supernatural was released on May 12, 1933, the work of director Victor Halperin (1932's White Zombie, 1936's Revolt of the Zombies) and scriptwriters Harvey Thew (1928's Uncle Tom's Cabin) and Brian Marlow. Black widow Ruth Rogen (Vivienne Osborne of 1933's The Phantom Broadcast) is sent to the electric chair before she can murder her current husband, psychic Paul Bavian (Allan Dinehart from 1935's Dante's Inferno). Her corpse is experimented on by psychologist Carl Houston (H.B. Warner, who would go on to appear as Mr. Gower in 1947's It's A Wonderful Life), loosening her evil soul to possess the bodies of the living to continue her killing spree.
The Ghoul was thought lost for quite some time, until a partial and degraded print of the film surfaced in the Czech Republic, and was later released on home video. Those who have seen this version claim that the narrative is so fractured that it makes little to no sense. Luckily a complete print was later discovered and was released in a nearly pristine DVD transfer by MGM.
After Frankenstein but before Bride of Frankenstein, director James Whale cemented his name in the horror history books with the November 13, 1933 release of Universal's The Invisible Man. Scientist Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) consumes a drug of his own invention called Monocane, which renders the body completely invisible to the human eye, but also has the unintended side-effect of driving Griffin insane. He vows to demonstrate his superiority over the rest of the human race by raising as much hell as possible. Respectable source material (H.G. Wells' 1897 novel of the same name), great casting and cameos (look for Dwight Frye and John Carradine in small roles), outstanding special effects, and Whale's patented dark humor all added up to make this film a great success.
Sequels, official or otherwise, were released in 1940 (The Invisible Man Returns and the farce The Invisible Woman), 1942 (The Invisible Agent) and 1944 (The Invisible Man's Revenge). The Invisible Man also appeared in the out-of-cannon films Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951). There were numerous attempts to turn the franchise into a successful television series, and the general theme has been liberally borrowed dozens of times in films ranging from horror (2000's Hollow Man) to humor (1992's Memoirs of an Invisible Man), comic books (Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), video games (Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin), and even a 1991 stage play written by Ken Hill.
Son of Kong, directed be Ernest B. Schoedsack, released December 22, 1933. Robert Armstrong returns as filmmaker Carl Denham, now in deep legal trouble for his role in the King Kong fiasco. Running from his woes, Denham and his friend Captain Englehorn set sail once again for Skull Island in search of riches, picking up a few extra crew members along the way. On the island, they find an infant Kong and strike up an unlikely friendship with the giant gorilla.