Thursday, December 30, 2010

Horror Explorer (Sneak Peek): 1933

Island of Lost Souls, an adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, was released to theaters on January 12, 1933.  Scripted by Waldemar Young (a frequent collaborator of Tod Browning) and Philip Wylie, and directed by Erle C. Kenton (who would later direct two Abbott and Costello films, Pardon My Sarong and Who Done It?, both from 1942, and a short time later 1944's House of Frankenstein and 1945's House of Dracula) definitely had some star power behind it.  Charles Laughton portrayed Dr. Moreau, while Richard Arlen played lost sailor Edward Parker, and even Bela Lugosi cropped up as the Sayer of the Law, an animal-man hybrid.

Wells was reportedly disappointed with the final result, feeling that the overt horror elements in the film overshadowed the more philosophical moments that he had included in the novel.  Most critics of the day were not so pleased themselves, panning the film for its disturbing imagery.  In fact, it was banned in England when it first appeared, and did not pass the censor boards until 1958, and even then it did so with an X Certificate!

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.

January 21, 1933 saw the release of The Vampire Bat, with a story by Edward T. Lowe, Jr. as directed by Frank R. Strayer (later of the Blondie series of films).  In the European village of Kleinschloss, six mysterious deaths cause the locals to fear that a vampire is stalking the streets.  An oddball who has a certain affinity for bats (Dwight Frye)  is the logical culprit, but the murders continue even after he is disposed of with a little lynch mob justice.  Lionel Atwill plays the doctor with an encyclopedic knowledge of the supernatural bloodsuckers, and Fay Wray plays his beautiful secretary.  The two had previously appeared together in 1932's Doctor X, and would be seen again shortly in Mystery of the Wax Museum, which had already completed filming before production of The Vampire Bat begun, but had not yet been released to theaters.

Warner Brothers' Mystery of the Wax Museum debuted on February 18, 1933.  Directed by Michael Curtiz and written by Don Mullaly and Carl Erickson (who also collaborated on the comedy-mystery Girl Missing the same year), and based on a play by Charles Belden, this iconic film depicts Igor, the curator of a famous wax museum (Lionel Atwill), who murders innocent people, coats them in wax, and displays them as works of his own creation.  Charlotte (Fay Wray) is his latest intended victim, and Florence Dempsey (Glenda Farrell) is the street smart reporter determined to get the story.  This film was famously remade in 1953 with genre icon Vincent Price, and infamously remade again in 2005 with internet sex-tape icon Paris Hilton, both times under the title of House of Wax.

Murders in the Zoo was released on March 31, 1933, written by Philip Wylie (1932's Island of Lost Souls, 1939's Charlie Chan in Reno) and Seton I. Miller (1932's Scarface), and directed by A. Edward Sutherland (1940's The Invisible Woman).  This Paramount production revolves around the murderous misadventures of a wealthy zoologist (Lionel Atwill) who seeks revenge against his cheating wife and her lover.  It features death by tiger, death by snake, death by alligator, and a whole menagerie big game cats being released from their cages--offering exactly what the title promises.

The Big Daddy of Big Gorilla Movies, King Kong was released on April 7, 1933.  Pompous film-maker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) leads his cast and crew (leading lady Fay Wray and tough guy hero Robert Armstrong) to the uncharted Skull Island to film his latest project.  There, they are greeted by natives and exposed to enormous ape Kong.  Seeing an opportunity to make a mint, Denham plots to capture the beast and take him back to the States, where he can exploit it as the "Eighth Wonder of the World".  The plan seems to be a smashing success...until Kong escapes.

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 opened in London in August 1933. Directed by T. Hayes Hunter, this is an underrated vehicle starring Boris Karloff as Professor Morlant, an obsessed Egyptologist who purchases a powerful gem stolen from an ancient tomb. Upon his death, Morlant is entombed with the jewel, only to have someone else steal it from him in a karmic sort of twist. He returns from the grave, seeking vengeance against those who dared such desecration.

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.

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