May 30, 2015

Monster Mischief

Poor Mrs. Fradence Frankenstein of London, inconvenienced by pranksters and inconsiderate twits playing upon her fine name. 

At 90, how long had the widow suffered the crank calls before finally seeking respite? And did she ever expect her name and her reasonable request for some measure of privacy to be sent out around the world as amusing newspaper filler material — here from The Straits Times of Singapore, 5 september 1964 — courtesy of United Press International? Surely that was the unkindest prank of all. 

May 21, 2015

The Golem Drive of 1921

September 1921, as a record–breaking heat wave scorches the East Coast, The Golem heads for Manhattan Beach, Long Island.

Ads for the Criterion Theater showing of Paul Wegener's THE GOLEM (1920) were painted on rental umbrellas, a high visibility "stunt" aimed at the estimated 50,000 bathers on hand daily. It was just one of many ambitious ballyhoo efforts deployed to promote the film.

Pitching the film in the Exhibitors Herald of September 24, 1921, Paramount Exploitation Representative Eli M. Ororwitz suggested that special attention be given to promotion in Jewish communities — "(a) sure-fire channel for exploitation" — but not to limit its reach. "The Golem is screen literature." Orowitz writes. "There is enough curiosity for that sort of thing to make an exhibitor rich, if he appeals to the intelligence of the patrons… The story of "The Golem" can stand anywhere. There is similarity between it and the old Frankenstein Monster legend. It is the perennially fascinating subject of mechanism come to life — the inanimate breathing." Even the film's expressionist style should not be a problem, "The Golem brings a sound futurism to the screen. It surpasses the attempts of one or two other screen endeavours, because it avoids the usual Greenwich Village-Cubist hodgepodge." Take THAT, NOSFERATU and THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI!

Through the summer and into the fall of '21, THE GOLEM marched through Philadelphia, Chicago and Cincinnati. Patrons were handed playbills, English on one side, Yiddish on the other. In Cleveland, posters were plastered on street cars, bringing "splendid attendance" to Loew's Euclid. In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 3500 residents found calling cards in their mailboxes reading, "Dropped in to see you but you were out. See me at the Regent Theater, Monday."

In New York, THE GOLEM was given special attention for its extended run at the prestigious Criterion theatre at 44th and Broadway, a showcase for major releases. The film was accompanied by an elaborate live prologue, scored and conducted by Criterion manager Hugo Riesenfeld, featuring songs and scenes of Old Prague. The program also included a Buster Keaton short, HARD LUCK (1921).



Paramount Exploitation Rep Fred Green, following up on his beach umbrella stunt, commissioned a full‒sized Golem statue, manufactured by the Brunton Studio from a model by Criterion staffer Louis Gardy. Cost was a then steep $50. Reports indicated "increased business far in excess of this amount". Soon, the Golem statue was being trundled around town, up and down the East Side, parked in doorways or standing guard at the Criterion. A number of smaller statuettes, roughly 3 feet tall, were made for display in neighbourhood store windows. Still smaller, an inch and a half Golem "watch charm" was cast in — yikes! — lead. The toxic tchotchkes were devised by Paramount exploiteer Albert Boasberg of the Washington exchange and made available to exhibitors at $6.50 for 500, and $11 per thousand.

The Criterion's publicity campaign, referred to as "The Golem Drive", proved successful. The combination of poster and newspaper ads, and the accompanying inspired "stunts" translated into serious box-office. THE GOLEM would play the New York venue for sixteen and a half weeks.


Related: Frankenstein Themes in Silent Films

May 6, 2015

The Female Frankenstein of Fifth Avenue

“Without ghoulish make-up… she’ll freeze the blood of every motion picture fan…"
One year before BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), there was The Female Frankenstein of Fifth Avenue! That’s how Paramount Pictures pitched Mary Morris' character, "the vicious, venomous New York aristocrat" named Victoria Van Brett, as the sinister star of the 1934 chiller, DOUBLE DOOR.

The story yanks the familiar Old Dark House setting away from its traditional windswept moors and plunks it down in turn-of-the-century Manhattan. The banal title refers to a secret, airtight and soundproof room — the tale's murder weapon, as it were.

"Mary Morris… a specialist of sinister roles begins where Frankenstein and Dracula left off… The deadliest menace the screen has yet known!"
DOUBLE DOOR came to Hollywood via Broadway, with Morris reprising her showy role. The notices had been fairly good but the play ran only 143 performances in late 1933. Likewise, the film scored favorable reviews, followed by a very modest box office showing.

The New York Times called the film "a careful and intelligent copy of the original", building "an atmosphere of gloom, hysteria and malignant evil". Morris' Van Brett, variously described as a "grim and fish-eyed mistress", "a model of up-to-date witchcraft" and a "cruel old witch", stole the show. The NYT critic noted how a rowdy balcony crowd heckling the screen-bound villainess was ultimately silenced when, "with lighted candle and enigmatic smile", she lured the heroine into the mystery chamber.


“Frankenstein, Dracula and all the other male monsters are sissies compared to Victoria Van Brett… Mary Morris without trick make-up or other artifices is the deadliest menace the screen has yet portrayed!”
And so, briefly, in '34, Mary Morris was billed as The Female Frankenstein, the name used as shorthand for chills and monstrous evil. As it turned out, DOUBLE DOOR would be the formidable Mary Morris' first and only motion picture! Upon wrapping, she promptly returned to New York where she enjoyed a distinguished stage career that spanned a full forty years.









A review of DOUBLE DOOR by David Cairns on Shadowplay.

April 21, 2015

FRANKENSTEIN's Monster Price Tag

Another 1931 FRANKENSTEIN poster has surfaced and come to auction. A three-sheet job standing six-foot-six when assembled, it features a menacing, red-lit Monster’s head floating over a beautiful swooping title and a fainted Elizabeth in her wedding gown.

The poster was found back in the 70’s in an abandoned theater on Long Island. It needed extensive restoration, having been trimmed all around and drastically shortened at the bottom. The Monster’s eyes were punched out, the original exhibitor having followed Universal’s ad campaign suggestion of inserting flashing red bulbs to creepy effect.

It was two years ago, July 2013, when a smaller insert poster of similar design sold for $262,900.00. This larger poster, beautifully rendered and expertly repaired was sold in March for $358,500.00.

Of the ten most expensive movie posters on record, all but one are from horror or science-fiction films, both FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN are represented, and Boris Karloff is the King of movie posters, with 5 appearances.

We’re very lucky to see these incredibly rare FRANKENSTEIN posters appear. They are most likely the last remaining copies of the paper ephemera produced for the film’s promotion all of 84 years ago.


Related:

March 16, 2015

Rondo Awards XIII: Voting is Open!

It’s Rondo Awards time again, and we’ve picked up two nominations!

Frankensteinia is up for “Best Blog”, and I am very proud to share a “Best Article” nomination with my friend and colleague George Chastain for The Movie Monster Art of Feg Murray, our illustrated profile of the syndicated cartoonist who celebrated the classic Hollywood Monsters back in the 30s and 40s. The Feg Murray article was serialized here last November.

The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards — “honoring the best in classic horror research, creativity and film preservation” — are entirely fan-based. YOU pick the winners! The ballot is huge, with multiple nominees in 35 categories, and you are invited to vote in as many or as few categories as you are comfortable with. It’s all done by email, just click through, follow the simple instructions and VOTE NOW!

Should you wish to support us, vote Frankensteinia in Category 19, Best Blog, and vote The Movie Monster Art of Feg Murray, by Pierre Fournier and George Chastain in Category 13, Best Article.

You may also wish to join me in supporting The Shelley-Godwin Archive in Category 18, Best Website. This is the library partnership site where Mary Shelley’s complete handwritten manuscript for Frankenstein is digitized, fully searchable and annotated. It is a major piece of Frankenstein scholarship that deserves the support of the Classic Horror community. 

Voting for the 13th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards closes on April 19, with all the winners announced shortly thereafter. Awards will be presented at Wonderfest in Louisville on May 30th.

Vote NOW, and thank you for your kind support.


Nominated: The Movie Monster Art of Feg Murray
My article about The Shelley-Godwin Archive

March 3, 2015

Penny Dreadful, Season 2

Rory Kinnear’s gripping interpretation of Frankenstein’s Monster is featured on a new poster announcing the highly anticipated second season of Showtime’s PENNY DREADFUL, coming May 3. It is one of a series of new images introduced on IGN, along with a trailer for the new season.

PENNY DREADFUL boasts a uniformly excellent cast, headed by the remarkable Eva Green. When Season 2 begins, Kinnear’s Caliban will be introduced to his new Bride!

Penny Dreadful page on Showtime

Related:

February 12, 2015

Let Me Tell You About My Operation : They Might Be Giants


Just released by indie superstars They Might Be Giants, here’s a terrific little song beautifully animated on a Frankenstein theme. “Let Me Tell You About My Operation” is part of TMBG’s 2015 Dial-a-Song Project where a $30 subscription gets you a new song every week all through the year. That’s 52 songs!

Directed by David Cowles and Jeremy Galente, with characters and sets designed by David Plunkert, the music video features an irresistible singing and corncob pipe-smoking Moonshine Frankenstein in hillbilly bib overalls, and a combination hunchbacked assistant and mad scientist rolled into one. Brains — tiny ones — pop out of the Monster’s cranium, disembodied hands play the piano, and even the clouds have stitches. There’s a mad lab and Plunkert’s trademark Outsider Rube Goldberg contraptions. And everything pulsates to TMBG’s toe-tapping tune.

This one’s a real treat. Très Bon!

Dial-a-Song website.
David Plunkert website.
David Cowles website.


Related: 
The Posters of Frankenstein: David Plunkert
The Art of Frankenstein: David Plunkert