September 29, 2009

Return to Malibou Lake
by John Cox

It is a scene etched in film history.

Shot at a mountain lake location on September 28 and 29 in 1931, the drowning of the little girl in Frankenstein was a truly transgressive moment in a film already overloaded with gruesome happenings. Actor Boris Karloff protested, as did audiences and critics when the film previewed. The scene was jettisoned, cutting off suddenly as The Monster reaches for the child.

Unseen for fifty years, the film clip miraculously survived and was eventually restored to continuity. Because of its impact and its enduring notoriety, and the only sequence with The Monster to be shot away from the confines of the soundstage at Universal studios, fans and film historians have long speculated about where the Maria scene was actually shot.

In January this year, screenwriter John Cox, armed with recent information and photo references, went looking for the spot where film history was made.

Come along with John as we Return to Malibou Lake...

Where did Universal shoot the famous Maria meets the Monster scene in the classic 1931 Frankenstein? For years I could never get a straight answer. Some claimed it was shot on the Universal backlot along with the rest of the movie. But it’s clear from the size of the lake and the rugged mountains in the distance that this can’t be true. My go-to source for all things Frankenstein — MagicImage’s Universal Filmscripts Series Vol. 1 — says only that it was shot at “a mountainous lake.” Rudy Behlmer’s superb commentary on the special edition DVD says it was “almost certainly Lake Sherwood in the Santa Monica Mountains.” Jack P. Pierce bizarrely claimed that it was shot at Malibu Beach. Unable to get a definitive answer, I came up with my own theory. Why would Universal travel so far from the lot when they had Toluca Lake in their front yard? I decided the scene must have been shot somewhere on Toluca Lake and the mountains in the distance were Glendale/Burbank.

But then one Sunday morning, while browsing the Internet, I stumbled on the Frankensteinia blog and the article The Lake of Frankenstein. Here at last was an authoritative answer (sourced to an article by Gregory Mank in Midnight Marquee, No. 60). The scene was shot at Malibou Lake on September 28, 1931. (Yes, Malibou, not Malibu.) There was even a map. That’s when I looked up from my computer screen and saw it was 11:00 am on this beautiful Sunday and Malibou Lake was an easy 30-40 minute drive from my house. Should I go? Follow-up comments on the article noted that the exact spot where the scene was shot (which it did not pinpoint) was now “a private home”; so I wouldn’t be able to stand in the footsteps of the monster. But maybe I could still get close. Armed with the map, my camera, and a photo of the scene that gave a good look at the topography, I set out to find the place where Little Maria met her fate.

As I drove, I wondered how the crew from Universal traveled to the lake that September day. Certainly in 1931 they were not blasting along the 134 Freeway at 70mph as I now was. It’s possible they traveled along Mulholland Hwy., which begins at Universal City and ends near the Los Angeles/Ventura county line. Or maybe they took Pacific Coast Highway and approached the lake from the opposite side of the canyon. Whatever route they took, in 1931 it would not have been a quick journey. Even today the lake is isolated deep in the coastal mountains of Las Virgenes.

As I pulled into Malibou Lake, I was surprised to find such an idyllic setting, a true mountain hideaway resort. Expensive homes and boat slips rimmed a central lake with a small island sitting in the center. Pretty, yes, but nothing looked familiar. This was hardly the rugged “Bavarian” mountain lake of the film.

Just over a bridge sat a clubhouse and realtor — the only public buildings — so I pulled off and parked at the clubhouse. Maybe inside I could get some guidance. The door was open, but the clubhouse was empty. On the walls hung photos from famous movies that had been shot on the lake, but Frankenstein was not among them. Not a good sign. I then walked to the realtor, but they were closed on this Sunday. Looked like I would have to find the spot on my own.

Dismissing this populated area, I climbed back into my car and drove west along the edge of the lake. Here it became more mountainous and isolated. Several times I pulled over to compare some mountain peaks with my printout of the scene. There was one very clear landmark — a rock outcrop with a bare peak, not unlike the mountain in the Paramount logo. Certainly that would not have changed, and if I could find it, I could use the angle to zero in on the location. As the road wrapped around to the other side of the lake, I found an area that looked very promising. Here there were several rock outcrops that could be the “Paramount peak” in my picture, just from a different angle. The rocks towered over what appeared to be a dry lake bed -- perhaps this could have been the original lake before being diverted to the town entrance, which all seemed quite new. But I could find nothing conclusive. I took some photos, then continued around the lake. Here I started to ascend into the mountains. I certainly wasn’t going to find a lakeside setting up here; so I turned around. At least now I had a range to search.

I traveled back down the main road, again stopping to examine some peaks. After taking a few more photos, I decided I had pretty much covered the area and I wasn’t going to find the exact spot. But I had found some possibilities and photographed them and that would have to suffice. And it wasn’t like I’d be able to stand on the exact spot anyway. I drove back into town and again parked at the empty clubhouse. I figured I’d get one last photo of the main lake, which was certainly the most scenic part of the area. This time I walked out onto the town bridge, where I could get the best shot. I raised the camera to my eye and froze.

There it was!

It was the Paramount peak, clear as a bell, sitting directly across the lake at almost the exact angle as the scene photo in my hands. Trees had grown up around it, and there was a house now sitting at its base, but there was no mistaking it. This WAS the lake all along! I was so excited, I stopped a couple who were coming across the bridge at that moment and asked them whether I was crazy or whether that rock outcrop in the photo was the same as the one across the lake. They agreed and, even though they were locals, had no idea of the Frankenstein connection. But what was still throwing me was the island in the center of the lake. That was what had obscured my view of the rock peak when I first arrived in town. It was nowhere to be seen in my photo or the film. The scene must have been shot at an angle that somehow omitted the island. But with the rock peak in my sights, I now had a way to find the spot.

Looking around, I saw there was a private gated road of homes that ran alone the lake. Recalling the information that the spot was now on private property, I figured it must have been shot somewhere along that stretch of road. Sure, I would need to trespass, but I would do so conspicuously, holding my camera and printout so I appeared to be exactly what I was — a nosy harmless tourist. I entered via a pedestrian entry and walked along the road with one eye on the photo and one on my Paramount peak, waiting for the magic alignment. But it didn’t happen. If anything, it was now looking less promising than the angle from the bridge. It hadn’t been shot over here after all.

I stopped and turned and saw an older gentleman sitting on his sundeck looking out over the road and lake. I went up to him, apologized for the intrusion, and I explained I was a fan of Frankenstein. Before I could finish, he nodded and said “And you’re looking for where they shot the movie?” Yes! He stood and pointed back across the lake, back toward the boat slips across from the clubhouse. “They shot it right there,” he said as he pointed out a grassy spot between two slips. Ironically, it was just yards from where I first stopped when I arrived at the lake. I explained how the island had confused me. He said the island was a relatively new addition to this man-made lake. The area he was pointing to was also private, but he said it was no problem if I went over and had a look. I thanked him and set off.

Crossing back over the bridge, I hopped over a picket fence that cordoned off the area and approached the boat slips. As I neared, I instantly recognized an unruly collection of reeds, exactly like those that frame the famous scene. Amazing that they were still here! I then passed a boat slip made of stone with spiked iron gates. Is it too poetic to think this slip was built in a “Frankenstein style” to commemorate the location? I stepped to the right of the slip and walked down a grassy incline to the lake, exactly as Maria and the Monster had, hand in hand, 78 years ago.

I raised my photo printout to the horizon and everything lined up perfectly. While tree growth has changed the look of the shoreline quite a bit, the silhouette of the mountains was unmistakable. I was standing on the spot where Boris Karloff and Marilyn Harris, with director James Whales and a full Universal crew, filmed one of the most famous scenes in horror movie history.

Thank you for sharing your wonderful adventure, John. I felt as if I was right there with you! Someday, someone must visit again and perhaps float some daisies on the lake, in honor of James Whale, Boris Karloff, and Marilyn Harris.

JOHN COX is a professional screenwriter who lives in Studio City, CA. Besides Universal horror, he is also a fan and expert on the legendary magician Harry Houdini and runs the website Wild About Houdini.

Time Out at Malibou Lake
The Lake of Frankenstein, a history of Malibou Lake

September 28, 2009

Time Out at Malibou Lake

Emerging from the grainy static of time, in a photograph taken 78 years ago today, two British gentlemen sit, as the saying goes, out in the midday sun.

Perhaps a soothing breeze wafted off Malibou Lake, affording Mr. Whale and Mr. Pratt (aka Karloff) a bit of respite on their cigarette break in the notoriously hot summer of 1931. Whale, Karloff and young Marilyn Harris traveled to Malibou Lake on September 28 and 29 to shoot the difficult scene where the confused Monster accidentally drowns little Maria.

I previously posted a history of Malibou Lake here. I have just now updated that post as information surfaces that Frankenstein cinematographer Arthur Edeson had built himself a house at the lake in 1926, making him the most likely candidate for suggesting the location and perhaps even guiding the crew with their cars and equipment trucks along the winding dirt roads to the site.

Be sure to return here tomorrow, Tuesday September 29, for a terrific Frankensteinia Exclusive Guest Post as screenwriter John Cox drives out to Malibou Lake, looking for the exact spot where the notorious scene was shot. It’s great detective reportage and a fascinating journey you won’t want to miss, as John takes us along on a RETURN TO MALIBOU LAKE.

The Lake of Frankenstein

September 25, 2009

A Monster Moment

Boris Karloff in bathrobe, freed of his bulky costume and heavy boots, puts his feet up and enjoys a quiet backstage lunch break on the set of Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

C-3PO Meets Frankenstein
Reclicing Frankenstein
Son of Frankenstein Turns 60

September 22, 2009

C-3PO Meets Frankenstein

Boris Karloff takes a break on the Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Note, in the background, how thin the castle walls really were. The Monster’s special chair ostensibly allowed the actor to take the weight off his feet between takes.

Forty years later, a very similar contraption — with a large parasol to ward off the harsh Tunisian sun — was used by Anthony Daniels when encased in his C-3PO robot costume, on Star Wars (1977). “I could never sit down,” Daniels said. “I had this terrible leaning board, a kind of medieval thing with arms that allowed me to recline at about 70 degrees, which was very little use at all, because the weight still went down to your ankles.”

At least Karloff had a short seat on his board, though it couldn’t have been very comfortable. There are numerous photos of Karloff, in costume, sitting in a regular canvas chair or stretched out in a lounge chair, a luxury unavailable to Daniels in stiff armor.

Anthony Daniels quote:

Reclining Frankenstein
Son of Frankenstein Turns 70

September 18, 2009

Bizarro Meets Frankenstein

Superman’s wrong-way clone, Bizarro, was a Frankensteinian concept. The character was first introduced as a teenage monster, a bungled Duplicator Machine copy of Superboy, in 1958. In a story that borrows from Frankenstein movie lore, the awkward creature strives to be loved but elicits horror, and its only friend is a blind girl. Instantly popular, the character would return often, eventually as an adult when Lex Luthor trained a defective Duplicator Ray on Superman. Soon, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and the entire cast of the Superman saga would be dopplegangered and moved to a crazy, cube-shaped Bizarro Planet.

Back in the Fifties and the early Sixties, comics were still squarely kid’s lit. You got your comic books in drugstores, newsstands or off spinner racks with a sign that said, “HEY KIDS! COMICS!”. Superhero books competed for shelf space with westerns, war stories, jungle adventures and Funny Animals. The market started changing as early as 1956 when DC Comics introduced updated versions of their wartime superheroes and Marvel Comics would kick in with their own brand of flawed superheroes in 1962. Comics would grow up, so to speak, eventually catering to teens and young adults. But back in ’61, comics were aimed at the very young and DC’s Superman inhabited a friendly Mom and Apple Pie world where he tangled with cartoony villains and silly monsters.

In the goofy, twisted logic of the Bizarro Universe, everything was backwards. Bizarros would greet each other with a cheery “Goodbye!” and part with a hearty “Hello!”. When an alarm clock rang, you went to bed. “Chrismast” was celebrated on “Juyl 4th” and “Decumber 24” was “Holoene Eev”. Perfection was detestable, everything crooked, broken or botched was beautiful.

Bizarro Meets Frankenstein was a one of three stories in Superman No. 143 (February 1961). Written by Otto Binder, with pencils by Wayne Boring and inks by Stan Kaye (the cover is by Curt Swan), it’s a brisk nine-page romp wherein Bizarro is jealous of the movies' Frankenstein Monster. “Me, Bizarro Number One,” he proclaims, “Am most Famous Monster in history!”

Home on the square-sided Bizarro Planet, Bizarro and his family — Bizarro-Lois and their two Bizarro kids — are watching TV beamed from Earth. When the kids are terrified by a Charlie Chaplin movie, they switch channels to a “laugh program” featuring Wolfman, the Mummy and The Black Ogre (?). “Papa,” asks Bizarro’s Son, “Why Earth kids scared and call them ‘monsters’? They look nice, not ugly!”

When an ad for a new Frankenstein movie flashes onscreen — “World’s Scariest Monster!” — Bizarro is insulted. “Me can scare more Earth-people than Frankenstein!” he says, and promptly flies across space to Earth where he scares the Abominable Snowman, proving he is still “The World’s Worst Monster!”

Zooming off to Hollywood, Bizarro heads for the movie studio where he throws the Frankenstein actor out the window — “Me fixed Frankenstein!” — and into the arms of Superman, who happens to be in the neighborhood.

Bizarro then goes on a scare tour, but things don’t pan out as expected. Descending on a group of starlets dressed as Amazons, he is greeted with kisses, like a matinee idol. Turns out the girls think it’s really Superman in a monster mask. Frustrated, Bizarro tries to scare a couple of cowboy actors who laugh at him and shoot at his feet to make him dance. Mortified, Bizarro doesn’t know that the two men are — get this — stoned out of their skulls, having mistakenly chewed “loco weed” instead of mint leaves!

Next up, Bizarro spots a couple of children. “Me got most awful face in the world,” he growls, “uh… You not… er… scared?” The kids sit on his lap. A little girl pats his face, “You look kind, Mister” she says.

Bizarro doesn’t know the kids are with a circus freak show and are comfortable hanging out with weird-looking people.

Now enraged, Bizarro goes on a rampage, demolishing the Frankenstein set, smashing a Frankenstein statue. Superman swings into action to prevent anyone getting hurt. Fiddling with a prop “static machine”, Superman sends an electric current through wires in the floor, causing the actors’ hair to stand up on their heads.

“You all scared of me now, he?” says a gloating Bizarro, “Now ME laughing! Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!… Me still CHAMPION MONSTER!”

Back home, Bizarro scares his kids with a Superman string puppet. Observing this with his telescopic vision, Superman reflects, “Up there, I’M the World’s Worst Monster. Even my marionette scares Bizarro kids!”

Writer Otto Binder was astonishingly prolific. Starting out as a science fiction pulp writer in 1930, he moved to comics in ‘39, writing some 50,000 pages of comics over the next thirty years. He wrote the original Shazam-era Captain Marvel comics at Fawcett in the Forties, he contributed to such titles as Captain America at pre-Marvel Timely Comics, and The Mighty Samson at Gold Key. In a long stint on Superman at National/DC, he created Brainiac, the Phantom Zone and Krypto the Super-Dog.

As a science fiction writer, Binder created the classic Adam Link series, which has its own Frankenstein connection. In I, Robot (an acknowledged inspiration for the young Isaac Asimov), the artificial Adam Link is shunned by people and unfairly accused of killing his creator. The robot reads Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to understand why he is reviled and mistrusted. The story was adapted to television as an episode of the original Outer Limits.

The Bizarro character has gone through several revisions, evolving into a sort of evil twin, a malevolent, steroid-muscled Mr. Hyde to Superman’s Jekyll. He was a lot more fun as the funhouse mirror reflection of the square and stalwart Superman of days past.

Comics... Goood!

September 13, 2009

Flash Gordon Meets Frankenstein

A case of perfect casting: Larry “Buster” Crabbe as the intrepid Flash Gordon and Jean Rogers as his sweetheart Dale Arden strike a classic pose in this promotional still for the Universal serial Flash Gordon of 1936.

That staircase look familiar? Run upstairs, turn right, and you’re in Frankenstein’s laboratory.

Routinely identified on sites such as the IMDB or Wikipedia as the staircase from the original 1931 Frankenstein, these watchtower steps are actually from Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Compare screencaps below: The Frankenstein stairs came straight down whereas the Bride stairs took a sharp ninety-degree turn at the bottom. The original ’31 stairs were also heavily weathered and worn down with ancient grooves. The ’35 stairs were cut clean and straight.

If anything was left standing from the ’31 production, it was heavily remodeled in early ’35 for The Bride, with a new plaster coat and a large overhead beam added. The original wall had gouges and a chunk missing on the left side, and the right side was much rougher, with several knobby stones sticking out. The Bride/Flash walls are smooth and flat, with relatively uniform stone shapes.

Dwight Frye made the most of the stair sets in both pictures. In 1931, as the frenetic assistant, Fritz, he famously stops midway to pull up his socks. In the 1935 film, as Dr. Pretorius’ murderous henchman, Karl, he runs downstairs pulling on his coat, muttering to himself about his mission to hurry up and find a “fresh” heart for the waiting Bride.

Based on the masterful, elegant comic strip created by Alex Raymond in 1934, Universal’s Flash Gordon was, reputedly, one of the most expensive serials ever made. It’s a wonderful piece of retro science fiction and kooky fantasy with smoke-belching spaceships, winged men, an array of monsters (including a unicorn gorilla), and crazy costume and set design that recklessly mix art deco, medieval motifs, Arabian nights and chinoiseries. The non-stop cliffhanger action is peppered with surprisingly erotic moments provided by Jean Rogers as the virginal Dale Arden in a clinging white dress and slinky Priscilla Lawson as the alluringly evil, dark-haired Princess Aura.

Buster Crabbe was a true Golden Age movie action star, playing Flash, Tarzan and Buck Rogers. Despite his expressed displeasure at having his hair bleached blonde and curled, he makes for a fabulously dashing spaceman. On the principle that a great hero needs a great villain, the mayhem on planet Mongo is orchestrated with considerable élan by Charles Middleton as the unforgettable, aptly named Ming The Merciless. Today, Flash Gordon stands as the first serial officially preserved under the American Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

The Frankenstein staircase is used twice, in quick succession, as two different locations. It is first featured in a procession scene, decorated with a large freestanding torch. Moments later, it has been repurposed as an escape route, torch removed and a tall urn set to the side, scene of an all-out brawl sequence after Flash has saved, in extremis, the brainwashed Dale from a shotgun wedding to the nefarious Ming himself, a fate truly worse than death. Further borrowing from Bride of Frankenstein, music cues were sampled throughout the serial, as well as insert clips of Kenneth Strickfaden’s electrical laboratory gadgets, now serving as futuristic machinery.

Another Frankenstein connection to Flash Gordon is the presence of a future Frankenstein Monster, Glenn Strange, plugging away in three uncredited parts. He is said to have played a robot, one of Ming’s soldiers, and his first monster role as the Godzilla-sized creature called the Gocko.

An anecdote: In the early Sixties, in my home town of Montréal, a local celebrity, Magic Tom Auburn, hosted a late afternoon TV kids’ show that showed cartoons, Three Stooges shorts and serials like King of the Rocket Men and The Crimson Ghost. The Flash Gordon serial, much to my chagrin, was yanked after only two episodes when parents complained that the dragon-like Gocko had sent their children into fits of hysteria. Took me another thirty years before I found out how Flash had escaped those giant lobster claws!

Update: Richard Sala reports that Carroll Borland, soon to become famous as Bela Lugosi’s Vampire Girl in Mark of the Vampire (1935), appears in the Flash serial as one of Aura’s handmaiden. Also noteworthy: Bull Montana, the Missing Link from The Lost World (1925) plays a “monkey man” wrestler.

More Frankenstein connections: Stuntman Eddie Parker, one of Ming’s soldiers, would sub briefly for Bela Lugosi as the Frankenstein Monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), and Harry Wilson, doing an uncredited bit as a sentry in Chapter One would go on to play the very homely female monster in Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958).

Finally, here’s a great YouTube clip from the serial showing the Bride of Frankenstein stairs in the wedding procession and the ensuing fisticuffs scene. There’s also a nice scene of Dale Arden getting zombified by super-science neon lights, and the idol with the moving arm was originally the Egyptian god statue that zapped Boris Karloff in The Mummy (1932).

A very comprehensive Flash Gordon site

Source, top photo: Yesterday's Thrills and Adventures

September 10, 2009

The Posters of Frankenstein : L'Empreinte de Frankenstein

The Monster is the striking centerpiece of the poster for L’Empreinte de Frankenstein (The Mark, or The Imprint of Frankenstein), the French-dubbed version of Hammer Films’ Evil of Frankenstein (1964).

Painter Guy Gerard Noël was a prolific movie poster artist known for his lush portraits and bold fields of color. His career, begun in the Forties, spanned four decades. His highly collectible work touched upon every movie genre, with his Hammer Films series a particular standout.

Noël seems to have pretty much enjoyed free reign in his choice of illustrations. Using what stills were available, he composed original, offbeat posters quite different from the otherwise established designs of international ad campaigns, and sometimes even at odds with the logic of the film he was representing. Case in point, an atmospheric poster for Curse of the Werewolf (1961) shows Yvonne Romain menaced by the silhouetted werewolf, though the two characters never meet in the film. To be fair, Hammer did issue misleading stills of the two actors in costume together.

Among Noël’s best Hammer posters, an alternate Curse of the Werewolf poster depicts the fate of Oliver Reed’s shapeshifter, about to be shot at close range. The howling werewolf in his torn shirt rears up against a dramatic dawn sky of purple and pink, with the stark yellow of the moonlight picked up in the title letters. Noël also did two posters for The Mummy (1959), one faithful to the well-known design showing a flashlight beam passing through the Mummy’s blown-open chest, the other a striking image of the unrelenting monster breaking through a steel-barred window, done in blue monochrome.

Noël’s best poster (one of three) for Horror of Dracula (1958) is also very different from the original British version that had Christopher Lee descending over a sleeping woman. Noël, instead, uses an image inspired by the library scene of Lee carrying off his victim. The original poster suggested impending menace, while in Noël’s poster, it’s too late: The victim has succumbed and Dracula, with blood on his chin, is sweeping her out the door and beyond to the shattered castle in a ghoulish greenlit landscape.

The Empreinte poster is one of Noël’s most accomplished works. The cringing Monster appears dead center in green, its face nearly abstract, delimited in black shadow and jagged white highlights. The secondary elements, Cushing, Kathy Wild and the electrical apparatus, are sketched in contour and awash in red-orange flames. Guy Gerard Noël’s composition and his unusual, limited palette combine to outstanding effect and make L’Empreinte one of the best of all the Frankenstein posters.

Two large galleries of Noël’s posters, on Ciné Sud and Cinémaffiche

Hammer Films posters on The Hammer Collection

Frankenstein Has Escaped!

September 6, 2009

The Monster : Ian Holm

Here, at last, is a good, sharp look at Ian Holm in his Monster makeup from the 1968 Frankenstein episode of the British Mystery and Imagination television series. Holm was also Dr. Frankenstein, playing up the Monster and Creator doppelganger theme. He would go on to tackle a third character in the Frankenstein saga, as the elderly Baron, father to Kenneth Branagh’s Victor in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994).

I previously posted a fine review of Mystery and Imagination’s adaptation of Frankenstein by Guest Blogger Marc Berezin. Marc will be returning to us soon with a look at Frankenstein on PBS’ kids series, Wishbone.

Photo source: The Drunken Severed Head
Ian Holm’s Wiki page

Marc Berezin on Mystery and Imagination: Frankenstein
Marc Berezin on The Patchwork People of Oz

September 3, 2009

The Monster : Michael R. Thomas

Makeup man, actor and horror film fan Michael R. Thomas passed away, age 59, on August 24.

His film credits, usually providing special effect makeup, include such titles as The Wolfen (1981), Fatal Attraction (1987), the Ghostbusters pictures (1984, 1989) and, most recently, I Am Legend (2007). As an actor, sporting his own makeup creations, he played monsters or unusual characters in a number of low budget pictures, just for fun. In his last film, the upcoming House of the Wolf Man, Thomas contributed an uncanny impersonation of Bela Lugosi as Dracula.

Thomas’ earliest film credit had him playing the Frankenstein Monster in the 1967 sex farce Fanny Hill Meets Dr. Erotico, shot by exploitation producer/writer/director Barry Mahon. One of the few actors to keep his clothes on, Thomas plays a pasty faced monster wearing a laced-up shirt and a matted fur coat evoking the Ed Payson Frankenstein in Third Dimensional Murder, itself a variation on Boris Karloff’s Monster in Son of Frankenstein. In the film, it’s Fanny Hill who throws the switch, bringing Thomas’ Monster to life. The ensuing mayhem, punctuated by frequent softcore scenes — which, of course, is the whole point of the film — culminates with the fiery destruction of The Monster at the hands of disgruntled villagers.

Thomas played The Monster again in Mistress Frankenstein (2000), this time in a perfect copy of the Universal original, complete with comedic dialog delivered in Boris Karloff’s British drawl. The film itself is pretty dire, a video shoot featuring exclusive girl on girl action with Darian Crane as Helena, Dr. Frankenstein’s frigid bride, reanimated as a kinky leather-and-garters Mistress-Monster. The hot lesbian action — which, of course, is the whole point of the film — is interrupted now and then by the unapologetic oldschool shtick of Thomas and his hammy associates. In addition to a dedicated turn as The Monster, Thomas appears in various bit parts including a gypsy, a burgomeister and a Teutonic police chief whose arm was ripped out by The Monster.

Thomas was very active on the horror film convention circuit and a regular, much beloved presence at the annual Monster Bash, entertaining fans with his superb makeup and impressionist’s interpretations of classic horror film characters, notably a hilarious, pitch perfect take on Lugosi’s Ygor from the Universal Frankensteins.

Mike Thomas was always happy to celebrate and eager to communicate his enduring love of the horror classics. My friend Max over at The Drunken Severed Head posted an intimate and vastly entertaining profile of Mike Thomas, edited from the recollections of George Chastain. Go see, it’s a great read, with relevant links and additional pictures of Thomas in Monster makeup.

The amusing and NSFW trailer for Fanny Hill Meets Dr. Erotico features numerous scenes of Thomas in his Frankenstein Monster getup.

Michael R. Thomas website

With thanks to Marc Berezin