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Archive for Sunday, October 27, 1996

OLD HORROR MOVIES GAVE GOOD SCREAM

October 27, 1996

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Calder Pickett

The best "horror movie" I ever saw was "Young Frankenstein." I say "ever saw" because I doubt that I'll ever see another horror movie, at least a brand new one. I'm not sure "Young Frankenstein" was a horror movie, really, more a comedy. Nothing ever scared me the way Boris Karloff scared me in "Frankenstein" and "The Mummy." When the wrappings of "The Mummy" slowly unfolded and we saw that one glittering eye, every kid in the Isis Theater in Preston, Idaho, was screaming.

We were also screaming when we saw sweet old Henry Hull changing into the "Werewolf of London." We kids loved to scream at movies. The boy sitting next to me got down on the floor and wouldn't look. When Johnny Weissmuller in "Tarzan the Ape Man" led the ivory hunters into the elephants' graveyard, we screamed, and I sat through that movie three times in one day. They let us do that in 1932.

Our horror movies were horror movies without being very explicit. I remember no decapitations, no flowing blood, no oozing brains. It was enough just to see part of the monster's body come to life, old Karloff, and hear Colin Clive shouting "It's alive! It's alive! It's alive!"

"The Mummy" was my first real horror movie. My parents vetoed "Frankenstein"; my mother had read about it in Parents' Magazine. In the spring of '32, my parents were out planting radishes and onions, and I announced to them that I was going to see "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

"No, you're not," my dad said.

I also had missed "Dracula," a rather silly movie, though I love to hear Bela Lugosi refer to the howling wolves: "Listen to them. The children of the night." We caught "Dracula" in re-runs about the same time Marion Davies was starring in "Peg o' My Heart." My best buddy thought it was funny to sing "Peg in my heart" instead of "Peg o' my heart."

I think that maybe "Bride of Frankenstein" was better than the first "Frankenstein." Some film historians seem to think so. Elsa Lanchester had that splendid scene when she spots old Boris, her designated mate. My, but how Elsa screamed. Her wild hairdo looked, and looks, like the hair on some of the models on TV commercials and the ghastly fashion shows CNN has out of Milan every few days.

I missed "King Kong" the first time around the way I missed the others I've mentioned, but I've seen it several times since 1933. It's a great movie. I have it on a cassette with "Citizen Kane" and every once in a while I reward myself with a double feature. That Fay Wray could really scream. Recently I saw her in a 1932 movie, called "The Most Dangerous Game," about a mad man pursuing human beings on a desert island. Fay's screams must have half-deafened leading man Joel McCrea.

One of the funniest horror movies I ever saw was "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," and usually I loathed Abbott and Costello. Not only the Frankenstein monster but also Dracula and the Wolf Man were on hand. When I was in college, I'd put my overcoat on backwards and imitate the monster, scaring a secretary in our office half to death. I also did a good Wolf Man. My grandchildren still like me to do the Frankenstein monster for them. Kids love to be scared. Kids love to scream.

Oh, yes, "Psycho." That one made us wonder how many monsters are walking along the streets. "Psycho" warned us off sleazy looking motels. Every time I read a Dick Francis novel I wonder how many of the ordinary-looking folks we see are really monsters.

"Young Frankenstein," what a movie. This came out about 1974, one of the wild ones from Mel Brooks. The Brooks bad taste was quite in evidence. The doctor's assistant, old Igor, brings the wrong brain to the doctor and tells him the brain belonged to "A. B. Normal." The monster moves in on Madeline Kahn, and her screams turn into "Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last I've found thee!" I think she said "thee."

Today's horror movies seem stupid to this old fellow. See "Seven" if you want to see a lousy one, and it's about a serial killer, not a monster. I doubt that the good old horror movies really hurt the children much. We did little more harmful than imitating the Frankenstein monster or the Wolf Man.

-- Calder Pickett is a professor emeritus of Kansas University, and his column appears Sundays in the Journal-World.

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