Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Frankenstein on Film - Universal (Part 2 of 2)

Frankenstein on Film - The Silents
Frankenstein on Film - Universal Part 1
Frankenstein on Film - Universal Part 2

Okay. So I think this post will be a little shorter than Universal Part One. Partly because that one took waaaay longer to write up than I wanted it to, and partly because... well, I just have less to say about these films than I did the earlier ones.

By this time, the monster had become a full fledged franchise--designed to be attached to a film, get the film churned out, and make some money--which mindset affected the way the monster was portrayed: less artistry and more "git-r-done."

Still fun to look at, though. Not AS fun. But fun.

So, this post will look at the last four films in the series: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

Once again, the photos I'm using here are a mix of publicity stills and actual scenes from the films, and most of the images I'm using came from one of these sites: Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans, Classic Movie Monsters and Universal Monsters Tribute.

And remember, the idea here is not to review the films per se, but to compare these aspects of the monster across the films:
  • a close up of the monster's face (differences in makeup design, etc.)
  • the monster's full figure (comparing costuming and such)
  • the monster's size alongside another person
  • the monster alongside the actor who played it
Although, I may not be able to keep myself from commenting on the films themselves from time to time. Okay. Let's get to it.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

The Mug Shot:

Daggers are coming out of my eyes. Right... now.

I just re-watched Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man the other night, to refresh my memory of the monster's scenes, and I was reminded of how little monster there really is in this movie, considering his name is right there in the title. Which monster-meagerness is apparently due to a couple of reasons.

Reason one is that test audiences sort of laughed at the monster speaking with Lugosi's Hungarian accent. And by sort of, I mean a lot. So, the studio decided to, ah, remove every shot of the monster speaking, from the film. Wow. Drastic. Now, I don't know how many scenes that amounted to, but it had to affect the storyline negatively, in addition to whittling down the monster's screen time.

Reason two, which may or may not have affected screen time but is damn irritating regardless, the monster was written and performed as being blind (which blindness had occurred near the end of the previous movie). But. The studio also decided to remove all reference to the blindness, which left a monster acting like he was blind for no apparent reason throughout this film. Which added to the weird, out-of-sync feel I had watching the thing.

Aside: You know, one of the fun things about writing purely for my own enjoyment is that I get to write just exactly what I want, even if it doesn't make perfect sense grammatically or thematically. Like making reason number two for less screen time have possibly little or nothing at all to do with screen time. Let me tell you, for a guy making his living as a technical writer--mucking about here, doing whatever the hell I want to do on the page, is pure nirvana. Anyway. Back to the monster. :End Aside

So what we ended up with, here, was what (I assume) started as a film pretty evenly matched--insofar as screen time is concerned--between Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf Man, but ended up being a movie about the Wolf Man, with a few confusing monster scenes sprinkled around in it. Which is irritating to me, 'cause it's a pet peeve of mine, having potentially decent films mucked up by studio executive types who have no idea what they're doing at the level of actual film making. Hell, it's a pet peeve of mine when they do that to a film that's NOT potentially decent. Not that I know for a fact it was the executive types that made the decision, here. I'm just choosing to make it a fact in my own mind when it may be NOTHING OF THE SORT.

Okay. Five paragraphs into the Mug Shot and I haven't said a word about it. And I'm talking about the movie when I made a point of saying earlier that I wasn't going to write about the movies, just the monster in them. But I had to get that off my chest.

The mug shot: I had a tough time finding a decent closeup of the monster for this film. (Which closeup you can easily see, way up there, six paragraphs above this sentence.) The one I ended up with is a particularly unflattering shot, but it illustrates nicely the idea I brought up in the previous post, that the further you get (with the actor) from Karloff-like features, the worse-looking monster you end up with.

Lugosi had an exquisite Dracula face. But his rounded 1930s European leading man features did NOT mesh with the squarish design that Jack Pierce originally created with Karloff. And it was still Jack Pierce doing the makeup at this point, by the way. As far as IMDB tells me, anyway.

Here's a little experiment: Look at the mug shot above and put your hand in front of it so you can only see the top half of the monster's head. Looks pretty good, right? Now move your hand so you can only see the bottom half. Still looks pretty good, if not particularly Frankenstein's monster-like. But you pull that hand away to see the whole thing at once? There's a disconnect, and your brain says "Frankenstein's monster--no wait, not Frankenstein's monster--no--it is--but wait--not quite...."

There you have it. Experiments do not lie. I'd have to say, in my comparison-loving mind and heart, this movie's monster is the worst of the lot. It just doesn't work. And yes, that forehead scar has changed again.

While this movie's monster is the stuff of nightmares for all the wrong reasons, there are some monster scenes in the movie that work better than others. Know why? Cause there were several scenes with people other than Lugosi playing the monster. Wikipedia says between one and three additional people. Here's one of 'em. The guy's got a better face for the makeup than Lugosi did.

I have a square, monster-like chin. And a previously broken nose.

Let's see how Wolf Man's monster fared at full-length.

The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:

Pretty sure that belt is way above belly button height. Just saying.

Well. He does look better at long-range than he does in the closeup. Whoa, that belt line is riding high. Nothing really weird about the costume as a whole though; it's the basic black that was used and worked in all the others.

Barring the unfortunate Wooly Teddy Bear look they went for in Son of Frankenstein:

Who is cuddlier? It's a TIE!

Anyway. To be fair, none of the things mucking up the monster's monster-ness in Wolf Man are the actor's fault. I'm placing blame, as blame goes, squarely on studio/filmmaker decisions. I guess "blame" is a strong word. It was what it was. People making a fast buck; any cool creative stuff they might've snuck in was (a distant) second in importance. Sigh.

Well. Was the monster in Wolf Man at least gigantic?

The Oversize Or Not Shot:

Regular-sized monster, who thinks he's blind but isn't, feeling his way along the caverns.

No. He was not. We're back to the Son of Frankenstein days of not even bothering to find a box for the old fellow to stand on. Above we see Wolf Man Talbot and the monster, with the monster LOOMING over Talbot by a good two inches. Yawn.

I daresay Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man's monster was pretty unmonstrous in about every way imaginable. But we're not done yet. We've still got three more films to go. And even though all three had the same guy as the monster, there's still some comparing to be done.

These last three movies were all done in a four year span, so actor age changing the look wasn't a huge factor. And it looks like somebody made a point of having the monsters look as alike as possible in the first two of them. Which isn't a bad thing. Unless you're trying to compare differences between them.

Hey, here's something random and neat (random for sure; just possibly neat): You got eight films, separated into two mirror-symmetrical groups. The first set of films had Karloff playing the monster three times, followed by Chaney playing it once. Then you get Lugosi doing it once, followed by Glenn Strange playing it three times. You've got a 3 + 1 followed by a 1 + 3. Ooh, I like that. It's just how my brain works. No apologies.

Moving on to the next film.

House of Frankenstein (1944)

The Mug Shot:

I am a monster and I am holding a flashlight under my chin. BOO!

So. This is a couple of steps up from Wolf Man's monster. It's even a step up from Ghost's monster, two films back. It's nowhere near the artistry we saw in Frankenstein and Bride, but it's definitely heading back in the right direction. Glenn Strange had a better face for the makeup than either of the two previous actors did.

Check out this life mask he had taken for makeup development. He was a big guy, 6' 5" and maybe 220 pounds. Not musclebound and not super slim. His face is actually a good starting point for the Universal monster, overall. Has a big, fleshy kind of look to it. Very different from Frankenstein's inverted triangle (see Universal Part 1 for more on that), this face has mass that goes toe to toe with Ghost's mug shot, but it also has some long to go with it's wide, so you don't end up with pinchably round cheeks like Ghost's monster had. I like it.

And, you know, HofF's monster has it's own version of Frankenstein's "I am a monster through no fault of my own and I am very sad about it" vibe, too. A kind of not-happy-to-be-back-from-the-dead melancholy the first couple of films had, that went away later on.

But if I had to liken this monster's closeup to any of the others, it'd be Bride's. They both have that big, blocky, menacing thing going for them. Okay.

Let's take a look at this monster's full-body.

The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:

Former glory, here I come!

Huh. Not bad. Looks pretty massive and monstery. Also similar to Bride's. By the way, at this point, the whole monster sticking his arms out in front of himself had become "the way it's done." Never mind it was initially to indicate the monster was blind and feeling his way around the room. Said Monster blindness really only existed, plot wise, in the last few minutes of The Ghost of Frankenstein, but the straight-armed thing ended up sticking around.

That being said, the movie itself was fairly entertaining. It wasn't A movie material, story-wise, but it was solid B movie fare. Boris Karloff did a really nice job playing vengeful-ex-convict-scientist Niemann, and J. Carrol Naish did an amazing job playing hopeful-then-vengeful-hunchbacked-ex-convict-scientist's-assistant. Really amazing--the movie's worth watching for that alone.

So far our new monster is stacking up pretty well to days gone by. But how'd he do in the giant-ness department? Let's take a look.

The Oversize Or Not Shot:

Stay back, copper, or the doc here gets it!

I searched and searched for a decent production still with HofF's monster next to an average fella. The monster had even less screen time here than he did in Wolf Man, and most of it was spent on a slab. Finally just went with a screen shot of the monster and the mad doc (or the mad doc's stunt double, at least). And what it tells us is that...

...the monster did okay in the giant-ness department. At least, compared to the last film. But it was entirely through actor's merits, I'm afraid. While this movie and those that followed didn't lift a filmatic finger to make the monster look bigger than life, Mr. Strange did what he could to take care of that himself. The fellow was six and a half feet tall in his stocking feet, after all. Give him the same five inches we've given to all the other actors in makeup, and he's standing about 6' 10". Not too far from the seven foot minimum-for-respectability my mind has decided on for the monster.

So filmmakers lose points for not trying to give the monster even a little more height than Strange brought to the role, but Strange himself get points for, well, being a big guy and using that to the monster's advantage. Okay, I guess filmmakers get some credit, for choosing Strange in the first place. I am an equitable man.

On to the House of Dracula.

House of Dracula (1945)

The Mug Shot:

Don't come in! I'm nekkid! (Get it? NECK-id?)

Holy cow that monster's neck looks sooo looong right now! But rest assured he's pretty much identical to the monster in the previous film. The two were only released a year apart, and with the same actor and makeup artist (still Jack Pierce after all this time) for both monsters, they were bound to be twinners.

I'm pretty sure this movie gave the monster the very, very least amount of screen time of any of the Universals. His screen time had been declining ever since he started sharing his films with other beasties, starting with the Wolf Man. But he was barely in this film at all. And most of the time he did have on screen was spent lying around unconscious. Lame.

The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:

I am lurking about in the House of Franken--er, DRACULA!

Like I said, pretty much identical monsters in these last two films. I'm just going off faith and the photo's caption to know that this Cadaver Shot isn't actually from the previous movie. Still, he looks good though, huh?

The Oversize Or Not Shot:


More of the same, here, bigness-wise. Nobody at the film's creative level is doing anything to make this monster larger than average, but Strange's real life height comes to the rescue again. 6' 2" Talbot and 6' 10" monster menacing each other. Wait, I guess Talbot has been cured (again) of his Wolf Man-ism by this point in the movie, so he can't really be very menacing to the monster, even with a gun. Guess it's the monster doing the menacing, then. It's nice to see the monster having a little headroom, in this set of films, regardless of how he came about it.

So, while there were a few unintentionally funny bits (for modern viewers, anyway) in some of these Universal films over the years, but they were always played as straight up horror films, at least to this point. That (sadly, in my mind) changed with the next--and final--entry for the series.

  Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

The Mug Shot:

Sleepy... I am getting SLEEPY... I mean, YOU are getting... oh, damn it.

This movie was designed from the ground up to be a horror-comedy. Now, I'm not a fan of horror-comedies in general, but this one is regarded pretty favorably. And, having seen it myself, it IS reasonably funny at times, even with my not being naturally attracted to such things. I enjoyed House of Frankenstein's straight up B movie horror-ness more than I liked what was well done attempt at A-List horror-comedy, here. But that's just me.

So. Let's take a look at Abbott and Costello's monster.

The big news here is that Jack Pierce, who had done makeup for every film we've looked at in the series so far, was gone for this one. He was replaced by Bud Westmore, a talented and well known makeup guy, known for his work on films like Creature From the Black Lagoon and This Island Earth. He didn't use Pierce's artistic build-it-up-from-scratch approach, favoring the newfangled (read as cheaper and quicker) rubber appliance approach. It led to a simpler look for the monster, overall, but he threw in his own changes to mark his territory as well.

Such as, you ask?

Let's see: that forehead scar has changed quite a bit from what it had more or less been, over the last few movies. And the neck bolts are a lot higher than they were. And, while it's not as apparent from the photos I have here (but having just re-watched the movie), I'd swear that his flat top forehead is considerably higher than in previous films.

The monster's eyelids look like they might be heavier, too. And I think his hair, at the sides of his head, had always run more or less vertically. But here, it looks like it's been brushed straight back. Also, the monster's always had maybe two staples visible at the top of his forehead, now he's got several. And I think the black of each of his lips is thicker, top to bottom, than previously.

Whew! That's a lot of little changes, all at once. But even so, the monster still looks like himself. Hmm. This mug shot reminds me a little of the Frankenstein mug shot alternate:

They both have that sense of... dim-witted pathos, for lack of a better phrase. A similar feel amid a lot of little, and not so little, physical differences.

Full length?

The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:

The monster picks up a few extra bucks working as a mime on the Universal back lot.

Again, no surprises, and isn't it nice to see our monster with his arms and hands somewhere other than straight out in front of him? Wow. Those boots are the fake-est, most movie-prop-iest boots I have ever seen on the monster. I bet they were also the most comfortable to wear, though. And that outfit is CLEAN. No stomping around in forests and swamps for this guy. At least, not on picture day.

Okay. One last size comparison....

The Oversize Or Not Shot:

We're so SCARY! And FUNNY!

Looks like a scene from a Scooby Doo cartoon. Which pretty much fits the movie's vibe, I guess.

I don't know for sure, but I'm thinking that the monster's boots, as well as his new Westmore foam rubber head appliance, are taller than they were in the last two movies. If so, our monster might just have grown that extra couple of inches he needed to get to his long ago publicized seven feet of height. Looks like it could be the case, from this shot, anyway. Then again, Abbot and Costello were 5' 8" and 5' 5", respectively. So maybe that's all I'm seeing, here.

Welp. That's it. Last film in the series has been monster-compared. All in all, I'd say the monster started off high in Frankenstein and Bride, then slid down over the course of Son and Ghost to his all time low in Wolf Man, followed by a moderate rise in glory with HofF, HofD, and ACmF. Never did reach his first heights, but the monster in those last few movies had his own low rent charm.

The End. Of my Universal Frankenstein's Monster comparison. w00t!

The Head Shot(s):

Look at that: The man just oozes Dracula. There is no monster oozing, though.

But not quite the end. We have these head shots to look at right quick. Amazing that such a handsome fellow as Lugosi was could look so wrong in that makeup.

Glenn Strange: The Comeback Kid. Get it? Cause he helped the monster make a comeback?

Man, I couldn't find any shots of Strange completely out of character, so a cowboy picture had to do. I think he was a little heavier by the time he was doing his monster roles. Anyway.

This! Is! Now! The! End! Really!!!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Sector 7 (2011)

Come ON, people. The movie wasn't that bad.

The Review (kind of. less a review and more of a... stream of consciousness, ranty kind of a thing.)

So I read, or at least skimmed, *fourteen* reviews for this thing. Thirteen of those reviews panned the film and one said "eh, it was okay."

I don't understand. Sure, it had plot holes. And the CGI wasn't top notch. It wasn't a perfect movie by anyone's standards. But c'mon, the damn thing was fun to watch. You know, that often-overlooked-by-critics aspect of the filmatic experience, the part where you just sit back and enjoy watching it?

This movie was: Fun. To. Watch. So everybody should just get off their dang hidey-horses-what-the-hell-is-a-hidey-horse and let this movie do what it was meant to do--entertain for an hour and forty five minutes.

Heck, I watched it twice. No, wait. I actually watched it three times. Huh. It really wasn't that good of a movie.

Why did I watch this thing three times?

Let's see. First time was on Netflix, when the movie came out. It was in Korean with English subs, but I had an old Roku that didn't support Netflix subtitles. Man, never underestimate the power of a good set of subtitles.

At any rate, I enjoyed it enough to want to watch it again, with a better idea of what was going on. I mean, I didn't need subtitles to get that a bunch of stranded oil rig workers were being picked off by a mutant brine shrimp looking thing. But I wanted to be a little more in the know than that.

So I set out to find it on one of the other online services. And I did find it. On Amazon, I think. But, the version I found was English dubbed.

The Beast.
Now, I hate watching foreign films when they've been dubbed into English. I could count on one hand the dubbed films I've seen that were done artfully enough to work at anything near the level of their original language with subtitles.

Though, now that I think, none are coming to mind. But I'm sure they exist. I've compared many a film, over the years, because whenever I'm unlucky enough to catch a dubbed film, I make a point of finding it again in a subtitled version. If possible. And I definitely remember being surprised a few times, when a dubbed version of some film or other happened to stand up fairly well against the subtitled version.

So, if I remembered them I'd count them. And I'm sure I'd only need one hand.

I digress.

Anyway, the English dubbed version gave me a better idea of what was going on, but the dubbing (predictably) sucked. I could tell I was missing out on all sorts of nuances the original actor's deliveries would've brought to the table.

That's the thing with dubs--even the most poorly acted scenes are going to come across with more heart and verve than almost any dubbed scene. How could they not? The actors are all actually on set, feeling the energy, getting direction, and they're invested in the project--they've signed up for the whole deal, make or break. Right? As opposed to a bunch of voice actors (if we're lucky, they're voice actors) schlepping in for a one day job? I mean, I'm sure many do their best to get in character, as much as possible, but the two settings just can't compare.

Ugh. Still digressing.

So I had decided that whatever I'd gleaned from the two versions I'd already seen was all I was gonna get. I certainly wasn't inclined to go out and buy a DVD to see a movie I'd already watched twice, subs or no subs. So that was the end of it.

Until last week. I don't even remember what made me think of it, but I did. Oh, I know what made me think of it. I finally replaced that old first generation Roku XDS with a shiny new third generation Roku LT. And let me tell you, this new bottom of the line third gen SO outperforms what was a top of the line first gen.

Ack. MORE digression. (Make it stop!)

Anyway, for whatever reason, setting up the new Roku pulled that three year old memory up to the surface and I decided to see if Sector 7 was still on Netflix. AND IT WAS.

The beast, after being shot, stabbed and burned to a crisp.
But still menacing our heroine.

So I watched it again, for the third time, and I am here to tell you it was the most enjoyable viewing yet--original Korean dialogue with English subs.

And now I'm wondering why I didn't just watch the Netflix version on a laptop, way back when. I'm pretty sure Netflix subs have always worked in a browser. Could be wrong, though.

I'm not sure why this film has been so maligned by the entire planet. I know it had a lot of expectations built up around it, by filmmakers and fans alike. I remember reading about it prior to release: bigger budget, 3-D, respected director. I was excited to see it--I'd seen The Host, like everyone else--and was looking forward to another like offering.


Maybe that was it. This film was fun to watch, but it didn't stack up to The Host. The Host was a great film. But then I don't expect every genre film I see to match the best of the lot. Maybe the world at large was expecting it to match up.

Dunno. Anyway, you should watch it if you get a chance. It's not so bad. Pretty good, even.

That's all I really wanted to say.


Ah. It's been so long since I pronounced a brain count. Feels good.

The Trailer

The Details

Directed by: Kim Ji-hoon

Produced by: Yoon Je-kyoon

Written by: Yoon Je-kyoon and Kim Hwi

Ha Ji-won as Cha Hae-joon
Oh Ji-ho as Kim Dong-soo
Ahn Sung-ki as Captain Lee Jeong-man
Park Chul-min as Do Sang-goo
Song Sae-byeok as Go Jong-yoon
Lee Han-wi as Jang Moon-hyeong
Cha Ye-ryun as Park Hyeon-jeong

Running time: 104 minutes
Country: South Korea

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Frankenstein on Film - Universal (Part 1 of 2)

Frankenstein on Film - The Silents
Frankenstein on Film - Universal Part 1
Frankenstein on Film - Universal Part 2

And, just a smidgen over four years after the first Frankenstein films post, I''m on to the second one....

So. To continue what I started with the Frankenstein silents, I'm going to take a look at Frankenstein's Monster as portrayed in all eight (eight!) Universal films. And this set of movies I can actually sink my comparison-loving teeth into; there's a veritable cornucopia of information and differences in makeup, costume, monster size and actor to look at.

And since you're already thinking it: no, I'm not a hundred percent sure that "comparison-loving" and "teeth" should be tied together in a sentence like that. But I'm rolling with it.

Now, mind you, I'm not reviewing the movies themselves. I'm comparing the way the monster was portrayed in each film. Just so we're clear.

So this post will look at the first four films in the series: Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939) and The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). I think those will make for a pretty long post, so the last four films will go into a Part 2.

Most of the photos I'm using here are a mix of publicity stills and actual scenes from the films. As I was monotonously (and I do mean monotonously) sorting through search after search at Google Images, I saw a few sites repeatedly popping up with nice, big high quality photos for the entire series. So I eventually bypassed Google entirely and did my searching directly through those sites.

Which is a terribly roundabout way of saying most of the images I'm using came from one of those sites, and I will now without further ado name said sites: They are Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans, Classic Movie Monsters and Universal Monsters Tribute. All three are well worth your time. Just saying.

So, the original idea with this whole thing was to compare four different aspects of the monster across different films/film series:
  • a close up of the monster's face (differences in makeup design, etc.)
  • the monster's full figure (comparing costuming and such)
  • the monster's size alongside another person
  • the monster alongside the actor who played it
(Woooooo! I'm saying monster so many times!)

Anyway. That was the idea. The reality I hit up against was one where the silent Frankenstein films (the first group I looked at) had little or no visual information available for me to compare. It. Was. Lame.

But such information poverty is not the case today. No it is not. So let's get a move on.

Frankenstein (1931)

The Mug Shot:

The Monster poses for his first portrait: "Okay, chin down... little more... great! Now: look pensive and dead."

Okay. This particular photo (from a DVD cover) is a little airbrushed up for my taste, but it conveys what it needs to convey. Wow. This design is a Work. Of. Art. Well, all movie stuff like this is a work of art, but this is really amazing. Jack Pierce was, in no uncertain terms, brilliant. And Karloff's slender, angular bone structure really took Pierce's design and ran with it. It's one of the reasons I think Karloff pulled the design off, physically, better than later actors did. (And what do I mean by that?)

Well, Karloff was the actor working with Pierce as the makeup was actually being designed/applied/revised/reapplied etc. So Pierce adapted it, during that process, to Karloff's features--Karloff's features became part of the design (you've read about the removing of the dental appliance thing, right?). As a result, when that design was applied to later actors--all with very different features and bone structure than Karloff had--it came off looking less... organic, a little "bolted on," if you will. No pun intended. (Possibly a small pun intended.)

Sure, Lugosi was the studio's initial choice to play the role, but he said no, and by the time Pierce was actually doing mockups and physically testing out his design on an actor, it was Karloff sitting in the chair.

The Monster, looking both gooily decomposed and drily desiccated. At the same time! That takes talent.

Had to throw this photo in, too. It's well known, and was used in the promotional material, but with a close look you'll notice the design it shows isn't quite what was used in the movie. For filming, they went without the enlarged veins and clamps on either side of the forehead. So I'm guessing this photo was actually a preproduction test shot. But I think it's a great look, so I'm including it as a Mug Shot "alternate."

Also, this pic really shows off the synergy between Pierce's design and Karloff's facial structure: wide and squared off across the forehead, moving diagonally inward toward the chin--basically an inverted triangle (which the forehead veins actually mirror and accentuate). That downward wide-to-narrow movement gives the monster a sense of strength and frailty at the same time. I think it's is one of the reasons seeing this first incarnation of the monster is such a visceral experience.

Plus, the monster looks so... dead... in the photo. It's just a great shot. Okay. Enough on the closeup. Let's pull back to...

The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:

Do *NOT* go in there. Woo!

Ah, Ace Ventura. I hated that movie. Well. We've got what became the classic look here, obviously. The monster's dressed completely in black (a year before Johnny Cash was born), in stark contrast with his deadpale skin. And, to help us get that "eight feet in height, and proportionably large" feeling, the whole outfit is several sizes too small.

Except for the boots. Nothing small about them. Apparently, they were a boot style that asphalt spreaders of the time wore, with an extra sole glued to the bottoms, for height. (Lots of anecdotal stories out there on the various aspects of "how-they-did-what" in this movie, but this seems to be the general consensus on the boots.)

The entire outfit's cut from heavy cloth (along with Karloff wearing two pairs of pants), to add bulk and stiffen movement. Overall, the costume gives a nice feeling of bigness--breadth and height, which is impressive since Karloff was a reasonably slender and not overly tall fellow. And speaking of overly tall....

The Oversize Or Not Shot:

I've read that studio press releases described Karloff's monster as anywhere from seven to seven and a half feet tall. And, although characters from the various films refer to it as "huge" and "a giant", the Karloff monster's height is never explicitly pinned down in dialogue. (Later on, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein comes close, with a character describing Glenn Strange's monster as "about eight feet tall.")

Well, the reality of Karloff's monster was a bit less than eight, or even seven, feet. Karloff stood about 5' 11" and, with the boots and headpiece adding around 5 inches to his height, he settled in at about 6' 4" in full costume.

The monster considers borrowing Elizabeth's heels to get himself a little closer to his publicized height.

Which is about what we see in this photo, as the monster menaces Elizabeth on her wedding night. He looks colossal enough at first glance. But Ms. Clarke, playing Elizabeth, was only about 5' 2". Here, we can give her a couple of inches for those heels she's wearing and say 5' 4". A little height adjusting to account for the monster's menacing-lean-forward and Mae's fearful-lean-back (I figure they just cancel each other out), and you've got a monster that's probably about 6' 4" here.

However. This scene with Elizabeth notwithstanding, this movie did a fantastic job overall, using forced perspective and other tricks of the trade to give us a monster who looked well over his 6' 4" height in most scenes. It's hard to get perfectly consistent results using these techniques, but I seriously love and admire these film makers for trying as hard as they did.

I mean, it was tough to reliably portray a giant-sized character on film back in the days before you could just use your computer to create, appropriately size and insert the character into the finished product. Okay, that's a gross oversimplification. But still, these guys did a bang-up job using relatively primitive tools and techniques.

Doc accuses his creation is stealing his wife's shoes.

As we can see in this shot with doc and the monster about to get into their climactic tussle. Colin Clive was reportedly 6 feet tall and the monster towers over him, looking to be at least his purported 7 feet.

It's worth a watch of this and the second film just to make note of their great use of forced perspective to manipulate the monster's perceived size throughout. I say the first two films, because the series kind of fell off the proverbial wagon after that--either resorting to the much-easier-but-less-effective "stand on a box" technique, or not bothering to portray the monster as giant at all.

Okay. Let's take a look at what changed by the time the monster was looking for his bride....

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Mug Shot:

Who are you calling delicate?

So. Here we have the same actor, same makeup artist, four years later. Karloff, who was in his mid forties when he did Frankenstein, is maybe two years shy of 50 here. Looks like the monster's face had filled out a bit, losing some of the angularity that I really liked in the first film. But it still works, because the former triangle-strength-frailty thing is replaced by a more square shape that adds a subtle sense of massiveness. Whereas Frankenstein's monster combined strength with delicacy, Bride's monster feels more solid.

That forehead scar has changed from the first film. Scroll up to Frankenstein's mug shot, and you'll see it starts lower on his forehead and has a left to right diagonal as it moves downward. Bride's monster has it starting just below, or maybe even underneath, that staple-y thing and the diagonal going right then curving back round to the left. Huh.

Other than that, the design's been altered to reflect the monster's having been through a fire during the first film's climax. Hair has been burned away to expose more of the--I don't know what you call 'em... Sutures? Staples? ...used to close up his brain cavity. Burns on the face. Overall, I think it's a natural (and masterful) progression on the first film's look.

The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:

Ooh, that's gonna leave a mark.

Well, other than being covered in mud, ashes and soot (are ashes and soot the same thing?), this is the same look as in the first film. Again, the monster fills the suit out a bit more than he did the first time around, which lends to the feeling of solidity and mass I think he shows in this movie. (Scroll up and take a look at Frankenstein's full-length shot, compared to this one, and see if you don't agree.)

Hmm. You know, I'd say the monster also looks... I don't know, a little less dead--less like a newly reanimated corpse, here. To be honest, I don't think that any of the other films in the series really replicate the "just back from the grave" vibe that the first monster gave out. I don't know why, or if it was intentional, or even if it's all in my head. But it definitely seems that way to me.

We could say it's a natural progression for the character, who in the series timeline actually was further and further from "just back from the grave" status, as each movie progressed. I'm quite sure 1930s-1940s era movie makers weren't entertaining such thoughts, but if it helps me sleep at night....

The Oversize Or Not Shot:

Like, zoinks, Scoob! A monster!

So, this is a great shot showing the kinds of camera work both this and the first film used to such advantage. At first glance, the monster and the Burgomaster look like they're standing straight across from, and staring right at, each other. But take a look at their feet and you can see that the Burgomaster is actually standing a foot or foot and a half further away from the camera than the monster is--the Burgomaster's forward foot is about even with the monster's rearward foot. So they're actually offset and staring past one another in the shot.

This is classic forced perspective. Being even a foot or two closer to the camera, the monster is perceived by it (and us) as being both taller and more massive than he actually is. Look at the monster's head and hands compared to the Burgomaster's: there's a subtle but noticeable difference in size. Add in the fact that the Burgomaster is slouching his back and bending slightly at his knees, while our monster is standing straight and tall, and the effect is intensified even more.

E. E. Clive, playing the Burgomaster, was about 5' 10"--just an inch shorter than Karloff out of makeup. But this shot gives Karloff's monster an appearance of way more than the 6' 4" height he had in costume, and mass to boot. These first two films really went all out to give us a monster that was as close to Shelley's size description as they possibly could. Kudos to them, cause there's nothing worse than sitting down to a Frankenstein movie (Universal or otherwise) and seeing an average-sized monster, with nothing but disfigurement to physically differentiate him from the other characters. Am I right? (I am so right!)

Okay. Moving on to the Son.

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

The Mug Shot:

Middle-aged Monster... just wants to get through another day at the office.

You may have figured out by now that I think the first two movies really shined, in almost every way imaginable. But Sequel-itis is bound to rear it's ugly head, at some point, in any series. You know about Sequel-itis, right? That illness most feared by film franchise lovers and characterized by shrinking budgets, haphazard continuity and a seeming "who cares?" attitude by the filmmakers. Now, I'm not saying Son suffers from any of those things in any big way. But for me, this was the first step down off the pedestal.

So.... Taking a look at Son's closeup: Still the same actor and makeup artist, and yet another four years gone by. Karloff was about 52--eight years older than he was in Frankenstein--when he did this one. The monster's face has filled out even more than it had in Bride, and has a much softer look to boot. Honestly, this monster has lost its sense of strength and menace. It looks a little... harried and middle-aged to me. And while the overall makeup design is more or less the same as in the two earlier films, instead of strength and massiveness, what I get from this shot is melancholy and a sense of fatigue. I don't know if the lack of menace was intentional or not, but this is definitely a less than menacing monster, here.

Other details: the monster's forehead scar has reasonably the same look it had in Bride. Maybe a little shorter and wider. And his hair has grown back in since the end of the last film. Oh. And all the facial burns are gone. I'd figured they were permanent scars, but I guess they were just surface burns that healed up between the end of the last movie and the start of this one.

The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:

I am not threatening in any way whatsoever. And I am sad about it.

As for the overall look, with the bulkier outfit, Son's monster looks less tall and more wide than it has before. Now, Karloff was a long way from what anyone would call overweight; but he was filling in the way many men in their fifties tend to do. Regardless of whether Karloff is a bit heavier or it's just the monster's new outfit... it's not working for me.

I mean this outfit really underwhelms me. The sleeves are much less shortened than previously, leading to a tall-but-not-that-tall feeling. And while the vest adds bulk, it lacks the angular lines the original suit coat had. The vest gives a sort of soft bulk, as opposed to the suit coat's massive and muscular bulk. I see this monster more at home in an easy chair, with pipe and paper in hand, than I do out terrorizing villagers. Meh.

The Oversize Or Not Shot:

6' 2" doc looks at 6' 4" monster.

Not. As in not oversized. Scene after scene, throughout the entire film, we get a six and a half foot monster. Sure, when I see a six and a half foot guy on the street, I (might) think to myself: "Hey, that guy's pretty tall." But I don't think he's monstrously tall. I don't say: "Wow, if it was dark and rainy and he was in a too-small black suit, I might mistake him for Frankenstein's monster"! I do not.

Let's see if Lon Chaney improved things any, with his one-shot as the monster.

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

The Mug Shot:

Do NOT. Mess with me.

Well. This is a very different monster than previously portrayed. Jack Pierce is still on hand as makeup artist, and the design is pretty much classic 1931. And to be honest I think this monster is a step up from the last portrayal. But Karloff was 5' 11" and a slender 170 pounds, while Chaney was 6' 2" and 220 pounds, and this is where Karloff's features being part of the design lead to a doesn't-quite-fit look, here. Chaney's got a bit of a baby face, to boot, and mixing horrifying reanimated cadaver with chubby just-wanna-pinch-em cheeks doesn't quite work for me. But at the very least this monster looks like it means business, you know? Like bouncer-at-the-stripper-joint or mafia-bodyguard business.

That forehead scar has changed again--hangs lower, has less of a curve at the bottom, and looks bigger to boot. And I'm not sure, but the whole forehead/top of the head looks a little shorter, here, than it was in Son. Hard to tell, with the two monsters' faces so differently shaped.

The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:

I am literally standing on a box.

And... we're back to the black suit here, which is a welcome return. This monster's too broad to give off any kind of dessicated corpse vibes, but he does look pretty massive overall. Big, but not especially tall. Which is weird, since Chaney was reportedly about three inches taller than Karloff when both were out of costume. If he's getting the same 5 inch height-gain from boots and prosthesis, that would put him around 6' 7" in actual real-costumed-life. So I dunno. I guess there's nothing in this photo to judge his size against anyway, so what am I getting all worked up for?

Hm. That suit looks like it was tailored to fit. I feel like we're leaving movie-magic-monstery territory, and heading into slick-economic-film-property territory, here. That's what my gut's telling me, anyway. Gut or no gut, I'm saying Ghost's monster is a slight step up from Son's.

The Oversize Or Not Shot:

I may or may not be 6' 7", and I may or may not be standing on a box.

I was all set to say the monster is so standing on a box in this photo. But then I had the thought, above, about him being close to 6' 7" and started thinking maybe there is no box. I don't know, what do you think? Lionel Atwill, playing Bohmer, was around 5' 10".... That monster could be 6' 7", maybe a little more. Maybe he's standing on a small box. Or, Bohmer could be bending a bit at the knees, just off camera. Hm. Either way, there's quite a bit of box-standing going on in this movie, as evidenced by...

Move along! No boxes to be seen, here! Return to your homes....

...this shot. Tell me there's not a box right next to that bed, being stood on by that monster! I won't believe you! Well. All in all, doing something to make the monster look taller in a Frankenstein movie is commendable. It's a long step down from the amazingly cool camera tricks being used in the first two films, but it's a step up from the third film's no tricks whatsoever.

The Head Shot(s):

Whew! We're about done.

Just for fun, and there's not much to comment on with this piece, here's a look at the actors from the first four movies, in and out of costume.

I am not an animal! I am a human being!

Okay, that last caption borders on being a little to irreverent. But I'm leaving it in. Cause it's a pretty good joke. You know, with him not looking very human beingish in makeup but looking quite human beingish out of makeup. It's funny. If your head is full of random film quotes. Anyway. Karloff's head shot is (I think) c. 1935, about midway through his monster stint. You know, to give a nice balance for his monster images--one when he was younger, one when he was older, and one that is jussst right! Very Three Bears of me, I think.

And, it's been so long since I started this damn post and pulled that head shot, that I'm not really sure if I'm making the whole circa 1935 thing up in my head. I do that sometimes. Well, anyway, it's Boris Karloff, and he's not, like, three, or anything, in it. Sooooo many commas inappropriately used in that sentence!

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, Catch a tiger by the toe.

Huh. I feel like Chaney's monster and his head shot look more similar than they should. That's mildly disturbing to me. Hah! Can you imagine the monster with that mustache?

Anyway, that about wraps it up for the first four movies in the series. I guess my opinion is no secret: up to this point, we had a great couple of monsters in the first two films, different in their own ways but both amazingly portrayed. We had the third film's monster taking a pretty big dive in pretty much every way possible. And we got a somewhat raising of the bar in the fourth film.

And... I am SO done with this post. Four years between starting this post and publishing the last one, and I puttered on putting this thing together for six months, to boot. Guess I don't have nearly as much time as I used to for these things. But still have all the OCD stuff to merit puttering with a two week post for six months. Roh Rell, Raggy. We'll see if the next one takes another four years.

Hah. You think I jest.