Thursday, November 1, 2012

Monster Mash: Icons of Horror Cinema, Part 2

Titans of Cinema

Here we are again, back with Part 2 of our "Icons of Horror" event! Halloween is officially over, but as mentioned before, the traditional ancestor known as "Samhain" lasted until November 1st. So in honor of that, I decided to split up this grand event...but let's be honest, it needed to be split up to focus on such greats. Mind you, I will no doubt give many of these men, and even still many of the movies mentioned in both parts their own, more in-depth individual entries in due time. But for now, let's delve into the second half of this honor of the biggest names of classic horror cinema. And away we go!

The Original King of Creepy

Peter Lorre - Few actors of the "golden age" of cinema had a more recognizable face and accent than Peter Lorre. In that regard, he shared much in common with fellow Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi, as both were often typecast because of their iconic accents. However, where Lugosi was almost exclusively a king of the horror genre (sometimes to his own chagrin), Peter Lorre did have some major success outside of it's confines. In fact at one time he was featured in several of Hollywood's biggest films, alongside it's biggest stars, such as Humphrey Bogart in "The Maltese Falcon" (1941) and "Cassablanca" (1942), as well as two of Alfred Hitchcock's earlier works, "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934) and "Secret Agent" (1936). He also appeared alongside Cary Grant in "Arsenic and Old Lace" (1944), as well as Kirk Douglas and James Mason in Disney's 1954 adaptation of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea". He often was typecast as a "strange foreign villain", but he also had many turns as more heroic characters, most especially in his own series of films as the fictional Japanese secret agent "Mr. Moto", in the late 1930s. But we're here today to talk about horror, and Mr. Lorre was certainly no stranger to that genre.

Lorre caricatured in the Merrie Melodies classic "Hair-Raising Hare" (1946).

His first true turn at horror came infamously enough, in one of German impressionist filmmaker Fritz Lang's most famous films, "M" (1931), in which he gave a chilling performance as a disturbed child murderer. His official American film debut was also a horror film, 1935's "Mad Love", an adaptation of the short story "The Hands of Orlac", in which he plays the love-obsessed and deranged Dr. Gogol. He started acting horror films more regularly beginning in the 1940s, the first of which being alongside Boris Karloff in the horror-comedy "The Boogie Man Will Get You" (1942). He also appeared in the more science fiction entry into Universal's "Invisible Man" franchise, in 1942's "Invisible Agent". He fought against a disembodied and demonic hand in "The Beast with Five Fingers" (1946). But perhaps his best remembered horror roles came right near the end of his life, when he appeared alongside the likes of Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff in several entries of Roger Corman's "Poe Series" in the early 1960s.

Notable Roles: Hans Beckert in "M" (1931), Abbott in "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934), Dr. Gogol in "Mad Love" (1935), Mr. Moto in the "Mr. Moto" series (1937-1939, 7 films in total), Baron Ikito in "Invisible Agent" (1942), Dr. Lorentz in "The Boogie Man Will Get You" (1942), Hilary Cummins in "The Beast With Five Fingers" (1946), Conseil in "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (1954), Montresore Harringbone in "Tales of Terror" (1962), Dr. Adolphus Bedlo in "The Raven" (1963), Felix Gillie in "The Comedy of Terrors" (1964)

Do I know Kung Fu? Nope. But my son will!

John Carradine - An actor of some note, who would go on to be the patriarch of the "Carradine Acting Family". Many of his sons would go into acting, the most famous of which was David Carradine, who gained great fame in the television series "Kung Fu" in the 1970s. John was a Shakespearean theater actor, classically trained, though he became known for the many western and horror films he did, among other genres. He actually played several uncredited cameo roles in Universal horror films in the 1930s, such as "The Invisible Man" (1933), "The Black Cat" (1934), and "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935). He did not, however, have a starring role in a horror film until 1943, when he starred as Dr. Sigmund Walters, your average everyday mad scientist, in "Captive Wild Woman", where he uses "science gone wrong" to transform a female gorilla into a human woman. After this, he acted fairly regularly in the genre, being well known for it by the late 40s, where he finally took a turn in the role of Count Dracula in Universal's "House of Frankenstein" (1944) and "House of Dracula" (1945). Certainly not the best Dracula, nor the most well known, but he still played the role with flair and style, and was iconic enough in the role to reprise it once more in 1966's "Billy the Kid vs. Dracula". He continued acting in horror films, as well as many others (including even a role in the blockbuster '50s production of "The Ten Commandments"), all the way until his death in 1988. In fact his last film was a horror film, which speaks to his legacy in the genre.

Notable Roles: Dr. Sigmund Walters in "Captive Wild Woman" (1943),  Dr. Max Heinrich von Altermann in "Revolt of the Zombies" (1943), Dr. Peter Drury in "The Invisible Man's Revenge" (1944), Yousef Bey in "The Mummy's Ghost" (1944), Count Dracula in "House of Frankenstein" (1944) and "House of Dracula" (1945), Bohemund in "The Black Sleep" (1956), Dr. Charles Conway in "The Unearthly" (1957), Count Dracula in "Billy the Kid vs. Dracula" (1966), Cruikshank in "Munster, Go Home!" (1966), R. Chetwynd-Hayes in "The Monster Club" (1980), Earl Kenton in "The Howling" (1981), The Great Owl in "The Secret of NIMH" (1982), Lord Elijah Grisbane in "House of the Long Shadows" (1983)

Father's colossal acting shoes filled? Check!

Lon Chaney Jr. - Talk about some huge shoes to fill. I already covered his infamous father in Part 1, and what a career did that guy have. Lon Chaney Sr. was seriously about as integral to the silent era of film history as an actor could get. His son didn't start his film career, ironically, until his father had passed away. So the true irony there, is that Sr. was a man exclusively of the silent era, while Jr. was exclusively of the sound era. Pretty cool in a way, though it would have been great to be able to hear Lon Sr.'s voice in just one film. So it goes without saying that Lon Jr. came into the world of film standing in an enormous shadow, and no doubt with major expectations heaped on his shoulders. But by all accounts, he succeeded rather well. His career didn't really explode until his most iconic role in the 1940s. But he actually acted in a horror/thriller very early on, as he appeared in 1932's "The Most Dangerous Game", a story about a psychotic hunter on a remote island who prefers human prey. One of his first major starring roles came in the 1937 adaptation of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men", in which he portrayed the character of Lennie.

Lon Jr. had to go through the arduous make-up process for many hours every day.

Lon's first major horror role, however, came in a little film called "Man Made Monster" (1941), in which he plays a bus crash survivor who is immune to electricity, which causes a mad scientist to experiment on him, trying to create an army of electric super-men. He acted alongside veteran horror actor Lionel Atwill, the self-same scientist. But where his horror career really took off, and where he really shined, was when he finally got the chance to take on his father's mantle, "The Man of a Thousand Faces". Perhaps not quite, but really, he would go on to portray several iconic Hollywood Monsters, just as his father had. The first of these, was of course 1941's "The Wolf Man", which made him a huge star overnight. He was the only actor to portray this specific werewolf character role in it's original run, thus he absolutely made the role his own, and to this day it is what he is best known for. However, beyond just Larry Talbot, who he played in a total of five films, he also went on to play Frankenstein's Monster in "The Ghost of Frankenstein" (1942), Kharis the mummy in "The Mummy's Tomb" (1942), and even Dracula's son Alucard (get it?) in "Son of Dracula" (1943). Lon Jr. would also go on to have his own series of "insanity" centered thrillers, under the "Inner Sanctum" banner, which he would be almost as well known for as his "Wolf Man" persona. All told, he was one of the biggest stars of the 1940s, and would to act until close to his death at the age of 67 in the early 1970s.

Notable Roles: Akhoba in "One Million B.C." (1940), Dan McCormick in "Man Made Monster" (1941), Larry Talbot in "The Wolf Man" (1941), Frankenstein's Monster in "The Ghost of Frankenstein", Kharis the Mummy in "The Mummy's Tomb" (1942),  Larry Talbot in "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" (1943), Alucard in "Son of Dracula" (1943), Dr. Mark Steel in "Calling Dr. Death" (1943), Kharis the Mummy in "The Mummy's Ghost" (1944), Larry Talbot in "House of Frankenstein" (1944), Kharis the Mummy in "The Mummy's Curse" (1944), Larry Talbot in "House of Dracula" (1945), Gregor the Great in "The Frozen Ghost" (1945), Larry Talbot in "Abbott and Cotsello Meet Frankenstein" (1948), Dr. Munroe in "The Black Sleep" (1956), Martin Melville in "The Cyclops" (1957), Simon Orne in "The Haunted Palace" (1963), Morgan Whitlock in "Witchcraft" (1964)

One of those rare actors who made anything he was in, better than it already was.

Vincent Price - Someone who needs really no introduction, Mr. Vincent Price is one of the single most iconic actors, both for his image and his voice, in film history. So much so in fact, that most people who have never even seen one of his films, are still aware of who he is, and would be able to recognize him upon seeing or hearing him. He just had that kind of character, that kind of presence. He was one of film's true greats. Not that any of the other fine men talked about in these entries aren't also under that distinction, but Mr. Price perhaps more than any other, has had the most lasting impression, not for a single role he played, but more for just the man himself. It's safe to say, like many of the actors listed in this two-part volume, that he acted in some of the greatest movies ever made, and also some of the not so greatest. But where Vincent Price was concerned, even the "shittiest" film he was ever in (whatever that might be), was probably still watchable, and perhaps even enjoyable, because of his presence and performance alone. That's just how he was as an actor. Every role he played, he made his own, and he just stole the screen when he would walk into frame. An actor who actually started out playing serious, dramatic roles, he would not star in his first true horror movie until 1953, when he would become married to the genre in one of the first "3D" films, "The House of Wax", itself a remake of Lionel Atwill's earlier portrayal, "The Mystery at the Wax Museum" (1933). By the late 50s, he had fully exploded on the scene as the new "King of Horror", in such classic films as "The Fly" (1958) as well as William Castle's "The House on Haunted Hill" (1959) and "The Tingler" (1959). 

Mr. Price would go on to star in almost the entirety of Roger Corman's classic "Edgar Allen Poe series" of films in the 1960s. He also starred in the first adaptation of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend", titled "The Last Man on Earth" (1964). He continued to act until 1990, four years before his death in 1994, at the age of 82. And in that time, he was so iconic, that by the 80s, Michael Jackson chose him to narrate his song and video "Thriller", one of the biggest music hits of all time. That alone speaks for how big he was. His final film role was even memorable, as Tim Burton cast him as the kindly old "mad scientist" in his cult classic "Edward Scissorhands" (1990).

Notable Roles: Duke of Clarence in "Tower of London" (1939), Geoffrey Radcliffe in "The Invisible Man Returns" (1940), Nicholas van Ryn in "Dragonwyck" (1946), Professor Henry Jarrod in "The House of Wax (1953), Gallico the Great in "The Mad Magician" (1954), Francois Delambre in "The Fly" (1958), Frederick Loren in "The House on Haunted Hill" (1958), Dr. Warren Chapin in "The Tingler" (1959), Francois Delambre in "Return of the Fly" (1959), Roderick Usher in "The House of Usher" (1960), Robur the Conqueror in "The Master of the World" (1961), Nicholas/Sebastian Medina in "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1961), Various Characters in "Tales of Terror" (1962), Richard of Gloucester in "Tower of London" (1962), Dr. Erasmus Craven in "The Raven" (1963), Simon Cordier in "Diary of a Madman" (1963), Joseph Curwen/Charles Dexter Ward in "The Haunted Palace" (1963), Various characters in "Twice Told Tales" (1963), Waldo Trumbull in "The Comedy of Terrors" (1964), Dr. Robert Morgan in "The Last Man on Earth" (1964), Prince Prospero in "The Masque of the Red Death" (1964), Verden Fell in "The Tomb of Ligea" (1964), Sir Hugh, the Captain in "War-Gods of the Deep" (1965), Matthew Hopkins in "Witchfinder General" (1968), Dr. Anton Phibes in "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" (1971) and "Dr. Phibes Rises Again" (1972), Eramus in "The Monster Club" (1980), Lionel Grisbane in "House of the Long Shadows" (1983), Professor Ratigan in "The Great Mouse Detective" (1986), The Inventor in "Edward Scissorhands" (1990)  

Peter Cushing in his iconic role as "Dr. Van Helsing"

Peter Cushing -  One other era and one other studio perhaps comes close to Universal from the 30's and 40s, and that would be England's Hammer Films, who had been around even back in that "golden era", but became well known for their science fiction and especially horror films in the 50s and 60s. There were two principle actors who can be rightly credited as being the driving forces behind Hammer's popularity and success, and one of them is Peter Cushing. Throughout his career, this man played many famous roles, from that of Sherlock Holmes, to a somewhat "alternate reality" portrayal of the famous "Doctor Who", and even the now-infamous character of Gran Moff Tarkin from the first "Star Wars" film in 1977. But undoubtedly, his most famous roles were those he played for Hammer, being that of the vampire hunter Van Helsing, and the mad scientist Victor Frankenstein. In fact, he and the other major Hammer star, Christopher Lee, starred together in all three of Hammer's original adaptations of Universal's classic monster films, "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957), "Horror of Dracula" (1958), and "The Mummy" (1959). They would, in fact, go on to act in over a dozen films together, most of them Hammer films. Mr. Cushing himself would go on to star alone in a long series of Frankenstein films for Hammer, that lasted into the mid-70s. He also reprised his role of "Van Helsing" for 4 additional Hammer films. Tragically, in 1971, Peter's wife of nearly 30 years Violet, passed away. He was quoted later as saying that after she died, for him the passion of life pretty much went away, and he suffered from extreme loneliness. And yet, despite this, he still continued to act throughout the 70s, up until the mid-1980s. He passed away in 1994 at the age of 81. By all accounts a gentleman's gentleman, and a consummate professional as an actor, no matter what his role was, he still poured himself into it, and for that he will always be remembered as one of the greats.

Notable Roles: Winston Smith in "1984" (1954), Victor Frankenstein in "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957), Dr. John Rollason in "The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas" (1957), Doctor Van Helsing in "Horror of Dracula" (1958), Victor Frankenstein in five more films (1958-1974), Doctor Van Helsing in four more films (1960-1974), John Banning in "The Mummy" (1959), Sherlock Holmes in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1959), Sheriff of Nottingham in "Sword of Sherwood Forest" (1960), Dr. Namoroff in "The Goron" (1964), Doctor Schreck in "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" (1965), Dr. Who in "Dr. Who and the Daleks" (1965) and "Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D." (1966), Phillip Grayson in "The House That Dripped Blood" (1970), Captain in "Dr. Phibes Rises Again" (1972), Antique Shoppe Proprietor in "From Beyond the Grave" (1974), Dr. Abner Perry in "At The Earth's Core" (1976), Grand Moff Tarkin in "Star Wars" (1977), Wazir al Wuzzara in "Arabian Adventure (1979), Sebastian Grisbane in "House of the Long Shadows"

Sir Christopher in his most famous role.

Sir Christopher Lee - And finally, that brings us to, sadly, the one out of all these great actors talked about, who is still alive at the tender age of 90, and unsurprisingly still acting. Like many of these actors, he was classically trained in stage acting, and like Peter Cushing, appeared in many Shakespearean productions. Like his contemporary and close friend Mr. Cushing, Lee first starred in a horror film in 1957's "The Curse of Frankenstein", in his case playing the role of Frankenstein's monstrous creation, a role that took a decidedly different direction from Boris Karloff's original portrayal. He would next star opposite Cushing in 1958's "Horror of Dracula", where he played the titular role, something he would continue to do over the course of a long series of Dracula films (much like Cushing did with his Frankenstein series). He also starred opposite Cushing in the 1959 Hammer remake of "The Mummy" in the titular role, and as mentioned before, in over a dozen movies total. They were very close friends in real life, and their careers complimented and even paralleled each other in many ways. One notable example, is George Lucas' "Star Wars" franchise, where Lucas, a huge fan of Hammer horror films growing up, jumped at the chance to cast Peter Cushing in his first film. And nearly 30 years later, he would cast Sir Christopher himself in the role of "Count Dooku", a former Jedi turned to the Dark Side, in his prequel trilogy of the 2000s. Mr. Lee has also played other recent famous roles, such as Saruman in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (2001-2003), a role he is going to reprise at the age of 90 in the upcoming adaptation of "The Hobbit". He is even in the record books for being the oldest individual in music history to record a heavy metal album, which he did in his 80s. He has acted steadily now through over six decades, and is continuing to act even now, in old age and diminishing health, which is a testament to his character and passion for acting. However, while Bela Lugosi is THE iconic image of Dracula, the only person who has ever come close, is the person who has also played the part more than anyone, Mr. Lee himself, who has portrayed the character in nearly a dozen films. Though (thankfully) still with us, he too, shall always be remembered as one of the greats.

Notable Roles: The Creature in "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957), Count Dracula in "Horror of Dracula" (1958), Sir Henry in "House of the Baskervilles" (1959), Dr. Pierre Gerrand in "The Man Who Could Cheat Death" (1959), Kharis, the Mummy in "The Mummy" (1959), Paul Allen in "The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" (1960), Sherlock Holmes in "Sherlock Holmes and The Deadly Necklace" (1962), Professor Karl Meister in "The Gorgon" (1964), Franklyn Marsh in "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" (1965), Sir Matthew Phillips in "The Skull" (1965), Count Dracula in a further eight films (1966-1976), Grigori Rasputin in "Rasputin: the Mad Monk" (1966), Godfrey Hanson in "Night of the Big Heat" (1967), Duc le Richleau in "The Devil Rides Out" (1968), John Reid in "The House That Dripped Blood" (1971), Lord Summersisle in "The Wicker Man" (1973), Francisco Scaramanga in "The Man With The Golden Gun" (1974), Dr. Victor Gannon in "Return From Witch Mountain" (1978), Alquazar in "Arabian Adventure" (1979), King Haggard in "The Last Unicorn" (1982),  Corrigan in "House of the Long Shadows" (1983), Doctor Catheter in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" (1990), Burgomaster in "Sleepy Hollow" (1999), Saruman in "The Lord of the Rings Trilogy" (2001-2003), Count Dooku in Star Wars Epidode II and Episode III (2002-2005)

I would be remiss if I didn't say that there are some honorable mentions that I didn't put on this list. Some of those would be: Basil Rathbone, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, George Zucco, Glenn Strange, Ray Miland, Donald Pleasance, and Roddy McDowell. They were all also great actors, most of whom starred in several horror films each, but none of them were QUITE as synonymous with the genre as the ones talked about. I might go into the careers of some of them at a later date.

On a final, awesome note, the picture at the start of this post, and the poster below, are from the one movie that features all four legendary actors, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and John Carradine, in one film. Many of them had played together in various groupings in other films, but this was notable for the only film they all starred in together, and while the movie itself is a decent "Old Dark House" mystery type of fair, those four make it absolutely worth seeing, because they're great together. 

Hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane, and cheers to you all!!

Check out Part 1 and Part 3


  1. I totally agree with you with regards to Vincent Price. His presence was so commanding and he carried himself with such dignity regardless of the role that he could do no wrong in my eyes. Even when he was making rhyming puns on Saturday mornings on "Hilarious House of Frightenstein", he did so seriously without resorting to camp. This made it funnier and creepier.

    One of my fellow cheese-magneteers recently posted an article that mentions Price's CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER. While not a horror, I'm intrigued to see it and witness Price in an action hero role.

  2. Enjoyed both parts of your 'icons' article. With regards to your honorable mentions, if I can make a request, I'd like to see an article on Donald Pleasance. (Not that I'm opposed to some of the others you mention. Pleasance is just a personal favourite.)

    1. Oh dude trust me, like I said, there's a good chance that in time most of those cats will get their own personal article, as well as some of the movies they've been in. You're right though, Donald Pleasance is awesome. Very underrated actor, and much like Roddy McDowall, someone who a lot of younger and non-film buff folks (very saldy) don't really know of.


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