Classic Universal horror comes to the Music Box
The birth of the scream
10/19/2011 10:00 PM
Halloween owns cinema.
Sure, Christmas has its saccharine family classics; Easter, its passion plays (which occasionally tiptoe into horror territory, thanks to Mr. Mel Gibson); the Fourth of July, its patriotic tomes, and so on, but no other holiday is as closely associated with the movies as Halloween. Cinema has shaped its very identity.
Open your door to trick-or-treaters or head out to any costume party and you’ll find a mass of horror movie monsters staring back at you. Serial slashers Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, goopy and gory flesh-eating zombies and other modern creations may populate the contemporary field, but the classics still hold a firm death-grip on the game.
Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride, the Mummy, the Wolfman and more are ubiquitous — and rightfully so. They’re the monsters who started it all, whose frightful visages resurrected and established horror as a cinematic genre.
This Halloween, they’re back in grand fashion.
Beginning Friday, Oct. 21, the Music Box Theatre screens 13 of the great classic horror films from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s for a week-long run. The program highlights films produced by Universal, the studio that spearheaded the horror renaissance. Their Gothic productions during this Golden Age of Horror introduced the monsters (and the performers who portrayed them) who would change both the nature of cinema and popular culture itself.
The series offers an invaluable glimpse at the beginnings of the archetypes that permeate Halloween today. The character traits associated with all of the famous movie monsters, from their looks to their actions, can be traced to these films. And the Music Box has them all, presented in original 35mm: Dracula (1931), starring Bela Lugosi; Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), starring Boris Karloff; The Mummy (1932), also featuring Karloff; and The Wolfman (1941), starring Lon Chaney, Jr.
These are not just historical relics, though. The Universal classics are expertly crafted chillers, thick with atmosphere, German expressionism influences, heavy creeps and sly humor (Dracula’s fade into snoozerdom by the second act notwithstanding).
The horror standard-bearers are essential viewing, but the real treats in the Music Box’s showcase are films that fall on the classics’ periphery or ones that serve supreme spectacle.
The under-appreciated Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), about a mad doctor roving the streets of 19th century Paris, and The Black Cat (1934), which follows a couple who fall in with a Satanic priest, find Lugosi and Karloff working outside of their career-making roles, but still deep in the horror genre. Their pairing in the latter, one of only eight films that the famous rivals starred in together, is electric.
The opening night double feature of It Came from Outer Space (1953) and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) is the series’ pinnacle, however. The films are highly entertaining sci-fi and creature feature fare, respectively, but the prize is in the presentation.
The Music Box will screen both films in 3-D — old-school style, complete with the classic red and blue flimsy paper glasses. Movie lovers burned by the recent 3-D craze should make it a point to catch these features. The effect in its infancy has a clumsy and pure quality that’s missing from its modern counterpart. It services the films perfectly, adding a nice layer of schmaltz and cheese on top of the thrills and chills.