As a special treat, Peacock.com is making a selection of classic Universal horror movies free to view online in October. I thought I would feature two classic horror films a week, just as I used to watch them in second-run movie theaters as a young girl.
Our double feature tonight includes two eerie Boris Karloff movies.
The tomb of Tutunkhammen had been opened and caused a sensation in 1922. Not ten years later, Universal movie founder Carl Laemmle asked writers to come up with a plot for a new horror movie featuring a mummy. It was Karl Freund’s directorial debut but he had been the cinematographer for Dracula and Metropolis previously. Jack Pierce, the makeup artist for Frankenstein, created the look of the mummy. It took 8 hours to apply the makeup and bandages and 2 hours to remove it.
The Old Dark House was directed by James Whale, the director of Frankenstein, and is acknowledged to be one of his best films. Boris Karloff plays the menacing butler, Morgan. The cast features Melvyn Douglas and Gloria Stuart, both big stars in their day. The movie was based on a novel about post-World War I disillusionment and the character Douglas plays reflects that nonchalant wit.
I am partial to pre-Code movies from the early 1930s. The pacing and blocking are slower than movies of subsequent decades because the actors often had acted on the stage and in silent movies. There is a type of elegance to the way actors gesture, walk, position themselves and intone their lines that is dramatic and almost dream-like. I think this slower tempo of pacing accentuates the drama of the script, shows costumes off to their best advantage and adds qualities of suspense and eeriness to the 1930s Universal horror movies. Even the music and dancing were slower tempo at that time.
By the 1940s, movie pacing had picked up speed, just as popular music and dancing had. Carl Laemmle had lost his studio after financial losses by 1938. Subsequent producers did not assign large budgets to horror films, consigning the genre to B movie status. Of course, there were war concerns and restraints, so that was a factor. Particularly in the “mummy” movies, clips were re-used and scenery and music was borrowed from other films. The 1940s movies tend to focus more on reomantic plots, comic relief and less refined characters and relied on less on English-accented actors and European settings. I still watch movies of that era but I return again and again to the brilliance of films produced by Carl Laemmle and Universal Studios in the 1930s.
I hope you enjoy these movies!