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Jun 9 17 1:29 PM
Jun 17 17 9:13 PM
NIGHTWALKERS by Bruce Lanier Wright
Another oldie from the vaults. This book was published in 1995, so it’s certainly not new. But I hadn’t read it so...it’s new to me!
In this volume, the author sets out to take a good hard look at Gothic Horror films of the Modern Era, by which he seems to mean 1957-1976. Basically from Hammer at ground zero to Hammer at virtual extinction. He starts with CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and ends with TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, though he comments on some later films in an Epilogue.
In his Prologue (which is exceedingly intelligent and well-written) Wright tells us of his very narrow (by my lights) definition of “horror”. He also (apparently) has a fear of ghosts, which means nothing, but I thought it was interesting.
It should be said that, while he covers a LOT of Hammer films, he also includes other non-Hammers which fall into that era and which meet his strict parameters. He is a proud Hammer guy...but, wait, wait, come back...he also thinks Whale’s two Frankenstein films and Freund’s THE MUMMY are among the best films ever of ANY kind. So, you know, cut him some slack, Jack.
Mr. Wright not only has a narrow definition of horror, he’s also shows himself a rather snippy judge of horror or not.
We almost always seem to find our way back to that “Horror or Not” conversation. The author here has a very definite idea of what a horror film is. But, despite his confidence in his own definition, and despite the clarity and intelligence of his writing, I don’t find his notion of horror to be any clearer or any more “right” than anyone else’s. I read his book, but even while reading it, I found myself wondering just why this movie was here and this movie wasn’t. I’m sure it’s clear in Wright’s mind, but even he, capable as he is, can’t seem to make it clear anywhere outside his own head. The problem -- horror or not -- is, I think, eternally fascinating, but endlessly insoluble.
NIGHTWALKERS is a nicely produced softbound item, slim, but fully packed. It is very well-written indeed with nice, and nicely-reproduced illustrations. Many of the photos are rather small and often very familiar, but they still add a nice texture to the word-heavy volume. There is a six-page section of color illustrations, primarily posters and lobby cards. Again, they are mostly familiar, but still awfully pretty.
I only noted three or four simple typos, nothing to worry about. But there were a few too many errors of proper names and titles. These always make me cringe a mite. Here are a few…
Wright gets points for getting “Fredric March” right. Unfortunately, though, in the same sentence he mashes THE WOLF MAN into THE WOLFMAN.
Abbot(t) and Costello
FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE WOLFMAN...it’s MEETS, of course, not VS. and he squishes WOLF and MAN together again.
MANIA when he means MANIAC
He seems to prefer VS. to MEET(S), because he makes the same mistake with THE 7 BROTHERS VS. (MEET) DRACULA.
John Derkes should be John Dierkes.
Wright also makes a few mistakes of fact and some maybe mistakes. For example, he writes that CURSE OF THE DEMON features “a wolf-headed demon.” I guess if that’s what he sees then it’s not a mistake, but I’ve certainly never thought of it that way.
He captions a photo from CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF as showing Oliver Reed and Catherine Feller when it’s actually Reed and Yvonne Romain.
While praising FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN he gets rather tangled up. He writes that Thorley Walters “would indeed have made a fine Dr. Watson”. But good old Thorley did play Watson at least twice in SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE DEADLY NECKLACE and in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES’ SMARTER BROTHER.
Then, in the next paragraph, he laments Susan Denberg’s early death, which of course still hasn’t occurred. Well, since his opinion of this lousy movie is so wrong, it’s only right that he should mess up a couple of facts at the same time.
He also tells us that the cinematography for HORROR OF DRACULA earned an Academy Award nomination. This is simply wrong.
And he repeats without comment Christopher Lee’s story about the dialogue in DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS being so lousy that he refused to say it. Of course, we now know (or I think we do) that there was never any dialogue in the script for Lee.
Mr. Wright is extremely opinionated and there’s nothing wrong with that. I had planned on not bringing up any specific opinions of his, figuring they were his own. But I’ve already mentioned how much I disagreed with him on FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, so let me add one more opinion, one on which I do agree with him. He writes that he “never cared for THE MUNSTERS but loved THE ADDAMS FAMILY.” Atta boy, Bruce.
I found myself in agreement with the author about 50% of the time, so one or both of us is probably cracked.
Oh, what the hell, here are a couple more opinions which had me scratching my head a bit.
He notes, properly, that TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER is a lousy movie, but, according to him, it’s still much better than THE OMEN.
And here, not so much a bizarre opinion as a comment on his strange definition of the genre -- he thinks that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is an excellent movie, but he does not consider it a horror movie. Say what?
In his final summing-up chapter, he not only deplores modern “horror” (those are his quotation marks, which he uses over and over), he becomes the crabbiest of crabby old men on the subject. Some really wild opinions, one on top of the other in this last chapter had me vocalizing “What?!?!” more than a few times, but...they’re his opinions.
Still, it’s a very well-written book and well-published. The sometimes strange opinions and occasional error should not deter one from reading Mr. Wright’s book. The only real caveats in recommending it are the era covered and the tight stricture on what is horror. If you can accept the latter and are interested in the former, you would like this book, no doubt of it.
I’m going to close out with some of Wright’s own words. I liked this passage, and it’s a pretty good example of his intelligent, clean writing. Enjoy.
“Every era has a handful of classic films that seem to come from nowhere. Movies like CURSE OF THE DEMON (1957), THE INNOCENTS (1961), and THE HAUNTING (1963) are accomplishments that seem outside time and trends, and usually they influence little that follows them -- partly because genius is not always commercial, and partly because you can copy themes and styles, but you can’t copy genuine originality. They sit there in the middle of film history, impressive and isolated, like those giant rocks in the sea off the coast of Oregon.”
Hmmm. I’m wondering if maybe Bruce Lanier Wright lives in Oregon.
Jun 17 17 11:19 PM
Jun 18 17 9:58 AM
Jun 18 17 10:29 AM
Jun 19 17 4:52 PM
I miss my book-reviewing days, and the excuses that authors would concoct when they wrote to FANGO to pan my reviews of their books. I especially loved the Esteemed Vampire Movie Expert who didn't like me pointing out that he wrote that Lugosi played Dracula in HOUSE OF DRACULA and insisting that that wasn't really a mistake because he got it right in one of his other books. And there was a new mistake in his letter which, me being me, I had to point out in my response.
Jun 19 17 5:15 PM
Jun 19 17 8:30 PM
Jun 19 17 9:10 PM
I was in a Stage Combat class with McNally's son. And yeah, I think the main issue was that he and co-author Radu Florescu focused much more on the Vlad history than the Drac Hollywood.
Jun 19 17 9:35 PM
Jun 19 17 10:05 PM
Jun 19 17 11:45 PM
Rick wrote: It wouldn't have been that difficult, even in those antediluvian times to determine that Bela Lugosi wasn't in HOUSE OF DRACULA.
06/25/17 6:11 PM
THE LATE GREAT CREATURE by Brock Brower
This is my paperback edition, front and back covers.
This is the original hardcover edition. This is the 2011 reprint, still available, even for Kindle.
Another oldie (published 1971), another re-read (first read it in about ‘74-75), and another work of fiction. I’m touching several bases here.
In the seventies, when I first read THE LATE GREAT CREATURE, I absolutely loved it. I held onto my paperback for decades, planning to one day give it another look and so...here we are.
This is the story of Simon Moro, one of the greatest of horror film stars. It’s pretty much his Decline and Fall. Or maybe it’s his Ultimate Triumph. Ball’s in your court.
It’s fun, for a Monster Kid anyway, to track the career of this fictitious horror man, and to try to make the connections with the real world. At first it seems as if Moro is based on Lon Chaney (the First), but that fades quickly. Then there’s maybe a touch of Lugosi, but not really, then it becomes clear…”Ah! He’s Peter Lorre, of course.” But then, as if toying with us, Brock Brower brings Lorre himself into the conversation, noting that he and Simon Moro came from the same place and shared much of the same history. So, no, not Lorre.
In fact, Simon Moro is none of them. He’s very much his own, odd, creepy self. We learn that he “never worked with Karloff”, that he did a film with Lugosi which was never released, that he worked with Tod Browning and Fritz Lang and Conrad Veidt and Fay Wray.
There are three real-life characters who are never mentioned by name but who clearly are represented by fictional stand-ins. A rival horror star is obviously, and none-too-flatteringly, based on Vincent Price.
A low-budget, not-too-talented director is clearly Roger Corman.
Then there is “the guy from FAMOUS FILM MONSTERS.” He’s never given a name, but that magazine title is pretty bald-faced. And, while Forry was certainly weird in his own way, this “kook” is truly bizarre, and in non-FJA sorts of ways. So, while he certainly is representing Ackerman, he’s actually nothing like him apart from his magazine.
The novel is somewhat different than I recalled. My memory was that it was well-written (which it is), funny (which it sometimes is), and basically an amusing peek into a strange and amusing world (but it’s much more than / different from that.)
THE LATE GREAT CREATURE is actually a serious work, a mixture of commercial fiction and genuine literature, modern-style. Well, modern almost 50 years ago, anyway. As for writing connected to the horror film world, it’s miles away from Jeff Rovin’s RETURN OF THE WOLF MAN, or even Dwight Kemper’s behind-the-horror-movie-scenes mysteries, but a bit closer to Ramsey Campbell’s ANCIENT IMAGES, though still not in the same category.
It’s less genre than pure literature set in a genre world, and it’s intended to be taken seriously. This is not a comic book story, this is a true novel. That’s not to say that it’s heavy-going, or not entertaining; it is to say that it’s more than just “a fun read”.
It’s also politically incorrect in a variety of ways. Most of this can be forgiven as being “of its age”, but I’m not sure that’s even necessary. The un-PC material is character stuff, not author stuff. I’m not sure that Brock Brower would change a thing even if he were writing it today.
THE LATE GREAT CREATURE seemed truly unique in the seventies, but less so today. In addition to the books mentioned above, we now have Loren Estleman’s ALIVE, Frank Dello Stritto’s forthcoming Larry Talbot book, and even James Morrow’s SHAMBLING TOWARDS HIROSHIMA, all those off the top of my head. All books which either continue movie adventures (fan fiction style, I suppose, though I’ve read none of that), or are set in the “real” world of movies and actors and such.
But in the seventies, this seemed a wonderful oddity.
It should be noted that Mr. Brower seems to know his horror film stuff. He’s pretty spot-on with his Lorre history, he mentions Jack Pierce but notes that it was Karloff’s idea to add the drooping eyelids to the Monster. And other bits and pieces. Brower was either a Monster Kid himself, or he did some good research or both.
The most unbelievable thing in the book: a NYC casting call for which only one actor shows up. Now that’s fantasy.
For years I’ve thought that THE LATE GREAT CREATURE would make a great movie. Now, after all these years, and after all of society’s changes, I think maybe it would have made a great movie. Not sure it’s really meant for modern times. Still, a good writer, a talented director, some accomplished actors...it might yet make for a fascinating small-budget art movie.
So I recommend this novel to y’all. If it’s not exactly the book I remembered, it’s still a good one. It might even be a better one. Well worth reading.
Finally, just for fun, here’s a partial Simon Moro filmography which I gleaned from the book. All fiction, of course, yet...I’d still like to see these.
THE UNHOLY CIRCUS (Moro played an armless clown)
MANMADE MAN 1927
ZEPPELIN 1930 Fritz Lang Conrad Veidt (the description of Moro’s role and performance is directly and obviously derived from Peter Lorre in M.)
GHOULGANTUA 1937 (credited to Tod Browning, Moro the actual director)
THE MOTH Fay Wray
GILA MAN RETURNS
THE HOUSE OF GILA MAN
GILA MAN MEETS DRACULA (with Lugosi, never released)
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (cameo...yes, Mike Todd’s Oscar-winning movie)
And did you know that Simon Moro was the original voice of Mr. Toad for Disney, but was replaced? News to me.
06/26/17 9:16 PM
06/27/17 1:21 AM
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