From Frankenstein to Ghosts to Witches by J Vincent

Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, a novel Mary Shelley started writing when she was 18. It was published anonymously in London in 1818 when she was 19. While horror stories existed in regency times, the period my characters live in, I have never been a fan of it. I refuse to see or read anything remotely related to horror because my mind has the uncanny and extremely uncomfortable tendency to replay scenes I desperately want to forget! But I digress.

Today mention of Frankenstein does not immediately bring to mind Lon Chaney but rather Mel Brooks. The only kind of “horror movies” I ever watched were made in the 1920-30’s. Lon Chaney’s Quasimodo (1923) and Boris Karloff’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935) were ones I did watch and was deeply touched by. These movies however are nothing like today’s Dracula or Chain Saw. They wanted to elicit sympathy and pity and did not overwhelmingly terrify or repulse despite the gross disfigurement of the characters who were victims of fate. To quote form Lon Chaney, “I wanted to remind people that the lowest types of humanity may have within them the capacity for supreme self-sacrifice. The dwarfed, misshapen beggar of the streets may have the noblest ideals. Most of my roles since The Hunchback, such as The Phantom of the Opera, He Who Gets Slapped, The Unholy Three, etc., have carried the theme of self-sacrifice or renunciation. These are the stories which I wish to do."

Another quote from Ray Bradbury that I found really hit the mark: "He was someone who acted out our psyches. He somehow got into the shadows inside our bodies; he was able to nail down some of our secret fears and put them on-screen. The history of Lon Chaney is the history of unrequited loves. He brings that part of you out into the open, because you fear that you are not loved, you fear that you never will be loved, you fear there is some part of you that's grotesque, that the world will turn away from.”

Beside ancient horror movies I like what some call comedy/horror though not of the Mel Brooks mold. My early introduction to this class of movie was the hilarious Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein released in 1948. They did several more of these involving Dracula, Wolf Man etc.

Another kind of movie I like is the ghost story—the old Casper films also from the 1930’s (not the friendly ghost but the man who can only be seen by the couple who accidentally hit him with a car) and who doesn’t love The Ghost and Mrs. Muir?

Then there are the witch movies among which one of my favorites is Bell,Book, and Candle released in 1958 starring Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs, and Hermione Gingold.

An average, modern-day witch (Kim Novak), lives in a New York apartment with her Siamese familiar, Pyewacket. Oone day a handsome publisher (Jimmy Stewart) walks into her building and Gillian decides she wants him--especially as it turns out he's marrying an old poison penpal from the witch’s college days. She casts a spell over the publisher. But her powers are in danger of being exorcised by something stronger than the bell-book-and-candle routine: Love. She loses her powers but does she lose the publisher?

Hocus Pocus (1993) with Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy is another one I liked. Bedknob and Broomsticks (1971) with Angela Lansbury. Definitely lighter fare but my kind of Halloween enjoyment.

But then there is Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane . . . . almost too scary for me but then the more I thought about this topic the less simple it became!

14 comments:

Reese Mobley said...

I tend to lean to the funny/scary movies. Loved Hocus Pocus and Young Frankenstein. Used to read scary books until my hubby started working out of town a lot and then, forget it.

Roxann Delaney said...

I'm not a fan of the current blood and gore movies. They've gone too far beyond horror to just plain yuck, but the movies you listed, Joan, are still the greatest, whether the old black and whites or the newer ones. I agree with all of them! Bell, Book, and Candle has always been one of my favorites. I happened to spy it on DVD at Office Max not long ago and couldn't pass it up.

Joan Vincent said...

I thought Hocus Pocus was great too, Reese. I'm more into funny than scary since scary gives me nightmares. I'd never watch anything scary alone! I can be startled by an incident in any ordinary tv mystery series like Criminal Minds. I'm worse than a whimp.

Joan Vincent said...

Rox, I'm with you on the gore movies. I just can't understand the draw they have on teenagers. The old Chaney and Lugosi movies at least had emotion to them. I watched Bell Book and Candle on TMC this summer and found it as good as I remembered. The ending scene with a very young Jack Lemmon as a warlock still makes me chuckle--better than being scared any day.

Roxann Delaney said...

Hocus Pocus is definitely a winner around our house, especially as Halloween draws closer. But I have to admit that I'm a huge Criminal Minds fan. The mind and how it works, good or bad, is fascinating.

Roxann Delaney said...

Joan, as a kid I was huge Bela Lugosi fan. LOVED Dracula (Count Alacard) and can remember sitting on the floor in front of the TV and watching it. Lon Chaney, too, as Wolfman. Now, vampires don't interest me much.

My youngest daughter was almost named Gillian, but I ended up choosing Mallory. Kim Novak's smooth, sultry voice vs. Jimmy Stewart's hesitant and halting one definitely showed the distinct opposite of the two characters.
Great movie!

Joan Vincent said...

Rox there were so many things that made that movie great. Think of all the contrasts throughout it.
I too have strong memories of sitting in front of the tv with my younger brothers and sister watching the old Chaney etc movies. Especially the Hunchback. I think we all cried at that one and my younger brother even shouted at the tv. But then we didn't get a tv until '59 and the old movies were fascinating to us.

Joan Vincent said...

Forgot to mention I'm thinking a Harry Potter marathon on a Lord of the Rings would be good for Halloween night.

Penny Rader said...

I'm going to have to check out some of those movies you mentioned, Joan, especially The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Bell, Book and Candle. I did see Hocus Pocus when it was released and enjoyed it tremendously.

Joan Vincent said...

Penny, I'm sure you'll enjoy them all!

Nina Sipes said...

Joan,
I loved all of the movies you mentioned. There's another one I think is pretty good and fairly recent. It had Sandra Bullock in it as a witch's daughter. The older generations was adorable. I don't think I've seen Hocus Pocus. There are a couple more movies during the time of Pyewacket, but I don't remember the titles. I liked Bell, Book, and Candle best anyway.

Roxann Delaney said...

Nina, I should be smacked for forgetting Practical Magic, one of my favorite movies, but I guess I don't think of it as a Halloweeny horror type movie. Although I have to say that hunky Goran Vsnijic definitely played a role that contained some horror. The entire cast is full of my favorite actors (Aidan Quinn, Stockard Channing, Dianne Wiest), and I watch it several times a year.

Both Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman's characters were ancestors of a witch that was supposedly hanged, and they, too, along with their mother, two aunts, and Sandra's character's daughters were witches. It's a family thing. :)

Roxann Delaney said...

Another good "witch" movie, but not in the least bit scary, is actually 2 movies that I saw on Hallmark on New Year's Eve. The Good Witch and The Good Witch's Garden. The heroine of the stories never admitted she was a witch, but she did make things happen. She owned a store with 'New Age' things. The name of the store? Bell, Book, and Candle. ;)

Good movie! And available at Amazon, I discovered.

Joan Vincent said...

Glad you stopped by Nina. If you think of the other movies let me know.
I thought of the Bullock and Kidman movie but couldn't come up with the name. Thanks Rox. I also considered the Hallmark movies but didn't because they were "tv." We just lost Hallmark--some dispute between it and AT&T on costs. Dang!