May 6, 2015

The Female Frankenstein of Fifth Avenue

“Without ghoulish make-up… she’ll freeze the blood of every motion picture fan…"
One year before BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), there was The Female Frankenstein of Fifth Avenue! That’s how Paramount Pictures pitched Mary Morris' character, "the vicious, venomous New York aristocrat" named Victoria Van Brett, as the sinister star of the 1934 chiller, DOUBLE DOOR.

The story yanks the familiar Old Dark House setting away from its traditional windswept moors and plunks it down in turn-of-the-century Manhattan. The banal title refers to a secret, airtight and soundproof room — the tale's murder weapon, as it were.

"Mary Morris… a specialist of sinister roles begins where Frankenstein and Dracula left off… The deadliest menace the screen has yet known!"
DOUBLE DOOR came to Hollywood via Broadway, with Morris reprising her showy role. The notices had been fairly good but the play ran only 143 performances in late 1933. Likewise, the film scored favorable reviews, followed by a very modest box office showing.

The New York Times called the film "a careful and intelligent copy of the original", building "an atmosphere of gloom, hysteria and malignant evil". Morris' Van Brett, variously described as a "grim and fish-eyed mistress", "a model of up-to-date witchcraft" and a "cruel old witch", stole the show. The NYT critic noted how a rowdy balcony crowd heckling the screen-bound villainess was ultimately silenced when, "with lighted candle and enigmatic smile", she lured the heroine into the mystery chamber.

“Frankenstein, Dracula and all the other male monsters are sissies compared to Victoria Van Brett… Mary Morris without trick make-up or other artifices is the deadliest menace the screen has yet portrayed!”
And so, briefly, in '34, Mary Morris was billed as The Female Frankenstein, the name used as shorthand for chills and monstrous evil. As it turned out, DOUBLE DOOR would be the formidable Mary Morris' first and only motion picture! Upon wrapping, she promptly returned to New York where she enjoyed a distinguished stage career that spanned a full forty years.

A review of DOUBLE DOOR by David Cairns on Shadowplay.

April 21, 2015

FRANKENSTEIN's Monster Price Tag

Another 1931 FRANKENSTEIN poster has surfaced and come to auction. A three-sheet job standing six-foot-six when assembled, it features a menacing, red-lit Monster’s head floating over a beautiful swooping title and a fainted Elizabeth in her wedding gown.

The poster was found back in the 70’s in an abandoned theater on Long Island. It needed extensive restoration, having been trimmed all around and drastically shortened at the bottom. The Monster’s eyes were punched out, the original exhibitor having followed Universal’s ad campaign suggestion of inserting flashing red bulbs to creepy effect.

It was two years ago, July 2013, when a smaller insert poster of similar design sold for $262,900.00. This larger poster, beautifully rendered and expertly repaired was sold in March for $358,500.00.

Of the ten most expensive movie posters on record, all but one are from horror or science-fiction films, both FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN are represented, and Boris Karloff is the King of movie posters, with 5 appearances.

We’re very lucky to see these incredibly rare FRANKENSTEIN posters appear. They are most likely the last remaining copies of the paper ephemera produced for the film’s promotion all of 84 years ago.


March 16, 2015

Rondo Awards XIII: Voting is Open!

It’s Rondo Awards time again, and we’ve picked up two nominations!

Frankensteinia is up for “Best Blog”, and I am very proud to share a “Best Article” nomination with my friend and colleague George Chastain for The Movie Monster Art of Feg Murray, our illustrated profile of the syndicated cartoonist who celebrated the classic Hollywood Monsters back in the 30s and 40s. The Feg Murray article was serialized here last November.

The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards — “honoring the best in classic horror research, creativity and film preservation” — are entirely fan-based. YOU pick the winners! The ballot is huge, with multiple nominees in 35 categories, and you are invited to vote in as many or as few categories as you are comfortable with. It’s all done by email, just click through, follow the simple instructions and VOTE NOW!

Should you wish to support us, vote Frankensteinia in Category 19, Best Blog, and vote The Movie Monster Art of Feg Murray, by Pierre Fournier and George Chastain in Category 13, Best Article.

You may also wish to join me in supporting The Shelley-Godwin Archive in Category 18, Best Website. This is the library partnership site where Mary Shelley’s complete handwritten manuscript for Frankenstein is digitized, fully searchable and annotated. It is a major piece of Frankenstein scholarship that deserves the support of the Classic Horror community. 

Voting for the 13th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards closes on April 19, with all the winners announced shortly thereafter. Awards will be presented at Wonderfest in Louisville on May 30th.

Vote NOW, and thank you for your kind support.

Nominated: The Movie Monster Art of Feg Murray
My article about The Shelley-Godwin Archive

March 3, 2015

Penny Dreadful, Season 2

Rory Kinnear’s gripping interpretation of Frankenstein’s Monster is featured on a new poster announcing the highly anticipated second season of Showtime’s PENNY DREADFUL, coming May 3. It is one of a series of new images introduced on IGN, along with a trailer for the new season.

PENNY DREADFUL boasts a uniformly excellent cast, headed by the remarkable Eva Green. When Season 2 begins, Kinnear’s Caliban will be introduced to his new Bride!

Penny Dreadful page on Showtime


February 12, 2015

Let Me Tell You About My Operation : They Might Be Giants

Just released by indie superstars They Might Be Giants, here’s a terrific little song beautifully animated on a Frankenstein theme. “Let Me Tell You About My Operation” is part of TMBG’s 2015 Dial-a-Song Project where a $30 subscription gets you a new song every week all through the year. That’s 52 songs!

Directed by David Cowles and Jeremy Galente, with characters and sets designed by David Plunkert, the music video features an irresistible singing and corncob pipe-smoking Moonshine Frankenstein in hillbilly bib overalls, and a combination hunchbacked assistant and mad scientist rolled into one. Brains — tiny ones — pop out of the Monster’s cranium, disembodied hands play the piano, and even the clouds have stitches. There’s a mad lab and Plunkert’s trademark Outsider Rube Goldberg contraptions. And everything pulsates to TMBG’s toe-tapping tune.

This one’s a real treat. Très Bon!

Dial-a-Song website.
David Plunkert website.
David Cowles website.

The Posters of Frankenstein: David Plunkert
The Art of Frankenstein: David Plunkert

February 4, 2015

The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946)

The Monster had a name, and it was… Neon Noodle!

Here’s another cartoon cameo, and certainly one of the most original representations of The Monster ever, in what is considered one of the all-time best animated shorts ever made.

Directed for Warner Brothers by Bob Clampett in his trademark unbridled, madcap style, THE GREAT PIGGY BANK ROBBERY (1946) is essentially a takeoff on Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic strip and its gallery of weird criminals. Here, Daffy Duck imagines himself as “Duck Twacy” going up against an even weirder and way wackier set of gangsters with names and attendant physical configurations as Snake Eyes, Pickle Puss, 88 Teeth, a Wolfman and, among others, a highly stylized Frankenstein Monster made of neon. “Frankenstein” isn’t name checked, but the character is instantly recognizable with his giant size, flat head and outstretched arms.

Descriptively named “Neon Noodle”, this unusual Frankenstein Monster is beautifully animated, casting a soft neon glow, switching from blue to orange and yellow. In a surrealistic scene, Daffy dispatches Neon Noodle by snapping and twisting him into an “Eat at Joe’s” neon sign. All the other bizarre bad guys are tommy gunned in a gloriously gratuitous scene deemed so violent that it was cut when the cartoon played on TV. A restored version would be the very first short shown when The Cartoon Network launched in 1992. Among the film’s admirers is John Kricfaluzi, creator of Ren and Stimpy, who said, “I saw this thing and it completely changed my life. 

THE GREAT PIGGY BANK ROBBERY was Clampett’s next to last job at Warner’s. As soon as he left, and continuing on up to his death in 1984, controversy would follow after he claimed sole credit for creating classic characters such as Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig, while evidence shows the characters has evolved under a who’s who of animators. Director Chuck Jones and voice actor Mel Blanc never forgave him. Still, Clampett’s genius, his enduring influence and his pioneering contributions to animation remain obvious and rightfully celebrated. He would go to a successful career in the nascent field of television, creating the Time for Beanie puppet show in 1949, eventually animated as Beanie and Cecil.


January 18, 2015

Bubble and Squeek in Old Manor House (1947)

Forgotten today, Bubble and Squeek were cartoon characters — a taxi driver and his anthropomorphic cab — whose animated career was limited to four titles released way back in 1947 and ’48. The character’s names were derived from Bubble and Squeak (note the spelling difference), a traditional English dish of pan-fried leftovers, usually served at breakfast. 

The driving force behind the cartoons was American-born George Moreno Jr., late of the Fleischer Studios, who settled in England and launched British Animated Productions (B.A.P.), making a bold attempt at creating homegrown Technicolor cartoons for British cinemas. Unfortunately, the project collapsed quickly when wartime restrictions on foreign products were lifted and the market was instantly flooded with American-made cartoons.

The fourth and final Bubble and Squeek title, OLD MANOR HOUSE, has our heroes seeking refuge from a typical monster-movie-style wind and rain storm inside the title’s “creepy place”, occupied by a belligerent, monocle’d and mustachioed rodent named Colonel Rat. Clocking in just short of 7 minutes, it’s a brisk and manic affair with Bubble and his car subjected to frights that include a nice cameo of a Frankenstein Monster — an absolute requisite character in any scary Old Manor House. Identified as “Frankie Stein’, with forehead wingnut bolts, the Monster moves mechanically, utters a dainty “Boo!”, and exits through the wall, leaving his distinctive silhouette in classic cartoon cutout.

B.A.P. produced a fifth short, spinning off Colonel Rat as the star of LOCH NESS LEGEND (1948) while Bubble and Squeek went on to a brief career as picture book characters. Moreno would go on to work in television and commercial animation.

OLD MANOR HOUSE (1947) is embedded above, worth a look if you don’t mind the poor quality. Embedded below is a British Pathé short showing the B.A.P. crew at Harringay studios working on a Bubble and Squeak cartoon.

George Moreno and B.A.P. on Bear Alley.

British Frankenstein cameos in Dance Hall Frankenstein (1950) and Thursday’s Child (1943).