Print Edition: Feb. 22, 2015
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BY Steven D. GreydanusFilm Critic
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) PICK
Dracula (1931) PICK
Frankenstein (1931) PICK
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) PICK
The Wolf Man (1941) PICK
Spooky Halloween picks — in September? For some reason, the latest crop of home-video releases includes a slew of them.
Catholic fans of the Vatican film list and classic cinema may be tempted by the iconic silhouette of Max Schreck’s Count Orlock in the silent vampire masterpiece Nosferatu (1922) on the cover of a new four-pack DVD, along with two other silent horror classics, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Rounding out the collection — George Orwell’s 1984 (1954).
While all those films are, to one degree or another, worth seeing, watch out for cheapie multi-film DVDs from fly-by-night labels ("Concrete Cow Entertainment"). You should see Nosferatu — but in a quality edition from Kino.
Among new releases worth your time are new Blu-ray editions of a quartet of the best-known classic monster movies from Universal Pictures, home of Golden Age Hollywood horror.
The best of these are James Whale’s two Frankenstein movies starring Boris Karloff as the monster. Frankenstein is the more iconic of the two, full of such immortal scenes as the bringing of the monster to life ("It’s alive!"), the tragic death of the young girl at the lake and the climax at the burning windmill.
But the sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein, is widely regarded as even better (despite the inaccurate title). Deliberately over the top and satirical, the film’s florid style borrows from the German Expressionism of Nosferatu and Metropolis. And the Bride, with her white-streaked shock of hair, is almost the visual equal to Karloff’s monster.
Though not as effective as either Frankenstein movie, Universal’s other two films both boast noteworthy performances and suitably creepy atmosphere.
Tod Browning’s Dracula may not hold a candle to Nosferatu (an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel), but Bela Lugosi’s bloodsucking Count is every bit the iconic equal of any other movie monster. And The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains and Boris Karloff as the original werewolf who bites Chaney Jr., features the most amazing creature effects of the lot, as well as highly watchable performances.
Finally, celebrating its 20th anniversary with a new Blu-ray edition, Tim Burton’s macabre stop-motion classic The Nightmare Before Christmas pays loving homage not so much to the world of Golden Age monster movies (Burton’s Frankenweenie very much does that), but to made-for-TV animated holiday specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Content Advisory: All five films contain much creepiness and stylized violence. Dracula, Frankenstein and The Nightmare Before Christmas might be okay for older kids; perhaps teens and up for The Bride of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man.
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