A Century of Film


The Genre

What is a Horror film?  And what would have qualified at the beginning of film?  Kim Newman and James Marriott correctly point out in their great book Horror! The Definitive Companion to the Most Terrifying Movies Ever Made, that as cinema was beginning, so was Horror as a genre, with works like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Dracula.  The first “official” Horror film is The Devil’s Castle, a two minute film from 1896.  Frankenstein was filmed as early as 1910 (a 12 minute film which was just recently restored) and Jekyll even before that in 1908.  The Avenging Conscience, a Griffith film based on works of Poe, is one of the earliest American feature-length films, running 78 minutes. (more…)

Words guaranteed to bring a good (and gory) time.

When Star Wars was released in 1977, it had a lot of things going for it.  One of those things was the casting.  Diane Crittenden, Irene Lamb and Vic Ramos, the casting directors for the film had done their job perfectly.  We had three relative unknowns in the main lead roles.  But to supplement their performances, we had two great British actors.  The first, of course, was Sir Alec Guinness, already an Oscar winner, and, back in the 50’s, star of the Ealing Comedies, one of the best group of films ever created in a single genre by a single studio (see a future post).  But for the villain, they brought in Peter Cushing.  By this time, Guinness had been in 37 films (including two Best Picture winners and two Graham Greene adaptations) and Cushing had appeared in 83 films (including a different Best Picture winner and a different Graham Greene adaptation), but they had never done a film together (and wouldn’t in a sense here, either, because they never appear onscreen together).  Part of this was that while Guinness was rising with David Lean films and starring at Ealing, Cushing was further east, on the other side of Heathrow Airport, starring in another great group of films created in a single genre by a single studio.  He was one of the two key actors in the Hammer Horror films.  And rather appropriately, Christopher Lee, who would be his onscreen enemy in so many of these films, would eventually take over the role of Star Wars villain starting with Attack of the Clones.

There had been great Horror films before.  In fact, none of the films that Hammer would make would rival the best of the films produced by Universal between 1923 and 1935.  But while Universal had a great run of success with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, The Man Who Laughs, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and The Bride of Frankenstein, it trailed off badly after that.  There was also irony going on during that stretch.  While those films combined for one measly Oscar nomination (Bride of Frankenstein – Best Sound), it was Paramount’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that would actually win a major Academy Award (Best Actor for 1932-33 – Frederic March).  There were a couple of other Horror gems during this time (Vampyr, King Kong), but after 1935, it all went south.  I have not seen a single Horror film released between 1935 and 1956 better than a mid *** except The Body Snatcher.  There were just endless sequels, getting worse and worse, as budgets got lower and lower and acting became nonexistent.  They weren’t even good entertainment anymore, they couldn’t frighten and they were just boring.

Then came 1957 and a film called The Curse of Frankenstein. (more…)