Friday, November 11, 2005

More Essential Lugosi

I hate leaving loose ends. To wit:

Some delusional notion entered my skull for the entire latter half of October, and in honor of Halloween I decided to do a Blog a day, all horror-related, until the arrival of All Hallows' Eve.

It was a really frickin' hard--but fun--challenge for me, largely because I have real difficulty with keeping things brief (I know, big surprise). My windy ass remains in awe of Bloggers who can keep it down to one or two perfect paragraphs--and do it every day.

Anyway, one of the reasons I lean towards the meandering side is that perennial geek's fear of missing something. And, to make a long story short, I did.

When preparing my entry on vampire icon Bela Lugosi, a looming deadline made me forceably omit one film from my list of Lugosi essentials, and I also accidentally omitted two others. So pencil these three movies in alongside all of the other essential Lugosi's. I guess that makes this:

Lugosi Essentials: Previously Unreleased Footage!

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Originally released in 1948, Available on DVD from Universal Home Video): Thank you, Vince Keenan, for catching this most glaring of unintended omissions. Filmed at the end of the Universal horror cycle, A + C Meet Frankenstein adroitly spoofs the fabled studio's creature cadre, and gives the most successful comedy duo of the forties one of their finest showcases (Lou Costello's sputtering brand of physical comedy never saw a better vehicle). Lugosi steps up his game with these veteran yoksters, poking fun at his own image sublimely.

White Zombie (1932, Roan Entertainment): Lugosi's first horror film after Dracula was this atmospheric B effort produced by the prolific Halperin Brothers. Lugosi plays Murder Legendre, a mysterious figure responsible for generating armies of walking dead in Haiti. He works this dark mojo on a lovely woman at the behest of the rich but spurned Beaumont (Robert Frazier). Naturally, misfortune and horror ensue. Of all of Lugosi's films, only Dracula weds the man's singular presence with the surrounding film more serendipitously. The slightly gauzy photography, Lugosi's unearthly performance, and the spirituals-sprinkled soundtrack feel of another time (or world). This movie's been public domain for years, but scrape together the pennies and buy (or rent) a copy of the Roan disc--it's far and away the best print out there of Lugosi's finest non-Universal horror role.

The Body Snatcher (1945, Warner Home Video): So why did I intentionally omit this excellent Robert Wise-directed shocker from the first cut of Lugosi essentials? Mainly because Lugosi's not in it much. He plays Joseph, the ill-fated cohort of Boris Karloff's serpentine graverobber-cum-murderer Gray, and occupies a mere scintilla of screen time. But Bela's credible and convincing work as a drunken and simple dupe was a pretty radical shift from his usually imperious and imposing onscreen persona, and like any good actor he made his time on-camera count. The scene in which Gray gradually plies the slow-witted Joseph with drink before mercilessly killing him is a masterwork of mounting predatory dread.

There. I feel better now.

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