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Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

  1. Frankenstein (Assembly Required)

    October 19, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Like  rival hobby company Revell, the mainstay of Aurora Plastics’ line of model kits in the Fifties was scale-model, unassembled replicas of military hardware, although Aurora’s were generally smaller and more affordable than Revell’s. Around 1955, Aurora expanded its line to include plastic figurines of medieval knights, clowns, and traditionally dressed people from around the world (“Guys and Gals of all Nations”).

    Meanwhile, in Hollywood, Universal Pictures realized there was still money to be made off of their old monster films from previous decades. Universal packaged films featuring Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, and other ghouls for broadcast over local TV channels. The local stations created assorted horror hosts to present these films. When the local stations began getting mail from their viewers they were surprised to find that a large percentage of those watching the old monster movies were teenaged or younger. The popularity of these films with children might be explained by the extinction of the horror comic book in 1954 when public opinion and the new Comics Code Authority deemed the horror genre to be inappropriate for children. Children with a taste for horror simply switched from reading comic books to watching “creature features” on their local television stations and maybe picking up a copy of  Forrest Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland.  Knowing that their audience was largely made up of young people, the horror hosts softened the horror they presented with touches of humor and ridicule that made the genre seem less threatening to adults, while Famous Monsters gave a behind the scenes look that assured everyone that it was all just made up.

    Sometime in early 1961, it suddenly became acceptable to directly market monsters to children (TV stations and Famous Monsters could always argue that adults were the target audience). It started with bubblegum cards like Spook Stories and Horror Monsters, however toy manufacturers were still leary. A hobby company on the cusp of adult and childhood pastimes was an ideal path to full acceptance of monsters in the playroom.  Looking to expand its line of figurines beyond little Dutch boys and the Black Knight, Aurora bought the rights to manufacture models of all of the monsters who had appeared in Universal motion pictures.  The models created under this license would prove to be Aurora’s most successful line of plastic models ever.

    Aurora’s first Universal monster model was a 1/12 scale figure model of Frankenstein’s Monster in 1961. Selling for $1.00, the 7-inch tall figurine sold so well that Aurora had to temporarily suspend production of its other models to keep up with demand. Some buyers may have been disappointed when they opened the box to find the plain white pieces of plastic that needed to be carefully twisted apart before undergoing a process that involved several hours, various paints and brushes, and mind-altering glue fumes. Helping sales, no doubt, was the wonderful artwork on the box by James Bama who would do most of the  box top art for Aurora in the Sixties.


  2. What do Ghosts Eat for Breakfast?

    August 21, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Spook Stories was a series of trading cards sold in packs with some stale chewing gum by Leaf Candy Company. Leaf had taken a beating a few years earlier in the baseball card biz and apparently decided to forego sports cards completely in 1961 and instead exploit a resurgence in the popularity of old Universal horror films. Merely licensing the images from Universal wasn’t enough, though. Taking a page (several pages, in fact) from Warren Publishing’s Famous Monsters of Filmland, each monster card was given a witty caption. But the humor didn’t stop there! On the back of each card was a humourous (I use that word lightly) monster-related riddle.

     


  3. The Pit and the Pendulum: Who’s the Hero?

    August 7, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Now, I don’t want to spoil the ending of Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) for anybody who hasn’t seen it yet, so for those who think they’ve had better things to do over the last 50 years, please stop reading now and go watch it. It’s on Netflix streaming. I’ll wait. Go!

    Welcome back! Was it worth 80 minutes of your time? I think so.

    The Pit and the Pendulum has a wonderfully streamlined cast of characters. There’s Vincent Price as the grieving widower and don of an old Spanish castle.  His household is made up of two servants, Maria and Maximillian, and his visiting sister, Catherine. I suppose we should also include the “ghost” of the don’s wife, Elizabeth, as another member of the household. A frequent visitor is Doctor Leon who is the don’s friend and family physician. Lastly, we have the character everyone expects should be the hero, Elizabeth’s brother, Francis Barnard, who has traveled all the way from a renfair in London to investigate his sister’s suspicious death.

    So, let’s put these characters in their respective boxes, shall we?

    THE HEAVY: Vincent Price’s Don Medina is a sympathetic character who, despite Barnard’s suspicions, is wholly innocent in the death of his wife. He only becomes the heavy after a psychotic snap brought on by the treachery of the two true villains.

     

     

    THE VILLAINS: Doctor Leon and Elizabeth fake the latter’s death and attempt to drive Don Medina insane. They succeed at this to the point that it costs them their own lives.

     

     

     

    THE INNOCENT BYSTANDERS: Catherine‘s role as the potential love interest of the hero is never really fulfilled and she joins the servants Maria and Maximillian as mere witnesses to the strange goings on at Castle Medina.

     

     

    THE HERO THE DAMSEL IN DISTRESS: Elizabeth’s brother, Francis Barnard spends the first half of the film throwing suspicion upon the innocent Don Medina. His role is entirely to throw red herrings at the audience. Once he comes around to the reality that the don had nothing to do with Elizabeth’s “death” he merely becomes the freshly demented Medina’s victim; subjected to the title torture device. Does he devise a clever escape? Does he succeed in bringing Medina back to his senses? No. He cries to Catherine to come to his rescue! He’s not the hero; he’s Nell from Dudley Do-Right.

     THE HERO: Looks like we have to reconsider the roles of a couple of the innocent bystanders. Catherine makes a valiant attempt to claim the honor of heroine, but, alas,  she is a mere woman after all and must call on the assistance of the butler, Maximillian, who is the one who gains entry into the torture chamber, kills the demented don, and turns off the infernal machine about to bisect the entirely helpless Barnard.

    Yes! Our hero is Maximillian! Not only didn’t the butler do it; but he was the man who saved the day! A character so far down in the credits that I can’t even find a picture of him from the movie. (You’ll have to settle for a picture of actor Patrick Westwood playing a taxi driver in an early episode of The Avengers.)

    Maximillian is one of those unsung heroes in film that I find both baffling and charming. Don’t even get me started on the the Merry-Go-Round operator in Strangers on a Train.