The Raven (1935) and The Black Cat (1934) Two entries from the “Lugosi vs. Karloff in a big ol’ creepy house” subgenre. The Raven is enjoyable for Karloff’s sadsack performance, but not too much else, as its plotless array of Poe-inspired sadism (including the pendulum) doesn’t do enough with its characters to get us interested in their fates at the hands of madman Lugosi. The Black Cat, on the other hand, is a masterpiece of mood (and set design!), its slow burn drawing us deeper into darker corners of its leading men’s troubles. The ghosts of World War I hang heavy, mixed with a then-innovate dose of psychological undertones and a then-racy dose of sexual overtones. It’s haunting stuff, one of Universal’s best non-monster entries of the decade.
Transylvania 6-5000 (1985) Woof. This one’s dumb, corny, and painfully unfunny, apparently existing only to give temporary employment to Reagan-era comic actors who can do “wacky” accents. Jeff Goldblum looks embarrassed throughout. On the other hand, the movie is filled with scenes where Geena Davis is wearing this. Hello, nurse!
The Phantom of the Opera (1925) Speaking of ghosts of World War I, I keep obsessing over Lon Chaney’s get-up for The Phantom of the Opera. No, not the iconic imagery of his monster makeup, but instead target=”blank”>the masked version, with a porcelain doll blankness that’s downright terrifying.
Phantom of the Opera (1943) The 1943 remake, meanwhile, is an oddity, concerned more with the opera than the Phantom. And in doing so, it spends too much time diluting the mystery of the Phantom – there’s enough backstory here to call it Phantom Begins – leaving the story without any real sense of suspense. Compare the chandelier scenes: in the earlier version, it’s a moment of eerie magic, the doings of whispers and legend, but here, where we see Claude Rains frantically hacksawing at the chains, it’s just a Perfectly Explainable Thing That Happens. This is a monster movie for people who don’t like monster movies, a Technicolor musical melodrama (the whole thing screams glamour! and is admittedly lovely to watch) with more romcom asides than any real sense of danger or intrigue.
House of Wax (1953) I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched this Vincent Price classic over the years, and that paddle ball scene still thrills me every time. Something about that unapologetic showmanship keeps me giggling. And, of course, the rest of the movie target=”blank”>still holds up magnificently.