Archive for the Universal Horror Films Category

Cinema Knife Fight’s Monstrous Question: BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS WHO NEVER MADE IT

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 50s Horror, 70s Horror, 80s Horror, 90s horror, Campy Movies, Grindhouse, Hammer Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mad Doctors!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Monstrous Question of the Month, Movie History, Paul McMahon Columns, Universal Horror Films, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  MONSTROUS QUESTION
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, William D. Carl, and Paul McMahon

MICHAEL ARRUDA:   Welcome to this month’s MONSTROUS QUESTION column.  Today we’re asking our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters:  Who’s your favorite actor, or actress, in a horror/science fiction movie who didn’t make it big?

In other words, that person who never quite became a star, yet in this one movie or perhaps movies, you just loved him/her.  Name the actor, the movie, and what it was about his/her performance that you liked so much.  You can also comment on why you think this person never became a star.  Of course, in some cases, it’s obvious (the person died suddenly, for example).

So let’s get started.  William, let’s start with you.  Who’s the actor or actress you most wished had made it big?

WILLIAM D. CARL:  Thanks, Michael.  I’m going with Deborah Foreman, who burst onto the screen in the hot VALLEY GIRL in 1983, but she almost immediately gravitated toward the horror genre.

PAUL MCMAHON:  Cool.  Deborah Foreman was one of my picks too!

CARL:  Well, she was a terrific comedian, with a beautiful face and bod to match the bubbly personality; she nearly always played the perky girl next door type who got into some kind of trouble.

Deborah Foreman in VALLEY GIRL.

Deborah Foreman in VALLEY GIRL.

In DESTROYER (1988), she faced a crazed Lyle Alzado in an abandoned prison where she was to play the lead in a women-in-prison film. In 1988, she played ‘the girlfriend’ in WAXWORK, facing off against vampires and her own sexual urges when confronted by De Sade!

L.L. SOARES:  My kind of woman!

CARL:  SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT (1989) found her in another thankless girlfriend role, but she held her own against Bruce Campbell and David Carradine. Later that year she played, yes, another girlfriend in the comedy/horror film LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS. In my heart, however, the lovely Deborah Foreman will always be the twins Buffy and Muffy from 1986’s APRIL FOOL’S DAY, a fun slasher comedy that is buoyed by her dual performance to a point where it makes the movie’s ludicrous twists (almost) palatable.

Foreman had a real knack for comedy and scares, and she knew when to be the growling animalistic twin and when to be sweet and innocent, as she was in most of her roles. I think if someone would’ve let her play something other than the girlfriend, she could have really become a huge star in either comedy or horror. Somehow, she never made it. After a few TV episodes (hello MACGYVER!), she’s disappeared from the scene. Nowadays, she’s a graphic artist and she makes and designs custom furniture.

Sigh.

In my heart, she will always be the beautiful, but mussed Muffy, attacking the last guy alive with one wickedly huge knife. Deborah, we miss you!

MCMAHON:  We certainly do.

ARRUDA:  I miss the Lobster Man from Mars.  Whatever happened to him?

SOARES:  He’s selling fish and chips in New Bedford.

Anyway, my favorite actor who never made it big would have to be Seamus O’Brien, who played Master Sardu in the 1976 movie BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. He is brilliant in the film, and has been described as a kind of a “poor man’s Vincent Price.” But I thought he was so much more. By turns spooky and darkly funny, his performance is nothing short of inspired.

The late great Seamus O'Brien in BLOODSUCKING FREAKS.

The late great Seamus O’Brien in BLOODSUCKING FREAKS.

Born in London in June of 1932, his short film career includes only one other movie credit: a small role in 1975’s THE HAPPY HOOKER, but he also was a stage actor, and was performing in an off-Broadway production of “The Fantasticks” when he died.

And how did he die? He “was stabbed to death while trying to hold a burglar at his apartment on May 14, 1977,” thus ending a promising career in horror/exploitation cinema.

He was only 44 years old.

ARRUDA:  That’s sad.  Some of my picks had tragic ends as well, but we’ll get to those in a moment.  Paul, you want to weigh in?

MCMAHON:  Sure.

The one actress I’ve never been able to forget is Deborah Foreman, who William spoke about a couple of minutes ago.

Deborah Foreman in APRIL FOOL'S DAY.

Deborah Foreman in APRIL FOOL’S DAY.

As he said, Foreman played Muffy/ Buffy in the original APRIL FOOL’S DAY (1986). It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but I remember her having a screen presence that flipped from inviting to evil and back again. I always thought she deserved a more meaningful acting career than WAXWORK (1988) and LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS.

While we’re at it, I’d like to give a shout-out to Emily Perkins from STEPHEN KING’S IT (1990) and the GINGER SNAPS TRILOGY (2000 – 2004).

Emily Perkins in GINGER SNAPS

Emily Perkins in GINGER SNAPS

ARRUDA, SOARES, CARL:  Yo, Emily!

MCMAHON:  Where the heck did she go?

SOARES:  She ran off with the Lobster Man, and they had little Ginger Lobster babies.

ARRUDA:  Really?  I thought the Lobster Man from Mars had a thing for the DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS (1954)?

SOARES:  That was just a fling.

ARRUDA:  Oh.  And here I was thinking Mars was just this ANGRY RED PLANET (1959).  Who knew there was so much lovin’ going on?

MCMAHON:  An actor that leaps to mind is Kevin J. O’Connor, who played Joey in DEEP RISING (1998) and Swann in LORD OF ILLUSIONS (1995). In both roles he disappeared into his character and commanded your attention whenever he was on screen. He works only sporadically now, and doesn’t usually get much to do. I’d love to see him find a role to carve himself into everyone’s memory.

Kevin J. O'Connor in LORD OF ILLUSIONS.

Kevin J. O’Connor in LORD OF ILLUSIONS.

SOARES – Wait a minute here, what’s with all the choices? The question says “Who’s your favorite actor, or actress,” so I obviously assumed it meant one person.  No fair!

ARRUDA (dressed as the Joker): Wait til they get aload of me.

SOARES: Did you say something, Michael?

MCMAHON (ignoring them): Topmost, though, I have always been, and will probably always remain, stymied at the lack of respect for Jeffery DeMunn. DeMunn displayed a hell of a lot of talent as the serial killer Andrei Chikatilo in the underrated CITIZEN X (1995).

Jeffrey Demunn is probably best known as playing Dale on THE WALKING DEAD.

Jeffrey Demunn is probably best known as playing Dale on THE WALKING DEAD.

I saw the remake of THE BLOB (1988) afterwards, and DeMunn impressed me again, playing a Sheriff who genuinely cares for every member of his town. He was given a small role in THE X FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE (1998), in which he had nothing to do.

Lately, he seems to have found favor with Frank Darabount, landing roles in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994), THE GREEN MILE (1999) THE MIST (2007), and most recently as Dale on THE WALKING DEAD, but I think the guy deserves a lot more. He’s a top-tier talent who’s been overlooked far too long.

And a bonus…

SOARES: Another one? WTF?

MCMAHON: Brian Yuzna’s first film SOCIETY (1989) featured some of the wildest, most outrageous make-up designs I’ve ever seen. The job was credited to “Screaming Mad George.” His real name is Joji Tani, and while he worked off and on for a while after that, his trail evaporates after 2005.

Special effect genius, Screaming Mad George

Special effect genius, Screaming Mad George

Where the heck did he go?

SOARES: To be honest, he’s not an actor, so he really doesn’t count as an answer to this question, but I still have to agree with you. I’m a huge fan of SOCIETY, a completely underrated movie. And I used to look forward to seeing “Screaming Mad George’s” name in movie credits. He was terrific at making cool effects, and for awhile, you’d see his name everywhere. He was even in the creature effects crew of the original PREDATOR (1987). Where did he go?

ARRUDA:  That’s a good question.  A lot of folks just disappear from the scene.  Often they simply leave the business and continue on with their lives in other careers.

I’ve got a bunch of choices today.  Most of them are well-known, I think, but not as leading actors.

SOARES: A bunch??

ARRUDA: Robert Armstrong, for example, in KING KONG (1933) is quite famous among movie buffs for his role as Carl Denham, and while Armstrong was in fact a very successful character actor, appearing in over 160 movies, he never really made the jump to leading man.  He’s great as Denham in KING KONG, and I’ve always wished he’d played the lead in more movies.

Robert_Armstrong

From the Universal movies, I’m going with Dwight Frye.  Sure, Frye is known today for his scene stealing performances as Renfield in the Lugosi DRACULA (1931) and the hunchbacked assistant Fritz in the Karloff FRANKENSTEIN (1931), and you can find him in bit parts in other Universal monster movies, but that’s it.

Dwight Frye in his most iconic role, as Renfeild in DRACULA (1931).

Dwight Frye in his most iconic role, as Renfeild in DRACULA (1931).

Watch him as Renfield in DRACULA and you can’t help but wish he’d gone on to bigger and better things.

He died young, just 44, of a heart attack, in 1943.

SOARES: Dwight Frye was terrific! Also check him out as Herman Glieb in THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933), another memorable role. He also had a small role, as Wilmer Cook, in THE MALTESE FALCON (1931). He really deserved to become a leading man/villain in horror flicks. He’s better than Lionel Atwill or George Zucco, who got their shots as leads!

ARRUDA: And speaking of DRACULA, I’d also go with Helen Chandler in DRACULA (1931).  She’s often and obviously overlooked in this movie because of the presence of Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, and Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing, but she makes a terrific and feisty Mina.

Helen Chandler as Mina in a famous still from 1931's DRACULA.

Helen Chandler as Mina in a famous still from 1931’s DRACULA.

After a successful stage career, she never quite made it in the movies.  She lived a tragic life, struggling with alcohol and sleeping pill dependency, becoming disfigured in a fire, and eventually living out her days in a sanitarium.

From Hammer Films, I’ve always liked Francis Matthews, who appeared as Peter Cushing’s young assistant Hans in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958), and as heroic Charles Kent in the second Christopher Lee Dracula movie, DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).  He’s been described as an “ineffective” leading man, but I’ve always found his performances topnotch.  Sure, he sounds just like Cary Grant, but so what?  I would have liked to have seen him hit it big.

Francis Matthews with Peter Cushing in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Francis Matthews with Peter Cushing in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Then there’s Andrew Keir, who appeared with Matthews in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS, as Father Sandor.  Keir was a very successful character actor, but as Father Sandor, the lead hero in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS, he dominates his scenes, as he would again in arguably his most famous role as Professor Quatermass in FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967).  But he never reached the level of a Peter Cushing or a Christopher Lee in these movies, but based on his performances, he certainly could have.

Andrew Keir

Andrew Keir

Into the 1970s, I’d go with Jason Miller from THE EXORCIST (1973).  He’s great as young Father Karras.  I would have loved to have seen him act in many more movies, but he kept himself busy as a successful playwright.  He died in 2001.

Jason Miller as Father Karras in THE EXORCIST.

Jason Miller as Father Karras in THE EXORCIST.

SOARES:  I agree about Jason Miller, too. But I’ve got a problem. Bill Carl and I totally followed the rules and chose one person. I thought Paul was bad, but you’re listing so many people it sounds like you’re writing a book on the subject. What’s going on here?

ARRUDA: Where have you been?  We always get carried away with these things.  This is nothing new.  Why haven’t you been paying attention?  Have you been busy writing novels or something?

SOARES:  Yes.

ARRUDA:  There you go.

And from today, I’d go with Idris Elba.  He’s starred in a bunch of movies, including PROMETHEUS (2012) and THOR (2011), but mostly in supporting roles, which is too bad because he’s great in every movie I see him in.  He’s busily acting today, so there’s still time for him to make it big.  This guy needs to make it as a lead actor, and I’m hoping he does.

Idris Elba

Idris Elba

SOARES: Another one! But I have to agree about Elba, he’s great in everything he does. He is more appreciated in his native England, by the way, where he plays the lead in the compelling TV series LUTHER (worth checking out on BBC America). In America, he was pretty memorable as Russell “Stringer” Bell on the HBO series THE WIRE (2002 – 2004), but he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He was even turned down for the lead role in the recent movie ALEX CROSS, so that the role could go to “bigger name” Tyler Perry, who was awful!

ARRUDA: And that’s all we’ve got.

SOARES: Finally! I thought you were doing your dissertation or something!

ARRUDA:  Now that you mention it, it would be a fun idea for a book.

SOARES:  So, until next time, remember that there’s always something new here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. Tell all your movie-loving friends to check out the site!

ARRUDA:  That’s right.  Well, thanks for joining us for this week’s MONSTROUS QUESTION column.  Good night, everybody.

—END—

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In The Spooklight: MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935)

Posted in 2010, Classic Films, Horror, In the Spooklight, Remakes, Universal Horror Films, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , , , on March 11, 2011 by knifefighter

The Bela Lugosi movie MARK OF THE VAMPIRE was mentioned in our recent FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE COLUMN in which L.L. and I debated Bela Lugosi vs. Christopher Lee as the screen’s ultimate Dracula.  I dug up this column on MARK OF THE VAMPIRE which was originally published in February 2010.~ Michael Arruda, 3/11

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935)
By Michael Arruda

Made four years after DRACULA (1931), by the same director, Tod Browning, and with Bela Lugosi again cast as the vampire, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) appears at times to be DRACULA II.

But it’s not.

I wish it had been a genuine sequel to DRACULA.  But even more so, I wish it had been a genuine vampire movie.

Generally heralded by critics as a classic of the genre, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, thanks to the talents of director Tod Browning, and a strong cast that included Lionel Barrymore, Bela Lugosi, and Lionel Atwill, is a well-made horror movie that does rival DRACULA.  However, its plot is largely disappointing.

You see, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is a remake of the silent lost classic LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), also directed by Browning, starring Lon Chaney Sr., in which Chaney plays a police inspector [SPOILER ALERT!!!] who dons the disguise of a vampire in order to catch a criminal.  In short, although MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is so rich in atmosphere you can almost taste the bed of vampire earth on your tongue, the vampire elements in this movie are false.  This is almost as bad as playing the “it was just a dream” card, which is too bad, because MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is one of the best-looking vampire movies ever made.

Sir Karell Borotyn (Holmes Herbert) is murdered, apparently by a vampire, in a village where everyone believes in vampires and lives in mortal fear of them, or would that be immortal fear?  Anyway, Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill) calls in Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore) to help dispel the vampire rumors, but the professor only adds fuel to the fire because he believes in vampires too.

Things get worse for the Inspector and his efforts to prove that Borotyn was murdered by an ordinary human being when members of Borotyn’s household begin seeing the suspected village vampire Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Caroll Borland) lurking around the house.  Borotyn’s daughter Irena (Elizabeth Allan) and her fiancé are also attacked by a vampire, and suddenly the entire household is terrified.

Of course, it turns out that the vampires are really actors, and the entire scheme has been part of a ploy by Inspector Neumann to smoke out the real killer.  This plot point does not work for me at all.

Still, there is an awful lot to like about MARK OF THE VAMPIRE.  Director Browning seems to pick up right where he left off with DRACULA. The scenes in Count Mora’s castle are reminiscent of the scenes in Dracula’s castle, complete with spider webs and scurrying creatures and critters.  Lugosi looks terrific as Count Mora in a mostly mute role, as he gets to lurk around dark corners and windows, and Caroll Borland is even more vampiric as Mora’s daughter Luna.

Lionel Atwill, as he always does, turns in a solid, enjoyable performance as Inspector Neumann.  Sure, he became typecast over the years, playing police inspectors in several of the Universal monster movies, most memorably in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) but truth be told, nobody did it better than Atwill.

The lead went to Lionel Barrymore, today most remembered for his performance as the villainous Potter in Frank Capra’s Christmas classic, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), though his career spanned several decades.  He overacts here as Professor Zelen.  Edward Van Sloan is sorely missed!

The screenplay by Guy Endore and Bernard Schubert is very good and includes some memorable lines, but the real stars in this one are the atmospheric direction by Tod Browning, and the undead shenanigans of Bela Lugosi and Carol Borland.

With this one, they certainly left their mark, the MARK OF THE VAMPIRE!

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda

Bela Lugosi and Carol Borland in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE

THE MONSTROUS QUESTION! Answer 1 (of 3)

Posted in 2011, Hammer Films, Horror, Lost Films, Universal Horror Films with tags , , , , , , , on March 2, 2011 by knifefighter

THE MONSTROUS QUESTION
(Questions by Michael Arruda)

Watching THE HILLS RUN RED a couple of weeks back, a horror movie about a lost horror film, it got me to thinking about the real thing.

There are lots of stories out there of lost scenes.  For example, growing up, I’d read about the scene cut from the Boris Karloff FRANKENSTEIN (1931) where the monster drowns the little girl.  This scene had been cut when the movie was shown on television, and although I’d seen stills from this scene, the actual scene didn’t seem to exist anymore, until it was discovered and restored on video in 1987.

There are so many more scenes like this out there that still have not turned up.

So, here’s this month’s MONSTROUS QUESTION:  If you could discover lost footage from any movie, old or new, and this could include an entire movie, what would it be?

*****

From MICHAEL ARRUDA:

I have read about many instances of lost scenes, but being a lifelong fan of Hammer Films, I’m going to go with a Hammer Film as my top choice, and it’s probably their most famous movie, HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

The rumor has existed for years that Hammer released different versions of their movies for different markets.  For example, the tamest version was released in Britain, a more violent version went to the United States, and the most explicit version was shipped off to Japan.

For example, one of the bloodier scenes in HORROR OF DRACULA, where Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) drives a stake through Lucy’s (Carol Marsh) heart, was not shown in Britain until a recently restored version was made available in 2007, but the scene has been shown intact on U.S. video/DVD prints for longer than that.  The scene was often cut on U.S. television, though.  I would say that when I used to catch this movie on TV back in the 1970s, usually late at night, about 90% of the time this particular scene would be cut.  The uncut scene shows the stake going into Lucy’s chest, as blood bubbles out onto her gown.

Now, rumor has it that in the version released in Japan, Lucy actually tries to climb out of her coffin, but Van Helsing clobbers her across the head with the hammer.  I actually find this hard to believe, as it seems rather violent for 1958, even for Hammer, and I’ve never seen a still from this scene anywhere or read anywhere that it still exists.  But if it does, it’s one I definitely want to discover.

There are two other scenes in HORROR OF DRACULA still missing.  The first is of Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) decomposing after he has been staked by Van Helsing.  In the print that exists now, the camera fades as Van Helsing approaches the crypt.   The staking scene doesn’t even happen on camera.  Stills of this scene do exist and show Harker in the crypt in an early stage of decomposition.

Now, the biggest missing scene from HORROR OF DRACULA is from its famous ending.  You know the scene, where Van Helsing runs across a table in castle Dracula and leaps through the air ripping down the curtains, unleashing the sunlight which ultimately destroys Dracula (Christopher Lee.)

There were scenes in the original HORROR OF DRACULA that have not been seen here.

This scene is pretty graphic as is, as we see Dracula disintegrate into dust before our very eyes, but it’s a quick scene, with each stage of decomposition interrupted by cutaways to reaction shots of Cushing’s Van Helsing.

But this scene was longer when originally filmed.  Evidently, for a particularly gruesome special effect, Lee’s face was painted over with a red blood-like make-up,  and then covered again with a flesh tone make-up, so when he scratched at his face, his fingers would rip through the “skin,” making deep bloody gouges in his face.

I’ve seen stills from this scene as well, and they’re pretty cool looking.   In the special feature on the DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS DVD from 2004, where Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, and Suzan Farmer provide voice-over commentary to DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) (this commentary was recorded in the late 1990s) Lee talks about the ending to HORROR OF DRACULA.

Since DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS is the sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA, the film begins with the ending of HORROR OF DRACULA before the opening credits, and during this sequence, in his voice-over commentary, Christopher Lee points out that the sequence he’s watching, where Dracula disintegrates, is much shorter than the one they originally filmed.  So, the longer death sequence was definitely shot.

If I had to pick one lost sequence to discover, this one would be it.

Some other lost sequences I would love to discover:

—from KING KONG (1933) the famous “spiders in the pit” scene after Kong has thrown the men off the giant log into the ravine below.

—-from THE WOLF MAN (1941) the scene where Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) wrestles a bear, and any other scene that was filmed for its original shooting title, DESTINY.  Originally, the wolf man stuff was all going to be in Larry Talbot’s mind, and the bear wrestling scene I’m talking about supposedly had Talbot seeing himself as a werewolf fighting the bear, while onlookers saw only the man.  There are still several scenes in the final print where you can get a feel for the original intentions of the storytellers.

—from THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), the deleted footage where Karl (Dwight Frye) murders his uncle and then blames the crime on the Monster (Boris Karloff), a scene that explains why the Monster is so intent on killing Karl in the film’s climax.  Without this scene, the Monster’s actions make little sense.

I could go on, but it’s time to give someone else a turn.

—-END—

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS – Part 3 – Who Was the Best Dracula?

Posted in 2011, Cinema Knife Fights, Classic Films, Dracula, Friday Night Knife Fights, Hammer Films, Universal Horror Films, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2011 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS:  BELA LUGOSI vs. CHRISTOPHER LEE
WHO IS THE ULTIMATE MOVIE DRACULA?
With MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES

PART 3 (CONCLUSION)

(The Scene: Back at the Cinema Knife Fight studio.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are seated across from each other on stools.  Behind them are movie stills featuring Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee as DRACULA, as well as photos of Count Chocula and The Count from SESAME STREET.)

MA:  Welcome back to Friday Night Knife Fights.  Tonight, L.L. and I will conclude our discussion of Bela Lugosi vs. Christopher Lee and decide which one is the ultimate movie Dracula.  Lugosi came out on top after our Round 1 discussion two weeks ago, and Lee won the second round last week, so tonight’s third and final round will decide the victor.

Time for the final question.  It’s actually several questions.

LS:  Make up your mind.

MA:  I can’t.  Anyway, here we go.  Which one is more iconic?  In other words, when people think of Dracula today, who do they picture: Lugosi or Lee?  And who do you think modern audiences prefer?

LS:  I really don’t know who people today picture when they think of Dracula. It may even be neither Lugosi or Lee, since there have been other versions since then, like Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola’s take on the material: BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992).

Gary Oldman caught in the act, in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

MA:  Come on!  You can’t seriously believe that anyone today would actually picture Gary Oldman as Dracula!  The guy looked like John Lennon!

LS:  Who knows what people think? What am I, a psychic? I only know what I think!

MA: I don’t think Lugosi and Lee have much competition, unless you include Count Chocula and The Count from SESAME STREET.

LS: So that’s why those photos are up. I just figured you had the mind of a child. Who knew you were going to make a point.

MA: Well, certainly not you, since you don’t know what other people are thinking!

LS:   And you do, I suppose?

MA:  I have a pretty good idea what you’re thinking right now, and I can’t say it out loud.

Anyway, people certainly aren’t going to picture Frank Langella, who played the role in the weak 1979 film version.  Who else as Dracula could they possibly imagine?

LS: Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen in the TWILIGHT movies? He’s not Dracula, but he’s certainly just as popular a vampire these days. (groans). And if he ever played Dracula, then I’m sure, for a whole generation, he’d be the definitive one. Imagine that, and be truly horrified.

But for me, Lugosi will always be my first choice. He may not have had a lot of roles that were as good as the original DRACULA (1931), but that is his shining moment, and the movie, as atmospheric and almost surreal as it is, will always be the real deal to me.

MA:  I would have to agree with you and say that Lugosi is more iconic, at least here in the United States, and that when people today think of Dracula, they most likely think of Lugosi.

The great LUGOSI, from Universal Studio's DRACULA (1931)

LS: And how do you know this? Did you take a survey?

MA:  I’m speaking in terms of Lugosi and Lee here.  If you ask someone to impersonate Dracula, chances are they’re going to do the Lugosi voice.  They’re not going to speak in a British accent like Christopher Lee.  That’s what I mean when I say that when people today think of Dracula, they most likely think of Lugosi.

It’s largely due in part to the influence of Universal Pictures.  They constantly re-package their old black and white monster movies, along with their merchandise, so that the images of the Universal monsters never seem to be out of the modern-day collective consciousness.  I think when people think of Dracula, they think of Lugosi, complete with his trademark accent.  I don’t think people today picture Christopher Lee, even though he starred in those seven Hammer DRACULA movies.

But even without Universal’s marketing department, I think people would still picture Lugosi as Dracula, which shows the power of Lugosi’s legacy.  Even after all these years, he remains in most people’s minds the definitive Dracula.

LS: I bet you there’s a whole generation who has no idea what we’re talking about, and they haven’t heard of Lugosi or Lee.

MA:  That’s why you and I write about these guys, so this doesn’t happen, so people don’t forget.  That’s why we need readers, readers, and more readers, so out there in horror movie land, if you like reading Cinema Knife Fight and this spin-off, Friday Night Knife Fights, tell your friends!  Okay, enough with the self-promotion.  Where was I?

Oh yeah.  I don’t know who modern audiences prefer.  At one time, I would have easily picked Lee as the fan favorite, but today I’m not so sure.

Christopher Lee, the star of seven DRACULA films from Hammer Films.

LS: Now you say you don’t know who modern audiences prefer? Make up your mind!!

MA: What?  Before, I said people think of Lugosi when they think of Dracula.  Now, I’ve moved on to the next question, which is, which actor do we think modern audiences prefer?  Having trouble keeping up or something?

LS:  I’m having trouble keeping up with the number of times you change your mind!

MA:  Whatever.

I have a story to share on this subject.  Several years ago, when I was teaching a movie class to eighth graders, at Halloween time I showed my classes both DRACULA and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).  In the follow-up essays, I expected students to overwhelmingly pick HORROR OF DRACULA as their favorite film, but I was surprised that this wasn’t the case.  The majority of students went with the Lugosi version, citing Lugosi’s performance as the major reason why they liked it better.  And I think it was because Lugosi played Dracula the way the students expected Dracula to be played.

LS (snoring): Zzzzzzzzz

MA: Wake up! We’re having a debate here.

LS: Huh? Your “stories” always bore the hell out of me.

MA: I’m sorry.  I forgot you have the attention span of a gnat.

All right, we’ve reached the moment of truth.  Time for us to decide:  which one is the ultimate movie Dracula: Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee?

LS:  I hesitantly choose Lugosi. Not because I don’t feel he’s the ultimate movie Dracula—because I do— but because Lee is no slouch either. I really like Lee’s take on the character and in many ways it’s just as satisfying as Lugosi’s. But for me, Lugosi is the more iconic figure: the first (at least after the silent age) and the best.

MA:  I feel your pain. I went back and forth so many times with this, it almost made me dizzy.

So, who’s my pick for the ultimate movie Dracula, Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee?  This is such a difficult choice for me to make, and I’ve gone right down to the wire with my final decision.

LS:  Just spit it out already!

MA:  Okay, okay.

Without further hesitation, here it is:

As much as I like Christopher Lee as Dracula—and even though I think he is far scarier as Dracula—when it comes to the complete package, I can’t deny that Bela Lugosi is the ultimate movie Dracula.  For the most part, this opinion is based on the strength of Lugosi’s initial performance in DRACULA.  From the way he speaks, to his mannerisms, to his commanding presence, Lugosi is Dracula.

LS: Hell, Lugosi was even buried wearing one of the capes he wore in DRACULA. That’s dedication to a role.

MA: I love Lee as Dracula, but there’s no comparison to moments where Lugosi utters such lines as, “Listen to them, the children of the night, what music they make.”  “To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious.”  “There are far worse things, Miss Mina, awaiting man, than death.”

Bela Lugosi is the ultimate movie Dracula.

So, there you have it.  The decision is unanimous, but boy was it close!

LS: (laughs) Yeah, I’m sure everyone was sitting on the edges of their seats.

MA: That was quite the bout.  I need a drink of water.

LS:  I need a drink of blood!

MA:  Well, don’t look at me.

LS (groans):  I’ll settle for a beer.

MA:  That sounds better.  Anyway, it’s been fun.

LS: Yes it has.

MA (addresses audience) :  Thanks for joining us tonight.  We had a good time, and we hope you did too.

LS:  And don’t forget to join us every weekday for new content about your favorite movies, new and old, right here at CinemaKnifeFight.com!

MA:  This has been FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS.  Good night everybody!

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© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares