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The descendant of a family of barons, Ingo Clemens Gustav Adolf Freiherr von Wangenheim was born in Wiesbaden, now part of Germany, on the 18th of February, 1895. He began working on the stage at an early age and became a student of producer Max Reinhardt.

Moving to the big screen, he made his motion picture debut with 1914’s Passionels Tagebuch before serving in World War I. He continued his movie work after the war and became a familiar face in features of the time, taking lead roles in films such as 1920’s Romeo and Juliet in the Snow.

His most enduring role came as ill-fated estate agent Thomas Hutter in Nosferatu (1922). While his performance is often criticised as over-exaggerated, the apparently giddy and naive characterisation perfectly suits not just the young man’s place in the story, but also the movie’s expressionist stylings as a whole. 1929 saw him take a major role in Fritz Lang’s spectacular science fiction movie Woman in the Moon.

Negotiations between Orlok (Schreck) and Hutter (von Wangenheim) over the purchase of a property in Wisborg move swiftly in Nosferatu (Prana 1922).

In 1931 von Wangenheim, a member of the Communist Party of Germany since 1921, founded a Communist theatre group, Die Truppe ’31; the group was shut down by the Nazis in 1933. The same year, von Wangenheim and his wife of two years, actress Ingeborg Franke, fled the Nazis and lived in exile in the Soviet Union. There, von Wangenheim briefly served as head of the cabaret group Kolonne Links, and became heavily involved with Communist politics.

A portrait shot of Gustav von Wangenheim, taken later in his career.

Returning to Germany in 1945, von Wangenheim was a founding member of the National Committee for a Free Germany and directed numerous theatrical productions. Having borne one son and twin daughters, his marriage was dissolved in 1954, and Gustav von Wangenheim passed away on the 5th of August, 1975.

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Willis Harold O’Brien was born on the 2nd of March, 1886 in Oakland, California.

He took on a variety of jobs including working as a guide for palaeontologists; the role gave him an interest in dinosaurs which would inform much of his later work.

As assistant to the head architect of the 1915 San Francisco World’s Fair, O’Brien had some of his work exhibited at the event and was commissioned by a fellow exhibitor to create short animated film The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Tragedy (1915).

The success of O’Brien’s work led to a collaboration with Herbert M Dawley on The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918), the first movie to combine stop motion models with live action; further acclaim came with his animation for 1925’s The Lost World.

1925 also saw O’Brien’s marriage to Hazel Ruth Collette, with whom he had two sons, William and Willis Jr. Reports indicate that O’Brien was forced into the union, which had dissolved by 1930.

In 1932, O’Brien’s work on RKO’s cancelled epic Creation was transferred to Merian Cooper’s upcoming King Kong (1933). His innovative integration of live action and stop motion animation dazzled audiences and studio bosses alike, and broke new ground in the worlds of animation and special effects. The hurried sequel, Son of Kong (1933), had less of his input, but was still an effective showcase for the techniques he had pioneered.

Willis O’Brien in his Edison Studios workshop around 1917

However, the triumphs of 1933 were overshadowed by deep personal tragedy. O’Brien’s ex-wife killed their two sons before making an attempt on her own life, ironically prolonging it by draining her tubercular lung. She died in 1934; O’Brien remarried the same year.

O’Brien’s ongoing work with Cooper led to various projects taking shape; while many did not come to fruition, the Academy Award-winning Mighty Joe Young (1949) gave the animator the recognition he deserved. Mighty Joe Young was also a key step in the career of O’Brien’s protégé Ray Harryhausen.

Willis “OBie” O’Brien died on the 8th of November, 1962.

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Patricia Betsy Hrunek was born on the 1st of November, 1926 in East Chicago, Indiana.

Graduating from the Goodman School of Drama, she quickly found her feet in the acting world with a part in the television soap opera Miss Susan. A range of stage and screen appearances followed, including a tour of South Pacific, news reporting work on Today in 1958, and a long tenure as a panellist on quiz show I’ve Got a Secret.

Her movie career was most prolific in the 1950s, including a starring role in The Tin Star (1957), but she reached a whole new audience as deranged Pamela Voorhees in Friday the 13th (1980) despite her initial reticence about taking on the part. As one of horror cinema’s few female antagonists, she became Queen of the Slashers.

Betsy Palmer as the unhinged Pamela Voorhees in Friday the 13th (Paramount 1980)

While she only appeared as Pamela Voorhees in the first instalment in the Friday the 13th series, save for a few short moments in the second movie and flashback sequences elsewhere, Palmer appeared in horror short Penny Dreadful (2005). She passed away on the 29th of May, 2015.

A falsely tender moment between Pamela Voorhees (Palmer) and Alice (Adrienne King) in Friday the 13th (Paramount 1980)

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Agnes Teresa McGlade was born on the 23rd of October, 1880 in Belfast.

She split her time between London and New York as her career flourished; such was the extent of her talent that Noel Coward wrote a part in his play Cavalcade specifically for her.

A gift for speaking rapidly and contorting her face in exaggerated shock made O’Connor the perfect fit for James Whale’s brand of gothic humour. Her portrayal of Jenny Hall in The Invisible Man (1933) adds a zany humour to proceedings, disarming the intensity of Claude Rains’ brooding performance but, crucially, never undermining it.

Una O’Connor and Claude Rains in The Invisible Man (Universal 1933)

In Bride of Frankenstein (1935) she brought a similar sense of busybody outrage to the character of Frankenstein family housekeeper Minnie.

However, O’Connor’s other performances were often characterised by insight and restraint. Remaining in the US after World War II, she gave a performance in Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution so celebrated that she was given the same role in the 1957 movie adaptation, just a couple of years before her death on the 4th of February, 1959.

O’Connor with Ernest Thesiger in Bride of Frankenstein (Universal 1935)

The post Una O’Connor appeared first on Classic Monsters.

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The success of Halloween II naturally raised the question of what would happen next. Having reduced Michael Myers to a scorched mess, John Carpenter and Debra Hill felt they had quite literally taken the character to its furthest extreme; it made sense to do something completely different.

Hill and Carpenter engaged English screenwriter Nigel Kneale to create the next instalment in what they envisaged as an anthology series of movies, each covering the festival of Halloween in a different way. Ultimately, Kneale was so dismayed by the violence that was added to his work that he asked for his involvement not to be publicised.

Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) realises that, at least for himself, the game is up in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Universal 1982)

Halloween III: Season of the Witch stands very much alone in the series, but this does not detract from its fresh angle on the scares that fans had enjoyed in the previous movies. Inky shadows, skin-crawling tension, people emerging from out of shot; all have been imported, and all are well handled by Tommy Lee Wallace in his new role as director.

Also present is a sense of threatening mystery, this time embodied as toy company Silver Shamrock Novelties. The first two movies portrayed Michael Myers as a near-unstoppable presence, but throughout Season of the Witch, the danger is a much larger one, the ‘company town’ of Santa Mira portrayed as an eerie, soulless place. Nemesis Conal Cochran is well played as the centrepiece of the story’s focus, and if the run-up feels nothing like the previous Halloween films, the final sequence certainly takes a leaf out of its predecessors’ books, with Dan’s (Tom Atkins) exploration of the factory packed with jump scares.

Dr Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) and Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin) try to discover the secrets of Santa Mira in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Universal 1982)

The movie is undoubtedly keen to make its own mark, daring to include the taboo idea of violence against children. The scene of Buddy Kupfer Jr (Brad Schachter) becoming a test subject of the arcane-powered mask is genuinely ghastly, and the bleak, panic-stricken final scene stops abruptly, leaving us in little doubt as to the inevitable outcome of events.

The assassin android (Dick Warlock) comes undone when his attack on Challis (Atkins) goes awry in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Universal 1982)

Fans who had enjoyed two movies’ worth of bloodshed didn’t see the point of changing the franchise model, and Season of the Witch served as a warning to future franchise custodians never to abandon Michael Myers. However, Halloween III is by no means universally shunned; some series purists object to its complete lack of a Shatner-masked antagonist, but it fits in well with the 1980s vogue for horror thrillers and as such, has a valid place in cinema culture of the time.

An original theatrical release poster for Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Universal 1982)

The post Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Universal 1982) appeared first on Classic Monsters.

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Halloween III: Season of the Witch had not fared well at the box office, with fans of the franchise  furious at the absence of Michael Myers. When series executive producer Moustapha Akkad decided the time was right for another sequel proper, he approached John Carpenter to write and direct Halloween 4 in late 1987.

For the story treatment, Carpenter teamed with Denis Etchison, who had penned the novelisations of both Halloween II and III under the pseudonym of Jack Martin, with the intention of passing directorial duties to Joe Dante. The draft for Halloween 4 was an intellectual ghost story focusing on the psychological effects Michael Myers had had on the residents of Haddonfield, but it was considered “too cerebral” and promptly rejected. Carpenter bailed on the project.

A crazed Michael (George P Wilbur) dispatches have-a-go hero Brady (Sasha Jenson) in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Galaxy 1988)

For an impatient Akkad, it was back to the drawing board, and he began seeking a new director. He handed the reins to Ohio born Dwight H Little, who seconded fellow Ohio native Alan B McElroy to write a new narrative. With a budget of $5 million, shooting for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers began on the 11th of April, 1988 and, due to financial constraints, the filming location of the fictional town of Haddonfield was moved to Salt Lake City, Utah from its original Pasadena, California.

Akkad had wanted Jamie Lee Curtis back, but the actress had gone on to bigger and better things after hits like Trading Places (1983) and was already working on A Fish Called Wanda (1988). Her character was killed off in a car crash, leaving her nine-year-old daughter Britti to assume the mantle, sought out and pursued by her deranged Uncle Michael.

In a tense rooftop chase, Michael (Wilbur) viciously pursues Rachel (Ellie Cornell) in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Galaxy 1988)

Donald Pleasence did return though, as the scarred, dishevelled Loomis, by now as mad as a box of biscuits and paranoid to boot in his bid to finally undo Myers, and still sporting his trademark mud-stained macintosh that was proving as indestructible as Haddonfield’s most infamous son himself, this time played by George P Wilbur.

Jamie (Danielle Harris) proves she’s just a chip off the old block in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Galaxy 1988)

Although not as tense as its predecessors, Halloween 4 is nonetheless a grown up film, eschewing many of the cheesy traits of its genre stablemates and almost maintaining a standard that had been set some ten years earlier.

An original theatrical release poster for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Galaxy 1988)

The post Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Galaxy 1988) appeared first on Classic Monsters.

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Born on October the 12th, 1903 in Seattle, Washington, Josephine Hutchinson made her movie debut at the age of thirteen in The Little Princess (1917), starring Mary Pickford.

Attending the Cornish School of Music and Drama in Seattle, she took up theatre work and would later make the transition from silent movies to talkies successfully.

Josephine Hutchinson and Donnie Dunagan in Son of Frankenstein (Universal 1939)

Hutchinson met actress Eva Le Gallienne in 1926, becoming part of the latter’s Civic Repertory Theatre Company. By the next year, an affair had blossomed between the two women, leading to Hutchinson’s divorce from her first husband Robert Bell, although scandal was avoided and she was able to continue with her career.

Among her many movie roles, Hutchinson’s portrayal of Elsa von Frankenstein in Son of Frankenstein (1939) showed off her acting abilities; holding her own against such screen-filling talents as Basil Rathbone and Lionel Atwill, she brought a dignified presence to the action. She went on to appear in movies including North By Northwest (1959) before focusing on television work including support roles in Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone. Married three times, she passed away on the 4th of June, 1998.

Josephine Hutchinson, Lionel Atwill and Basil Rathbone in a tense moment from Son of Frankenstein (Universal 1939)

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Benjamin F Chapman Jr was born on the 29th of October, 1925 in Oakland, California.

He spent much of his childhood in Tahiti before moving with his parents to San Francisco as he reached his teens. He worked as a bartender as well as a real estate executive before landing a bit part in 1950 musical Pagan Love Song.

Chapman served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, where he received severe leg wounds, but it was for his post-war career that he would be best known. When the title role in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) was turned down by former Frankenstein Monster Glenn Strange, Chapman’s 6’5” frame made him a natural alternative choice, casting agents having spotted him in 1954 short Hawaiian Nights.

His height further increased by the Creature’s cumbersome foam rubber suit, the 28-year-old Chapman stood significantly taller than the rest of Creature from the Black Lagoon’s cast. His towering figure added weight to the scenes of the creature’s attacks, bringing a sense of primal power to the Gill Man’s land-bound appearances.

Ben Chapman takes a break from filming Creature from the Black Lagoon (Universal 1954)

Post-Gill Man, Chapman enjoyed a few other movie appearances such as in 1955’s Jungle Moon Men, but would forever be associated with Creature from the Black Lagoon. A favourite at conventions, and renowned for spending time with his fans, he put a friendly face on the childhood nightmares of a generation of moviegoers.

Ben Chapman passed away on the 21st of February, 2008 in Honolulu. It had previously been believed that his war injuries resulted in his being awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. After his death, however, an investigation by the Marine Corps Times reported that while he did indeed serve in Korea and received the Korean Service Medal with one star and the United States Service Medal, he had not received the other awards.

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Andrew Buggy was born in the coal mining town of Shotts in Lanarkshire, Scotland on the 3rd of April, 1926.

The son of a coal miner, he left school at the age of 14 to work in the mines, and was bitten by the acting bug at a local amateur dramatics production.

Developing his skills at Glasgow’s Unity Theatre and then the Citizen’s Theatre, he made his movie debut in 1950’s The Lady Craved Excitement; his first major role came with 1952’s The Brave Don’t Cry, which chronicled a real-life mining disaster from two years before.

Charles Kent (Francis Matthews) and Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) are concerned for the welfare of Diana Kent in Dracula Prince of Darkness (Hammer 1966)

The 1950s and 60s saw Keir become a popular face on movie screens, his roles often geared around his imposing frame and laconic bearing; A Night to Remember (1958) and Cleopatra (1963) were just two of the high-profile productions in which he appeared. At the same time he continued to work on the stage.

With the coming of the age of Hammer Horror, Keir brought his no-nonsense, quintessentially Scottish presence to the English gothica of Bray and Black Park. As Father Sandor in Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966), he balanced the priest’s intimidating determination with wry, grounded humour. The role of Professor Bernard Quatermass in Quatermass and the Pit (1967), meanwhile, took him into a science fiction nightmare in more ways than one, his performance sterling but his own experience of the movie a deeply unhappy one.

Dr Roney (James Donald) and Professor Quatermass (Andrew Keir) ponder the existence of Martian life in Quatermass and the Pit (Hammer 1967)

Andrew Keir’s later career saw him enjoy a steady workload with an increased focus on television productions, while his final high-profile movie performance came in 1995’s Rob Roy. Married twice, he had five children by his first wife; he passed away on the 5th of October, 1997, an authoritative on-screen figure and a memorable star of Hammer Horror.

The post Andrew Keir appeared first on Classic Monsters.

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James “Shamus” Sullivan and Edith “Biddy” Lanchester defied social mores in their refusal to marry; their daughter Elsa would continue the family tradition of the offbeat and become a horror movie icon into the bargain.

Born in Lewisham, London on the 28th of October, 1902, Lanchester studied dance at the Paris school of Isadora Duncan. Her budding career focused initially on music and theatre, and she found success in reviving Victorian songs for revue tours. Such was the popularity of her renditions of these often bawdy classics that Columbia invited her to commit them to record.

Moving into more serious theatrical territory, Lanchester appeared in the 1927 play Mr Prohack alongside Charles Laughton; the couple married two years later. Following her husband to Hollywood, Lanchester won the title role in 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein.

Playing both author Mary Shelley, and the created woman herself, the actress completely embraced director James Whale’s stylised approach. As Shelley, she brought girlish delicacy to the movie’s prologue before its plunge into gothic terror; as the Bride, her staccato movements and inhuman screeches defined a true classic monster.

Lanchester with Boris Karloff as the unhappy couple in Bride of Frankenstein (Universal 1935)

Lanchester combined a varied cinematic output with a vaudeville stage act. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress twice, for 1949’s Come to the Stable and 1957’s Witness for the Prosecution. Her later career was characterised by more time on the television screen, with occasional movie appearances and three LP releases rounding off her CV.

Lanchester’s marriage to Charles Laughton – more specifically, its childlessness – was the subject of some speculation. Her 1983 autobiography attributed the fact to Laughton’s being homosexual, whereas actress Maureen O’Hara claimed that an abortion had left Lanchester barren. Lanchester’s biography mentioned two abortions, but was unclear on whether or not the second had rendered her unable to have children.

Elsa Sullivan Lanchester passed away at the age of 84 on the 26th of December, 1986 from bronchopneumonia. Her ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.

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