Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Halloween 2011.

You're sitting in my seat!!!
Another of those crazy nights at Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre when on Monday night the RBC Film Club held a splendidly ghoulish Halloween celebration. There were lots of witches and warlocks present and even Doctor Who made it. The reception area was almost unrecognisable along with the staff who entered into the spirit (excuse the pun) of the evening. And how can I move on with this ramble without mentioning the delicious array of Halloween home baking, thank you Fiona. Is there another cinema in our dark and dreary land that can boast of a night quite like it?

Our master of ceremonies was James Pickering delivering an introduction prepared by our comic genius of last week Mr Steven Pickering who kindly has given permission to quote verbatim the introduction as follows (Well near enough).

Tonight film is the 1974 comedy horror spoof “YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN” (pronounced Frankenshteen) made by Mel Brooks and written in collaboration with and starring Gene Wilder. It dips into Universal Pictures monster heyday for its creepy clichés and even re uses the original laboratory equipment, loaned from a museum, and first seen in the classic 1931 Frankenstein movie starring Boris Karloff.  For those of you who have never seen this version here is the very clip, showing the mad scientist in his laboratory uttering those immortal words “IT’S ALIVE”  

I would like briefly to look back at where the original story has its roots and to introduce you to some of its formative characters.

The year is 1816. The place is the crumbling Villa Diodatta on the edge of Lake Geneva. Percy Bysshe Shelly, the radical and highly-strung poet, is dodging debt collectors and off on his holidays hopefully heading for Italy, accompanied by his 18-year-old girlfriend Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Percy has left his wife back in London and in despair she is just about to throw herself into the Serpentine. A companying them is Mary’s stepsister Clare Clairmont who, it turns out, has the hot’s for “Mad, bad and dangerous to know” Lord Byron and she has tipped him off where in Europe she will be staying. So, thinking he’s in with a “promise”, Byron also pitches up at the Villa, accompanied by his assistant, Doctor Polidori, a recent graduate of the University of Edinburgh. Polidori has learnt fast at University and has brought along his doctor’s bag stuffed with a fine collection of early nineteenth century recreational drugs, to help the party go with a swing. Due to the spreading global consequence of the eruption of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia the previous year, the summer weather is unseasonably awful in Europe.

Cooped up in the Villa, battered by thunder and lightening and surrounded by empty opium bottles and guttering candles, the group decide that telling creepy stories might help pass the time – a strange suggestion considering Percy’s nervous disposition. Mary, as ever, keen for a laugh, tells the jittery and seriously spaced out Percy an old folk tale of a girl disrobing before her boyfriend and revealing eyes where her nipples should be! This has the desired effect and Percy leaps to his feet and runs out into the garden holding his head and screaming, but this is only Mary’s warm up act.

Mary brought up in a highly educated family was taken to the Royal Society Lectures and was up to speed with modern scientific thinking. She would also have known of the gruesome 1803 public experiments attempting to reanimate a recently hung murderer, using the application of electrical arcs. Convinced that she can write a really scary story, she quickly re vamps this into the first draft of the Frankenstein novel, and when they had coaxed the still screaming Percy, off the front lawn, and back into the villa he agreed, it had promise.

The first publication of her expanded story in 1818 bombs, but cut down, with the new title of “PRESUMPTION OR THE FATE OF FRANKENSTEIN” and with added gory bits it first hit the theatrical stage in 1823. From here the myth making really begins and after placard-waving protesters besieged the theatre it went viral.

The 1826 production in Paris has actor Thomas Potter Cooke, the monster, dressed in a blue body stocking running amuck big style. According to the contemporary newspapers “there were so many dead bodies on the stage that it would have been difficult to do more unless one killed the prompter and the musicians in the orchestra pit”. It was the theatre therefore which changes Mary’s original story by adding the monster crashing through doors, comic assistants and an apocalyptic ending.

It is not however until 1910, when the Edison Company commits the story to film, that the monster was actually seen to be created. Previously on stage he had always “been stitched” up behind a curtain, but here in this clip we see alchemist, Doctor Frankenstein brewing up his monster, actor Charles Ogle, in a huge casserole pot using some seriously primeval CGI.

And that was just about it. Hollywood’s 1931 sound version used a Goya engraving dated 1799 called “The Mad House” as an artistic inspiration for the Boris Karloff monster. Universal studios changed the original plays comic character into a very UN-PC, vertically challenged research assistant, threw the switches on twenty thousand volts and swapped the creation lines in the original from “IT LIVES” to “IT’S ALIVE!”

Following this wonderfully informative introduction, RBC’s rather macabre audience were well primed to enjoy this stylish black and white comedy horror send-up. This version was about the grandson of Victor Frankenstein; Fredrick (Wilder) who inherits the family castle in Transylvania after the old mans demise. Assisted by the trusty hunchback Igor (the British comedian Marty Feldman), the lovely young Inga (Teri Garr) and not forgetting the resplendently sinister Frau Bleucher (Cloris Leachman) the mere mention of her name can scare a pair of horses!  The young Doctor and his willing team set out to recreate his grandfathers pioneering work in human reanimation. Bring on the corpse.

A special thanks to the Pickering's and to our resident photographer Alec Barclay for the use of his picture.

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