It’s alive! Horror screenings celebrate return of Famous Monsters of Filmland

May 29, 2009 | 6:12 p.m.

Susan King is back with another report about an L.A. event, this time it’s a mini-festival of horror films this weekend to mark the resurrection of one of the most beloved brand names in geekdom. -G.B.

Dracula 1931 poster Bela Lugosi

The American Cinematheque is celebrating the return of the movie magazine “Famous Monsters of Filmland” with a two-day feast of classic Universal horror films.

The late Forrest J. Ackerman began “Famous Monsters” with publisher James Warren 51 years ago and gave the world 191 issues of the magazine before it gave up the ghost in 1983. There was a revival in 1993 but that turned into an ugly dispute when Ackerman and the new regime parted ways. After numerous legal issues, Famous Monsters is shambling out of the crypt once again (although this time it’s online only) but without Forry’s presence the venture will have to prove itself before old-school fans embrace it as anything more than just another namesake. 

Still, the brand is being honored with a cinematic monster mash at the Egyptian Theatre that begins Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with a back-from-the-dead double feature: 1939’s “Son of Frankenstein” and 1942’s “Ghost of Frankenstein.”

Neither of the films is on par with the 1931 landmark “Frankenstein” and its superior 1935 sequel “Bride of Frankenstein,” both directed by British filmmaker James Whale (who, coincidentally, died in Hollywood 52 years ago today) but   “Son of Frankenstein,” directed by Rowland V. Lee, is still crackling good fun. Basil Rathbone plays Henry Frankenstein’s son, Wolf, who returns to his family’s estate with his wife and son. Faster than you can say “It’s alive!,”  he discovers the ailing monster (Boris Karloff in his last turn as the neck-bolted patchwork man) who is being looked after by a gallows’ survivor named Ygor (Bela Lugosi). Henry comes up with the bright idea of rehabilitating the monster in order to redeem his father’s reputation. (Good luck with that.) Lionel Atwill plays a one-armed police chief who, decades later, would be memorably spoofed by Kenneth Mars in Mel Brooks’ 1974 classic “Young Frankenstein.” On Saturday, “Son of Frankenstein” will be introduced by Sarah Karloff, daughter of the screen icon.

Son of Frankenstein Rathbone Karloff Lugosi


The budget was definitely lower on “Ghost of Frankenstein,” which finds Lon Chaney Jr. taking over the role of the monster. This time around, Ygor forces Henry Frankenstein’s other son, Ludwig (Cedric Hardwicke), to keep the monster alive. Ludwig wants to replace the monster’s criminal brain with one of his murdered colleague, but the insane Ygor has other ideas. Janet Ann Gallows, who was a child performer in the film, will provide the introduction.

Carla Laemmle, the 99-year-old niece of Universal mogul Carl Laemmle, will be on hand Sunday to introduce Tod Browning’s 1931 horror classic “Dracula” starring Lugosi in his signature role as the blood-thirsty Count from Transylvania. A bit of trivia: Carla Laemmle has a small part in the carriage sequence in the beginning of the film. Dwight Frye plays Renfield, David Manners is Jonathan Harker, Helen Chandler is Mina and Edward Van Sloan is Professor Van Helsing.

The second Sunday feature is “House of Dracula,” which will be introduced by Jane Adams, who plays the hunchbacked nurse in the 1945 chiller. This time around, Lon Chaney Jr. reprises his role as the cursed Larry Talbot, who under a full moon becomes the ferocious Wolf Man, and John Carradine dons the cape as Count Dracula. The aptly named Glenn Strange walks in Karloff’s legendary (and lumbering) footsteps as Frankenstein’s monster.

— Susan King


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