When Horror Had an A-List
A new book shows how one 21-year-old’s obsession with scary creatures brought the iconic images of Dracula, The Mummy and the Frankenstein monster to moviegoers.
For Carl Laemmle Jr.’s 21st birthday, his father, Carl Sr., the founder of Universal Studios, made him head of production at the studio, giving him the power to greenlight the kinds of movies he most fancied. And what Carl Jr. liked most were monsters. Hence, in 1931, the world was introduced to the big-screen versions of Dracula and Frankenstein. And in 1932: The Mummy. Three years later came Werewolf of London, and so the monster mayhem continued, all the way up until the 1950s, when The Mole People and Gill Man (aka The Creature From the Black Lagoon) made their creepy debuts.
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In the 1960s, Universal’s freak show came to an end, when a post-war taste for realism set in, as Michael Mallory explains in his lush picture book-cum-encyclopedia on the subject. An expert on film and special effects, who was raised on Monsters of Filmland magazine, Mallory is an unapologetic geek when it comes to celluloid monsters, and his book reflects his love, not just of the genre’s iconic films, but of the actors—Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff–and bit players—makeup artist Jack Pierce, composer Franz Waxman—who brought them to life. While curating the collection of more than 200 photographs, which range from dramatic portraits (Angelina Jolie has nothing on Elsa Lanchester in her Bride of Frankenstein updo) to behind-the-scenes snippets (the very British Karloff sipping tea, pinky finger askew, in full monster makeup and drag), Mallory said he felt like “the photo version of Donald Trump—‘I’ll take that one, that one, that one.’”
Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former film reporter for Variety, she has also written for The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New York Times, The New York Observer, and W.