Category Archives: Films

My Thoughts on: The Mummy (1932)

Having made my way through most of the Frankenstein films, I decided to take a detour into a film series I hitherto knew very little about: the Mummy! Oh sure, I’m very well acquainted with The Mummy (1999) and its sequel (I don’t acknowledge the existence of Tomb of the Dragon Emperor), but until this past month I’d never seen the film that started it all, the 1932 film starring Boris Karloff as the titular Mummy.

First I have to say that every assumption I had about this movie turned out to be wrong. This is NOT one of those movies that has the Mummy shambling through the countryside wreaking havoc as he goes (that’s all of the sequels), and really the film only bears the loosest of resemblances to the 1999 remake. But speaking of, I was surprised at how identical the core premises of each film are. In this film, as in the remake, Imhotep is a high priest cursed to be mummified alive for attempting to revive his love from the dead. Here it’s the Scroll of Thoth that gives the Mummy his power instead of the Book of the Dead (no Book of Amun-Ra in sight either), but otherwise it’s the same basic principle.

My initial disappointment at not seeing more of Karloff in his Mummy bandages was quickly melted away when I saw his performance for the bulk of the film as Ardeth Bey (bet that name sounds familiar if you’ve seen the 1999 film). Even if you weren’t paying attention at the beginning, the film leaves no doubt to the viewer that Ardeth Bey is the rejuvenated Mummy. His walk is unnaturally stiff, and he speaks very slowly and carefully, as if used to speaking a language very different form those found in the modern world. I’m beginning to understand why Karloff was so acclaimed. You’d never think that just a year before Karloff had played Frankenstein’s monster. He completely embodies the Mummy with no hint of that other role, and that’s not something all actors can do.

Now on to something I found really cool. Inevitably, the film flashed back to how the Mummy came to be. It only took a few minutes for me to realize that this entire flashback to Ancient Egypt is essentially a silent film, exaggerated acting and all, spliced into the middle of a sound film.This blew my mind until I considered that The Mummy was made in 1932, silent films had been made on a fairly regular basis until just a few years prior. It wouldn’t have been that hard to put together, and it was a fairly ingenious way to make it clear that we are in the past (by using a now-outdated filming style). And that flashback is the most consistent with the 1999 remake: Imhotep steals the Scroll of Thoth to resurrect Anck-su-namum but is caught before he can finish. That’s pretty much beat for beat how the prologue of the remake plays out (minus the Pharaoh being murdered, that doesn’t happen in this one).

I really like Zita Johann as Helen/Anck-su-namum. I was fascinated to learn that Zita was a firm believer in reincarnation, which I think really helped her performance as the ramifications of reincarnation are hinted at here. See, at one point it’s hinted that Helen and Anck-su-namun are both inhabiting the same body, and feeling very confused about it. You really feel for Helen’s suffering, as she clearly doesn’t understand what’s happening to her. You also, believe it or not, feel for Anck-su-namun once she awaken’s in Helen’s body. Here’s an ancient priestess briefly living in the 20th century, and handling it pretty well if I’m honest (though being surrounded by ancient Egyptian relics int he museum probably helped). I loved how ancient magic came into play at the climax of the film. The idea that these ancient spells can still work if only the right words are spoken fascinates me.

Also, I have to talk about how amazing the Mummy makeup is. I’m referring to the Mummy as he’s seen lying in his coffin at the start of the film. In black and white, it looks for all the world like a desiccated Mummy, perfectly preserved. But then…the magic words are spoken….and the Mummy’s eyes blink open! That’s the moment that sticks with me the most out of this whole film, seeing those living eyes open in the middle of an otherwise dead face. Now THAT is horror, something that sends a chill down your spine no matter how old the film is. Also, the moment at the end when Imhotep turns into dust is very well done. I’m a little sad that Imhotep didn’t get some final words, but I understand why they didn’t go that route. Since the Scroll of Thoth is all that was keeping him alive, I can see that its destruction would ensure his immediate demise.

One last thought: I’m glad The Mummy was made pre-Code because otherwise those scenes with Anck-su-namun in her quite revealing Egyptian outfit would never have happened (and I shudder to think what might’ve appeared in its place). It’s still wild to me that such things were considered improper, why Helen looks almost modern in that outfit (yes I know, it was a different time, I just can’t help commenting on it).

The Mummy (1932) has quickly become one of my favorite horror films, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to experience a horror classic. Just for fun, follow up a watching of this film with the 1999 remake (it’s a fun experience I promise!)

Let me know what you think about The Mummy (1932) in the comments below and have a great day!

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Film Reviews

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The Music of Snow Hollow: Talking with Composer Ben Lovett about ‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow’ (2020)

After getting to check out the soundtrack for The Wolf of Snow Hollow, I knew I had to speak with composer Ben Lovett about his work on this soundtrack. Fortunately for me, the moment came and I took it! It was so exciting to get to ask Ben Lovett about his work on this score and I can’t thank him enough for taking the time to answer my questions about the music for The Wolf of Snow Hollow.

Ben Lovett is an American recording artist, songwriter and composer known for crafting unconventional scores to a diverse range of films including the Netflix original The Ritual, Independent Spirit Award nominee The Signal, the Duplass Brothers’ survival thriller Black Rock, Amy Seimetz’s award-winning noir Sun Don’t Shine, Emma Tammi’s avant-garde western The Wind, and the time travel sci-fi noir Synchronicity which earned Ben a nomination for “Discovery of the Year” at the prestigious World Soundtrack Awards. Lovett’s latest work includes scores for the Hulu series Into the Dark, the colorful taxidermy documentary Stuffed, Orion Pictures tragicomedy The Wolf of Snow Hollow from director Jim Cummings, and a new collaboration with Ritual director David Bruckner on the Searchlight Pictures thriller, The Night House.

How did you get started with being a film composer?

I was tricked.  Someone convinced me I could do it even though I tried to argue otherwise.  Or more specifically, they convinced me I had no good reason not to try, and of course they were right.  That was in college at the University of Georgia in the late 90’s and I’ve been doing it ever since.

How did you get connected with The Wolf of Snow Hollow?

The producers at Vanishing Angle reached out early in post production. I scored “American Folk” for them a few years back and had a good rapport there. Jim is part of a great community of filmmakers that all share an orbit with Vanishing Angle and he was familiar with some of the scores I’d done. I watched “Thunder Road” and absolutely loved it. I knew after about the first 10 minutes that I had to be part of whatever he was doing next.

I saw in the PR announcing the release of the soundtrack, that you said that you and the director talked together and some big names came up, like Herrmann and Prokofiev, in regards to the music. How big an influence did they play in the film’s score? What other names came up in the discussion that ended up having an influence on the score?

When I came onboard Jim sent me a YouTube clip of a 75 piece orchestra performing Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet” and said “The score needs to be like this!” The budget was very modest and there wasn’t a lot of time so as reference points go that one was exciting and hilarious and terrifying all at once. Jim was super enthusiastic about the score though and I could tell he wasn’t afraid to swing big. He referenced Jon Brion’s score to “Magnolia”, and the Jerry Goldsmith score for “The Burbs” as spiritual reference points as well. So I dove in with this sort of Mt Rushmore of influences in the background and tried to just channel the spirit of all that into some kind of hybrid, low budget, horror comedy appropriate, musical jambalaya.

More specifically, how big an influence did Bernard Herrmann’s music have? I swear I can hear parts resembling Psycho (1960), especially in “Third Crime Scene.” Are there direct musical homages in there? If so, was that a thing decided on from the beginning or did it just evolve as the scoring process continued?

That evolved along the way. It was more a sense of feeling like that was a common language where all those other references crossed paths. There weren’t direct homages or specific Herrmann scores I was referencing, it was more channelling the spirit of his style as a general point of inspiration. There’s something very signature in the way his scores operate melodically, and some intangible quality about the nature of their relationship to the picture and how his music informs the overall aesthetic of those films.

“Third Crime Scene” is kind of a thought experiment of me going, “What if Bernard Herrmann had scored “Peter & the Wolf’? I was never afraid of landing anywhere in the vicinity of his talent so it felt like a safe exercise to swing for something with a similar mentality, or whatever I’d interpreted that to mean. I didn’t get too academic about it, it just seemed like a fun sandbox to play in and one that seemed appropriate for this film.

How did you approach scoring The Wolf of Snow Hollow? Did you have a lot of time to work on the music?

Definitely not. I’m not sure I’d know what to do with a lot of time, does that exist? It was a small window from start to finish, very much your classic race the clock, down to the write, 11th hour, head first slide into home plate kind of finish. But that’s also the job, honestly, so I’m no stranger to that.

In terms of the approach, I knew I would have a limited number of crayons to draw with so I made a decision to just pick just the boldest flavor of each color that I needed. I guess that’s where the Herrmann thing comes in – I wasn’t going to have a lot of instruments so I needed to make sure the parts could carry a lot of water for us. It was figuring out how to pack big ideas into small packages, in that sense. How to deliver on the ambition of the director within the logistical limitations of the schedule and budget. I felt like the film had the capacity to hold something pretty audacious, it’s just something in how Jim directs movies. The score needed a distinct musical personality that could address the horrible reality of the things going on in this town, but specifically in how they’re related to this manic central character trying to put a stop to them – to find both the comedy and humanity in his struggle, because that’s really where the movie takes place thematically.

On a related note, are there leitmotifs in the score or did you approach it another way?

There are certainly some thematic, recurring melodies and variations in there that map out the arc of the main character, but we weren’t too dogmatic about those always accompanying specific situations or thematic moments. You routinely have characters in the film that are introduced then promptly killed off, so it became more about the recurrence of certain instruments and sounds than melodies, and what those sounds might represent to the viewer. Because I was working to locked picture with a new director and very much doing both at full sprint, sometimes the process influences decisions as much as any sort of creative intention. You’re trying to do your best to help make the movie as good as you can, while you can, with what you have.

Do you have a favorite track in the score?

Nah. Once they’re done you love em all, because you no longer have to feed them and change their diaper and they’re not keeping you up all night. I don’t have kids so I don’t know if that analogy works but, it’s sorta like that I imagine. Once they’re grown and leave home you forgive them for all they put you through. Maybe that’s where the analogy breaks down, I don’t know. More to your point, I think I’m more likely to listen back to ones that either took an unexpected turn along the way or endured some interesting metamorphosis by way of film scoring being a naturally collaborative process. Generally the ones that are the hardest to nail are usually my favorites in the end. I think the progression of the three crime scenes is a pretty fun journey. If you play those in a row you really get a sense of the variety of ground we needed to cover. “Detectives” and “Returning Evidence” maybe best capture the overall spirit and intention of the score, and are both thematic pieces that contain recurring elements.

What do you hope listeners notice when they listen to this music?

Well I always hope the album provides the means to re-experience the story in a way that reveals another level to what you might have enjoyed or experienced in the film. I feel like there are elements of any story that only music can describe, or that it best describes, in some strange innate way that we experience things as humans. Once you have a reference point for the characters and the story, my hope is that people can throw on the album and revisit Snow Hollow and uncover some new clues about what was going on there the whole time.

Again, I’d like to thank Ben Lovett for taking the time to speak with me about his work on The Wolf of Snow Hollow. Please check this film and soundtrack out if you haven’t already.

See also:

Soundtrack Review: The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)

Composer Interviews

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My Thoughts on: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Continuing the Frankenstein marathon, I promptly moved on to the fourth film in the series, The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), a decent enough film, though it’s more than obvious that the story is starting to go off the rails just slightly. This is not only the first Frankenstein film without Boris Karloff involved in any way, it also stretches credulity by now following Frankenstein’s second son Ludwig (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), yet another doctor-scientist who has mostly managed to escape the stigma attached to the name of Frankenstein.

Here’s the thing about The Ghost of Frankenstein: surely we must assume that a number of years have passed since Son of Frankenstein because that is the only way I can believe that Sir Cedric Hardwicke is the younger brother of Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone). If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was the other way around. Forgetting the noticeable age difference between the alleged brothers, there’s also the not-so-minor-detail of Lon Chaney Jr. now playing the Monster. It’s not that he does a bad job, he’s actually quite believable. It’s just….I can tell it’s not the same person, and that bothers me every time I see this film. Also, is it just me or does Lon Chaney spend most of the film with his eyes closed?

Speaking of recasting, the one element of this film I dislike is that Hardwicke is used to play the ghost of his father Henry (originally played in two films by Colin Clive). I sort of get why they did so, but you’re telling me they couldn’t find anyone to serve as a sound alike for Colin Clive? I feel like they missed a big opportunity by not casting in a way that made it appear the ghost of Colin Clive’s Henry Frankenstein was really present and it’s the one detail I would change if I could.

Those issues aside, the film is otherwise a direct sequel to Son of Frankenstein, with Ygor (Bela Lugosi) still leading the Monster around in an attempt to fulfill his longterm goals. This is the film where the explanations for how the Monster survives from one film to the next start to become ridiculous. I can believe that the Monster dropped down into a cavern when the mill burned down in the first film, I can believe he survived the lab blowing up at the end of Bride of Frankenstein. However, you want me to believe that the Monster survived being dropped into boiling hot sulfur that then hardened around him? Nope, that’s one step too far (it gets more ridiculous from here).

Also, how is it that all of the Frankenstein children manage to get their hands on electrical equipment necessary for reviving the Monster? I can sort of understand how Wolf pulled it off by rebuilding the laboratory on the estate, but explain to me how and why Ludwig also has the right tools when it’s implied he’s a brain surgeon? Funny how that works isn’t it.

The Ghost of Frankenstein also starts the recurring subplot of giving the Monster a new brain to “fix” him (a plot point that will return in House of Frankenstein). It’s an interesting thought, though I notice no one ever explains to the Monster that this would essentially erase him from existence (since the brain is what makes everything work). I was suitably impressed by how the combination of Ygor and the Monster came off (the Monster is perfectly dubbed with Ygor’s voice). The explanation for why it doesn’t work is also perfectly simple and, it makes sense.

The Ghost of Frankenstein isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is definitely below the three films that came before it. A significant stretching of the imagination is required to enjoy this film without asking any questions about how it works (I particularly roll my eyes when the Monster is “recharged” by bolts of lightning). Your mileage will definitely vary on how much you enjoy this film.

Let me know what you think about The Ghost of Frankenstein in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Frankenstein (1931)

My Thoughts on: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

My Thoughts on: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Film Reviews

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My Thoughts on: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Once I got my hands on the Universal Classic Monster 30 film collection (on blu-ray, it’s excellent and I highly recommend it), I was briefly stymied as to where I should start with so many classic horror films to choose from. And then it dawned on me: I’d already watched Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), it follows that I should continue the pattern with Son of Frankenstein (1939).

As the title implies, Son of Frankenstein follows the adventures of Henry Frankenstein’s eldest son Wolf (an almost neurotic Basil Rathbone), a plot development likely necessitated by the death of Colin Clive two years earlier in 1937. There is, however, a delightful homage to the actor in the form of a gorgeous oil painting that hangs in the main hall of Castle Frankenstein. In a way then, Clive literally looms over the story, though he is not physically present. I also like that the film reveals, in part, what happened to Henry after Bride of Frankenstein. Far from getting off scot-free in regards to creating these monsters, it seems that the truth came out and Henry spent the rest of his life shunned by the community and deep down never gave up his dreams of creating life. Unfortunately, one can only imagine what Clive would have brought to a third Frankenstein film, but these homages and references really are a nice touch.

In a further nod to continuity, Frankenstein’s laboratory is in ruins from the explosion that decimated it in the conclusion of Bride of Frankenstein (we’re meant to forget the fact that the building was completely demolished at the end of that film). Wolf Frankenstein has returned with his family in an attempt to make a new life there, but due to all the events with Frankenstein’s monster, the welcome is less than warm. Matters become unbelievably complicated when the hideous Ygor (Bela Lugosi in a brilliant performance) reveals to Wolf that the Monster is in fact alive, but injured. For the record, I believe these injuries are why the Monster can no longer speak (having learned to do so in Bride of Frankenstein).

This is the first Frankenstein film I saw that made it perfectly clear where Young Frankenstein (the Mel Brooks spoof) got a big chunk of its source material from (The Ghost of Frankenstein being the other). There’s something that makes it different from the two films that came before it, and I’m still struggling to put a finger on exactly what it is. Basil Rathbone, as I mentioned before, puts in a somewhat neurotic performance as Wolf Frankenstein, but it’s still an enjoyable performance, especially as you watch him get drawn into his father’s work bit by bit.

And speaking of Wolf….Son of Frankenstein has an unintentionally hilarious (at least I think it’s unintentional) moment where Wolf basically gives the Monster a complete physical in order to find out how he functions. There’s something surreal about watching the Monster’s blood pressure get taken, blood drawn, X-rays given, just like he’s a normal person (though one can argue the Monster is hardly normal). It’s also interesting, by the way, to watch Wolf and the Monster interact. When they first meet, I think it’s implied that the Monster mistakenly believes Wolf to be his father, hence his initial reaction to strangle Wolf. And then, most interesting, the Monster stops mid-action, as if it dawns on him that “this isn’t my creator, this is someone else.” It’s one of my favorite moments in the entire film.

I was also surprised to learn that THIS is the film where Ygor first appears. I grew up believing that Ygor was always a part of the Frankenstein story but that is simply not true. In the book, Frankenstein has no assistant at all, and in the first film his assistant is named Fritz. It’s well worth the wait though to finally see Ygor. Bela Lugosi is brilliant as the hunchbacked friend of the monster with a hideously disformed neck (they tried to hang him but it didn’t stick). I still haven’t figured out yet if I like Ygor or hate him, because Lugosi plays him so well, you’re not sure what to think about him.

One other detail I have to mention that is the presence of Wolf’s son Peter (Donnie Dunagan). First of all, cool trivia point: if Donnie’s voice sounds familiar that’s because he’s the voice of young Bambi in the 1942 film of the same name. He’s so adorable, and I love how any time he enters the scene, all the action briefly pivots to center on him (he was all of 4 at the time). Peter is also part of my second favorite scene in the film, when he innocently tells his father about the “friendly giant” that’s been visiting him in his bedroom (re: the Monster). The moment when little Peter imitates the Monster’s walk (making it crystal clear whose been visiting him), complete with a snipped of the Monster’s musical theme, is one of my favorite moments in the film, not least because of the complete panic in Wolf’s reaction to it.

Son of Frankenstein is, unfortunately, not quite up to the level of Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein, but it remains an enjoyable film, the last to feature Boris Karloff in the role of Frankenstein’s Monster. I would recommend watching this film once you make your way through the first two Frankenstein films.

Let me know what you think about Son of Frankenstein in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Frankenstein (1931)

My Thoughts on: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

My Thoughts on: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Film Reviews

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

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My Thoughts on: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Having watched Frankenstein (1931) already for this year’s Halloween celebrations, it goes without saying that I had to watch the equally famous follow up Bride of Frankenstein (1935) as well. This is the film you’ll always hear about when people mention sequels that are superior to the original film, and boy does Bride of Frankenstein fall into this category. It’s not that Frankenstein is a bad film (it isn’t), it’s just that Bride of Frankenstein improves on the original in so many areas that it makes the original film look primitive in comparison.

While a sequel to Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein is still based on plot concepts found in the Frankenstein novel. In fact, the entire concept of a “bride of Frankenstein” comes from the second half of the book when the Monster demands Victor Frankenstein build a mate for him, so that he can live the rest of his life apart from human society (which he has sworn off for rejecting him), but with the company of one of his own kind so he won’t be lonely. That attempt ends badly as Frankenstein rejects the idea, destroying the “bride” just as he’s about to give her life. In the film, of course, this doesn’t happen and we get to see the Bride of Frankenstei (Elsa Lanchester) n take her first steps on screen (though don’t expect too much, the Bride only gets about 3 minutes of screen time).

What makes the plot of Bride of Frankenstein really interesting is that Henry Frankenstein (played one last time by Colin Clive) isn’t the mad scientist villain of the story this time around. That dubious honor goes to Dr. Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), one of Frankenstein’s old professors, who has dabbled with the power of life in his own twisted way and now wants to use Frankenstein’s talents to build a female equivalent to the Monster (why is never made quite clear). Frankenstein, for his part, wants nothing to do with it, but Pretorius coerces him into it and the plot proceeds from there.

Unlike Frankenstein, which is pure horror and drama straight through, Bride of Frankenstein has a touch of comedy about it, mostly in the scenes with Minnie (Una O’Connor). I’ve never quite known how to feel about this, as I feel that it doesn’t always fit. Take, for example, the scene at the beginning of the film when Minnie comes face to face with the not-dead-after-all Monster and runs away gibbering down the mountainside. It’s funny, but it’s a complete 180 from what we just saw (the Monster killing Maria’s parents). However, the dry humor of Dr. Pretorius is most welcome, as it helps to highlight just how evil he is, especially when you compare it to Frankenstein’s manic joy (and despair) when he created his own monster in the first film. Frankenstein feels the consequences of his actions, Dr. Pretorius does not. In fact, sometimes I get the feeling the mad doctor views all of this as a colossal joke.

This film does have one of the most beautiful (and heartbreaking) moments in the story of Frankenstein’s monster, and that’s when the Monster comes across the blind hermit. Every time I see this sequence I think “if only there had been a way to leave these two in peace together.” It’s not only touching to see the two become friends, with the Monster learning to more or less talk in simple sentences, it’s also further proof that, given the opportunity, the Monster would prefer to live in peace and not engage in wanton destruction. In other words, he has the capacity for good somewhere inside him, but almost no one can see it because they’re distracted by his appearance. Of course it wouldn’t be much of a horror film if it ended that way, so the Monster is conveniently forced away from the hermit so the story can continue.

I find it interesting that Boris Karloff didn’t want the Monster to speak. It seems the actor felt the performance of the Monster was far more effective when it was all pantomime (like in the first film). I enjoyed that performance, but I don’t agree with Karloff’s thoughts on the matter. It seems to me the logical next step in the Monster’s development would be for him to develop speech. After all, the book version of the Monster could speak quite well, why not the film version also? Besides, without the Monster learning to talk, we wouldn’t have gotten one of the best lines in horror film history:

The Monster (to Frankenstein & Elizabeth): Yes! Go! You live!

(To Pretorius & The Bride): You stay. We belong dead.

More on the ending in a little bit…..

Considering she’s on screen for less than five minutes, I find the Bride of Frankenstein to be utterly fascinating. Given that she’s Frankenstein’s second creation, it makes sense that she’d be far more glamorous and beautiful than the first Monster. After all, the second time you do something is usually easier and you can fix any mistakes you might’ve made the first time. Hence the reason the Bride has perfect proportions, and except for some scars around her chin and neck looks completely human. I love that after her reveal, the camera cuts around to different angles highlighting how beautiful the Bride is.

I’ve also long thought that the Bride’s reaction to the Monster isn’t what you think. Remember in the first film how the Monster reacted badly to the fire and he ended up chained up because of it? Well, I think the Bride is only reacting to Frankenstein in fear because she was a) just created a matter of moments ago and b) doesn’t know how to talk or express her feelings yet. If there had been more time, maybe the Bride could have been made to understand but the problem is that Pretorius clearly promised the Monster that the Bride would love him. Once the Monster feels he’s been rejected, that brings out the end of the story.

Now back to the ending that I referenced before. I love how, in just a few sentences, the Monster is able to sum up how Frankenstein deserves to live while the rest (including himself) deserve to die. Frankenstein deserves life because he has Elizabeth who needs him and, I’m pretty sure the Monster has observed that Frankenstein was only involved in the Bride’s creation because Pretorius forced him too. For that alone, the Monster is willing to let his creator go. Pretorius, on the other hand, has no excuse. He dragged the Monster into this, and the Monster has already admitted before now that he “hates living.”

I also need to stop and mention Franz Waxman’s gorgeous score for Bride of Frankenstein, the biggest difference between this film and the original Frankenstein. If you’ll remember, the 1931 film, apart from some opening and closing music, has no score at all. The music in Bride of Frankenstein is practically wall to wall and I love every minute of it. Each of the major characters has their own leitmotif, and it just helps to propel Bride of Frankenstein to even greater heights. Honestly, the music is so good it deserves a blog post of its own, so I’ll pause on the discussion of the music for now.

One interesting final detail I want to mention: if you watch the ending when the laboratory explodes very closely, you’ll notice that Frankenstein is still in there (he’s pressed against the wall on the left hand side of the room). This is because originally Frankenstein was supposed to die with the rest of them. But Universal insisted on a “happy ending” so the scene was hastily rewritten for Frankenstein to escape with Elizabeth just before the building exploded. But there was no money in the budget to reshoot the destruction scene, so the error remains.

Bride of Frankenstein is, in my opinion, the best Frankenstein film ever made, and one of the enduring highlights of Universal’s Classic Monsters era. 85 years later, they haven’t come close to topping this film (and I hope they never do).

Let me know what you think about Bride of Frankenstein in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Frankenstein (1931)

My Thoughts on: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

My Thoughts on: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Film Reviews

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook

My Thoughts on: Frankenstein (1931)

When I decided that I was going to embrace the Halloween spirit and watch “Halloween-ish” movies during the month of October, I knew that Frankenstein (1931) had to be somewhere on that list. This film, to me, is essential viewing for the Halloween season, as I consider it to be the most iconic film ever made about Frankenstein and his Monster (here portrayed brilliantly by Boris Karloff).

As you might expect, Frankenstein sets out to tell the story of Henry Frankenstein (renamed from Victor for some reason and also played brilliantly by Colin Clive), and his quest to imbue a body of his own creation (Boris Karloff) with life. While the experiment works, things quickly go sideways and soon the Monster is terrorizing the countryside (though whether or not he’s aware that he’s doing so is something I’ll address later). At the same time, Frankenstein is also hoping to get married to his long-suffering sweetheart Elizabeth (Mae Clarke) to ease the mind of his equally long-suffering father (Frederick Kerr).

Truthfully, having read the original Frankenstein novel, I can tell you that this film only bears a superficial resemblance to Mary Shelley’s story about “the modern Prometheus.” Most of the book’s plot, in fact, is excised to allow the film to center around the Monster being given life and the chaos that follows. Possibly the biggest difference between book and film is that the loquacious Monster in the book is almost completely silent in the film, his speech being limited to grunts and cries of pain and anger. It’s somewhat disappointing, as Karloff had a beautiful voice and I believe would’ve done justice to the Monster’s lines in the book. However, I understand what director James Whale was going for in this film, and also support the notion of a Monster that cannot talk, at least at the beginning (this changes in the sequel film The Bride of Frankenstein).

However, despite all these differences from the source novel, Frankenstein is a wonderful film and remains an iconic take on the story of Frankenstein and his Monster. While bearing a different name, Colin Clive’s Henry Frankenstein remains for me the iconic take on the titular character. He’s filled with a nervous energy that becomes especially palpable during the scene of the Monster’s creation. I’ve yet to see anyone else play the role of Frankenstein and top this performance.

I think my favorite scene in the film is the Monster’s creation scene. This is what I always imagined the creation scene looked like in the Frankenstein story (and I was so disappointed to discover the book does NOT tell you how Frankenstein brought the Monster to life) and it’s spine-tingling to hear Frankenstein howling with joy “It’s alive….IT’S ALIVE!!!” Surrounded by the crackling electricity, it’s an exciting moment that’s just pure in its intentions.

The biggest element the film gets right is the doubt it sows throughout about the Monster’s intentions. While the Monster of the book is undoubtedly a cunning creature inclined to villainy once it experiences rejection on multiple levels, the Monster of this film is another matter entirely. While the story almost immediately sets up the idea that the Monster will be and MUST be evil because an abnormal brain was used in its creation, the Monster’s action throughout the film suggest something else. Think about it…what evil did the Monster do and in what context? Yes, he did kill Frankenstein’s assistant Fritz but only after the latter tormented him with fire (the thing he hates above all else) even after being told to stop. True, he also killed Dr. Waldman but to be fair the latter was about to euthanize him and the Monster, being a living being, naturally wanted to continue living. Waldman somewhat brought his fate on itself by not being open at any time to the idea that the Monster was anything but evil. And after that, the scene with little Maria, anyone can see that her death was a tragic accident. The Monster was clearly enjoying playing with the little girl, and only threw her into the pond because he’d run out of things to throw and thought she would float like the pretty flower boats. This version of the Monster, I believe, is not inherently evil at all, but is only acting the best way he knows how, and it’s only through a series of errors that the entire village is stirred up against him.

Speaking of getting stirred up, I find it so interesting that no one in the village ever finds out that the monster Frankenstein is helping to hunt down was created by Frankenstein himself. You’ll notice Frankenstein never publicly volunteers the information that he created this monster that he’s working to destroy. Sure, he feels guilty about what he’s done, but not enough to publicly confess. I’m not sure if that’s hypocritical or selfish on Frankenstein’s part (or maybe both), but it is interesting.

And I think the biggest clue of all that the Monster in this film is not evil is how he reacts when the mill is set on fire. Fearing fire above all else, the Monster is clearly afraid, in pain, and just wanting to be left alone. It’s heartrending to watch, and it makes me wonder how the story could’ve been so different if Frankenstein had taken more care with his creation instead of immediately chaining him up the instant he wasn’t 100% obedient to him.

One more interesting detail I wanted to point out is that there’s really no music in this film except for the opening and closing titles of the film. In some scenes (like the Monster’s creation), this could probably be argued as a creative decision. However, I also know that in 1931 many films didn’t have proper musical soundtracks as we understand them today. This is largely because, while the technology of making a “talking film” had largely been figured out, the technology of making a “talking film with music in the background” had not. Hence, except for the village celebration scenes (and the opening/closing titles), there is no background music in Frankenstein. You’ll note, however, that this issue was corrected by the time of The Bride of Frankenstein in 1935.

I know it’s an older film, but I highly recommend adding Frankenstein (1931) to your Halloween viewing list. It’s classic horror in every sense of the word and really you should watch it for Boris Karloff’s performance alone.

Let me know what you think about Frankenstein (1931) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

My Thoughts on: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

My Thoughts on: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

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My Thoughts on: Halloween (1978)

*deep breath* I did it. I’m scared out of my mind but I did it, I watched the original Halloween from beginning to end without stopping.

I should explain: I’ve had a fixation with horror/slasher movies for years, by which I mean I’m fascinated by them but I’ve always been too scared to watch them (being the kind that scares quite easily). However, this year, with everything that’s been going on in the world, I decided that now was the perfect time to dive in and check out some of the films that I’ve always been too scared to try in the past (YOLO right?). The original Halloween seemed like the perfect place to start (and also like the one I’d be most likely to get through given my other options were A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th).

If you haven’t seen it, Halloween is the first film to feature the silent killer Michael Myers (Nick Castle), who might be the Boogeyman given how callous he is when it comes to killing people. Fifteen years after committing a brutal murder (in a first person sequence that had me scared to death), Michael escapes from an asylum to return to the scene of the crime…and it’s on Halloween night. Michael is pursued by his doctor, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance), who hopes to stop Michael before it’s too late. Unfortunately, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is in for a Halloween she will never forget.

I knew going in that I’d be scared, but my God…..from the moment the film started I was neck deep in a sea of tension. And why? Because of that iconic music!!! You know what I’m talking about: that spooky piano melody that permeates the film. As soon as I hear it, it sends chills up my spine and puts me completely on edge. And that music can start at ANY time, you never know when it’s going to start up again, and it just makes things so scary! Speaking of music, I was also spooked by the sudden “moan” that comes into the music whenever Michael lunges out for the kill. It’s almost just as terrifying as the iconic theme. This is definitely one of those films where the music 100% contributes to the terror.

Despite this feeling, it actually takes most of the film for things to get messy (i.e. violent). Except, by that point (when Michael finally comes after Laurie), the tension has become completely unbearable. By this point (when Laurie finds out what’s happened to her friends), I’ve been watching Michael stalk (and kill) for over an hour, and I’m thoroughly spooked. So much so, in fact, that when Michael’s face slowly appears out of a darkened doorway behind Laurie, I swear to God I nearly screamed in terror. THAT is how you do a scary horror movie, build the tension to by-God-unimaginable levels of terror and then turn the scary killer loose on whoever’s left standing. I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep tonight, but by God I can admit when a film is well done, and that was well done indeed! (Also, I had no idea the sound of breathing could be made to sound so scary!)

Donald Pleasance is a joy to watch in this film. The way he talks about Michael speaks volumes about the silent character, how soulless and evil he is. Which is quite helpful since, as Michael himself never speaks, we have no way of knowing anything about him other than what Dr. Loomis tells us. I think what got to me the most though, was how calm Dr. Loomis was about it all, like he expected all of this would happen sooner or later. Then again, there was a pretty blatant hint about “unescapable fate” early in the film….

I identify so strongly with Laurie Strode it scared me to death. Like Laurie, I was the goody-two-shoes who focused on her studies, babysat, and wasn’t really interested in boys. I could easily see myself in her place and it was scaaaaary (particularly when Laurie was hiding in the closet). Even though I knew Laurie would come out of this alive (I always read plot summaries for films that I know will scare me so I know where most of the jump scares are), the film does such a good job of making it scary that I was freaked out the whole time.

Honestly, I have no idea how I’m going to sleep soundly tonight. I haven’t been this scared in I don’t know how long. Halloween was just as scary as I always thought it would be, but it wasn’t quite for the reasons I thought. The terror comes from the tension and anticipation of what Michael will do, less on what he actually does (although that’s just as scary too).

Am I glad I watched Halloween? Ultimately, yes, yes I am. I got through it, and even though I was really scared I didn’t turn it off. Will I be watching the movie again anytime soon? Ehh…..I wouldn’t hold my breath on that (it’ll probably be a yearly thing….maybe). I am really proud of myself though, for finally watching what everyone told me was an iconic horror film (and they were right!)

Let me know what you think about Halloween in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: The Blues Brothers (1980)

Unbelievably, one of my favorite childhood films turned 40 this year. I grew up watching The Blues Brothers and it’s remained one of my favorite comfort movies to watch (the kind that I’ve seen so many times I can quote most of it). Not too long ago I rewatched the film for the first time in a long time and I thought I’d put down my thoughts on it.

The Blues Brothers is based on the comedy duo and titular band created by Dan Akroyd and the late John Belushi. They originally debuted their act on Saturday Night Live (yes, really) in 1976 before creating a rhythm and blues band (that you see in the film) that became so legitimately popular that the idea was spawned to create a movie about them.

The entire plot of the film borders on the ridiculous, but as it’s played completely straight it works! Here’s the plot in a nutshell: Jake (who’s just gotten out of prison) and Elwood Blues find themselves tasked by the Penguin (the nun who runs the orphanage they grew up in) to find $5000 to help bail out the orphanage or it will be closed down. Jake is inspired by a wild church service (led by James Brown) to get their old band back together and raise the money with a few concerts. Things quickly go sideways (Nazis, crazy ex-girlfriends, LOTS of cops), but as Elwood says “They’ll never catch us, we’re on a mission from God.”

I’m glossing over some details but the entire story is comedy gold as most of the film is one long, extended chase with musical interludes. The chase starts early on when Elwood gets nabbed for allegedly running a red light, and doesn’t fully stop until the final scene of the movie. And as the chase continues it gets bigger, and bigger, and funnier. By the end of the film, the Blues Brothers are being chased by (in no particular order): over a hundred cops, the Army, Nazis, a SWAT team, and a tank! It’s wild watching all of these forces gather to hunt down two guys who are legitimately trying to do the right thing for an orphanage but the way the film builds it up it just feels like the natural climax to everything that’s happened.

Yes, it’s true, there really are Nazis in this film by the way but don’t worry, they’re all portrayed as buffoons that no one likes. They all receive their comeuppance in glorious fashion (but not before they get their own chase segment with “Ride of the Valkyries” playing in the background, a sequence that never fails to get a laugh out of me).

And of course, I have to mention the great music that fills this movie. Every number is iconic and features so many musical greats: James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, just to name a few. Each song is so much fun to listen to (I love watching Aretha Franklin sing “Respect”), and very memorable. Of all the musical segments in this film, my absolute favorite is Cab Calloway’s rendition of “Minnie the Moocher.” It feels like a throwback to an earlier era of movies, which I think might be the point of the segment, but still, I love it. Of course, this film is also a reminder that most of these musical legends aren’t with us anymore (but that’s to be expected with a 40 year old film).

Also, I have to mention that I love that Carrie Fisher is in this movie. Growing up, it used to be the weirdest experience for me to see her in this film (because all I knew her from was Star Wars), so the first few times I saw her, I would always think “Why is Princess Leia in this film?” The way the film waits until late in the story to explain who she is and WHY she’s doing what she’s doing is just hysterically funny to me, because her actions feel like the most random of all until you get that explanation.

What I’m trying to say is that The Blues Brothers is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, and remains so 40 years after it first came out. You definitely need to see this film if you haven’t already.

Let me know what you think about The Blues Brothers in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: Casper (1995)

For the first time in perhaps, ever, I’ve decided to fully embrace the spirit of Halloween by watching (and reviewing) a number of “Halloween-ish” movies, many of which I haven’t watched in a long time (and some I haven’t watched at all). At the top of this list was Casper, a film I’ve watched many times over the years, but hadn’t seen in a while. I previously watched The Wicker Man and The Adventures of Ichabod Crane, but as I’ve already reviewed those films, I decided to start my coverage with Casper.

Casper, as the name implies, is based on the comic book character “Casper the Friendly Ghost” and expands on that character’s backstory. In this film, Casper lives at the condemned Whipstaff Manor (a gorgeous mansion that I would totally live at if it were real), along with his three ill-mannered (and disgusting) uncles: Stretch, Stinkie, and Fatso (I’ve never liked them). His lonely existence turns upside down when Kat (Christina Ricci) arrives with her father Dr. James Harvey (Bill Pullman) at the request of spoiled-brat-heiress Carrigan Crittenden (Cathy Moriarty), who wants the ghosts removed from the house so she can claim the “treasure” that supposedly lies inside.

For being 25 years old (yes, really!!) Casper holds up extremely well. The CGI is impressively convincing (especially when you consider this movie was made in 1995 with the appropriate level of technology). Casper, in particular, is very well done, even with an upgrade to the Blu-Ray format. I really enjoyed re-watching the scene where Casper makes breakfast for Kat. And the scene where human Casper dances with Kat is still one of my favorites.

The story of Casper is pretty entertaining too. It’s a cross between a comedy that borders on raunchy (with pretty much anything involving the Ghostly Trio) and a young teen comedy (for anything involving Kat and Casper). Except, of course, for the scenes that involve Casper’s death or that little detail where we find out Casper’s dad was locked up in an asylum when he was on the cusp of bringing his son back to life. There’s some definite mood whiplash in Casper, but it doesn’t distract from the quality of the film in the slightest.

Even knowing all that, I still forgot how emotional this movie is. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on here or not, but I lost my grandmother this summer, and as a result the scene where Dr. Harvey reunites with Amelia (albeit briefly) hits me in a completely different way than it ever did before. This is also helped along by James Horner’s gorgeous score, which is truly one of the highlights of the film. “Casper’s Lullaby” (that haunting melody you hear when Amelia appears or is referenced) legitimately makes me cry every time I hear it. And, on a slightly petty note, I was reminded how much I HATE Amber (that snobby blonde who doesn’t like Kat), and it is so satisfying when she gets what’s coming to her from the Ghostly Trio.

There are, however, two plot points that have always bothered me about this film, and I want to mention them here. First, it is heavily implied that Amelia is now an angel in Heaven. If that’s the case, how in the world do the Ghostly Trio know her, never mind have access to her? Amelia crossed over and didn’t become a ghost, so shouldn’t it be impossible for them to contact her period? Also, how unfair is it that Amelia appears to Casper and Dr. Harvey, but not Kat?? I kinda hope Kat never found out about this meeting because how would you feel if your untimely departed mother came back to Earth for one night and didn’t come see you?? Though, now that I think about it, maybe she didn’t have to because Kat had already made peace with her mother’s passing? It still bothers me though.

Other random notes:

-I love ALL of the stained glass in Whipstaff Manor, if I were independently wealthy I would totally build a house based on Whipstaff (secret passages and all).

-Carrigan’s comeuppance at the end of the film is so, so, SO satisfying. I’m positively gleeful when she gets tricked into crossing over.

-One other Carrigan note: it’s kinda scary how quickly she warms up to the idea of killing Dibs (she definitely has issues). Also, what kind of name is Carrigan??

-I’m pretty sure Dibs dies in this movie (the lawyer last seen being thrown out a window). After all, after he’s thrown through the window he’s never seen or heard from again.

In conclusion, I had a great time watching Casper again, and it will definitely be a regular part of my Halloween viewing lineup from here on out.

Let me know what you think about Casper in the comments below and have a great day!

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Dune “Main Theme” (1984)

With the Denis Villeneuve adaptation of Dune on the way, it only makes sense that I’d have all things “Dune” on the brain as of late, and that includes the music of the 1984 film that did its best but ultimately fell short of being a satisfying adaptation. Despite its flaws, I maintain that the 1984 adaptation of Dune is a fairly satisfying film, not least because of its musical score from Toto and Brian Eno.

One of my favorite musical moments in Dune is the main theme, which opens the story and recurs at pivotal moments. Take a moment and listen to the main theme of Dune below:

I love this theme because of how effective it is. It’s a simple enough melody but by thrumming up in the strings and brass it communicates the idea of power and growing tension, both themes that can be found throughout the story of Dune (as controlling Arrakis and the spice grants power and there’s unending tension between the Atreides/Fremen and the Harkonnens throughout the story).

It also, as I said before, recurs at pivotal moments throughout the film, and I’ll look at two of those moments as examples. The first example comes when Paul is summoning a sandworm for the Fremen. The theme begins when the massive sandworm is first seen rising up from the endless dunes. The placement of the music and visual image is pretty brilliant here, as the music rises up in conjunction with the worm, really making you feel the appearance of shai-hulud (the Fremen name for sandworms).

Notably, the main theme continues in a higher register once Paul has control of the sandworm, ending on a triumphant tone as the scene ends. This is one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie, and it’s all because of this wonderful music.

The second example I’d like to look at is at the end of the film, when Paul demonstrates his power as the Kwisatz Haderach. As Paul exerts all his power to cause rain to fall on Arrakis, the main theme recurs yet again. Now, instead of the sandworm’s power being highlighted, it’s Paul and his power that we’re being drawn to by the music. He’s doing something that no human has ever done before, he’s causing rain to fall on a desert planet that likely hasn’t seen a rainstorm in a hundred generations, if ever. It’s set up as a fairly powerful moment and I feel the music is what makes it so. Check it out below:

Now, unlike the first example with the sandworm, this example uses the music in an entirely different way. The scene with the sandworm almost vibrated with raw power. Here, at the end of the film as Paul assumes absolute power, the music assumes a higher register, even including a choir at one point to highlight the awesomeness of what Paul is doing. This is a profound moment, so the music, though the melody is the same, has to be that much different to carry the point across to the audience. This is the ultimate expression of the main theme, nothing will ever surpass this (or at least that’s the intention).

Yes, it’s true, Dune has many, MANY flaws, but the music is not one of them, as I hope these examples with the main theme show. I really believe this score is underrated and should be given more attention. I hope you enjoyed listening to some examples of Dune’s main theme.

Let me know what you think about the main theme of Dune in the comments below and have a great day!

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Film Soundtracks A-W

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