A mad surgeon seeks revenge

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Released 8 July 1935, The Raven is, as might be expected from the title, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem. But just as with the previous year’s The Black Cat, it has very little to do with the source material. TPTB also once again insulted Béla Lugosi by billing him second to Boris Karloff, despite being the main character. To make it even worse, Lugosi only earned $5,000 for the film vs. Karloff’s $10,000.

At least seven people worked on the script from August 1934–March 1935. To avoid “running the risk of excessive horror,” the Production Code Administration forbade Universal from showing operation scenes, as well as much more horrific makeup for Karloff’s character.

The Netherlands, Ontario, British Columbia, and China were among the places which banned the film. The Raven was the final horror film approved by the British Board of Film Censors.

The Raven was also the last film in Universal’s trilogy of Poe-inspired films, the others being Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) and The Black Cat.

Young dancer Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) is injured in a horrible car accident, and all her doctors pronounce her too far gone to save. Her dad, Judge Thatcher (Samuel Hinds), and her fiancé Jerry Halden (Lester Matthews), however, refuse to abandon hope, and beg retired Dr. Richard Vollin (Lugosi) to operate.

Dr. Vollin has many reservations, and doesn’t think they should fear the natural, inevitable process of death, but finally is compelled into operating.

Jean and Dr. Vollin become close friends after the surgery, and Jean sees him as more of a god than a man. In the course of their friendship, Dr. Vollin tells Jean about his love of Edgar Allan Poe and shows her his macabre collection of torture devices. They’ve become so attached to one another, they want to marry.

Judge Thatcher is none too pleased to learn of their plans, particularly since Jean’s already engaged to another man. Dr. Vollin exchanges harsh words with Judge Thatcher before taking his leave in a huff.

Dr. Vollin sees a perfect window of opportunity for twisted revenge when a fugitive, Edmond Bateman (Karloff), comes to him and begs for surgery to disguise his appearance. No one will nab him for murder, bank robbery, and escaping prison if he looks nothing like his old self.

Dr. Vollin says he’s not a plastic surgeon, but asks Bateman for help in getting revenge on the Thatchers. Bateman refuses, saying he believes his anti-social behaviour is the result of being called ugly his entire life. A brand-new face is the perfect chance to turn over a new leaf.

Sorry about the obnoxious watermark on a public domain image!

Bateman is horrified to see the results of his surgery. The left side of his face is normal, but the right side is utterly deformed. Dr. Vollin cackles maniacally, from his observation post just above the operating room, as Bateman shoots at all the mirrors which emerge from behind curtains. Bateman tries to shoot Dr. Vollin next, but is out of ammo.

Having little choice, Bateman agrees to help Dr. Vollin in getting revenge. Dr. Vollin promises to fix his face if he does this.

Jean, Jerry, and Judge Thatcher are among the guests at a dinner party Dr. Vollin presently throws. When Jean goes to her guestroom to fix her hair, she sees Bateman standing behind her and is terrified. She rushes back downstairs, where Dr. Vollin calmly explains Bateman is his servant, and makes up a story about how his face came to be mutilated. Dr. Vollin also claims it’s natural for doctors to love death and torture.

Judge Thatcher has serious reservations about spending the night in Dr. Vollin’s house, but Jean and Jerry laugh off his fears.

With all the guests retired for the night, Dr. Vollin shows Bateman his dungeon, full of torture instruments from Poe’s work. While Dr. Vollin is lying on a torture slab from “The Pit and the Pendulum” to demonstrate how it works, Bateman throws the switch to manacle his hands and feet and start the swinging pendulum.

Dr. Vollin persuades Bateman to release him by saying Bateman’s face will remain disfigured if he dies.

As a thunderstorm rages, Dr. Vollin intensifies his Poeian plan for revenge, which grows more and more deranged by the minute.

Making a macabre mate for a monster

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Bride of Frankenstein, the first sequel to the 1931 classic Frankenstein, premièred 19 April 1935 in Chicago and went into general release the next day. Universal’s horror franchise was at its peak during the 1930s, with big budgets and strong scripts guaranteeing A pictures.

A sequel was in the works since the very successful preview screenings of the 1931 film, though director James Whale was very reticent to revisit the story. When he was finally convinced to take the job, he rejected several scripts from different writers. Finally, the work of William J. Hurlbut and Edmund Pearson was accepted and submitted to the infamous Hays Office for approval in November 1934.

Filming began 2 January 1935, with a budget almost equal to that of the original, $293,750 ($5.48 million in 2020). Shooting was projected to take 36 days, but went ten days over, wrapping on 7 March. Director Whale shut down production for ten days because O.P. Heggie wasn’t available to play the Hermit on schedule.

The final cost was $397,023 ($9.27 million today), over $100,000 ($1.86 million today) over budget. The final edit was finished just days before the première.

BOF earned $2 million by 1943 ($29.6 million now), with a profit margin of $950,000 ($14 million today). By and large, critics highly praised it, a reputation which has remained consistent over the last 85 years.

In 1988, BOF was added to the U.S. National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and it routinely appears on those incessant best-of lists.

Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their buddy Lord Byron are hanging out on a dark and stormy night. When the fellows praise Mary for her novel Frankenstein, she stresses her intention was to impart a moral lesson, not merely to entertain. She also says there’s more of the story yet to be told, since neither monster nor creator perished.

We then shift to the end of the 1931 film, when it looked as though the Monster was burnt alive in a windmill as a mob of angry villagers cheered. This euphoria is quickly dashed when they realise Dr. Henry Frankenstein is also probably burnt to a crisp along with his creation.

Hans, father of Maria (the little girl the Monster accidentally drowned in the first film), wants to see the remains to prove this menace is gone. Towards this end, and against his wife’s wishes and the Burgomeister’s orders, he makes his way to the still-burning windmill.

Curiosity kills the cat when Hans falls through a hole leading to a flooded cavern under the windmill, where the Monster lurks. Both Hans and his wife are killed. The Frankensteins’ servant Minnie (the hilarious Una O’Connor) comes upon the scene next, and flees in terror.

No one believes Minnie when she says the Monster is still very much alive.

Henry (Colin Clive) is taken home, where his fiancée Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) realises he’s not dead, just wounded and shocked. After Elizabeth lovingly nurses him back to health, Henry tries to settle down to a quiet, peaceful life, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men.

Dr. Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), Henry’s old mentor, visits and suggests Henry continue his experiments with reanimating the dead. Elizabeth has a very bad feeling about this.

Pretorius shows Henry a bunch of miniature people in jars—a king and queen, a ballerina, an archbishop, a mermaid, a devil. There’s a bit of humor when the king escapes his jar to be with the queen, resulting in Pretorius picking him up with tweezers and putting him back in his jar.

Creating a life-sized human is the ultimate goal, and Pretorius suggests they make a mate for the Monster. Pretorius will create the brain, and Henry will collect body parts.

Meanwhile, the Monster saves a shepherdess (Anne Darling) from drowning, and has his kindness repaid by screams. After two hunters wound the Monster, they alert the villagers, and presently an angry mob captures the Monster, takes him to a dungeon, and chains him up.

The Monster manages to escape and flees into the forest, as the mob continues hunting him. At night, he enters the cabin of a blind old hermit playing the violin, and for the very first time makes a friend. For so long, the hermit has been praying for a friend to take away his loneliness. The hermit also teaches him to speak.

Their newfound mutual happiness is short-lived, as very soon two lost hunters arrive and recognise the Monster. They can’t see the pure, kind-hearted creature the hermit does, and provoke him into accidentally burning down the cabin.

While hiding in a crypt, the Monster spies Pretorius and two other guys grave-robbing. After the other two leave, Pretorius tells the Monster about the plan to create a wife.

But will Henry hold up his end of the bargain in bringing this creature to life, and will the two monsters live happily ever after?

A lunatic lycanthrope lurks in London

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Released 13 May 1935, Werewolf of London was the very first well-known werewolf film. The film widely considered the first werewolf film, the 1913 short The Werewolf, was sadly lost in a 1924 fire at Universal Studios. The earliest surviving werewolf film, 1925’s Wolf Blood, takes forever to broach the idea of a man transmogrifying into a wolf, and shows no transformation at all. The filmmaking is also said to be awful even in the context of that era.

Though probably all classic horror fans consider Lon Chaney, Jr., the quintessential werewolf, Henry Hull does a solid job here. However, unlike Chaney’s Larry Talbot, the character here doesn’t evoke much sympathy or human warmth. It’s not hard to understand why his wife feels emotionally neglected.

Makeup artist Jack Pierce’s original look was identical to that of the later Wolf Man films, but TPTB vetoed it. They thought a simpler style would do a better job of making the werewolf’s true identity obvious to other characters.

Rich English botanist Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) travels to Tibet in search of the rare mariphasa flower, which is said to be the cure for lycanthropism and only blooms under the light of a full Moon. Despite being warned against this mission by a fellow Englishman (who’s been there for at least 40 years), he persists.

Wilfred and his assistant experience phantom pains and weird bodily movements as they make their way to the reportedly cursed valley where this flower is located, yet keep pressing on.

A werewolf attacks Wilfred just as he’s about to get the flower, leaving a long double-scratch on his arm and drawing blood. Wilfred, devoted to his mission, fights off the assailant and takes the flower.

Back in London, Wilfred throws himself into full-time experimenting and refuses to let anyone into his lab. This naturally makes his young wife Lisa (Valerie Hobson) feel quite neglected, and she begins spending a lot of time with her childhood friend Paul Ames (Lester Matthews).

Wilfred makes the reacquaintance of Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland), whom he very briefly met in the dark in Tibet. Dr. Yogami too is searching for the elusive mariphasa, for the same reasons, and asks Wilfred if his mission were successful. Though Dr. Yogami managed to get the flower, it died en route back to England.

Dr. Yogami says one bitten by a werewolf will also become a werewolf. Wilfred thinks this is a bunch of unscientific nonsense, but Dr. Yogami says there are two current cases of lycanthropism in London.

In the course of his research, Wilfred discovers he has indeed become a werewolf. Hair appears on his hands under the light of his lamp replicating moonbeams, which he’s using to try to make the flower bloom.

The mariphasa proves itself a successful antidote.

Dr. Yogami gets into the lab to speak with Wilfred again, and says this flower isn’t a cure, but just an antidote lasting a few hours. He also says a werewolf “instinctively seeks to kill the thing it loves best.”

In his house, Wilfred reads an old book which says a werewolf must kill at least one thing during a full Moon, or else become permanently affected. Lisa and Paul barge in while he’s reading, inviting him to a party. Wilfred refuses, and becomes very agitated when they turn on the lights. He claims he put medicine in his eyes and that light is very painful.

After they leave, Wilfred’s cat goes nuts, yowling, arching its back, hissing, and clawing at him. Wilfred looks at his hands and discovers he’s turning into a werewolf. Full of horror, he hurries towards the lab, only to find the mariphasa not blooming.

A strange howling fills the air, which piques the interest of everyone at the party. Lisa’s aunt Ettie (Spring Byington) reacts with laughter and odd comments. Out of concern, she’s taken up to her room, where Wilfred attacks her.

When Lisa and Paul come to investigate her screams, they find her alone and believe she had a nightmare or drank too much.

Wilfred then murders a woman in Goose Lane. This makes headline news, and an investigation is launched.

The mariphasa still refuses to bloom, and a full Moon is coming up. Wilfred begs off going riding with Lisa and Paul, and forbids Lisa to go. When he relents, he asks Lisa to promise she’ll be home before the Moon rises. This too is met with outrage, and Lisa stalks off with Paul.

Wilfred goes to rent a room out of town, hoping he’ll stay safely confined there and not turn into a werewolf. If he transforms anyway, he prays to be kept away from Lisa.

Since sometimes the answer to a prayer is “no,” Wilfred becomes a werewolf and jumps out of the locked window. The older women running this boardinghouse, Mrs. Whack and Mrs. Moncaster (Ethel Griffies and Zeffie Tilbury), provide great comic relief every time they’re onscreen.

Now the race to find the antidote and stay confined is on, before Wilfred can transform again and attack the one he loves most.

WeWriWa—The awkward first impression concludes

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m currently sharing from my recently-released How Kätchen Became Sparky, a book which I’ll always think of as The Very First, its title for many years. It’s set from August 1938–January 1939, as new immigrant Katharina Brandt, now called Katherine Small and nicknamed Sparky, seeks to become a real American girl without compromising her Judaism or German and Dutch customs. Meanwhile, her new best friend, Cinnimin Filliard, learns there’s more than one way to be a real American.

Sparky and her family are attending services at Beth Kehillah with her family on their first Sabbath in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, they don’t mesh well with these second-generation Americans. When several congregants try to make conversation after services, their differences become increasingly magnified. Mrs. Small and Sparky were just advised to stop dressing so modestly, and Mrs. Small was told not to cover her hair with a tichel (scarf).

“Thank you for that unsolicited advice.” Mrs. Small forced a smile. “My family will be going home for lunch now. I don’t suppose there’s a hospitality committee arranging for Sabbath meal invitations for newcomers.”

“What would be the point of that?” the second husband asked. “If there is one, we’ve never cared enough to inquire. Your family is too religious for this congregation. You’d be better-off attending an Orthodox synagogue.”

Sparky was awash in humiliation as her family made their way out.

The nine lines end here. A few more follow to finish this section.

“It’s only the first visit,” Mrs. Small said. “We shouldn’t rule it out so swiftly. Perhaps this wasn’t the most ideal day, or we encountered the wrong people. If it still doesn’t feel like an ideal fit in a few months, we can go elsewhere. First impressions are wrong sometimes.”

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I’d hoped to have the paperback version ready to go within a week or two of the e-book release, but it turned out to be a slightly longer process than I expected. I also took a break of about two weeks to start work on the final draft of the book formerly known as The Very Next. The print version will definitely finally be ready before Halloween!

WeWriWa—The bad impression gets even worse

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weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m currently sharing from my recently-released How Kätchen Became Sparky, a book which I’ll always think of as The Very First, its title for many years. It’s set from August 1938–January 1939, as new immigrant Katharina Brandt, now called Katherine Small and nicknamed Sparky, determinedly seeks to become a real American girl without compromising her Judaism or German and Dutch customs. Meanwhile, her new best friend, Cinnimin Filliard, learns there’s more than one way to be a real American.

Sparky and her family are attending services at Beth Kehillah with her family on their first Sabbath in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, they don’t mesh well with these second-generation Americans. When several congregants try to make conversation after services, their differences become increasingly magnified.

“Most of the people here are second-generation Americans, not immigrants,” the second woman’s husband said in broken Yiddish. “I think you picked the wrong synagogue. You won’t fit in very well.”

A third woman leaned in to Mrs. Small and addressed her in Yiddish. “Do you typically wear a tichel over your hair, or is this just for synagogue?”

Mrs. Small touched the red and yellow scarf she’d tied her hair up underneath. “I usually wear hats in public, and wear a scarf for synagogue and around my home.” Like Mr. Small, she also answered in German. Yiddish wasn’t a language most people in Germany had used, outside of very insular, religious pockets.

The nine lines end here. A few more follow.

“I advise you to wear normal hats only from now on. You’ll look like an old-country peasant if you keep wearing scarves. It’s very out of place in a modern American synagogue. Perhaps you’ll feel more at home in one of the Orthodox congregations.” She cast a glance at Mrs. Small and Sparky’s long sleeves, high collars, and low hemlines. “There’s no need to dress so modestly either. You’re in America now.”