A tragic, misunderstood monster

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As it turns out, I could’ve done Frankenstein as my final vintage horror film of October, since what I thought were two 1921 horror films turned out to be horribly mistitled. But since I never immediately take down the Monster template and love Halloween so much, why not save the final film for early November?

Released 21 November 1931, this was the fourth film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s famous novel. (It was like nails on a chalkboard to see her seriously credited as “Mrs. Percy B. Shelley” in the opening credits! She published under her own name, not her husband’s name with the title Mrs. in front!) However, the film was more based on a 1927 play by Peggy Webling.

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James Whale directed, and Carl Laemmle, Jr. produced. The film stars Colin Clive as Henry (not Victor) Frankenstein; Mae Clarke (who took the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy) as his fiancée Elizabeth Lavenza; Dwight Frye as hunchbacked assistant Fritz; Edward van Sloan as Dr. Waldman; John Boles as friend Victor Moritz; and, last but not least, Boris Karloff (né William Henry Pratt) as the Monster. I like how there’s a question mark for the Monster’s actor in the opening cast list.

Universal Pictures had lost $2.2 million in revenues in 1930, but was rescued by the runaway hit Dracula in February 1931. Hence, Carl Laemmle, Jr., announced plans for more horror films. He knew a cash cow when he saw one.

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There were five sequels:

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) (with Lon Chaney, Jr., as the Monster)
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) (with Béla Lugosi as the Monster)
House of Frankenstein (1944) (with Glenn Strange as the Monster and Karloff as a mad scientist)

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Henry Frankenstein, a young scientist obsessed with the idea of creating life, has holed himself away in his lab in an abandoned watchtower with his assistant Fritz. Towards this most lofty goal, they dig up dead bodies and abscond with various body parts. One of these body parts is a brain Fritz grabs from the lecture hall of Henry’s old medical professor, Dr. Waldman.

Alas, he drops the healthy brain, and unrealizingly takes a criminal’s so-called “abnormal” brain in its place. As a modern viewer, and given the attitudes of the era, I have to wonder just why a criminal’s brain was automatically portrayed as “abnormal.” Was the deceased mentally ill, gay, left-handed, an anarchist? And what exactly was his crime?

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Henry’s fiancée Elizabeth is extremely concerned about what’s going on, and goes to his friend Victor for help. They in turn get Dr. Waldman to come with them to confront Henry about his bizarre behavior and hermitism. The three of them set off, and arrive during a terrible storm. Henry refuses to admit them at first, but finally relents.

Henry tells them to watch as he brings his creation to life. The moment is creeping ever closer, as soon as the strongest lightning strikes. Henry’s creation is moved from an operating table towards an opening near the roof, and when the booming thunder rings out, his ambition is finally realized.

The Monster is a simple, obedient, easy-going creature, until Fritz scares him with a lit torch. Henry and Dr. Waldman mistake his innocent fright for a dangerous attempted attack, and have him chained up. They abandon the Monster to his chains and Fritz’s sadistic torture with the torch.

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The Monster snaps under Fritz’s torture, and lashes out. After he attacks Fritz, he goes after Henry and Dr. Waldman, but they escape, and make plans to have him put down. First, Henry mixes a drug to be injected into the monster as soon as he’s released and tries to attack again. Once the Monster is unconscious, Henry departs for his wedding and leaves Dr. Waldman in charge of the euthanasia.

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The Monster awakes as Dr. Waldman is preparing to dissect him, and isn’t exactly happy. After attacking Dr. Waldman, he goes in search of his creator. Along the way, he has an encounter with a little girl named Maria, a farmer’s daughter. He’s so innocent and gentle, taking a childlike delight in throwing flowers into the water. In fact, he’s a bit too innocent, and doesn’t realize not all things float.

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His next stop is Henry’s house, where he goes after Elizabeth. Victor also brings the news that the Monster has attacked Dr. Waldman and escaped. By the time Elizabeth is found, the Monster has escaped again, and a mob of vigilantes set out on a search party, split three ways.

Henry becomes separated from the others during the search, leading to one final confrontation with the Monster.

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I really enjoyed this film, though at only 71 minutes, it felt a bit rushed and underdeveloped in spots. I wanted to see the Monster wreaking more havoc, and to get more of a window into his psychological and emotional state (i.e., truer to the book than the play). But judged for what it is and not what it’s not, I’d rate it 4.5 stars.

Happy Halloween!

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To mark Halloween, I’m presenting another Halloween chapter in its entirety. This year, it’s Chapter 10, “Harried Halloween,” of my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University (with some extra paragraph breaks!). The settings are NYC and the Twin Cities area, 1948. (If you want something much shorter, this is yesterday’s post. Or you could just scroll through my vintage images.)

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The morning of Halloween, Irina wakes up early and pulls together her costume.  Though she’s sure she won’t win any of the categories in the school’s contest at the party tonight, not even some honorable mention or sympathy prize, no one’s stopping her from coming to church in costume.

She wishes she had the guts to wear a sexy witch costume like Katya wore on her first date with Dmitriy, but she’d probably get arrested for indecent exposure, and get a lot of disgusting, randy reactions from all the male members of the species.  Irina and her older sisters are built like Lyuba, with womanly curves in all the right places, and they’ve never attempted to hide it in loose clothing.  Wearing that kind of costume would make Irina look like even more of a siren than a girl without much of a bustline or hips.

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This year, Irina has elected to wear a saloon girl costume.  It shows off her best assets without making her look like some shameless harlot, and isn’t dull, bland, or cliché like some of the costumes she has no doubt she’ll be seeing today, like a clown, pumpkin, or fairy.  She’s chosen the classic red dress with black lace, white silk stockings held up by black garters, black block heels, peacock feathers for her hair, and a red feather boa she scrounged up somewhere.

For a final risqué touch, she gave herself a second set of ear piercings last night after she was supposed to be in bed.  She has French hook peacock feather earrings in her five-year-old original ear piercings, and golden French hook earrings with three purple pearls in the new piercings.  Never one to skimp on jewelry, Irina adds a blue opal bracelet to her right hand, a fire opal bracelet to her left hand, and a lapis lazuli necklace.

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Irina has a few costume rings, though she doesn’t want to add even more jewelry and crowd herself.  She’s realized, through the last few years of starting to cultivate her own style, that it’s all about moderation and even, tasteful distribution.  Too many loud colors and patterns, or too much jewelry, will only serve to distract attention away from what she set out to accentuate.  A striking costume necklace will get lost among five other necklaces, or people will only look at a bunch of animal prints instead of a jaguar print collar complemented by blacks and purples.

Ivan almost drops his tea when Irina saunters down to the breakfast table, and Lyuba shrieks.  Irina just takes her seat, as though she’s wearing an ordinary outfit and not the raciest thing she’s ever worn.

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“What is this!” Ivan runs for a black shawl and throws it over Irina’s shoulders. “You can’t go to church looking like that, or your school’s party!  You’ll be suspended again, and your mother and I could be arrested for letting you leave the house like that!”

“Oh, take it easy, Papa.  It’s Halloween, not a regular day.  I’m a saloon girl, not a nun.  You can’t honestly expect me to wear a conservative gown like Anastasiya for this kind of costume.”

“There’s a lot of happy medium between Voroshilova’s stupid outfits and this!  Do you want boys or, God forbid, grown men to make catcalls and touch you?”

“I’m not revealing anything I shouldn’t.  My boa covers my shoulders enough, and my skirt meets the fingertip rule.”

Lyuba gets a closer look at Irina’s ears and shrieks again. “Please tell me those are just clip-ons!  You can’t go to church looking like some Gypsy, and after today, you can’t get away with that by claiming it as part of some costume.”

“They’re real, and I already love them.  It didn’t hurt too much, and it only took about fifteen minutes.”

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Ivan crosses himself when he realizes Irina has given herself a second set of ear piercings. “What did you do something like that for!  That’s not what nice Russian girls do, or even nice American girls!  At least tell us you’ll take those ridiculous things out after today, and let them heal up.  I’ve never heard of going to so much effort for a costume that just lasts one day.”

“Oh, believe me, I’ll keep them forever.  It really goes with my unique sense of style.  I love creating my own fashions instead of doing what everyone else does.  I’m already one of only a few girls at that damned school with real pierced ears, and now I’ll be the only one with two sets.”

“I bet you anything they make you take them out on Monday.  Father Demofil might order you to leave church and not come back till you can put on something decent.  When have you ever seen anyone come to church dressed like that?  I bet even that crazy Katrin’s outlandish Unitarian church doesn’t allow that.  Dress codes exist for a reason.”

5611835 (9001135) Cyd CHARISSE (*08.03.1921 - 17.06.2008), amerikanische Schauspielerin und T‰nzerin, posiert zwischen K¸rbissen in einem Hexenkost¸m mit Besen, 1949. [Nutzung nur mit Genehmigung und gegen Honorar, Beleg, Namensnennung und zu unseren AGB. Nur zur redaktionellen Verwendung. Honorare an: KEYSTONE Pressedienst, HASPA, BLZ 20050550, Kto. 1235130877], s/w, 20. Jahrhundert, Personen, Name= Charisse, Cyd, a00694, amerikanische, br¸nett, Br¸nette, geb. 08.03.1921, gest. 17.06.2008, Schauspielerin, T‰nzerin, Hochformat, Innenaufnahme, 1940er Jahre, Halloween, Kost¸m, kost¸miert, Hexe, Hexenkost¸m, Besen, K¸rbisse, posert, posieren, posierend

“If it bothers you that much, I’ll keep this stupid shawl on during church, but I’ll only wear the boa to the party.  Almost no one likes me at that stupid school, and now I’ll show them up at their own party.  I’ll have the most creative, unique costume by far, even if they won’t award me any prizes.  I’m the new girl, and don’t deserve to have my existence acknowledged.  Anyone not there since kindergarten or first grade doesn’t count, and might as well be a wild animal in their midst.”

“What about that nice new friend of yours, the short-haired girl with the odd name and purple eyeglasses?” Lyuba asks. “Even she wouldn’t wear something so offbeat and harlot-like.”

“I won’t know till I see her tonight.  She stands out from the crowd too, so I bet you anything she won’t exactly be wearing some boring nurse or cat costume.”

“Can Toma and I wear our costumes to church too?” Sonyechka pleads.

“No,” Lyuba and Ivan say in one voice.

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Irina serves herself hard-boiled eggs, toast with blueberry jam, and tomato slices.  Her family still takes Communion almost every single week, but since her parents have adopted the celebration of Halloween, they treat this modern, Western holiday similar to a feast in the Orthodox calendar, and thus don’t feel the need to fast or take Communion.  This pleases Ivan to no end, since he begs for breakfast all other Sundays of the year, as though he’s a small child who can’t understand why his wishes aren’t being met.

“Maybe the custom at Father Demofil’s church is to let people wear Halloween costumes,” Tamara says with a mouth full of tomatoes. “Then we’ll all be the odd ones out, while Irinushka will look like the normal one.”

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Ivan fixes her with a meaningful look. “Halloween isn’t an Orthodox holiday.  Even our All Souls’ Day isn’t the same day as in the Western churches.  At best, some Orthodox churches suggest people do something for All Hallows’ Eve to conform to the dominant culture in an appropriate, understandable way and keep people from observing the real Halloween.  It’s unusual enough we observe Halloween.  Many other Russians have nothing to do with this holiday.”

The girls finish their breakfasts quickly and put on their fur coats while Ivan warms up the Ford.  Lyuba is still shaking her head and fretting as they join Ivan in the car, while Irina keeps insisting there’s nothing immodest about her costume.  It covers everything vital, and isn’t nearly as revealing as Katya’s witch costume.  When Ivan asks just what costume Irina is referring to, she provides a basic description which results in even more parental shrieking and lamenting.

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At church in St. Paul, everyone turns to stare at Irina.  She ignores all the stares and whispers as she ties a bright red lace veil over her hair, making sure to leave the peacock feathers alone.

“I think you look fabulous,” Darya whispers, slipping her arm around her little sister. “It was mighty brave to come to church in costume.  Why wear a nice costume for only a few hours at the end of the day when you can wear it all day long?”

“If you were a co-ed, we’d invite you to our party tonight,” Anzhelika says, smiling. “Are those purple pearl earrings real?”

“They sure are,” Irina says proudly. “I just did them last night, all by myself.”

“You’re the first and only person I know to have double-pierced ears,” Darya says. “I must say, it’ll go really well with your style.  Why be one of a million when you can be one in a million?”

Ivan hangs his head in mortification.  At times like these, he feels so much older than merely fifty.  His own children’s generation’s sensibilities get further and further removed from his own every day, and the chasm is likely to be even more pronounced and obscene by the time Tamara is a young adult.

2

Over Valeriya’s objections, Igor and Ilya have accepted the invitation to a Halloween party in University Heights instead of attending something closer to home.  This time it’s not about being a whole other borough away, but being out late on a Sunday night.  Valeriya always worries they’ll either oversleep and be late to class, or not get enough sleep and suffer for it through the rest of the day.

She offered to host a small, intimate party in her home, but Igor and Ilya wanted to be with all their new friends more.  Most of these new friends are native-born Americans of non-Russian ancestry, and probably wouldn’t enjoy hearing a foreign language being babbled in the background, nor all the signs of an unfamiliar culture, like ikons and reproductions of Fabergé eggs.

Igor and Ilya most certainly wouldn’t enjoy it very much if they went to a house where the older folks merrily carried on as though they were merely in some far-flung Italian or Chinese colony.  Their cousins who were also invited to the party are more American than Russian, and wouldn’t consider a home party either.

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“Which car do you want, the Ford or the Buick?” Ilya asks as he adjusts his pirate hat. “Mila’s used to being picked up in the Buick, but I could accept the Ford for one night.”

“You’re lucky the girl you like likes you back,” Igor grumbles. “Even if I ask Violetta out, she won’t say yes.  She keeps insisting she’s meant to be a spinster.  I must be a stupid sap for thinking she likes me as more than just a friend.  A girl who really liked me wouldn’t treat me like nothing but a male friend.”

“Maybe she’s shy and is waiting for the right moment to confess her interest.  You’ll never know for sure till you ask her out and declare your intentions.  Girls aren’t trained to make the first move.  Even radicals like Tädi Kati waited to be asked out.”

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Igor pushes his tassel out of his eyes and tosses his sword into the backseat of the Ford.  Though he most loves artists from the modern era, he decided to dress like a Renaissance man out of respect for the artists who ushered in so many of the modern developments he takes for granted, like the popularity of non-religious subjects, oil painting, proportion, chiaroscuro, and the application of scientific and mathematical knowledge.

Since it would be ludicrous to take a palette, brushes, and paints all the way to the Bronx and back for just a Halloween party, Igor opted for a sword as a prop.  It’s a genuine antique shashka Mr. Golitsyn inherited from his paternal grandfather, who served as an officer in the Russian Caucasian Corps long ago and worlds apart.

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“You don’t have to be welded to the first and only girl you’ve liked so far,” Ilya says as Igor starts driving. “Why should you be denied the fun stuff just because your first crush isn’t interested?  Maybe she’s the type to not care or notice you in that way until she sees you with another woman.”

“But I don’t have a crush on anyone else, only Violetta.”

“The semester’s only about half over.  You might notice someone you like even better, and you won’t think about Violetta ever again.”

Igor takes Ilya’s directions up to Hamilton Heights, and waits in the car drumming his fingers against the wheel while Ilya fetches Milada.  Of course, Milada just had to dress as a female pirate to match Ilya’s costume.  He doesn’t object when they get into the backseat to cuddle, and continues driving over to Carnegie Hill to pick up Luiza.

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Igor burns with jealousy when he enters the Eristovs’ humble house, knowing Ilya and Milada will definitely use this alone time to do more than just cuddle.  It’s so unfair his own younger brother beat him to getting a girlfriend and learning how to kiss.  If he didn’t have such old-fashioned parents, he might not’ve grown up with the expectation of only seriously dating towards marriage at no younger than sixteen, and only having physical contact with women he feels very strongly about and envisions marrying.

“Would you like to step inside for a little bit?” Matryona asks. “You’re always welcome in our home, even if your mother has never been as close to me as she is to my younger sisters.  Since you and Luiza are at the same university now, you really should drop by every so often so we can get to know you better.  Ilya’s welcome too, of course.”

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“We really should leave right away, so we can get to the party on time,” Luiza says, smoothing down her Egyptian skirt. “It takes at least thirty minutes to drive to the Bronx.”

“Can I come too?” seventeen-year-old Susanna begs. “I’m old enough to pass for a real co-ed, and my friends’ party probably won’t be nearly as exciting as the NYU party.”

Matryona fixes her middle child with a firm but patient look. “You’re not going to any university party when you’re still in high school.  Next year you’ll be able to attend all the university parties you want, though you should remember that’s not why we’re sending you and Luiza to school.  Modern women need diplomas and higher education.  Women in my day didn’t use university as an excuse to hop off to parties and meet young men all the time.”

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“Why do some women only go to university to find husbands?” thirteen-year-old Viktor asks. “I guess it’s nice if you meet your future spouse there, but it’s not the reason to go to university.  If you only care about dating, you could just work and meet people in the park or something.”

“Spoken like a true young man from a family of mostly women.  You might think much differently if there were more men and boys in our family.” Matryona turns back to Luiza. “Speaking of, you’re not to use this party as an excuse to meet men.  If you find your next date there, that should just be a coincidence, not something you actively sought out.”

Luiza nods to indicate she heard and understood, though she doesn’t say anything.  As soon as she heads out the door with Igor, she pulls off her golden sweater and stuffs it into the golden purse attached to her waist.

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“I’m not covering my arms up to the elbow just because my parents think it’s indecent to wear shoulder straps at a mixed party.  There’s no point in dressing like an Ancient Egyptian woman if I’m just going to wear some stupid sweater hiding the top part of my gown.”

Igor averts his eyes when he catches Ilya and Milada kissing in the backseat, pressed up against one another for dear life and running their hands through one another’s hair.  Luiza ignores them and gets into the passenger seat, where she pulls off her golden flats and exchanges them for a pair of golden sandals in her purse.

“I hope you’re not too cold,” Igor says. “Even a nice Halloween costume shouldn’t come before dressing warmly.”

“I’ll be fine.  A little chill is my price to pay for fashion.”

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Ilya pulls away from Milada when Igor starts the car. “When did you get back?  I didn’t notice you getting into the car or approaching.”

“That’s because you were glued to your girlfriend.” Igor lays on the horn at a bicyclist getting too close to the car. “And here I thought you were too shy to do that with an audience.”

“I didn’t want any audience!  You should’ve warned us you were coming, so we could sit back up and pretend we weren’t doing anything!”

“Who are you kidding, little brother?  We all knew what you were going to do the moment I left the car.  Are you really still only on first base?”

Milada turns beet red. “It’s no one’s business, but we’ve never done anything more than kiss and hold hands.”

“Since when am I your little brother?” Ilya demands. “You’ve never called me that before.”

“You’re eleven months younger than I am,” Igor reminds him. “That makes you my little brother, Irish twin or not.”

“Are you jealous of me because I have a girlfriend and you don’t?  Nothing’s been stopping you from asking anyone out in the last two months.  You can ask out someone at the party.  Don’t be so stuck on one woman you never consider anyone else.”

“Look at yourself!  I just caught you stuck to the only girl you’ve ever liked!”

Milada turns ever redder and hides her face in her hands.

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“It’s not my problem if you’re too afraid to ask out the woman you have a crush on,” Ilya says, putting his arm around Milada. “Be a man and ask her out.  The worst that can happen is she’ll say no and your pride will be wounded for a little while.  There are other fish in the sea if Violetta doesn’t fancy you.”

“I never limit myself,” Luiza chimes in. “I’m a co-ed, not an old married woman with five kids.  I like having fun with lots of different fellows, so long as they’re respectable and don’t try to move too fast too soon.  I’ve probably gone out with about thirty different guys in the last two years.”

“You’ve had that many boyfriends?” Igor sputters, clutching the wheel to avoid swerving onto the sidewalk. “I never suspected you were that type.”

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“Dates, not beaux.  There were plenty of guys I only went out with once and didn’t like enough to continue seeing.  I’ve had about five fellows I went steady with for a few months, but those weren’t serious relationships, just steady dates to pass some time with.  There’s nothing the matter with playing the field and trying out different options before committing to one person for the rest of your life.  Certainly I don’t intend to be some thirty-five-year-old bride like my mother and have kids older than usual, but I don’t intend to marry fresh out of university either.  I think twenty-five’s a good age for marrying, not too old and not too young.”

“Twenty-five?” Igor asks. “But that’s so old to be married.  My father was only twenty-five because he had to chase my mother for so long before she finally said yes.  Had she married him the first time he asked, he only would’ve been eighteen.  I don’t see the point in delaying marriage if you’re in a serious relationship.  You won’t suddenly feel differently once you’re twenty-five if you’ve already loved that person for a really long time.”

“That’s for people who’ve been going steady since before university, or met the first year.  When you don’t have any special commitments, there’s no reason to rush into marriage just because all your friends are doing it.”

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Igor grits his teeth as Luiza and Ilya continue lecturing him on the importance of looking around for dates and not feeling bound to his first crush, all the way into the Bronx.  He’s so annoyed and distracted he almost forgets his sword, and has to run back to the car to retrieve it after they’ve already started walking to the campus center.

“There’s your chance, Casanova,” Luiza whispers as they enter the large room reserved for the party. “If you don’t ask her out soon, someone else will, and I guarantee you won’t like that very much.”

Violetta is seated near the back of the room, dressed in a long black dress with a spider web patterned over the skirt.  She’s showing a bit more collarbone than usual, showcasing a necklace with a large spiderweb and spider centerpiece and other, much smaller spiders and their webs attached to the sides of the chain.  Violetta’s earrings are also spiders.  Her shoes are flats as always, red with spiders in place of her usual flowers or bows.  Black silk rosebuds are clipped all over her hair to complete the spider queen look.

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“It’s nice to see you again,” Igor says, smiling. “I didn’t realize you were such an arachnophile.”

“There are a lot of things you don’t know about me, since you only properly met me eight days ago.”

Igor’s heart sinks. “I only said that because my mother loves spiders too.  She has a spider necklace and a spiderweb jewelry box.  I bet she’d like you if you ever met.  Is there a particular reason you like spiders, or is this just another costume?”

“I like the Indian symbolism behind it.  Spiders are associated with some Hindu concept called Maya, which means ‘illusion.’  It translates to the deceptive, constantly changing nature of appearances.  Not everything is always as it seems.  I also like how it represents the weaving of our own destiny.” Violetta touches the scabbard. “Is that a real sword in there, or just a replica?”

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“It’s no phony.” Igor stands back and draws the sword, making sure to hold it in the air with the blade away from himself. “My Dvoyurodniy Dedushka Grisha got it from his dedushka.  It doesn’t exactly fit with the rest of my costume, but we didn’t have any Renaissance swords lying about.  My brother-in-law Dmitriy gets a real sword, since he’s a Naval ensign.  He got to cut his wedding cake with his sword, and he and my sister Katya walked underneath an arch of swords twice at their wedding.  I wish my parents had let me and Ilyushka enlist underage.  We could’ve been in the Navy too, since they were still fighting when the Army was finished.”

“I can’t imagine anyone so young in uniform.  You were right to let your big brother do all the fighting for you.”

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Igor puts his sword back. “I would’ve fought with the best of them if I’d snuck away to enlist.  All real men had to fight, and I hated being just a little too young.  My friends Edik and Marik Vishinskiy joined the Navy as soon as they graduated, and they were so sore when the war ended almost as soon as they enlisted.  They never got to see any action, and now they’re stuck in the service for two more years.”

“Aren’t those Lyuda and Raya Vishinskaya’s younger brothers?  Lyuda and Raya worked at my dedushka’s church camp during the war.”

“Those are the same ones.  Their brother Andrey’s my brother-in-law now.  I was angry at him for not serving, but I’ve forgiven him since he’s so good to my sister Dasha.” Igor looks around the room. “Would you like to play a party game with me?  How about bobbing for apples?”

Violetta shakes her head. “I’d prefer not to play that game.”

“Then how about a fortune cake or walnut boats?  Or maybe you like ghost stories, fortune-telling, and the Ouija board more.”

“I only came here because my friends forced me.  I wouldn’t have come if it were my own decision.  But don’t let me keep you from having fun.  I’m sure a nice, good-looking guy like you can find some other women to play party games with.”

Igor puts on his best poker face and wades into the crowd in search of a few co-eds to pass some time with.

3

Everyone stops to stare at Irina as she walks into the school auditorium with her new friend Rhonwen, who’s dressed in a blue Gilded Age bathing suit.  Just as Irina suspected, all the other students are dressed in boring, predictable costumes, like nurses, witches, clowns, ghosts, pumpkins, bats, movie monsters, sailors, American Indians, and royalty.  Even the girls dressed as Gypsies have conservative hemlines and necklines, which defeats the whole purpose of such an exotic, alluring costume.  The only slightly out of the ordinary costumes besides Irina’s are from her acquaintances Nerissa and Clarinda, who are dressed as Chinese girls, and two boys on the football team in blackface.

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“I can’t believe how much skin she’s showing,” a cheerleader dressed as a bat mutters loudly enough for Irina to hear. “I wouldn’t expect anything else from someone with eight siblings.  Her parents must be like drunken rabbits.”

Irina rushes at the girl and punches her as hard as she can in the face.  Despite her fragile start, Irina has so far grown to a respectable height of 5’5 and stands over just about all of the other girls in her school.  She can’t punch this girl square in the eye as she did to Mr. Purcell, but getting her anywhere on her face is good enough.

“My parents aren’t drunken rabbits, you bitch,” she snarls. “Your parents probably do that just as much, only they don’t have nine children as evidence.”

Irina takes Rhonwen’s arm and goes to the other side of the auditorium for some punch, without sticking around to defend her family any further to this stranger.  After she pours a cup of punch to the very top, she tucks her hair behind her ears and savors the shocked reactions of everyone around her.

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“Those are all real earrings!” a girl dressed as a witch shrieks. “Only fallen women have real earrings!  You even have four of them!”

“Yes I do, and I damn well love all of them.  I don’t know how you can bear to wear those silly fake clip-ons.  The real thing is so much prettier.”

“You’re supposed to let boys pour your punch,” a girl in a fairy costume says. “You’ll never marry if you keep acting too proud for our sex.  Men would have no reason to care about us and propose marriage if we did everything for ourselves and didn’t need any help and protection.”

“My parents raised me to be a real person, not a delicate glass flower.” Irina reaches into the huge communal bowl of pigs in a blanket and stuffs an overflowing handful into her mouth. “Why would I want a fellow who treats me like an idiot who can barely function on her own?  I’ve got two perfectly good hands, and God gave me a brain so I could use it.”

“But you’re a girl!  You’re barely supposed to use your brain!  If you use your brain too much, you’ll become dangerously ill, and will make yourself a spinster without even trying.”

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“Why do you think we shouldn’t use our brains?” Rhonwen asks. “It’s stupid to let men get all the credit.  Your brain will still be there when your beauty has gone to pieces.”

“Why are you at this party?” a boy in an old-fashioned golfing outfit asks. “No one at this school likes you.”

“I wasn’t aware this party was only for popular students with at least thirty best friends and shallow life goals.” Rhonwen reaches into the bowl of pigs in a blanket.

“You’ve both already eaten too much,” a girl in a Pilgrim dress says. “You don’t want to get fat.”

“I’m not fat, I’m curvy.” Irina helps herself to the largest soft pretzel and slathers it in hot mustard. “It’s really too bad you’ll never have a body like mine, since you’re too busy skimping on your food in the hopes of landing some shallow excuse of a man.”

“You haven’t been at this school for an entire semester yet,” a boy dressed as a whiteface clown scoffs. “You can’t just come in here and act like you’re a wanted guest.”

“I go to this school now, like it or not.  It’s too bad if you can’t accept the fact that not everyone in your life can be someone you’ve known since birth.” Irina knocks over his cup of root beer. “Maybe at least some of you will learn there are many different ways to live.”

4

Igor has spent the night making the rounds of the various Halloween games and amusements—bobbing for apples, the Ouija board, a miniature haunted house, walnut boats, five different types of fortune-telling, dart-throwing, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, musical chairs, a cakewalk, ghost stories, and Twenty Questions.  Violetta has continued sitting in her chair, not participating in any of the games or even coming to listen to some ghost stories and get her fortune told.  She almost appears like part of the furniture, but for the fact that she moves every so often.

Throughout the party, some of her friends, and some unknowns, have come over to talk to her and bring her snacks, but she always begs off actively participating in the party.  Igor has been watching her out of the corner of his eye, and almost thinks he sees a wistful look in her deep brown eyes.  If only he knew just why her mind has convinced her she can’t have normal co-ed fun.

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“Care for a slice of fortune cake?” A chemistry major in a toreador costume extends a large platter to Igor. “There’s a ribbon attached to each charm, so you’ll know how big to make your slice.”

“I’d never pass up cake.” Igor rubs his scabbard. “Can I use my sword to cut it?”

“I suppose, so long as you know what you’re doing and don’t ruin the cake or hurt anyone.”

Igor draws his sword and sinks it into the cake, making sure to only cut a slice containing one ribbon.  It’s not a very big slice, but he’s already gotten more than enough food to tide himself over.  At home, where he doesn’t have to share with over fifty other people, he’ll be at liberty to cut a much larger slice of cake.

“Would you like me to cut you a slice too?” he asks Violetta. “Surely not everything at this party is forbidden to you.”

“That’s not why I haven’t been participating, but I can have cake.” Violetta reaches for the sword. “May I cut my own slice?”

“Do you know how to use a sword?”

“It’s probably not that hard.  A sword is just a really big knife.”

“Maybe in theory, but it has a lot of differences from a knife.  Would you let me help you with cutting?”

“Only if I can put my hand on the handle instead of over yours.  Then it wouldn’t really be me cutting.”

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Igor puts the sword over his arm and lets Violetta take it.  After she clasps her hand around the handle, Igor places his hand over hers.  An electrical jolt goes through his entire being as he has physical contact with her for the very first time.  She has such soft skin, an artist’s hand just like Igor expected.  He’s enjoying the sensation so much, he almost forgets he has to remove his hand from hers after the cake is cut and on Violetta’s plate.

Since there are so many people at this party, about five different sets of charms have been baked into the cake.  Igor feels slightly jilted knowing repeats are guaranteed.  He’s well aware of how most fortune-telling is rather unscientific and prone to wishful thinking and outright errors, but if there were only one set of charms, he could at least pretend the fortune were unique to himself.  After all, Darya, Andrey, Dmitriy, and Katya had their romantic fortunes successfully told through this Halloween tradition.

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“Aren’t you going to pull our your charm, Gorik?” Ilya asks. “You went to that big deal of cutting the cake with your sword; you might as well enjoy the cake.”

Igor yanks on the orange ribbon and finds a lamp post. “I can already tell this isn’t some kind of romantic fortune.”

A basketball player dressed like Mickey Mouse takes out a list with the meanings of each charm.  The other charms include rings, bells, wishing wells, highchairs, rocking chairs, hearts, shamrocks, flowers, angels, ship wheels, moneybags, telephones, claddaghs, buttons, and oyster shells with pearls.  Igor waits till near the end of the list to find out the lamp post signifies a bright future.

“That’s boring,” he complains. “You at least got a heart and a shamrock.”

“What about mine?” Luiza asks. “A rocking chair only signifies I’ve got a long life.  That’s not exactly a jaw-dropping fortune.  I expect to live a long life.”

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Violetta sets her charm back on her empty plate and puts it on the table behind her. “I’d better start walking to the subway so I’ll be home before midnight.  Luiza, I’ll see you tomorrow in class.”

Igor thinks of drawing his sword and blocking her path, then reconsiders in case Violetta might not find it funny. “There’s room for one more in my car.  I don’t want you walking by yourself to the subway at this hour, and then travelling all the way home alone.  This isn’t a short trip across one neighborhood.”

“Yes, you should go with us,” Luiza says. “We can have a nice conversation during the drive.  You’re a lot more interesting than the other first-year students I’ve met so far.”

“What was your fortune?” Milada asks. “You can take it home as a souvenir.  No one said we had to give them back.”

Violetta lifts it off her plate. “A fleur de lis, a new beginning or rebirth.  Tell me something I don’t know.  I’m already in my first semester of university.”

“You don’t have to take it so literally.  Maybe it’s a different kind of rebirth, the kind you don’t realize just yet.”

Violetta stuffs her charm in her black sequin clutch. “I wish I could believe that.”

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“Do you know about the other ways of telling your fortune on Halloween?” Luiza asks. “If you walk out the door backwards, pick some grass, and put it under your pillow, you’ll dream of your future husband.  You can also make a wish when you eat a dry crust of bread at night.  This is when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest, so it’s easier to tell fortunes and dream of the future.”

“My only future is as a spinster, though it’s really swell of you to try to convince me I have a husband out there somewhere.”

“Maybe you really don’t, but maybe you do.  If you’re serious about wanting to enjoy your time as a co-ed, you should put yourself out there more and have fun at these parties.  A new love could be out there waiting right under your nose, and you’d never know it unless you do more than sit in a chair drinking punch and eating pretzels.”

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WeWriWa—Cutting the fortune cake

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. Continuing with this month’s Halloween theme, this is another holiday-themed snippet, slightly after last week’s. Igor has been offered a slice of fortune cake, and he asks if he can use his sword to cut it.

After getting permission to use the antique sword on loan from his great-uncle, Igor cuts a slice of cake containing only one ribbon (attached to the charm baked inside). He then asks Violetta if he can cut her a slice, and she asks if she can use the sword too. Igor agrees, if she’ll let him help her.

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Igor puts the sword over his arm and lets Violetta take it.  After she clasps her hand around the handle, Igor places his hand over hers.  An electrical jolt goes through his entire being as he has physical contact with her for the very first time.  She has such soft skin, an artist’s hand just like Igor expected.  He’s enjoying the sensation so much, he almost forgets he has to remove his hand from hers after the cake is cut and on Violetta’s plate.

Since there are so many people at this party, about five different sets of charms have been baked into the cake.  Igor feels slightly jilted knowing repeats are guaranteed.  He’s well aware of how most fortune-telling is rather unscientific and prone to wishful thinking and outright errors, but if there were only one set of charms, he could at least pretend the fortune were unique to himself.  After all, Darya, Andrey, Dmitriy, and Katya had their romantic fortunes successfully told through this Halloween tradition.

“Aren’t you going to pull out your charm, Gorik?” Ilya asks.

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This Halloween chapter will be posted in its entirety tomorrow, as per my annual Halloween custom of sharing a full chapter or part of a chapter set on Halloween.

Dracula disappointed me

Bela Lugosi, DRACULA, 1931.

I was really looking forward to watching the 1931 version of Dracula, always having had the impression it’s one of the all-time greats and classics of horror cinema. Instead, I found myself yet again disappointed by something surrounded by years of massive hype.

For all the issues I have with Nosferatu (to be discussed more in-depth next October), at least that film succeeds brilliantly at creating a creepy, spooky, foreboding mood, with tension in the air. It’s all thrown away with a whimper instead of a bang, but at least it’s there.

Béla Lugosi cuts an awesome figure as Count Dracula, though he seems to do about as much active vamping as Max Schreck, which is to say, not nearly enough. It does start out promisingly, but once it moves to London, the stiltedness begins.

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Stripped of all the hype and classic status, this is just another creaky, stilted early talkie. So many early talkies feel like filmed stage plays, since the first sound cameras couldn’t move very far and still pick up noise well. Dracula was indeed based on a stage play, but I really don’t feel like that best-suits any kind of horror story.

The horror is more talked about after the fact, instead of shown as it’s actually happening. How is that supposed to create a frightening mood? Silent horror films work so well because they’re not bogged down in a bunch of dialogue. We see horrific events, and experience the building of a creepy mood. Even in a sound horror film, do you really need a lot of dialogue to understand what’s happening?

Forget horror; ANY film, of any genre, becomes boring and stilted when there’s more dialogue than action. Books also suffer when they’re little more than talking heads.

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We never once see Dracula biting anyone, rising up out of his coffin, transmogrifying from bat to human, or even just showing his fangs. Beyond that, we don’t even see bite marks on anyone’s neck! Come on, those are basic elements of any Dracula story, no matter which version it’s based on!

Horror movies don’t necessarily have to be a nonstop parade of horrific images and frightening events. Sometimes the horror is more about a foreboding mood, a creepy mystery, or dark human emotions, not paranormal creatures, psychotic murderers, or blood and guts. However, I didn’t get a palpable sense of any type of horror here.

A slow pace also doesn’t work with most horror films.

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The film was directed by the legendary Tod Browning, though he was a last-minute choice. This wasn’t his project from the jump, which seems to suggest, sadly, that it’s just an urban legend that Lon Chaney, Sr., would’ve played Dracula had he still been alive. Still, I can’t help but imagine how awesome Lon would’ve been as Dracula, even with the same script and stilted feeling.

There’s also an old rumor that Carl Laemmle, Sr., of Universal Studios, wanted the awesome Conrad Veidt to play Dracula. Though he had to go back to Germany with the advent of sound, due to his thick accent and poor English, Lugosi also had a heavy accent, and his troubles with learning English are well-known. It could’ve worked with Veidt.

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Just because I most love old films doesn’t mean I automatically love all of them. It’s such a myth that lovers of classic cinema think it’s immune from criticism, only watch it because it’s old, refuse to watch anything modern, or heap praises on films just because they’re old. There were just as many bad apples then as now, even if I’d much rather watch a bad or mediocre old film than something current.

I’d give this a 2 out of 5. It wasn’t terrible, but there was nothing special or innovative about it. Even Lugosi’s character didn’t do much to elevate the overall experience.

A twofer of antique horror

If you celebrate Sh’mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, may you have a lovely holiday!

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The Haunted Curiosity Shop, released in the U.K. in 1901, is now 115 years old. This great-granddaddy of horror was directed by Walter R. Booth, a pioneer of British cinema. Just like his French counterpart Georges Méliès, he too was a magician before turning to filmmaking. He worked with Robert W. Paul and Charles Urban, also pioneers of British cinema.

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Booth mostly did trick films (i.e., featuring special effects), and pioneered the usage of hand-drawing techniques which enabled animation. Indeed, he directed Britain’s very first animated film, The Hand of the Artist (1906).

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At just shy of two minutes, the film is very simple. An old man who runs a curiosity shop is beguiled by all manner of spooky tricks and apparitions, including a floating skull; a magically and gradually materializing girl who transmogrifies into an old woman and back again; a mummy; a skeleton; and a giant head growing ever larger.

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The Merry Frolics of Satan, released in France as Les Quatre Cents Farces du Diable (The 400 Tricks of the Devil), came out in 1906, and is now 110 years old. The film was directed by none other than the legendary Georges Méliès, who also stars as Mephistopheles.

The film, described by Méliès as a grande pièce fantastique in 35 scenes, is a contemporary, comedic adaptation of the Faust legend. It draws upon a stage play, Les Quatre Cents Coups du Diable, which débuted 23 December 1905 by the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

That 1905 play was in turn based upon Les Pilules du Diable, which premièred 16 February 1839 by the Théâtre National de Cirque-Olympique in Paris. Both of these plays were féeries, a uniquely French theatrical genre with fantasy plots, lavish scenery, incredible visuals, and mechanical stage effects.

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William Crackford, an English inventor and engineer, is in his workshop when he gets visited by a messenger who breaks the news that Alcofrisbas, a famous alchemist, wants to sell him a very powerful talisman. Intrigued, Crackford and his servant John travel to Alcofrisbas’s lab, where a lot of magical tricks transpire.

Crackford and John say they’re planning a high-speed trip around the world, and Alcofrisbas guarantees his help. Seven assistants march out, and help him with making a lot of magical pills. When a pill is thrown onto the ground, any wish will be granted.

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Crackford is so excited by these pills, he doesn’t read the fine print on the contract he signs, and thus has no idea he’s sold his soul to the Devil. After Crackford and John depart, Alcofrisbas transforms back into his true identity: Mephistopheles. The assistants are the Seven Deadly Sins.

When Crackford comes home, he doesn’t waste a moment in commencing his preparations for the journey, and shows off the pills to his wife and daughters. He produces a trunk out of which two servants climb. This trunk becomes a Matryoshka doll, with more and more trunks and servants, until finally the trunks turn into a miniature train.

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The train, loaded with Crackford’s family and luggage, begins its journey, and is met with ridicule instead of fanfare. A little accident on a bridge threatens to derail the entire journey, but Crackford won’t be deterred, and continues on with John.

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They stop by an inn, at which a disguised Mephistopheles is the proprietor. More magic tricks and sorcery commence, until finally Crackford and John run out and make their escape with a strange horse and buggy. Mephistopheles follows them in a car, and there’s another accident with a live volcano.

The carriage continues its journey through outer space, until a thunderstorm sends the travellers plummeting earthward, right into a dining room. Crackford is about to finally have some dinner when Mephistopheles arrives, demanding Crackford fulfill the contract’s terms.

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Sorry this soundtrack isn’t entirely appropriate (annoying background laughter and sound effects), but this was the only video I could find with any musical accompaniment. This also lacks the voice-over narration which was part of many Méliès films and took the place of intertitles.