Kim Newman checks out the treats we have in the Vintage Vault this July

By James Whittington, 20th June 2023
KIM NEWMAN

This month's celebrated Vintage Vault selections on LEGEND are all examples of early franchise horror from the great days of the movies, spanning the thirties and forties.

It was in 1931 that the horror film really came together as a film genre at Universal Pictures, when Tod Browning directed Bela Lugosi as a suavely purring vampire Count in Dracula and James Whale put Boris Karloff in flat head and big boots as the Monster in Frankenstein. After that great one-two, not only was the horror film a viable commercial and artistic property, but the studios began to see the genre as what a later film industry would call a franchise - indeed, an interlocking series of franchises which would eventually prove the template for so much 2020s blockbuster cinema. The first assembly line horror picture might have been The Mummy (1932), a rewrite of Dracula tailored for the star of Frankenstein, adding Egyptian curses and bandaged baddies to the canon of classic monster themes.

Here's the rundown of LEGEND's July premieres...

The Ghoul (1933) - Channel Premiere, Sunday July 2, 9pm.
'What was the idea of bandaging his hand like that?'
I canna say. He had many a queer fancy.'
Dying Egyptologist Professor Morlant (Boris Karloff) insists he be buried with a valuable jewel taped to his hand, so he can revive in the tomb and perform a ritual he believes will give him eternal life. Various parties scheme to get hold of the jewel. Having become a horror star in Hollywood, Boris Karloff returned in triumph to Britain for the first time in decades to take the leading role - reminiscent of his just-completed turn in The Mummy - in this homegrown stab at taking back some of the gothic action from the upstart Americans. A hollow-eyed Karloff expires in bed surrounded by grasping Dickensian grotesques like the club-footed butler (Ernest Thesiger) and an untrustworthy lawyer (Cedric Hardwicke), who then compete to get hold of his fortune. In the climax, Karloff revives in the tomb and lumbers zombie-like as he tries to offer up the sacred scarab to a statue of Anubis. The plot is a combination of proven properties like The Cat and the Canary (heirs and schemers gather in an isolated house to get hold of treasure) and The Moonstone (knife-wielding foreigners out to reclaim the jewel stolen from their ancient culture) and has as much silly comedy, like the spinster who is overly-impressed by an Egyptian on the strength of having seen Rudolf Valentino in The Sheik too many times, as it does proper creepy stuff. A young Ralph Richardson enjoys his screen debut as an unctuous curate who turns out to be another crook who has set enough gunpowder under Karloff's tomb to allow for an explosive finale.

Son of Frankenstein (1939) - Channel Premiere, Sunday July 9, 9pm
'What's going on at Castle Frankenstein? The whole village is alarmed with anxiety!'
'My men report nothing but quiet.'
'Quiet? There's nothing so ominous as quiet.'
Universal discontinued horror production in 1936, reacting to a ban on such films from our old friends at the British Board of Film Censors. However a successful 1938 double-bill reissue of Dracula and Frankenstein convinced the studio there was still commercial life in their monsters. Son of Frankenstein - originally planned to be shot in colour, until make-up tests revealed a less-than-impressive greenish monster - was the super production mounted to demonstrate the continued viability of the genre. Directed not by eccentric visionary James Whale but by solid professional Rowland V. Lee, Son began the second wave of monster films - and is in its own way as deliciously strange and experimental as Whale's Frankenstein films. With a big horror name cast and Jack Otterson's stylised production design, it is an A feature, the last of the series to be aimed primarily at an adult audience. Invoking Whale's black wit, Lee gets fine, hysterical work from top-billed Basil Rathbone as Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, who plays perfectly off Bela Lugosi's whiskery, sly, broken-necked Ygor and Lionel Atwill's clipped, one-armed, monocle-polishing Inspector Krogh. Karloff's Monster is upstaged, reduced to a mute thug, while the plot involves a string of revenge killings which makes the film feel like a precursor to the body count slasher films of the 1980s.

The Invisible Man Returns (1940) - Channel Premiere, Sunday July 16, 9pm
'Between you and me sir I'll have to see him before I believe he's invisible.'
Having made sequels to Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy, Universal sought to add another fiend to their franchise roster by going back to James Whale's The Invisible Man (1933) - based on H.G. Wells' novel - and came up with a new spin on the story to showcase the remarkable effects work of John P. Fulton. With Karloff and Lugosi getting on a bit and the original Invisible Man Claude Rains moved on to A pictures, the studio introduced a possible new horror star in velvet-voiced Vincent Price, who purrs maniacally from behind bandages or as a disembodied voice. Here, Frank Griffin (John Sutton), the brother of Rains' character, helps out a pal, Geoffrey Radcliffe (Price), who has been accused of a murder he didn't commit. Unseen sleuth Radcliffe sets out to determine which above-suspicion character actor is the real killer. It's the only invisible man movie in which the see-though megalomaniac is involved in a boardroom battle to get control of his family's Yorkshire coal mine.

The Mummy's Tomb (1942) - Channel Premiere, Sunday July 23, 9pm
'Whether you can believe it or not, the facts are here and we've got to face them. A creature that's been alive for over 3,000 years is in this town.'
The Mummy's Hand (1940) isn't a sequel to The Mummy (1932), but a reboot - using images, footage, plot elements and make-up design from the original haunted romance for an action-adventure film which replaced actor Karloff with stuntman Tom Tyler under the bandages. Universal then decided Lon Chaney Jr, a horror star on the strength of The Wolf Man, would play all their monster roles in succession - he returned as the Wolf Man and had stabs at the Frankenstein Monster and Dracula, but also did three curse quickies as Kharis, the limping mummy. In this brisk follow-up to The Mummy's Hand, Kharis is transported to America by a turban-wearing Turhan Bey, the latest High Priest of Oogedy-Boogedy, and gets vengeance on the survivors of the previous film (Dick Foran, Wallace Ford) - an early instance of the Scream habit of offing legacy characters - before shambling away to menace a new generation of tomb-defilers and lech after the latest nifty number in a smart 1940s nightgown (Elyse Knox).


Related show tags: SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE GHOUL, THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS, THE MUMMY'S TOMB
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