The 1991 Best Picture Oscar sweep of Silence Of The Lambs aside, one of the most egregiously overlooked genres when it comes to voting for Academy Awards is getting a big make-good the entire month of October from the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In honor of Universal‘s year-long 100th anniversary, the Academy tonight begins its celebration of classic horror films in “Universal’s Legacy Of Horror”, the genre in which the studio made its early reputation and a perfect Halloween treat for fans.
Modern horror-meister and enthusiast Guillermo del Toro will host tonight’s opening program, which includes a double bill of newly restored prints of The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935) and Dracula (1931). Among those expected to be in attendance this month is Carla Laemmle, who will turn 103 on October 20. She is the niece of Universal founder Carl Laemmle and an actress who appeared in Phantom Of The Opera (1925) — screening to close the series on October 30 –and tonight’s opener Dracula, a movie for which she is known for speaking the first line of dialogue ever heard in a horror film. She’s the last surviving cast member of both pics. Phantom, by the way, will be an original restoration with the color sequence intact and presented by Oscar-winning film historian Kevin Brownlow.
Other films in the series include the lesser-known but significant 1928 silent The Man Who Laughs (10/8); a double bill of The Wolf Man (1941) and the most recent entry in the series, An American Werewolf In London (1981), with cast and crew in attendance including director John Landis and Oscar winner for makeup Rick Baker(10/9); Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) in 3D plus The Invisible Man (10/16); the newly restored Alfred Hitchcock 1963 classic The Birds (10/23), with star Tippi Hedren on hand to talk about her conflicted relationship with Hitch during the making of the film (also the subject of an upcoming HBO movie); and Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) plus the Don Knotts horror comedy The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966), showing together as a matinee (10/27), followed that evening by an Oscar Outdoors screening in Hollywood of The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and Tarantula (1955).
Curated by Randy Haberkamp, the Academy’s managing director programming, education, preservation, the ambitious series was a natural — not only for the Halloween-centric month of October but also for the Academy and Universal. “I think it’s the genre historically that Universal is kind of known for, that they’ve celebrated over the years”, Haberkamp says. “Whenever you think of Dracula, Frankenstein or Wolfman, Universal Studios isn’t to far from the mind-set, and I think there are several generations of kids who have been inspired by those films and later films as well and taken them to heart as something they have a secret affection for — or maybe not so secret as I think Guillermo del Toro will testify”. He added that del Toro was the Academy’s first choice to launch the programming.
Haberkamp says the Academy toyed with the idea of including more modern horror films as well but decided to generally stay away from films made in the last 25 years and stick with those that had already stood the test of time.
In addition to the screenings and Q&As, the Academy is presenting “Universal’s Legacy of Horror: A Centennial Exhibition”, which will include rare posters, stills and props among other artifacts that will be on display in the Academy Grand Lobby throughout this month. “The thing that is really fun, especially about the Universal legacy, is the artistry of those films, especially the black and white in particular. It’s just stunningly gorgeous and also classic in its look”, Haberkamp says. “It’s just amazing and we have some beautiful photography on display from our collection and Universal. The studio has participated very nicely with us and brought us things we didn’t have, and we had things they didn’t have,” he adds, pointing to some surprising documents and an “outrageous” 1915 hand-drawn map of Universal Studios in its infancy.
Haberkamp is especially happy that the series will put a focus on true horror and its special place in cinema, not what a lot of the genre has become in recent years: “I think horror has become much more associated recently with blood-and-guts-type stuff. I’m not downgrading that because it is a matter of taste, but what is interesting about seeing these originals like Frankenstein and Dracula is that in essence what you are watching is a kind of love story, and that’s what things like True Blood (the HBO series) and Twilight have rediscovered — not only the sexuality of them but also the sensuality and the darkness of the unrequited love when it turns to that. We think of the thrills and chills as what make these movies work, but it’s also that underlying humanity or kind of longing that makes it fun too”.
Haberkamp says that even though these films have been seen over and over and retold in various incarnations, he hopes the series will seem brand new. “It’s amazing how strong these films still are even after being remade and regurgitated in numerous ways”, he says. “It’s still fascinating to see the originals. These have been exploited so much on television that people are familiar with them, but this will be different. And it’s not only the experience of seeing them large and all pristine; Universal has done a great job of getting the very best-looking versions that they can. But it’s also that whole audience experience. I am very excited about having a big crowd watching these together. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”