October 30, 2011

Forgotten Greats of Universal Horror by Mark Heike

Lionel Atwill photoIn our household, the last week in October gets us into the Halloween mode, which means a steady diet of horror movies on video until the big day arrives. Since we’re big fans of the classic Universal monsters, we usually go through the whole library on an annual basis, from the 1931″ Dracula” right on through 1956 “Creature Walks Among Us.” I’d thought I’d seen them all, until we turned one up that was new to me- 1942s “Night Monster.” Starring two of my favorite character actors from the Universal repertory company, Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill; it’s interesting and does feature a very different kind of “monster”, but is not really one of the great ones, despite tasteful directing by Ford Beebe. Now everyone remembers Lugosi and his place in the history of great horror cinema, but Atwill’s work seems all but forgotten today, perhaps due to his passing at a relatively early age, in the late 1940s. His clipped British accent and precise manner always livened any film he was in, be it portraying an officious police inspector, arrogant doctor or mad scientist. “Bride of Frankenstein”,”Son of Frankenstein,” “Ghost of Frankenstein,” “House of Frankenstein,” Man Made Monster,” “Doctor X,” “Mark of the Vampire,” “The Gorilla,” “House of Dracula,” and “The Mad Doctor of Market Street” were just some of the genre films Atwill made, for Universal and other studios. If you’re not familiar with his onscreen work, check out or great DVD of the 1942 Captain America” serial, where he plays the villainous Scarab. While it was not his finest hour, he turns in a fine performance as the stories’ villain.