Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: The pleasures and perils of fandom

By the time this goes up on the Web site, I’ll either be in Pittsburgh, or driving through West Virginia marveling at the scenic splendor, thinking it’s too bad there’s nothing there and then realizing that “nothing there” is precisely why the scenic is splendid. That — and keeping an eye out for the occasional drool-worthy Brit sports car (saw a great Austin Healey 3000 last year) — is all part of my yearly pilgrimmage to the Monster Bash in Pittsburgh. The Bash is really in Butler, but no one knows where that is.

For the uninitiated, the Monster Bash is an annual event where horror fans—mostly male, but with a few intrepid females — of a certain age — mostly past 40, but on the spry side of dead — gather to carry on in person the debates they’ve been waging all year on message boards about various important topics. These are usually along the lines of just how good or bad Bela Lugosi was as the Frankentein Monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). As you can tell, this is weighty stuff. Justin Souther will probably get a T-shirt out of the deal, I’ll spend too much money on “grey market” DVDs of titles that aren’t commercially available and have my annual bottle of Guinness. I might get wild this year and have two bottles. The atmosphere is that heady.

Movies — all of which we’ve seen before — will be screened. Celebrities and survivors from when these movies were made — most of whom we’ve met before — will be in attendance. Since the thing is held in the Pittsburgh area, at least one person will mistake me for George A. Romero during the course of the weekend. (If you wonder why, go look at Romero’s picture on his entry on the IMDb.)

None of this really matters, though, because the whole point of the thing is just to see friends and acquaintances who 362 days of the year you only know online or over the phone. It will be a bittersweet experience this year, since my friend Richard Valley — the editor and publisher of Scarlet Street magazine and the one responsible for getting me to go to my first Bash — died of pancreatic cancer some months ago. But the nostalgia of having been there with Richard in years past precludes any chance of not going.

In many ways, nostalgia’s the key to the whole thing — or at least to a lot of it. But if you stop and think about it, it’s a weird kind of nostalgia once removed. It’s nostalgia for an era of horror pictures that few of us (and fewer all the time) experienced first-hand. These were second and even third-hand treasures. All but a very, very few of us saw this stuff on TV, wearing our pajamas and trying desperately to stay awake at some ungodly hour of the night. The prints were oftener than not battered 16mm TV prints. The experience was broken up with commercials and generally dreadful “comedy” routines by local horror hosts.

Those of you who missed this era may never have encountered this tradition. It amounted to having some local talent (loosely defined) dress up as some kind of horror figure and introduce the movies. The last gasp I saw of this was Elvira (who, by the way, was at least year’s Bash). The hosts I endured in childhood were Dr. Evil from WBT in Charlotte, Shock Armstong from WTVT in Tampa and Dr. Paul Bearer from WTOG in Tampa.

I actually kind of liked Dr. Evil — in reality, a stage magician with the perfect product-placement name of Philip Morris — who sported a fez and a spade beard. (I even joined his fan club and got a postcard like the one pictured here.)  Shock Armstrong (Paul Reynolds), who wore a Frankenstein Monster mask and a football jersey, wore thin for me, because his routines seemed interminable and almost invariably ended with him pouring boiling something-or-other on his offscreen mother. Dr. Paul Bearer — a one-eyed DJ named Dick Bennick — came along in my late teen years, and I was more accepting of the silliness then, and I even met him a couple times. And how can you not like a guy who did a station promotional spot sitting in a coffin, holding his glass eye up and assuring the viewer, “We’ve got our eye on you.”

In short, our exposure to these films was less than ideal. I too clearly recall a TV screw-up during Lew Landers’ The Raven (1935). Bela Lugosi was reciting Poe’s poem, and as he gravely intoned, “Suddenly there came a tapping,” the sound briefly switched to a commercial they were lining up, so it was followed by someone screaming, “Now! Veg-o-matic!” Trooper that Bela was, of course, he continued unfazed, “As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.” Unfortunately, I hear it in my head that way to this day.

Of course, some of the nostalgia is less for the films themselves in many cases, and more for our misspent childhoods. I guess I’m as guilty of that as anybody, but I don’t get morbid about it. If all I got out of these movies today was the same thing I got out of ‘em when I was 10, I wouldn’t still be watching them. I don’t long for beat-up 16mm prints and horror hosts and arguing with my parents about staying up so late or how they were worried that I was too interested in these gruesome movies (“I don’t think it’s healthy”). In fact, one of the nicer things about the 2006 Bash was seeing The Strange Case of Dr. Rx (1942) in a nice print on a big screen with an audience of a hundred or so fans. Any movie with a bogus mad scientist who dresses up in a Klan-go-to-meeting-hood and goads his pet gorilla into pulling his helpless victims toward his cage deserves to be seen as large as possible. (How could my parents think that was unhealthy? I don’t get it.)

I have to admit, though, that it’s not all Guinness and gorillas. Like everything else on earth, horror fandom is broken up into factions — and not all factions talk to each other. You may be sure, on the other hand, that they talk about each other. (You might be surprised, however, to learn that these divisions by and large follow political party lines, i.e. there are liberal fans and conservative fans and it’s sound policy not to confine the two in a small space.) Still — maybe I’m just kind of oblivious at these functions — I’ve found it relatively easy to avoid the folks I have little desire to run into. In fact, I find this much more easily accomplished than convincing myself yet again that I really don’t need that overpriced one-sheet from Scared to Death (1947) that shows up — more overpriced — every year. (Now, if it’s a Voodoo Man (1944) half-sheet, all bets are off and my bank balance soon will be.)

So here I am and there you are and poor Mr. Souther is stuck watching Get Smart and The Love Guru (I swear I didn’t plan it this way.)

Now, while I’m off living it up in lush, picturesque Butler, I thought you might have a little fun with a small horror movie quiz that I’ve cooked up off the top of my head. Now, here’s the catch — since I came up with this trivia challenge without recourse to books or the internet, it’s only fair that you answer in kind. Of course, you can cheat, but you’ll know in your heart that your mind isn’t filled with useless information.

Shall we go?

1. What famous horror actor came out from behind a curtain before the credits of Frankenstein (1931) to warn viewers about what they were about to see? What was this actor already famous for? (Bonus points for anybody who can recite the speech.)

2. What actor was Paramount’s first choice for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) until director Rouben Mamoulian pointed out that while their choice was perfect for Hyde, he couldn’t possibly play Jekyll? Who finally got the dual role? And what role did the rejected actor become famous for in horror circles a five years later? (Hint: both he and the film in question were pictured in a recent Screening Room.)

3. What famous 1933 Paramount horror picture was banned outright in Great Britain, much to the delight of the source novel’s author? And who is that author?

4. In order to use up a contractual commitment to the Technicolor Company, Warner Bros. produced two color horror films in the early 30s—only one of which went into general release as a color film. What are the two films and what is unique about the one that didn’t get released in color outside of the biggest markets?

5. In Universal’s 1943 version of The Phantom of the Opera what famous horror/fantasy writer’s father played the role of Franz Liszt? And what novel by this writer was filmed (badly) by that same studio the following year?

6. What’s unusual about the musical score on James Whale’s The Invisible Man (1933)? Who was the uncredited composer?

7. Post-production changes to James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935) caused a very amusing continuity error in the film’s big explosive climax. What is it?

8. The first talkie horror picture (now lost) was Warner Bros.’ The Terror (1928). What was unique about its opening credit sequence?

9. What 1930s Universal classic was reworked as what 1963 Hammer vampire picture? (Hint: the latter doesn’t star Christopher Lee, and this isn’t a universally accepted idea.)

10. What B horror star is given third billing in a movie he isn’t even in?

Famous (and not so famous) Quotes from Horror Movies:

Here’s a collection of lines from horror pictures dating from 1931 up through 2004. I admit that older quotes predominate. It’s not my fault that most of the juicier lines are from old movies. Name the actor or character and the film.These aren’t in any particular order, though the newer quotes come last.

1. “If I could get my hands on you, I’d break your dried flesh to pieces.”

2. “To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious! There are far worse things awaiting man than death.”

3. “How does it feel to hang on your own embalming rack, Hjalmar?”

4. “The brain that was stolen from my laboratory was a criminal brain.”

5. “I tear torture out of myself by torturing you!”

6. “It takes a long time and infinite patience to make them talk. Some day I’ll make a woman and it’ll be easier!”

7. “No, gentlemen, that wasn’t torn — this is cannibalism!”

8. “If there’s much more like this, pal, what say we give ourselves up and let ‘em hang us?”

9. “The werewolf is neither man, nor wolf, but a Satanic creature with the worst qualities of both.”

10. “It’s his insides caught at last — insides is always the last to be consumed.”

11. “She was beautiful when she died — a hundred years ago.”

12. “Pardon, master, I’ve come to warn you! The evening paper states that the Maniac has committed murder again — this time close to this very house!”

13. “We make our own electricity here — and we’re not very good at it.”

14. “Just rub a little on the tender part of your neck.”

15. “You see M’bongo here? He is very stupid. But soon he will be very smart and you will be … not so smart.”

16. “Pardon me, Professor, but didn’t I just see you outside baying at the moon?”

17. “Mad? Of course, I’m mad! So were Galileo, Newton, Lister — and all the others who dared to dream!”

18. “I believe that in ten minutes something monstrous and horrible is going to happen — and when it does you’re going to be right here.”

19. “The blood of these whores is killing me!”

20. “They’re all going to laugh at you!”

21. “Who’s going to listen to a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow.”

22. “Humble Pie!”

23. “Hell would be ending up on Celebrity Fear Factor in a worm eating contest with Anna Nicole Smith.”

24. “No time for ritual, no time for ceremony!”

25. “The previous tenant always wore slippers after ten o’clock.”

26. “Morality sucks.”

And there you have it. I probably won’t be online this weekend to check in on this, but I’ll send Justin a list of answers in case he is and has the time. If you get more than half the questions and half the quotes right, we could use you at Monster Bash 2009, I’m sure.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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15 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: The pleasures and perils of fandom

  1. Kevin F.

    One of the funniest moments of my undergraduate career was attending a party (not even a Halloween or costume party), walking into a crowded room of people drinking beer, and instantly hearing someone shriek “the blood of these whores is killing me!” I had just watched the film from which that comes (and I don’t want to give it away here, since some people might want to take the quiz) and basically fell on the floor laughing. Of course, there is a chance that someone said that phrase without realizing that it was also a fairly famous line in a movie.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Coming to you almost live from Butler PA, I want to add that anyone who wants to e-mail me their answers is welcome to do so.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Well, having come back from the Bash (and have already learned that I’m booked for next year, since the magazine seems to have been something of a success, making it inescapable, I guess), I find that the big “winners” in the quiz so far have been — surprise — people who were at the Bash.

    The highest score is 9 out of 10 on the questions, and 19 out of 26 on the quotes. (And, no, it wasn’t Chip Kaufman, who wasn’t at the Bash anyway.)

    I’ll wait a few days before giving out the answers in case anyone else wants to give it a go. I know there are some people out there who ought to get at least half of these.

  4. Dionysis

    You came up with all of this arcana “off the top” of your head? I am in awe of your movie-ness. I’ve been a horror and sci-fi fan for decades, and I can only shake my head reading these lists. Since I chose to not cheat by running to IMDB, I can’t even get a ‘gentleman’s ‘C’ on this quiz. The few I can answer?

    List A:
    3. Island of Lost Souls
    9. Kiss of the Vampire

    List B (quotes):

    2. Dracula, Bela Lugosi to Jonathan Harker
    3. The Black Cat, Bela to Boris Karloff
    4. Frankenstein (1931) Baron Frankenstein
    9. The Wolf Man (1941) Olga the gypsy
    19.Andy Warhol’s Dracula, Udo Kier
    21.Re-Animator, Herbert West

    That’s all I can muster. Off the top of your head…geez.

  5. Ken Hanke

    You came up with all of this arcana “off the top” of your head? I am in awe of your movie-ness.

    Yeah, but just think what I might be capable of if my head wasn’t full of this stuff!

    Your list A answers are correct. Kudos for getting no. 9. Your quotes are correct, except no. 4 is Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan) and not Baron Frankenstein, and your no. 9 is wrong (think earlier werewolf movie!).

  6. Dionysis

    “your no. 9 is wrong (think earlier werewolf movie!).”

    Okay, then it has to be Werewolf of London (I always enjoyed the scene in that film when Henry Hull, freshly werewolf-ized, dons his coat and hat before venturing out in the night).

  7. Ken Hanke

    Okay, then it has to be Werewolf of London (I always enjoyed the scene in that film when Henry Hull, freshly werewolf-ized, dons his coat and hat before venturing out in the night).

    And you are correct. However…if you’ll think about it, it makes sense for Hull to do that, because he has retained part of his human intelligence in the transformation. Now, explain to me how it is that Lon Chaney Jr. always ends up in that janitor outfit when he goes out no matter how he was dressed at the onset.

  8. Dionysis

    “Now, explain to me how it is that Lon Chaney Jr. always ends up in that janitor outfit when he goes out no matter how he was dressed at the onset.”

    If I could explain that, then I could also explain how it is that Claude Rains as The Invisible Man had to disrobe to be invisible, yet the scene near the end with him being tracked in the snow shows…shoe prints.

  9. Ken Hanke

    If I could explain that, then I could also explain how it is that Claude Rains as The Invisible Man had to disrobe to be invisible, yet the scene near the end with him being tracked in the snow shows…shoe prints.

    Oh, that one’s easy. It’s the “Oh, that’s just Jimmy” factor. Much as I love James Whale’s work — he’s on the top half of my 10 favorite directors list — I freely admit that the man had no sense of continuity and was very casual about some things. That’s also partly why the ending of Bride of Frankenstein has the problem mentioned in the quiz (though a re-write is the real culprit). Check out Gustav von Seyffertitz’s entrance in Remember Last Night?. He’s introduced in medium close-shot standing in the doorway. Whale then cuts to a long shot and the man’s magically ten feet into the room. (This is probably the penalty of him “cutting in the camera,” something old-time directors were prone to do because it guaranteed them something like “final cut.” If you didn’t shoot a lot of cover footage, there was nothing to cut away to and the film pretty much had to be assembled your way.) My guess on the footprints is the effects man (John P. Fulton) hadn’t been told that the character was barefoot and when the scene was shot, Whale likely thought it didn’t matter enough to worry about it.

    Now, for real esoterica — what’s different about the home video (exempting the laserdisc, which somehow escaped this) release of Invisible Man and the film as it plays on TV (assuming they aren’t using the DVD)?

  10. Dionysis

    “My guess on the footprints is the effects man (John P. Fulton) hadn’t been told that the character was barefoot and when the scene was shot, Whale likely thought it didn’t matter enough to worry about it.”

    That’s a lot more interesting, and probable, than what I had read many years ago; that the reason was to shield movie-goers from the imagery of a naked invisible man. I never really bought that, given how risque some films of that era were (think the underwater swim scenes from Tarzan and His Mate). I guess that was pre Hayes Code.

    As for the “real esoterica,” that it is. I couldn’t venture a guess. While I do pull out The Invisible Man every few years, I think the last time I caught it on TV was in college, back in the 70s. While I did have a huge laserdisc collection at one time, I didn’t have that title. So, I give.

  11. Ken Hanke

    That’s a lot more interesting, and probable, than what I had read many years ago; that the reason was to shield movie-goers from the imagery of a naked invisible man.

    That’s definitely not the case in 1933! In fact, the 1933 crop of movies had a lot to do with why the production code came into being in 1934.

    The esoterica involves a piece of source music that’s playing when the Invisible Man goes to Kemp’s house. Originally, this was a piece of dance band music from a pop song of the day (if I ever knew which one, I’ve forgotten). Apparently, Universal paid for its use in the film and for the broadcast rights, but they didn’t buy the ancillary rights, so rather than cough up the extra money they killed the soundtrack at that point and slapped on some non-descript piano playing of a public domain bit of music. How the laserdisc got by, I don’t know — but bear in mind, this is the same company that accidentally used the wrong source print for Dracula in the DVD box set. I figure they had to pony up for the song “Beautiful Love” that’s heard in The Mummy since there’s dialogue mixed in with it.

  12. Dionysis

    “The esoterica involves a piece of source music that’s playing when the Invisible Man goes to Kemp’s house.”

    Well, I must concede that I rarely pay much attention to movie soundtracks, unless they are particularly effective (or catchy…I bought the soundtrack CDs of a few films for that reason, such as Get Shorty and Jimmy Hollywood) or particularly bad. Your recent piece on the use of classical music in films was, I thought, inciteful, and did make me think about this important element of film making.

  13. Ken Hanke

    Well, I must concede that I rarely pay much attention to movie soundtracks, unless they are particularly effective (or catchy…I bought the soundtrack CDs of a few films for that reason, such as Get Shorty and Jimmy Hollywood) or particularly bad.

    Oh, I suspect that’s true of many, if not most, people, though it’s a little like not noticing editing or writing, which is to say, it’s part of what’s working — or not working — for you whether you’re consciously aware of it or not. And like everything else, there are various schools of thought on it. Some people are firmly of the belief that the best soundtracks are the ones you don’t consciously notice. I don’t subscribe to that notion myself, but I understand it conceptually.

    That said, the change on the track in The Invisible Man is hardly of any great significance — unless, of course, you’re so familiar with the film (I don’t even want to try to guess how many times I saw it during my childhood) that the alteration pulls you out of the film because it suddenly sounds wrong.

  14. Ken Hanke

    “Have you forgotten the house of pain.”

    Charles Laughton in Island of Lost Souls (1933).

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