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Thoughts on Horror Movies (or A Meditation on Monsters) - Body by Henson, brain by Seuss. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Kelly J. Cooper

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Thoughts on Horror Movies (or A Meditation on Monsters) [Oct. 4th, 2010|04:15 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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Even if only tenuously, the various Frankenstein movies were based on Mary Shelley's book of the same name.

And, even if only tenuously, the various Dracula movies were based on Bram Stoker's book of the same name.

The Mummy, I figured, was inspired by the Egyptology excitement of the early 1900s and the famous Pharaoh's Curse. And I was half-right. Wikipedia references Mark Vieira's book, Hollywood Horror: From Gothic to Cosmic (2003), saying:
Inspired by the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 and the Curse of the Pharaohs, producer Carl Laemmle Jr. commissioned story editor Richard Shayer to find a literary novel to form a basis for an Egyptian-themed horror film, just as Dracula and Frankenstein informed their previous hits. Shayer found none, but he and writer Nina Wilox Putnam learned about Alessandro Cagliostro and wrote a nine-page treatment entitled Cagliostro. The story, set in San Francisco, was about a 3000-year old magician who survives by injecting nitrates. Laemmle was pleased, and he hired John L. Balderston to write the script. Balderston contributed to Dracula and Frankenstein, and had covered the opening of Tutankhamen's tomb for New York World when he was a journalist. He moved the story to Egypt and renamed the film and its title character Imhotep, after the historical architect.
Nitrates! Like a hot dog! Anyway, I started wondering, is there a story behind the various depictions of the Wolf Man? The werewolf existed in folk tales just as the vampire did before the 20th century, but was there a focusing text that made it ripe for movie adaptation?

And there is a story! But it's not what I thought...

This note is from the IMDB trivia entry for The Wolf Man (1941):
According to the documentary on the Recent Wolf Man DVD collection, the script for The Wolf Man was influenced by writer Curt Siodmak's experiences in Nazi Germany. Siodmak had been living a normal life in Germany only to have it thrown into chaos and himself on the run when the Nazis took control, just as Larry Talbot finds his normal life thrown into chaos and himself on the run once he is turned into a werewolf. Also, the wolfman himself can be seen as a metaphor for the Nazis: an otherwise good man who is transformed into a vicious killing animal who knows who his next victim will be when he sees the symbol of a pentagram (i.e., a star) on them.
Further along in the trivia section is this note:
Many of the modern myths of werewolves originated from this film, such as a person becoming a werewolf through a bite, the only way to kill a werewolf is with a silver bullet, and changing into one during a full moon. These are original concepts created by writer Curt Siodmak.
HOWEVER, per both the Wikipedia entry AND the IMDB entry, Werewolf of London predates The Wolf Man by 6 years and also uses the "bite" for transmission of this terrible condition and the full moon as a trigger.

Also, for the amusement value, I'd like to note that Werewolf of London inspired the Warren Zevon song (which came out in 1978, 3 years before An American Werewolf in London, which was inspired by the original movie as well).

The effects of silver do not appear in pre-20th century traditions. The transmission by bite did show up, but it was rare. There were a whole BUNCH of ways to become a werewolf and the biting was rarely cited. So the question becomes, what inspired the writers of Werewolf of London? In 1933, Guy Endore published The Werewolf of Paris, a horror novel. This site claims that the book was the inspiration behind The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), Hammer Films' only werewolf flick. Could it have been the influence behind the first mainstream werewolf film as well? There were other werewolf movies before this one; could they have inspired it? I think I need to poke at this some more.

[User Picture]From: gothtique
2010-10-04 06:52 am (UTC)
Here in Salem there is something of a museum on this very theme.
It has the stupidest name ever: "Count Orlocks Nightmare Gallery"
but essentially, they are a monster movie museum. The history of horror.

The guy that runs the place is pretty cool.
I wouldn't try to pin him down for a long talk in October... but I am sure he would be happy to have his brains picked on the subject over a beer sometime in the off season.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2010-10-05 12:33 am (UTC)
Thanks for the tip! I may check him out after Halloween is well over & he's had time to recuperate.
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[User Picture]From: gilana
2010-10-04 08:05 am (UTC)
Neat, I never thought to question the origins of those.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2010-10-05 12:38 am (UTC)
Every so often my brain just goes *poink* & asks, "How the hell did that get into our culture?"

It's interesting, because so many cultural influences become shorthand for certain things in our language, but how did they penetrate so thoroughly?

I took a course on King Arthur stuff when I was in college, which is where I learned that there is no one single "King Arthur Legend." Instead, there are a bunch of stories, poems, songs, plays, etc. that were written over hundreds, perhaps across a thousand years.

Over a decade ago, I watched some Robin Hood movie or another & went looking for "THE Robin Hood Story" and found out the exact same thing was true of Robin Hood. An historical mention, a few folk tales, a build-up of stories, poems, songs, & plays eventually resulted in the mass of stories we have now.

That was unexpected, because I was used to having a single source point for movies, like the books, Dracula and Frankenstein (to bring it all back around again).
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[User Picture]From: muffyjo
2010-10-04 09:40 am (UTC)
So my understanding of all of the various tales of vampires, werewolves and so on were based on folklore in the dark ages. One epidemiologist went so far as to trace the spread of rabies during that time and connecting it to tales. Rabies, as you know, is a disease that is passed through rats, wolves & bats (sound familiar?) and which presents in humans with symptoms that can be: changes in behavior, heighten sexual drive, extreme sensitivity to light, avoiding of water (thus the holy water connection) and can be transferred through saliva by breaking the skin (biting).

Or more officially put: "Rabies doesn't cause any signs or symptoms until late in the disease, often just days before death. Signs and symptoms may include:

Difficulty swallowing
Excessive salivation
Fear of water (hydrophobia) because of the difficulty in swallowing
Partial paralysis"
-The Mayo Clinic

I've always thought that was a completely wonderful answer as to the origins, albeit more mundane. But you think about the spread of rabies, the lack of a vaccine to stop it and the whole thing, it's enough to keep a person in doors and making up tales to keep your kith and kin indoors as well.

Edited at 2010-10-04 02:26 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2010-10-05 12:41 am (UTC)

Yep! Rabies is a big contender among historians as an explanation for all kinds of things.

So are porphyria (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porphyria, an oft turned-to explanation for vampirism), bipolar disorder, and an uninformed interpretation of serial killers & psychopaths.
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[User Picture]From: rmd
2010-10-04 11:12 am (UTC)
i assumed that "an american werewolf in london" was at least partly inspired by the zevon song.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2010-10-05 12:42 am (UTC)
I would not be surprised if it was (fully or partly) inspired by the song.

(I always thought the song came after the movie; never realized it predated it.)
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