The Universal Monsters have loomed large in the imaginations of my kids even before they saw a single film about them. There are Frankenstein and Dracula and Creature From The Black Lagoon toys in the house, and there was a series of monster books that were given to Toshi by his godfather when he was born that were some of his earliest bedtime fascinations.
It’s been a slow process of actually introducing the films to them, though, and one of the ones that I’ve been holding off on was “The Invisible Man.” Then one recent afternoon, we were looking at Reelizer, an amazing website featuring alternative poster art, and they saw a killer “Invisible Man” piece of art, and that’s all she wrote. They both became determined to see the movie as soon as possible.
Once I decided to do this festival, I started figuring out when I could show them things, and I didn’t take into account the baseball practice and the two games that are also happening on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So the only way it makes sense for them to be able to see everything and still go to bed by 8:00 on Sunday night so they’re ready for school the next morning is if we cheat and show the first movie on Thursday.
Of course, the first lesson of making a schedule for any film festival is that your schedule will go completely insane as soon as it starts.
Let me give you a perfect example.
On Thursday, my wife was working all day out of the house, and the boys were home with me. We got up and had breakfast and then I showed them what I had made for them the night before. I gave each of them their own film festival badge, personalized and slipped into the plastic cases that held badges of mine.
Here’s what they found waiting for them:
I have all of the badges I’ve accumulated at festivals and other film related events hanging from the fan in the center of my office at home, and the boys love to look through them. I had to read Allen’s badge to him, but when he recognized his name, he lit up. I told them that they had to wear the badges during the festival, and that they had to keep track of them. It’s very important.
I explained to them that during the festival, only people wearing the badges will be allowed in the office, and that they’ll have to line up outside the office between movies while I change discs. They don’t know what they’re seeing, and that’s probably the thing that excites them the most.
As I said in the initial piece I ran, “The Invisible Man” was supposed to be the first film of the festival. I’m doing everything on Blu-ray, because I want them to see the best versions of these movies that we have here, and so I pulled out that “Universal Monsters” Blu-ray box that Universal put out last year.
When I took the disc out of the sleeve, it wasn’t “The Invisible Man.” It was “Bride Of Frankenstein.” I figured that they must have sorted them wrong, so I checked the sleeve for “Bride” and found… another copy of “Bride.” Huh. I considered my options. The boys have seen “Frankenstein.” I don’t think they’d like “Dracula” at this point. I think “The Wolf Man” is something they’ll dig, but it wasn’t what I wanted to use to start things off. Besides, it seems like fate was trying to tell me something, and who am I to argue?
So we watched “The Bride Of Frankenstein,” and it totally killed. The opening of the film gave us a reason to talk about the story behind the book and who wrote it and when, and then the movie itself kicked in. I always forget what a huge difference there is between “Frankenstein” and “Bride.” The second film is way more confident, modern in many ways, and Karloff’s performance is totally different. It’s much sadder, too, because this film makes it clear that the Monster is anything but. He’s lonely, and he’s angry, and he’s terrified of mobs and fire, understandably. But a monster? Not really. He is curious about his world and has no way of contextualizing anything that happens to him. When he meets the blind hermit played by O.P Heggie, it is a beautiful funny sequence. The Monster is so pleased to find someone who doesn’t judge him and who will simply share experience with him that he just lights up.
I am alway surprised by the emotional impact of certain things on the kids, and in this case, Toshi said to me as the hermit and the Monster shared their cigars, “I don’t know why, but this makes me cry, Dad.” I looked over at him, and sure enough, his eyes were red and full.
“That’s okay, buddy. If you feel like you want to cry in a movie, you should. They do that sometimes.”
“He’s really nice to the Monster, isn’t he?”
“He is, yeah.”
Allen piped up that he was crying, too, and he even dramatically wiped his eyes, but his big broad smile told the real story. He watches Toshi closely for cues, and he likes to stay even with his brother. What didn’t hit me at first is how perfectly they’ve been set up now for “Young Frankenstein.” That scene with Gene Hackman is going to blow their minds. They already know Mel Brooks from “Spaceballs,” and now they’re going to see just how right he got the “Frankenstein” films as well. And when they see that it’s Willy Wonka playing Frankenstein… well, I’m dying to see how it plays out.
Allen was particularly delighted by Doctor Pretorius, played like a giant medicated stork by Ernest Thesiger, and by his weird little homunculi. Allen called it as soon as Pretorius showed up. “Oh, he’s the bad guy!” He cackled at pretty much everything Pretorius did.
But when the big moment came and the Bride rose from that slab, they both had a lightning bolt of recognition when Colin Clive lets loose “She’s alive! Alive!” because they have been listening to “Weird Science” for years. I actually didn’t even think about it ahead of time, and when they both came off the couch, yelling, I didn’t know why at first. Once they calmed down, I hit play again, and we watched the scene where Elsa Lanchester comes to life. It flattened them. And when The Monster orders Henry and Elizabeth out of the castle, you could have heard a pin drop. They held their breaths for Karloff’s spectacular final line, and when the entire castle came down, they turned to me, shocked.
“THAT’S IT? THAT’S HOW IT ENDS?”
Oh, man, they’re going to kill me when they see “Beneath The Planet Of The Apes,” aren’t they?
Tonight, as I was putting them to bed, Allen wasn’t in a great mood. It had nothing to do with the festival or what we watched today, but when I talked to him about it, he told me that the movie made him sad, too. He told me how much he felt like the Monster didn’t get a fair shake. He told me that people should have been nice to the Monster, and he said it’s hard when people don’t understand you. He told me that he felt like people should know the Monster isn’t bad at all. He told me that it’s not fair that people didn’t even try to get to know the Monster, and that he hoped the Monster survived again. “Maybe next time, he won’t be so lonely because he’ll have a family,” he said, and with that, he hugged me again, holding on like he never wanted to let go.
It’s off to bed for me as well, because we’ve got “Beetlejuice” to start the day in about five hours, and I have to make a few guest badges for people who are planning to drop by today. If you’re playing along at home, today will feature both their first Hitchcock film and their first Indiana Jones movie. It’s a big one.
“Film Nerd 2.0” is a regular feature here at Motion/Captured.