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Forget Freddy, Jason, and embrace Dracula, Frankenstein for Halloween

Posted October 27

As winds whistle through the trees, turning leaves yellow and dropping them all over your porch and lawn, and as your neighbors adorn their yards with carved pumpkins and spider webs, as well as assorted goblins, witches and skeletons, you may be thinking about which vampires, werewolves and ghouls to call up for television viewing as All Hallows’ Eve looms.

That is, in between thoughts of NFL games, the World Series, the Real Salt Lake playoffs and the Utah Jazz season starting up.

If you want to sidestep Jason, Freddy, Jigsaw and other R-rated horror franchise characters (zombies and monsters and ghosts, oh my!), maybe you should return to horror movies’ roots.

Dracula and Frankenstein are generally accepted as the kings of the movie monsters, since an uncountable number of films have been made with those characters, dating all the way back to the silent era.

And I really do mean uncountable. There’s a great debate on the internet these days about whether Dracula really is the fictional character that has been in the most movies.

One school of thought suggests that title belongs to Sherlock Holmes. Dracula and Holmes have each appeared in more than 200 films, but the exact numbers are up for debate.

After all, a number of movies use Dracula’s name in the title but don’t bother to make him a character in the film, such as “Dracula’s Daughter” and “Brides of Dracula.” Can you really count those?

Similarly, Sherlock Holmes hovers over pictures that invoke his name but in which he’s never an actual character, such as “They Might Be Giants,” in which a deluded millionaire just thinks he’s Holmes, and “Without a Clue,” with an actor hired to impersonate the fictional detective.

You see the dilemma of minutiae. (How about “Dracula Meets Sherlock Holmes”? Now we’re on to something.)

Similarly, a lot of Frankenstein movies — and there have indeed been a lot — often feature the monster but not the good doctor, as in “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” and “House of Frankenstein.”

But I digress.

There’s a reason Drac and Frank are so popular, so I’m suggesting a return to these monsters’ cinematic roots for your Halloween viewing pleasure. (All the movies below are on DVD, some are on Blu-ray and many are available on streaming sites.)

Universal’s 1931 black-and-white “Frankenstein,” which made Boris Karloff an overnight star, is where you should start. But it’s even better when you make it a double feature with “Bride of Frankenstein.” Together, they really do constitute a sort of continuing miniseries, but they are not as long as that might suggest (each film runs under 75 minutes).

And then there’s Universal’s 1931 black-and-white “Dracula,” which similarly shot Bela Lugosi to stardom. It’s good, but it’s also rather creaky and slow moving these days, and there is no musical soundtrack aside from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” over the credits. (I suggest watching it with Philip Glass’ 1998 commissioned score, which is an option on most DVD/Blu-ray releases.)

If you prefer something in color, there are the British Hammer Films versions that came out in the late 1950s, “Curse of Frankenstein,” with Christopher Lee as the monster and Peter Cushing as Dr. Frankenstein (a role Cushing played in six more films), and “Horror of Dracula,” with Lee making his debut as the caped count (which he would reprise nine times) and Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing.

Another Frankenstein flick to consider is the 1973 British TV miniseries “Frankenstein: The True Story,” a TV miniseries, with Michael Sarrazin as the monster (James Mason and Jane Seymour are also on hand).

And for a Dracula alternative, consider the 1977 BBC production “Count Dracula,” with Louis Jourdan, and “Nosferatu,” in either its 1922 silent version or the 1979 Werner Herzog remake (the latter is available in an English-language version or in German with English subtitles).

If you’d rather have a laugh, there are plenty of Frankenstein and Dracula spoofs out there. Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder’s “Young Frankenstein” is a favorite, of course, but if that’s too vulgar for you, check out “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (which also features Dracula and the Wolf Man), or “Love at First Bite,” with George Hamilton as the count, suffering culture shock in Manhattan.

There are many others, of course, but these are all personal favorites from this corner. And while you’re watching, don’t forget to save some of that candy you're snacking on for the costumed kids that come to your door.

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at hicks@deseretnews.com.

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