March 16, 2015

Rondo Awards XIII: Voting is Open!

It’s Rondo Awards time again, and we’ve picked up two nominations!

Frankensteinia is up for “Best Blog”, and I am very proud to share a “Best Article” nomination with my friend and colleague George Chastain for The Movie Monster Art of Feg Murray, our illustrated profile of the syndicated cartoonist who celebrated the classic Hollywood Monsters back in the 30s and 40s. The Feg Murray article was serialized here last November.

The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards — “honoring the best in classic horror research, creativity and film preservation” — are entirely fan-based. YOU pick the winners! The ballot is huge, with multiple nominees in 35 categories, and you are invited to vote in as many or as few categories as you are comfortable with. It’s all done by email, just click through, follow the simple instructions and VOTE NOW!

Should you wish to support us, vote Frankensteinia in Category 19, Best Blog, and vote The Movie Monster Art of Feg Murray, by Pierre Fournier and George Chastain in Category 13, Best Article.

You may also wish to join me in supporting The Shelley-Godwin Archive in Category 18, Best Website. This is the library partnership site where Mary Shelley’s complete handwritten manuscript for Frankenstein is digitized, fully searchable and annotated. It is a major piece of Frankenstein scholarship that deserves the support of the Classic Horror community. 

Voting for the 13th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards closes on April 19, with all the winners announced shortly thereafter. Awards will be presented at Wonderfest in Louisville on May 30th.

Vote NOW, and thank you for your kind support.

Nominated: The Movie Monster Art of Feg Murray
My article about The Shelley-Godwin Archive

March 3, 2015

Penny Dreadful, Season 2

Rory Kinnear’s gripping interpretation of Frankenstein’s Monster is featured on a new poster announcing the highly anticipated second season of Showtime’s PENNY DREADFUL, coming May 3. It is one of a series of new images introduced on IGN, along with a trailer for the new season.

PENNY DREADFUL boasts a uniformly excellent cast, headed by the remarkable Eva Green. When Season 2 begins, Kinnear’s Caliban will be introduced to his new Bride!

Penny Dreadful page on Showtime


February 12, 2015

Let Me Tell You About My Operation : They Might Be Giants

Just released by indie superstars They Might Be Giants, here’s a terrific little song beautifully animated on a Frankenstein theme. “Let Me Tell You About My Operation” is part of TMBG’s 2015 Dial-a-Song Project where a $30 subscription gets you a new song every week all through the year. That’s 52 songs!

Directed by David Cowles and Jeremy Galente, with characters and sets designed by David Plunkert, the music video features an irresistible singing and corncob pipe-smoking Moonshine Frankenstein in hillbilly bib overalls, and a combination hunchbacked assistant and mad scientist rolled into one. Brains — tiny ones — pop out of the Monster’s cranium, disembodied hands play the piano, and even the clouds have stitches. There’s a mad lab and Plunkert’s trademark Outsider Rube Goldberg contraptions. And everything pulsates to TMBG’s toe-tapping tune.

This one’s a real treat. Très Bon!

Dial-a-Song website.
David Plunkert website.
David Cowles website.

The Posters of Frankenstein: David Plunkert
The Art of Frankenstein: David Plunkert

February 4, 2015

The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946)

The Monster had a name, and it was… Neon Noodle!

Here’s another cartoon cameo, and certainly one of the most original representations of The Monster ever, in what is considered one of the all-time best animated shorts ever made.

Directed for Warner Brothers by Bob Clampett in his trademark unbridled, madcap style, THE GREAT PIGGY BANK ROBBERY (1946) is essentially a takeoff on Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic strip and its gallery of weird criminals. Here, Daffy Duck imagines himself as “Duck Twacy” going up against an even weirder and way wackier set of gangsters with names and attendant physical configurations as Snake Eyes, Pickle Puss, 88 Teeth, a Wolfman and, among others, a highly stylized Frankenstein Monster made of neon. “Frankenstein” isn’t name checked, but the character is instantly recognizable with his giant size, flat head and outstretched arms.

Descriptively named “Neon Noodle”, this unusual Frankenstein Monster is beautifully animated, casting a soft neon glow, switching from blue to orange and yellow. In a surrealistic scene, Daffy dispatches Neon Noodle by snapping and twisting him into an “Eat at Joe’s” neon sign. All the other bizarre bad guys are tommy gunned in a gloriously gratuitous scene deemed so violent that it was cut when the cartoon played on TV. A restored version would be the very first short shown when The Cartoon Network launched in 1992. Among the film’s admirers is John Kricfaluzi, creator of Ren and Stimpy, who said, “I saw this thing and it completely changed my life. 

THE GREAT PIGGY BANK ROBBERY was Clampett’s next to last job at Warner’s. As soon as he left, and continuing on up to his death in 1984, controversy would follow after he claimed sole credit for creating classic characters such as Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig, while evidence shows the characters has evolved under a who’s who of animators. Director Chuck Jones and voice actor Mel Blanc never forgave him. Still, Clampett’s genius, his enduring influence and his pioneering contributions to animation remain obvious and rightfully celebrated. He would go to a successful career in the nascent field of television, creating the Time for Beanie puppet show in 1949, eventually animated as Beanie and Cecil.


January 18, 2015

Bubble and Squeek in Old Manor House (1947)

Forgotten today, Bubble and Squeek were cartoon characters — a taxi driver and his anthropomorphic cab — whose animated career was limited to four titles released way back in 1947 and ’48. The character’s names were derived from Bubble and Squeak (note the spelling difference), a traditional English dish of pan-fried leftovers, usually served at breakfast. 

The driving force behind the cartoons was American-born George Moreno Jr., late of the Fleischer Studios, who settled in England and launched British Animated Productions (B.A.P.), making a bold attempt at creating homegrown Technicolor cartoons for British cinemas. Unfortunately, the project collapsed quickly when wartime restrictions on foreign products were lifted and the market was instantly flooded with American-made cartoons.

The fourth and final Bubble and Squeek title, OLD MANOR HOUSE, has our heroes seeking refuge from a typical monster-movie-style wind and rain storm inside the title’s “creepy place”, occupied by a belligerent, monocle’d and mustachioed rodent named Colonel Rat. Clocking in just short of 7 minutes, it’s a brisk and manic affair with Bubble and his car subjected to frights that include a nice cameo of a Frankenstein Monster — an absolute requisite character in any scary Old Manor House. Identified as “Frankie Stein’, with forehead wingnut bolts, the Monster moves mechanically, utters a dainty “Boo!”, and exits through the wall, leaving his distinctive silhouette in classic cartoon cutout.

B.A.P. produced a fifth short, spinning off Colonel Rat as the star of LOCH NESS LEGEND (1948) while Bubble and Squeek went on to a brief career as picture book characters. Moreno would go on to work in television and commercial animation.

OLD MANOR HOUSE (1947) is embedded above, worth a look if you don’t mind the poor quality. Embedded below is a British Pathé short showing the B.A.P. crew at Harringay studios working on a Bubble and Squeak cartoon.

George Moreno and B.A.P. on Bear Alley.

British Frankenstein cameos in Dance Hall Frankenstein (1950) and Thursday’s Child (1943).

December 23, 2014

What a Sensation!

A unique, original ad in the Courier-Mail heralded the Easter weekend release of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN at the Tivoli Theater — misspelled at the top of the ad! — in Brisbane. Appearing in the Thursday, April 6 edition of the Courier-Mail, the large ad features a striking full-length Monster in charcoal.

The film was double-billed with a minor Universal musical, FRESHMAN YEAR (1938), starring the perky Dixie Dunbar in what turned out to be her final feature. The dancer quit her uneventful six-year Hollywood career playing showgirls, dancing co-eds and characters named Pasty, Mitzi, Ginger, Goldie, Polly and Tiny. She’s called Dotty in this one. Dunbar returned to better parts and real success on Broadway. In 1949, Dunbar achieved pop culture fame as the dancing Old Gold Cigarette box — only her shapely legs could be seen — on early TV, circa 1949.

Brisbane’s Sunday Mail critic gave SON OF FRANKENSTEIN and its cast his good-humored approval, noting, “The Monster has his spine-chilling moments… But he still looks heavily wooden enough to be harmless to anyone with a good pair of running shoes.” Spoilers weren’t an issue, the reviewer stating, “The Monster gets out of hand and eventually has to be tossed into a boiling sulphur pit for apparent lasting destruction.

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN ran for a week and moved on across Australia throughout the year. Unlike FRANKENSTEIN in 1931, the film suffered no territorial bans to limit its release. SON would circle back across the continent over the next two years for second-run engagements including a 1941 stint that saw it packaged with another Karloff/Lugosi thriller, THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936).

An historical side note: By Saturday morning’s first showing, most Australians had something besides Frankenstein movies on the minds. On the first page of Thursday’s paper, a small notice had read, “Mr. Lyons Ill: Wife’s Dash to Hospital”, noting that the Prime Minister, in recent bad health and “suffering from a severe chill” had been taken to St-Vincent’s Hospital. On Saturday morning, the headline read, “Nation Mourns Death of Mr. J.A.Lyons”. The Prime Minister, suffering a series of heart attacks, had died on Good Friday.

December 19, 2014

Loose Again in Brisbane

Bolt your windows, lock your doors! This dire warning appeared in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail on Monday, April 3rd, 1939. The Monster was “loose again” and heading straight for the city’s storied Tivoli Theater.

We couldn’t let the 2014 run out without celebrating this year’s 75th Anniversary of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, and these great newspaper ads from Australia make for very original Ballyhoo.

On April 5, this next ad ran, proclaiming The Monster as “the screen’s most sensational character” and SON as “easily the best of the ‘Frankenstein’ films”.

Back in 1932, when the first Universal FRANKENSTEIN came to Brisbane and the same Tivoli Theater, the PR went into overdrive with handsomely illustrated ads, “we dare you” hype, nurses in attendance, and a Lloyds of London insurance policy covering the first person who might croak during a showing. The festivities included a live event — a “Frankenstein Night” — at the Carlton Cabaret, with The Monster putting in a personal appearance!

In 1939, the PR was toned down but, still, the ad copy was wildly enthusiastic, patrons were urged to book seats in advance against the expected crowds, and another live event was scheduled. Note, at bottom left of the ad, on that Wednesday, a “Frankenstein Thrill Night Dance” was to be held at the vast Trocadero dance hall. The venue was known to roll out elaborate displays on theme nights — various charity events or the annual Police Ball — and one wonders how the hall was decorated in celebration of a Frankenstein Thrill Night. There is no record of a Monster stalking the dance floor this time. 

Coming up: Another beautifully illustrated SON OF FRANKENSTEIN ad from the Brisbane papers of April 1939.