A friend of mine at work is a movie fan. But being a Gen X aged guy he hasn’t been exposed to the full gamut of classic Hollywood films from the ‘30s and ‘40s. Recently he’s begun a systematic review of these films. For instance, he just finished up an exhaustive viewing of all Alfred Hitchcock’s films in chronological order. He even watched the early silent films Hitchcock made. Now that is dedication. On the whole he seemed impressed by Hitchcock’s body of work. While he recognized weaker efforts he also felt that Hitchcock was an extremely competent craftsman who produced quality work. And he noted that Hitchcock innovated over the course of his career and broke new ground in several ways. He did chide him for birthing the slasher films with Psycho. But all in all he was a great director.
This month he started on a smaller project. He’s watching the Universal Classic Monster films. He just finished up on Dracula, Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein. When I spoke to him he was surprised and disappointed at what he judged a lack of quality. I told him I predicted he’d really be shocked once he’d watched the Wolfman. He is soldiering on but I could see he was let down.
After my comment, my friend questioned whether I disliked the Universal series. I told him I have a fondness for them but have no illusions about the artistry they represent. My exact words were, “Peter, they were made to scare children and simple people. They were wildly successful at doing this. And if you watch them in the right frame of mind they still can entertain.” I’m not sure if I convinced him but it got me thinking about what those movies could say to an audience today.
First off, let’s see how they do with today’s kids. I have a 13-year-old grandson who has been fed a steady dose of these films from about the time he was five. Now, they may have become tame fare for him now but he still likes watching them. He probably recognizes the relation to such modern fixtures as the Count on Sesame Street and Hotel Transylvania. And basically kids are still kids and monsters are great fun for kids. So, one audience still exists for these movies.
For those of us who grew up watching these movies their charm although thinned by use still survives. They’re like old relations who diminish in importance as we grow up but still are fondly regarded and maintain an association in our minds with the happiness of childhood (if your childhood was happy). This audience is shrinking but is still a large population.
And finally, there are those who are fans of all things fantastic. If you are a SF&F fan then how can you not, at least, have a curiosity about the origin of all those First Blood and Underworld stories? Sure, the 1930’s models were vastly less cool, what with their crosses and holy water, but even if just from an historical perspective, they should be viewed and discussed.
Being solidly in the second and third camps I feel entitled to give my opinion. And that’s what I’ll do. I’ll plow through the canon and give the pluses and minuses as honestly and objectively as I can. It should be fun. Stay tuned.