Thursday, 30 October 2008

Mickey Mouse's House of Horrors

Around the mysterious alpine headquarters of Voyages Extraordinaires, on dark and stormy October nights, an annual Halloween tradition is watching all of Disney's greatest horror stories. We pull up a tub of popcorn balls and inch-long chocolate bars, flick on the projector and watch Mickey and the gang battle Lonesome Ghosts, Donald Duck square off against Witch Hazel, the Old Mill barely withstand a spring thunder shower, the Evil Queen transform herself into a withered Old Hag, Ichabod Crane flee the Headless Horseman and mighty Chernabog raise the spirits of the dead for a bacchanal atop Bald Mountain.

Unfortunately we can't quite share this tradition with our readers. However, Mickey is no stranger to grim, grinning ghosts. Rather, he's been fearlessly facing them down since the very beginning. The following shorts are three very early and very delightful black-and-white pieces in keeping with the season. The fourth is an otherwise unhaunting cartoon, but look for the cameo by Bela Lugosi, Fredrick March and Boris Karloff!


Silly Symphonies, The Skeleton Dance (1929)


Mickey Mouse, The Haunted House (1929)


Mickey Mouse, The Mad Doctor (1933)


Mickey Mouse, Mickey's Gala Premier (1933)

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Universal Studios Monster Gallery III



Dracula (1931)


Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)


The Mummy's Tomb (1942)


Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Thursday, 23 October 2008

The Wolf Man (1940)



The horror movies produced by Universal Studios were often thuroughly moralistic, though it is a moralism which one must dust the cobwebs away from before understanding it. 1941's The Wolf Man is just such a film, which gives us at least two morals on the subjects of traditional wisdom and the sublime power of nature.

Lon Chaney Jr., born Creighton Chaney as son of legendary silent film actor Lon Chaney, stars as Lawrence Talbot, or "Larry" as he prefers to be called. Following the untimely death of his elder brother, Larry returns to Wales from life as a mechanic in California to oversee the estate which he now will come to inherit once his father, played by Claude Rains, passes away. The second-born son, Larry felt that he had no future in Talbot Castle, a feeling reinforced by his strained relationship with his father. Returning to the sleepy Welsh village, Larry becomes once again a man out of place... So much time has passed that he no longer even carries the accent with him.

After his sogourn in 1940's America, Larry brings back with him more than just a new accent. He has received from his adopted homeland the world of the atomic age, its illumination washing out the old superstitions of the old country. In California he became accustomed to a world in which man is at the top of the ladder, dismissing tradition in the name of democracy and technological progress.

Sir John Talbot, his father, is a little more sympathetic to these traditions. He is a symbol of tradition himself, as a knight and the lord of an estate. But he is also a man of science and the 20th century, and in response to Larry's later questions about lycanthropy, Sir John admits that such a state may seem real to the victim as a form of neuroses. He evidently holds to the maxim that in every legend there is a seed of truth.

Both would have done well to heed the warnings of that most mysterious and antiquated European sect, the gypsy. Against the better warnings of the gypsy woman Maleva and her fortune telling son Bela, Larry enters a supremely sublime thicket of dark, scraggly trees and dense fog, only to emerge as the Wolf Man. Maleva and Bela were the most intimate with the danger, since it was Bela himself who was the werewolf, yet were dismissed because they were dealing only in the "superstitious nonsense" of an already vehemently discriminated against racial minority.

Time and Nature thrust dangerously, disasterously, through the thin veneer of civility and civilization. Every logical reason for Larry's terrors - and Lon Chaney Jr., with his oafish innocence is perfectly cast in the role of the morally and spiritually tortured werewolf, if not necessarily a Welsh aristocrat - falls before the one inevitable fact that he does indeed transform into a ravenous beast every full moon. The only thing that can save his soul is the herbal wisdom of the wolfsbane-weilding gypsies, if the gears of fate have not already ground their inexorable path.

The tone of The Wolf Man towards the gypsies echos strongly the rural motifs of the Romantics, who upheld the "timeless" peasants as those close to the land, its wisdom and its mysteries. In this case, it is the Romani who still tell fortunes, dress in "ethnic" garb and travel by horse-drawn wagon in an age of science, suits and automobiles. Their wisdom is that of the occult mystery of the werewolf, shared through a simple poem, the timeless sound of which obfusicates its invention for the movie:

Even a man who is pure in heart,
And says his prayers by night,
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms,
And the autumn moon is bright.


Disturbingly, this poem singles out those who should be most safe from such horrors: the spiritually and morally noble. Purity of heart and religious devotion cannot save one unless it is also married to submission to ancient wisdom and the sublimity of nature. The Wolf Man is the avenger of Nature, proving to humanity that its attempts to control Nature are fruitless illusions. Such a theme is shared in the 1936 sequel Dracula's Daughter, in which the title character attempts to find a cure for her vampiric condition in halls of academic psychology, as well as countless other classic Universal horror movies. After three climactic deaths (The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man and House of Frankenstein), Larry is finally cured by science in House of Dracula... But science also spelled the doom of the doctor who cured him, and it evidently didn't take, since the Wolf Man returned intact to haunt Bud and Lou in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Larry may have been safe if he hadn't scoffed at the old supersitions of those from the old country.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Universal Studios Monsters Gallery II



Frankenstein (1931)


This Island Earth (1955)


The Wolfman (1941)


Dracula (1931)


Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Mathema (2008)

Amy Pearson recently contacted us with the news of her new comic, Mathema. According to the synopsys:
The discovery of Mathema would allow anyone to access ancient mystic powers, however, as soon as the secret is revealed it is threatened.
A group of sorcerers with Natural Born Power aim to keep it for themselves - calling themselves the 'True'.

Emery Hall - considered troublesome by his father - is sent away and is at the Mathema lecture when it is attacked by the True. He escapes with the Mathema device and William Wenbury - the young son of Mathema's discoverers.

Escaping does not prove the end and they must find a way to protect the secret before they are silenced.

William - taught by his parents - can use Mathema better than anyone else; he hopes the skills will help him survive long enough to tell of his parents' work. Emery finds his own secrets and fears his loyalty to Mathema may become unclear.

Beth a young, forward thinking sorceress believes Emery can help her stop the elitist True. But first she must earn Emery and William's trust and help them survive. Emery's task is complicated further when a member of his family presents yet another claim on Mathema.

Notable is that this adventure in Mathmagic Land is in a suitably Victorian style!

You can catch the latest updates at Amy's weblog and a preview in the Zuda Comics competition. If you like what you see, be sure to log in to Zuda and place your vote. This is one of the few chances to influence the production of quality comic book material beyond the ambiguity of sales figures. At the end of each month, the winner is selected for publication... Meaning that if Mathema tops out, we get to see the rest of the story! Be sure to check it out!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Frankenstein (1910)



Long feared lost and fragmentary, the version of Frankenstein made by Thomas Edison's film company in 1910 is a frightfully good little silent thrill. The adaptation of the story is loose enough to fit into the mere 13 minutes of the film's length, and the end is so infused with the god in the machine that it makes practically no sense at all. But amdist these is a version that is still truer to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly's original text, in which the Monster is a very erudite and self-conscious entity.

Comparisons to the iconic Universal Studios Monster, best portrayed by the immortal Boris Karloff, cannot help but be made. However, for as much love as we might all have for the contemporary of Bela Lugosi's Dracula and Lon Chaney's Wolfman, Charles Ogle's pale, lank, misshapen Monster does surpass the box-headed and bolt-necked nightmare of make-up artist Jack Pierce. The only other Monster who I've seen come this close to the creature created on that stormy night in the Alps is Robert deNiro's in Kenneth Brannagh's yet more confused take on the story.

Though it can be seen as somewhat comical by more cynical eyes, the creation sequence in Edison's version is far more eerie and haunting than other. Opting for an alchemical reaction rather than bolts of electricity, this Monster rises freakishly from the chemical soup, forming body parts from the mire and pulling in a spirit from the aether. Before the creature is even fully formed his agonized and firey limbs are already moving, a twisted perversion of birthing pangs, in which must be unimaginable suffering.

It is unfortunate that this film dates from a time when a quarter-hour was considered too long to sit in a darkened nickelodeon. A full feature-length movie, grafting dialogue from the book with such excellent silent-era make-up and effects would be a marvellous sight to behold. It wasn't until later in the decade that feature-length chills like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari would be made possible by a changed zeitgeist.

Nevertheless, Thomas Edison's Frankenstein is 13 minutes of pre-Universal sublime glory.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)



From the silent era to the Atomic Age, a period spanning four decades, Universal Studios produced a series of horror films that would become a part of the basic pop-culture vocabulary of the western world. From Bela Lugosi as the suave foreign gentleman of Dracula to Boris Karloff's green-skinned grunting monster of Frankenstein to the classic fish-man of Creature from the Black Lagoon, the mythology of the Universal Studios Monsters is inescapable.

For the most part though, these films were set either firmly or by default in the same time period the film was released in. Dracula, for instance, takes place not in late Victorian London, but in 1931. Sometimes, this creates a particular problem, such as in the Kharis mummy films. Over the course of 4 films, the story takes place during a span of over 70 years, yet every film has a 1950s setting. Some of the franchises had to be reworked with each subsequent installment: the original Frankstein seemed to be set in 1931, but was pushed backwards in time with the introduction of Dr. Henry Frankenstein's fully grown son and heir Wolf Von Frankenstein in 1939's Son of Frankenstein. That was displaced again when Wolf's much older-looking younger brother Ludwig was introduced in 1942's Ghost of Frankenstein. Even names were changed retroactively to fit the new chronology, as the genial and modern-sounding "Henry Frankenstein" changed into the more formal and antiquated "Heinrich Von Frankenstein".

There is a piece of the Frankenstein puzzle, however, that is firmly fixed as a period melodrama. This film also happens to be the finest hour of the Universal Studios Monsters: Bride of Frankenstein.

Released in 1935 and directed by auteur James Whale (who also directed the original Frankenstein and The Invisible Man), this film is widely acknowledged of the best of the Universal Studios Monsters. Whale's wry smirking humour is at it's most biting, while his melodramatic filming is at it's peak. The great themes of the series are explored most satisfyingly, and it is filled with the lavish, quintessential monster "stuff", which earns it a place in the history of Scientific Romances.

The film opens with Lord Byron, Percy Shelly, and his wife Mary retiring in a platial manor as storms buffet the outside... A replay of the legendary dark and stormy night along the shores of Lake Geneva in 1816, which saw Mary create Frankenstein to begin with. Byron recounts the original story with glee, savouring, as he says, "each individual terror. I roll them on my tongue." Mary deffends herself saying that the publishers and public did not realize that her intent was to tell a cautionary tale about a man who tresspasses in the realm of God... a humourous interjection, considering that Percy Shelly wrote an introduction for his wife's novel in which he stated categorically that this was manifestly not her aim. She then goes on to continue her tale of terror, which fades out from the trio of writers and fades into a group of screaming villagers skulking about the burning remains of a windmill...

Having recovered from his near death, Henry Frankenstein vows that he will never again delve into the secrets that God holds so jealously... Yet, it was so close within his grasp... the secret of life and death, of immortality... "It was a beautiful dream". Henry's wife will have none of it though. Prone to visions, she fears that the black figure of death she has seen so often will finally snatch up her darling, and no sooner does the spectre appear again than so does Dr. Pretorius. A tall and lank man with a sneering smile, Pretorius was one of Henry's philosophy professors at university, but who was drummed out for some unrevealled travasty of an experiment.

Pretorius, it seems, has been engaged in further experiments, including the growth of tiny versions of people, and now wishes to join forces with his former pupil, who has achieved much more than he ever dreamt of. Unwilling to do so, Henry is then blackmailed when the Monster, who did not die in the windmill blaze, comes under the thrall of Pretorius. The Monster demands a mate!

After emerging from the windmill's remains, the Monster wandered the countryside, waging terror on the citizens who so persecuted him. He was captured, but escaped to find refuge in the cabin of a blind hermit. Finally finding peace and the friendship he so longed, the Monster and hermit lived happily together, until a pair of lost hunters came to the cabin, and the paradise was lost. This is actually one of the more touching scenes in the film because it is also one of the most personal for James Whale. Whale's films tended towards enshrining the outsider, because Whale himself was a homosexual in a time that homosexuality was more dimly looked upon. In this brief period, Whale allowed his ultimate outsider, the Monster, to enjoy a reprieve from lonliness. But it was not to be...

Running from the angry villagers, the Monster finds sanctuary in a crypt, where he comes to realize that he is of the dead and not the living. In the bowels of the tomb, he meets Pretorius, who is scrouging for bones from which he and Henry will make a female monster. Befriending the Monster, Pretorius uses him as blackmail on the doubtful and tortured Henry. Finally, they go so far as to kidnap Henry's wife. Now there is no question: if the Monster cannot have a mate, his creator will not either. From here, the film spirals towards a mindbending climax unlike any seen on screen before or since.

To earn it's Victorian credentials, the film is in a decidedly turn of the century eastern European setting, complete with grand Gothic castles and quaint though torch-bearing villagers. Enter the mad scientists and their "Strickfaden Machines" (named so by fans, after the electrical effects designer on this and many other Universal Studios Monsters films, Ken Strickfaden)... A dazzling collection of dials and gauges, a nightmarish scene of flashing lights and man-made lightening, an unholy arrangement of contraptions created for the sole purpose of keeping disembodied flesh alive and reanimating the dead.

These nicely period devices of terror are used to tell an ever-relevant tale. While the opening scenes of Bride of Frankenstein may not have been true to the original novel, they are a good summation of this film and the themes of the Universal Studios Monsters, those being the enternal conflict between Good and Evil and in knowing that which Man Was Not Meant to Know. The worldview of these movies is of a universe frightfully full of meaning, where individual choices can spell the difference between salvation and eternal damnation, and where if the old ways and taboos aren't respected, the worst blasphemies and horrors can be met. Such is the case in Bride of Frankenstein, where Henry has repented of his ways, of not heeding the traditions of what Man Was Not Meant to Know, but in his human weakness succumbs to the true mephistophalian temptations of Dr. Pretorius. It is also the story of the Monster, a being who never should have been and never wanted to be, who must deal with a violent and angry world.

Also impressive is just how influential this film proved. Above, I discussed how the Universal Studios Monsters are a part of our basic pop-culture mythology. Even people who have not seen Bride of Frankenstein know exactly who she is and what she embodies... A remarkable feat for a character who has less than 10 minutes of screen time!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Universal Monster Gallery I



Dracula (1931)


The Phantom of the Opera (1925)


The Mummy (1932)


Frankenstein (1931)


Werewolf of London (1935)

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Dracula (1931)



It practically goes without saying that the landscape of cinema history would be radically different had the classic, 1931 version of Dracula never been produced, or been as successful as it was. The film that catapulted Bela Lugosi to fame and precipitated Boris Karloff's Frankenstein later that same year was preceeded in the Universal Studios Monsters canon by Lon Chaney's Hunchback of Notre Dame and Phantom of the Opera, Conrad Veidt's The Man Who Laughs and the "old dark house" comedy The Cat and the Canary, but Dracula marks the true beginning of the franchise. Because of its overwhelming reception, a 30-year legacy of Horror, Thriller and Science Fiction began at the house of Carl Laemmle.

Given its seminal status, Dracula provides a clinic in what makes those creaky old Universal films so wonderful. What is it hiding in those shadows on monochrome celluloid that resonates so deeply with viewers, now almost 80 years on? In the North American horror tradition pre-1960, the horror and blood isn't necessarily the point of the horror film. The exploits of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Sr. and Jr., and Vincent Price are not merely a parade of "mixed up faces", as Famous Monsters of Filmland publisher Forrest J. Ackerman summed up the mainstream view of horror. Instead, through these films, we but up against the wonder and mysticism of the sublime in all its overwhelming, humbling, astonishing, horrifying glory.

The core tenets of the sublime are expressed quite clearly throughout Dracula. Darkness and gloominess are par for the course of a central character who is only capable of moving about at night. But in addition to darkness and gloominess, the vampiric Count embodies in his self and his surroundings many of the central motifs of sublime: the ancient, the ruinous, the powerful, the obscure, and natural processes and natural revulsion.

The ancient and ruinous lurch claw-in-claw through the story of Dracula. Not only is the vampire himself an ancient being, the undead corpse of 15th century Wallachian warrior Vlad Tepes, but he occupies his same ancient castle, which has desiccated into a state of external corruption reflecting the internal corruption of its owner. When the visiting clerk Mr. Renfield enters the castle, he is dwarfed in the massive but dilapidated Gothic hall. The structure is draped with cobwebs, crawling with vermin which enter and exit through fallen walls and broken windows, and littered with collapsed columns surrounding the giant staircase on which Bela Lugosi utters his famous line "I bid you... Velcome." When Dracula decides upon a change of hunting grounds, he picks locations remarkably like those which he left in his homeland. The abbey at Carfax is an equally ruinous structure with yet another massive staircase and a Gothic basement littered with debris over a dirt floor.

In the sublime, the ancient and ruinous stand together to impress greatness or vastness upon the spectator. The greatness is seen in the sheer immensity of the edifices that Dracula occupies. But the vastness of time is also implied by the ruined state of these edifices, humbling one in both the temporal and the spatial spheres. This theme of the ancient would appear as a main plot thread in the 1943 sequel Son of Dracula starring Lon Chaney Jr. In it, Count Alucard (Chaney) explains his reason for moving to America by saying that it is a young and virile place, not a dusty and dead one like his homeland.

The powerful and obscure are also enjoined in Dracula, and in all monster movies, by the mysteriousness of these supernatural beings and their unholy abilities. The mystery of the vampire can only be solved by the wise Dr. Van Helsing who has learned from obscure legends and occultic texts. Of his powers, the vampire can turn into any creature of darkness or command them to carry out his will, can physically overpower the strongest men, cannot be killed but by peculiar and risky methods and musters the powers of hypnotic suggestion and greatness of will. But more than this, he is something completely otherworldly which serves as a focal point for supernatural activities. Weird, unnatural things happen when Dracula is present, and his ability to control others with a cold, silent gaze is frightening.

One of these unnatural things is the storms which accompany him on his way to England. Tossed about by waves and pummeled by rain, the motif of the sailing ship at the mercy of nature is a common image of the sublime. This is where we see humanity dwarfed not by monumental architecture and the ancient time from which it came, but from the immensity and power of the natural elements. Another example of this comes from Renfield's approach to Castle Dracula through the measureless chasms of the Borgo Pass, where the ill-fated clerk is rendered insignificant through the grandeur of the mountains and the valley.

Natural revulsion is an extension of the idea of power, but as a power held by the smallest of creatures which are able to frighten us because of the lethal attributes they possess... The spiders, vampire bats, rats, wolves, snakes, and insects which Dracula can both command and transform into.

These contrivances usher the viewer into a world filled with sublime meaning, where the power of Space, Time, Nature and Divinity are are their grandest. Unlike modern horror films which derive their fright from a universe devoid of meaning and higher purpose, where people are interchangable victims waiting to happen and whose gory murders are the subject of delight rather than tragedy, Dracula derives its horror from a universe frightfully full of meaning. Every choice that the characters make can tip the balance in the cosmic struggle between Good and Evil as they react the vampiric personification of darkness and temptation in their midst.

The brilliant thing about Dracula is that it is a character study. One admittedly doesn't get much out of Tod Browning's directoral style, and on that count the co-produced Spanish version of the film is much better. However, the sublime surroundings play wonderfully against the drama unfolding amongst the people surrounding Carfax Abbey. Each one reacts differently in the face of the Count: Renfield goes mad from his surrender to evil, Lucy gives herself over completely, Mina resists but finds herself too weak, Jonathan has no idea what is going on and Van Helsing steels himself with all the powers of will and Heaven against the monster.

The contrast with modern films is incredible. Where most nameless actors sleepwalk through their roles - which they must for the modern horror trope of life's meaninglessness and lack of value to work, for death must be entertainment and cannot afford to be tragic - the actors of Dracula practically leap from the screen. This is especially true of Bela Lugosi in the title role, Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing and Dwight Fry as Renfield. To see how significant their charismatic presence really is, one needs only to watch the Spanish version which is superior in nearly all aspects but for the cast. It is little wonder that all three would become typecast in horror roles, and Van Sloan would end up playing the same or essentially the same character in The Mummy, Frankenstein and Dracula's Daughter.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Universal Studios Monsters



If there is anything that we at Voyages Extraordinaires love more than a rousing tale of Victorian adventuring in a past that wasn't, it's the murky depth of a horror film from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Opened up before us on monochrome celluloid is the antique romance of a bygone age so close yet elusive, and in that world there are monsters lurking in the fringes and the shadows. They hide in fog-choked forests, immense alpine passes, ruined and overgrown castles. They bid us welcome, show us what it means to trespass into the realms of God and know that which we were not meant to know, and do so in unparalleled glamour and style.

Nobody did it quite as well as Universal Studios. There were certainly others that rose to the occasion, like filmmaker Val Lewton and pictures like White Zombie... Even Mickey Mouse tussled with skeleton dancers and mad doctors now and then. None matched Universal for sheer output, enjoyment and quality. From the Silent Era to the Atomic Age, the Universal Studios Monsters are an unparalleled legacy.

The answer to why this is so, and why there has never been a good horror film in colour, may begin with the infamous and contemporaneous eccentric Montague Summers. An Anglican clergyman and expert on Gothic literature with a bent for Romanticism and writing books about vampire hunting, Summers wrote the following in his introduction to Horace Walpole's seminal novel The Castle of Otranto:
There is in the Romantic revival a certain disquietude and a certain aspiration. It is this disquietude with earth and aspiration for heaven which inform the greatest Romance of all, Mysticism, the Romance of the Saints. The Classical writer set down fixed rules and precisely determined his boundaries. The Romantic spirit reaches out beyond these with an indefinite but very real longing to new and dimly guessed spheres of beauty. The Romantic writer fell in love with the Middle Ages, the vague years of long ago, the days of chivalry and strange adventure. He imagined and elaborated a mediaevalism for himself, he created a fresh world, a world which never was and never could have been, a domain which fancy built and fancy ruled. And in this land there will be mystery, because where there is mystery beauty may always lie hid. There will be wonder, because wonder always lurks where there is the unknown. And it is this longing for beauty intermingling with wonder and mystery that will express itself, perhaps exquisitely and passionately in the twilight moods of the romantic poets, perhaps a little crudely and even a little vulgarly in tales of horror and blood.

The blood, guts and gore of a horror film are not the point, at least in this Golden Age. Compared to their usurpers - the Freddies, Jasons, Ghostfaces, and Jigsaws - old Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster are anemic. Yet the comparison misses the point, which is not gore. Nor is it even the shallow fright of a "mixed up face", as the beloved Forrest J. Ackerman dubbed the mainstream view of horror films.

In their article Monster Fan 2000, Lint Hatcher and Rod Bennett outline the experience of what these films were about, from the perspective of children who grew up in the monster fad of the 1950s and 1960s:
Those kids knew that - strange as it may sound - when they were engrossed in a good old monster movie they were more tapped into who they really were and who they wanted to be than at any other time. Something was stirred up inside them - something that seemed central and true... And as their imagination meticulously worked out the parameters of these supernatural adventures. Those kids discovered new depths in their perspective on good and evil, on courage and dishonor, on beauty and ruin. They cheered one character, feared another -- and for deeply philosophical reasons that took hold in the soul. It seemed, in fact, as though these modern-day fairy tales were not only giving each fan the thrill of their life, but enlarging his or her heart as well -- and in a manner that was neither scholarly nor dogmatic, but incredibly thought-provoking, challenging, and alive.

In short, what these children were experiencing was the sublime in its most recent incarnation, the horror movie.

The idea of the sublime has always been difficult to pin down because by its very nature it defies attempts to define it. One can use words to convey a shallow impression at least compelling enough to fuel academic speculations since the days of ancient Greece. As near as can be said, the sublime is that which inspires infinite awe, dread, horror, ultimate appreciation, and an understanding of our own humble place in the cosmos and in relation to God. The sublime astonishes and shocks us into an awareness of that which is greater than ourselves: Nature and Divinity, Time and Space. The sublime is found wherever there is ruin and vastness, wherever there is darkness and decay.

Edmund Burke, the English philosopher, has perhaps the most widely held view towards the concept of the sublime, courtesy of his 1759 essay A philosophical inquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful. In the following quotation, Burke defines the sublime as a sense of supreme astonishment and the horror that comes therefrom, prefiguring the idea of cinematic "shock value":
The passion caused by the great and the sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it. Hence arises the great power of the sublime, that, far from being produced by them, it anticipates our reasonings, hurries us on by an irresistible force. Astonishment, as I have said, is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are admiration, reverence, and respect.

Burke also outlines the differences between beauty and the sublime which speaks quite clearly to the sensibilities and motifs of classic horror films:
Sublime objects are vast in their dimensions, beautiful ones comparatively small: beauty should be smooth and polished; the great, rugged and negligent; beauty should shun the right line, yet deviate from it insensibly; the great in many cases loves the right line, and when it deviates it often makes a strong deviation: beauty should not be obscure; the great ought to be dark and gloomy: beauty should be light and delicate; the great ought to be solid, and even massive. They are indeed ideas of a very different nature, one being founded on pain, the other on pleasure; and however they may vary afterwards from the direct nature of their causes, yet these causes keep an eternal distinction between them, a distinction never to be forgotten by any whose business it is to affect the Passions.

This all adds up to Montague Summers' vaunted sense of wonder and mystery, the Romance of the Saints at the heart of every horror film. The grand exterior world of picturesque mountains and sunless gorges, ancient deserts and timeless swamps mirrored in gorgeous celluloid monochrome the critical morality of the interior world, where the cosmic powers of Good and Evil waged war within the souls of mere fragile humans. Hatcher and Bennett clarify:
What exactly was the old-style monster fan "liking" when he "liked" monsters? Was it simply that they "scared" him?... But often -- probably most of the time -- they didn't scare him much. In fact, he could probably remember the last time a monster movie had really "scared" him and it was usually some childhood recollection from the time before he actually became a monster "fan." No, what he felt when looking at King Kong and The Invisible Man was something more akin to wonder -- a giddy, exhilarated appreciation is probably the best phrase. He papered his walls with stills of a particular personality like Karloff or Lugosi or of a particular "creepy character" in their repertoire -- a character that, like Frankenstein or Dracula, strangely fleshed out for him the stupendous outline of that "new world" in which he was now dwelling. They illustrated large moral dilemmas like "There are some things man was not meant to know" or riveting themes that grabbed his imagination... "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely."

The young horror fan was inducted into a new and broader world of deeper moral dilemmas and philosophical breadth. In their "cinema-inspired life of the imagination" they would confront the dark Count Dracula amidst crumbling Gothic tombs and resist the temptations of unholy might and immortality he would offer them. They would learn about the heavy burden of obsession thanks to Immhotep the Mummy and Eric the Phantom, or about the old values of life's sanctity and nature's power thanks to the Creature from the Black Lagoon or Dr. Frankenstein's horrifying mistake. They would thrill to the exotic locations that the films would take them, from Egypt to the steaming jungle, and marvel at the vastness of it all and their place in it.

Our closing word comes once more from Hatcher and Bennett:
In truth, beneath that goofy Famous Monsters t-shirt, there beat a heart which was actually embracing -- using an admittedly limited vocabulary culled from these pop-culture icons -- a deeper, firmer belief in Good and a more dedicated refusal of evil than his parents could have imagined. Whatever else our monster fan knew, he knew that life was more than just getting through high school and college, getting a good job, and then making the bucks. And he learned it not from Socrates or the Saints, but from Frankenstein.