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The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies, which I attended
during all of last year, began its second year a couple of weeks ago with the
first class of a four-week course on Universal monsters, intended to “examine
the main themes and stylistic characteristics of the horror films produced by
Universal Studios during the 1930s.” I blogged about my classes sparingly
during all of last year, but I will keep a steadier, clearer log this time
Teacher Charlie Ellbé opened the class with a lecture
covering the origins of Universal and horror in general, tracing the influence
of German Expressionism using a clip from NOSFERATU (1922) and establishing THE
HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1925) and THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928) as vital
predecessors—sharing sets, aesthetics and cast members with other Universal
productions. THE MAN WHO LAUGHS was examined for its recycling of sets as well.
All of this led to the screening of Tod Browning’s masterful DRACULA, which is
a perfect entry point into the world of Universal monsters, which I have a
passing—and apparently lazy (!)—acquaintance with.
The post-screening discussion touched upon a variety of
fascinating points, notably DRACULA’s minimal use of sound and significant
theatricality—the stasis of the mise en scène, the slightly exaggerated
performances and the naturalism inherent to the animal imagery all contributing
to a specific mood and atmosphere. This makes DRACULA quite unique among the Universal
productions, and perfectly matches Bela Lugosi’s legendary performance. Also
shown was a clip from the Mexican version, which was shot at the same time and
used the same sets, looks undeniably subpar yet totally awesome in its campy,
unconvincing Dracula and Spanish-speaking glory.
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