RETRO REVIEW: MARK OF THE VAMPIRE! An Alluring But Controversial Lugosi/Browning Classic Haunts the Big Screen Once More the Plaza Theatre

Posted on: May 26th, 2014 By:

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935); Dir. Tod Browning; Starring Bela Lugosi, Carroll Borland, Lionel Barrymore and Elizabeth Allan; Friday, May 30 (8:00 p.m., 9:45 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.), Saturday, May 31 (8:45 p.m.) and Sunday, June 1 (5:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Tickets $5.00; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

As part of the Plaza Theatre’s week-long celebration of Bela Lugosi starting Friday May 30 (full preview here), one of his greatest—and most controversial—motion pictures gets a rare screening: his final collaboration with director Tod Browning, 1935’s MARK OF THE VAMPIRE!

Prague, 1935. An aristocrat is found dead, drained of blood, with two puncture wounds on his neck. The locals believe that vampires—in the form of Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Carroll Borland), whom they believe haunt the nearby castle—are responsible for the murder. Police inspector Professor Zeren (Lionel Barrymore) is skeptical, however, and is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery behind the mark of the vampire.

Tod Browning was in need of some luck. He’d had a stellar career making deliciously twisted silent features, most notably starring the incredible Lon Chaney. He was hired by Universal Studios to direct 1931’s DRACULA starring Bela Lugosi (with whom he’d worked on 1929’s THE THIRTEENTH CHAIR). Despite the film’s success, Universal was unhappy with Browning’s work, and he moved to MGM to direct 1932’s FREAKS. That film proved so scandalous and controversial (and commercially unsuccessful) at the time that Browning’s career came to a screeching halt. So, when MGM accepted his proposal to helm a remake of his 1927 silent LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (now considered a lost film, with the last known print destroyed in a 1967 fire), he was determined to make the most of it.

And he nearly pulled it off. Despite the film’s more unsavory aspects being removed (implications of incest between Mora and Luna, which resulted in Mora’s suicide and the pair condemned to an eternity of living death) and the film’s trimming from 75 to 61 minutes, the film works like gangbusters. Up to a point, that is.

You see, in the realm of classic horror, few films are as debated as hotly as MARK OF THE VAMPIRE. All of the ingredients of a Golden Age classic are there: a menacing, wordless performance by Bela Lugosi as Count Mora; Carroll Borland as his daughter, Luna, establishing a visual template followed by Maila “Vampira” Nurmi and Morticia Addams; and the deft, atmospheric direction of Tod Browning.

So, what’s the deal?

It’s the twist ending that provides the film’s payoff. It’s an ending that negates everything that came before. Things we have seen with our own eyes are now established as having been impossible. It’s a cheat. Even Bela thought it was ridiculous and pleaded with Tod Browning to change it. A much better ending (that even kept the light tone of the original’s) was suggested, and Browning refused to change course. I’m not going to spill the beans by detailing what happens, but it’s really impossible to talk about MARK OF THE VAMPIRE without bringing up the fact that many see the twist as a crushing disappointment.

And I’m right there with them. It’s such a blow to the film because the rest of it is so good. It’s largely the film that DRACULA could have been if Browning hadn’t been hamstrung by Universal’s budget-pinching measures. (The studio had recently sunk a lot of money into THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and was facing financial difficulties due to the Great Depression. Unconvinced that the horror thing would pay off, DRACULA had many elaborate scenes scrapped and wound up hewing closely to the play in staging the film.) MARK OF THE VAMPIRE’s sets are sumptuous. The effects scenes are brilliantly pulled off, with Luna soaring on bat’s wings and Count Mora materializing out of mist. The photography by legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe is glorious. The performances of stage/screen legend Lionel Barrymore and Elizabeth Allan are rock-solid and ground the film firmly. The supporting cast (especially Lionel Atwill as Inspector Neumann and Donald Meek as the timid Dr. Doskil) is delightful. It all comes together so beautifully, only to be sold so short by an ending that aims for cleverness and lands in clunkiness.

If you can forgive the film its ending, there is so much there to enjoy. Just discount what you see happen on screen after the mystery has been solved, and imagine that Lionel Barrymore’s Professor Zelen receives a telegram saying something like “Sorry, can’t make it. Train held up at the station. Hope everything works out,” and you’ll walk out of the theater a happier person. But to miss the film on the big screen is to miss one of the best—yet one of the most unheralded—vampire pictures ever to come out of Hollywood’s classic era. Or at least 90 percent of one.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Kool Kat of the Week: Freaks, Geeks and Playing with Teeth: Aileen Loy Is Ready to Sing the Music of the Devil…Well, Till Someone Loses An Eye

Posted on: Mar 6th, 2013 By:

Aileen Loy, performing with Till Someone Loses an Eye at the Star Bar on Jan. 10, 2013. Photo credit: Jolie Simmons.

ATLRetro has had our eye on Atlanta visual and performance artist Aileen Loy for a long time, and now seems like the perfect time to catch up since her band Till Someone Loses An Eye will be playing Sunday March 10 in a three-month second Sunday series at the Corner Tavern in Little Five Points. The unique nine-person ensemble also will be opening for self-described “rockabilly-porno-metal with a country twist” Fiend Without a Face  and Ricer on Wed. March 6 at the Star Bar. Other band members include  Sam McPherson and Michael A. Robinson (L5P Rock Star Orchestra/DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA); Meredith Greer (The Chameleon Queen); Steve McPeeks (Art of Destruction)Frank Anzalone (Walk From the Gallows)Brigitte Warren (Wicked Geisha Ritual Theatre); and Dee Dee Chmielewski (DRACULA).

To call Aileen an eclectic talent would be an understatement for her passions definitely are eclectic and her talent unquestionable. Her singing voice is unexpectedly deep for a woman and has often been compared to Tom Waits. her costumes are always the very spirit of Bohemian and often feature bones, whether she is in full Mexican skull-face Day of the Dead regalia or  a skintight black pants fronted by a human pelvis and skeletal legs. Still to call her a goth would be selling her short. She certainly displays a passion for the macabre, but she also equally embraces the playful, including the recent Renaissance of carnival/circus culture and even a gypsy steampunk edge. Till Someone Loses An Eye lists its influences as Waits, Nick Cave and Gogol Bordello and its interests as “rusted metal, old time circus culture, cheese sandwiches, small rocks, freaks, geeks and miscreants.”

When she is not making music, Aileen crafts cool, creepy jewelry using prosthetic eyeballs and teeth, and she has experimented in film and just about every type of artistic media. If that’s not multi-talented, we don’t know what is. But enough talking about Aileen, let’s get talking to her.

ATLRetro: Seeing your artwork and listening to your music, we can imagine you being closer to Wednesday Addams than Cindy Brady as a little girl. How old were you when you started down the path to the darker side of creativity, and what pulled the trigger?

Aileen Loy: That’s a fair cop – I was a pretty serious and awkward little girl. I’m not sure how to answer the rest of that question but there was probably a library card involved.

Aileen Loy plays a mean harmonica with Till Someone Loses an Eye at the L5P Halloween Festival 2012. Photo credit: Stephen Priest.

Who/what were some of your early inspirations musically and visually that still influence your work today?

Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, a lot of classical music. My parents had a weird assortment of albums when I was growing up, so I’d go from listening to SONGS OF THE GUIANA JUNGLE, Lord Kitchener, those odd Reader’s Digest collected works of *insert western classical composer or awesome polka guy, here*, lots of Bollywood, Johnny Mathis and a good dose of Kitty Wells, Dolly, Willie Nelson. Rock and roll was kind of special because I got to discover that on my own. Those were the albums we played when the folks were at work or at my friend’s house. Dad went on a “Rock and roll is the music of the devil; we must burn all rock albums and rid the world of it’s horrible influence” phase, so most of my albums stayed in my room hidden safely behind the Mozart and Ravi Shankar. It was an odd time.

Why do you think circus and carnivale culture has made such a comeback and is seemingly in a renaissance in the independent arts scene from burlesque to steampunk to modern-day proud-to-be-freaks shows?

Good question and I don’t really know. I’ve always been drawn to it because it seemed like a magical amorphous place, where one can, not only be exactly what one is, but is encouraged and expected to be fully that – to gain power and reflect competence and heart through what others might view as “freakish.” It’s a place where no one expects tidy and convenient truths. Fantastic stuff. I think I definitely would have felt safer in there as a kid.

Your vocals have often been compared to Tom Waits, which is unusual for a woman. Did you work to create your unique singing voice or did it just come natural?

I’ve always had a little froggy voice, and the vocalists that I really loved had such huge resonance. You could feel them in your chest! So, yeah of course I wanted to sound like them. That would be me, age 5, trying my damnedest to sing Johnny Cash, and eventually I could. I had a voice therapist tell me that I have the physiology for it . My vocal cords are similar to a male’s. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to train that low.

Aileen Loy fronts Till Someone Loses An Eye at 7 Stages during Day of the Cupcake, Oct. 8, 2012. Photo credit: Jolie Simmons

Tell us about Till Someone Loses an Eye, your latest band. Why the name? And what makes this band special and unique musically?

I thought the name was funny. It could be a threat, an eventuality, or an aspiration. The band is personally interesting to me because everyone has such a widely different back story and vibe from one another, and it informs the music in a pretty cool way.

At an Artifice Club performance in fall 2012. Photo credit: James Curtis Barger.

You list some of your collaborators as “heads of mischief.” What do you mean by that?

I was being glib when I wrote that, just trying to fill a page and get it up. But now it’s very apparent to me that it’s absolutely true on its face, no explanation needed. Lovely troublemakers, all of them.

You’re playing twice this week. Wed. March 6 at Star Bar and then Sunday march 10 at Corner Pub, which is going to be a once-monthly event on second Sundays. Do you have any special plans for either show? Why should folks come out?

Wednesday’s show we’re playing with Fiend Without a Face and Ricer, two reasons right there to come. Second Sundays, we have the whole night to do whatever we want. We could play two full sets just us, or have another band open, or musicians sit in for a song or two. This Sunday, the band, Tulsa, is coming through from SXSW and will be doing an early opener set at 8:30.

A vintage stag pocketwatch sporting a prosthetic eye designed by Aileen Loy.

What are you up to in the visual arts right now? Last time I checked you were making beautiful jewelry involving teeth.

Still plugging away, trying to up the scope of the teeth jewelry a bit and take it to a logical conclusion, not sure what that is. I’ve got a few new projects brewing, but it’s still to foggy to talk about them with any kind of intelligence.

What artistic or musical accomplishment are you most proud of so far, and why?

I’m just happy I’m doing it. Neither was particularly supported when I was growing up, so I kind of always found my own way around. Definitely, a late bloomer.

Finally we had to ask. What’s your favorite whiskey and why?

Is there ever a bad whiskey?

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Something Wicked This Way Comes to Avondale Estates; Step Right Up to the Nightmare Circus of the Dark Harvest Haunted House, Masquerade Ball and Festival!

Posted on: Oct 23rd, 2012 By:

Pull back the tent flap and see what happens when the Devil himself brings the circus to town at the Dark Harvest Haunted House at the Academy Theatre in Avondale Estates! Step right up and brave the cornfields of Bradbury Farm, where the souls of a dead town grow right out of the corn, and Mr. Dark’s Nightshade Odditorium, inhabited by the spirits of long dead sideshow freaks. Oh, and did we mention the Killer Clown Maze?

Another example of Atlanta’s talent in designing homegrown haunts, Dark Harvest runs Fri. Oct. 26 through Halloween (Oct. 31), with an opening night Masquerade Ball featuring some spooktacular entertainment on Fri. night and a family-friendly street carnival on Sat. Oct. 27 from noon to 5 p.m. And as an extra treat, proceeds from all the tricks will benefit local charities such as The Academy Theatre, Lifeline Animal Project and The South Dekalb Senior Center.

From Ray Bradbury’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES to Erin Morgenstern’s recent bestselling THE NIGHT CIRCUS and countless carnival-themed horror movies (Hammer’s VAMPIRE CIRCUS [1972] is one of our favorites and recently remastered on bluray), it’s well-established in horror fiction that circuses and carnivals can be creepy places. We caught up with Angelo Ritz, the mastermind of the entire mad affair, to find out more about his haunting Halloween history, Retro influences and the Dark Harvest experience.

ATLRetro: What’s the first Halloween haunt that you remember going to as a kid and what about it scared you the most or stayed with you?

When I was about eight years old, The Lake Worth Jaycees put together a charity haunted house at The Palm Beach Mall in West Palm Beach, Fla. The only thing I really remember of that first visit is seeing an 8-foot tall vampire – he seemed that big to an 8-year-old – appear out of nowhere in a strobe room and running all the way to the exit screaming like a Catholic school girl in trouble the entire way!

When did you first become interested in designing your own haunt and when/what was it? 

After that first haunt, I was hooked on horror films – anything from UniversalFamous Monsters of Filmland and anything else I could get my hot little hands on related to monsters. The next Halloween – 1972 to be exact – I built my first haunted house in my living room for the neighborhood Trick or Treaters. It wasn’t much, but I did make one little girl wet herself!

Dark Harvest has a circus/carnival theme and there’s even a Bradbury Farm area and Mr. Dark’s Nightshade Odditorium. How much of an influence was SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury on the design? Was that story particularly scary for you as a child?

I’m thrilled that you picked up on the reference! As a child, I don’t think any other piece of genre literature had a more profound effect on me than SOMETHING WICKED. It wasn’t particularly scary to me, but for the first time I think I finally understood the human side to horror literature, that the true nature of an individual can be more monstrous than any zombie or vampire I had seen up to that point.

What other classic horror stories or movies provided inspiration for Dark Harvest?

I would say Tod Browning’s FREAKS (1932) and a little dash of David Lynch‘s ERASERHEAD (1977).

Clowns are supposed to be funny, but creepy clowns have become a special trope in horror movies and fiction (Stephen King’s IT comes immediately to mind). Who are some of your favorite killer clowns and why do you think clowns are so scary to so many people?

Stephen King’s IT, hands down! All others pale in comparison. The book kept me up nights for about a month! The miniseries may not have been great, but Tim Curry as Pennywise haunted my dreams for a good while after. I think people are frightened by clowns for a very simple reason – you never know what’s really under that white make-up and painted-on smile!

Without giving away any spoilers, is there anything else you’d like to point out that’s different about Dark Harvest compared to Atlanta’s other haunted attractions?

The one big difference is the absence of gore. Don’t get me wrong, gore is very effective in the right context, but considering the source material the show is based on, I felt classic scare techniques were more appropriate.

Tim Curry plays Pennywise in the ABC-TV miniseries of Stephen King's IT (1990).

On Friday night, there’s a masquerade ball. The Artifice Club’s Doctor Q will be spinning, but what else will be going on and will there be costume prizes?

We have a great line-up of live entertainment for the ball. Gwen Hughes and The Retro Jazz Kats, The City Gate Dance Theatre Company, Thimblerig Circusand the incomparable Aqualencia Litre. Everyone who attends also gets a VIP (no waiting in line) ticket to the haunt. For the costume contest, there will be trophies in a few categories. I want to keep those under my hat for now!

The family festival on the weekend reminds me of the Halloween school and church carnivals when we were kids. Do you have a favorite childhood Halloween carnival memory and is that the idea – to bring back that tradition?

I think you hit the nail on the head. After my first living room haunt, I built two houses for middle school fundraisers, and I wanted younger children to be able to have as much fun as I did at that age. We are going to have a few different scare levels during the festival to accommodate all ages, including “ The Trick or Treat Haunted House” for the very young (3 to 5 years old) where the actors will give out candy.

Can you talk briefly about the charities that the haunt will benefit?

The haunt will benefit Lifeline Animal Project – a no-kill shelter and pet-fostering facility. The South Dekalb Senior Center – they are greatly in need of art supplies and an instructor for their senior activity program. And The Academy Theatre’s Theater for Youth outreach program.

Advance tickets for all Dark Harvest festivities, including group discounts, are available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com 

All artwork courtesy of Dark Harvest and provided by Angelo Ritz.

 

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