If you thought remakes were a new thing, you'd probably be surprised to know that this 76 year old film is actually a remake of the director's own (no-longer-in-existence) 1927 classic London After Midnight. (Sure, I have no way of knowing that this lost film is a classic, but...duh people! It is.) In the film, a murder where a father and daughter team of "vampires" - played by the legendary Bela Lugosi and the haunting Carroll Borland (pictured below) - are the main suspects is investigated, and a wise Professor/Vampire Expert - played by Lionel Barrymore - is called in to investigate. The film is a relatively modest story that lacks punch and is a bit dated - Browning had little ability to block studio interference after his now iconic film Freaks flopped at the box office - but it features a few haunting visuals and, most importantly to this article, a one of a kind twist that set the tone for future films.
Of course, to tell you what that means, I have to use some of those dreaded SPOILERS - so read the next paragraph at your own risk!
The trick of the film - which is revealed in future Scooby Doo fashion in the final minutes - is that the vampires and the professor are actually just playing a part to weed out the real murderer. The professor is actually the chief of police, and Lugosi and Borland's vampires (who were written as incestuous before the studio blocked Browning from filming this subplot) are actually real life everyday ACTORS. That's right. The director and actor who made everyone terrified of Dracula four years earlier - had made a film which revealed on-screen that the man who terrified millions was actually a jovial actor who got a kick out of wearing a cape and scaring people. Though the plot is a far cry from Scream, this is one of the first films to ever blatantly wink at the audience before implying that these monsters aren't always as ominous as they appear.
By the way, if you don't want my commentary on Mark of the Vampire, Trailers From Hell has some commentary on it...from the legendary John Landis!
I know. Dudes, I know. It's not really a horror film, it's a madcap comedy adapted from a play. It also happens to be one of my favorite films, and it also happens to be a film about a family of feuding insane people who have combined for at least 26 murders.
While Mark of the Vampire took its shots using Lugosi and Dracula, Arsenic and Old Lace uses Boris Karloff and the Frankenstein monster to create its torture. Before Raymond Massey's Jonathan Brewster is even introduced Aunt Martha remarks about how she was taken to one of those "scary pictures" a few weeks earlier, and when we do meet Jonathan, she confirms our suspicions - Jonathan's face resembles that of Boris Karloff.
The incredibly dark comedy - especially for the early 1940s - is also notable because Cary Grant's Mortimer Brewster is a dramatic critic, who spends part of the film explaining murderous acts that he's seen acted out - which then are acted out upon him. Though Frank Capra's adaptation - and the play before it - aimed to create laughs - it's one of the first indications that characters who are wiser due to the things they've watched (like Scream's Randy Meeks) would be coming to cinema screens.
Speaking of Boris Karloff, let's talk about Targets. I've talked about Targets before, but I ain't gonna stop talking about one of my favorite films that easily. But truthfully, Targets is kind of the Anti-Scream.
An aging Karloff stars as aging horror icon Byron Orlok, a man who spent his life playing the kind of characters Boris Karloff would have played. In fact, the film features real works of Mr. Karloff, primarily featuring a few minutes of Roger Corman's 1963 film The Terror (that first-time director Peter Bogdanovich was required to use by Corman) as Orlok's latest film, which has pushed him over the edge toward requirement. In the picture below, Karloff as Orlok watches himself on TV in 1931's The Criminal Code, and laughs about the things he's done to scare innocent people from behind a screen.
I've also covered Popcorn before, but the 1990s' first horror-about-horror must be mentioned here. Though it primarily connects to films of the '50s and '60s for inspiration, Popcorn blazes its own trail by mimicking cinematic kills, and also happens to connect with Scream by making the "survivor girl" be connected to the killer through her parents. The result is one of the most fun horror films of the '90s, and a nice little piece of counterprogramming to offset Scream's shiny side. What Scream offered in criticism of the slasher genre, Popcorn offered in love toward the drive-in and B-movie favorites of a simpler, less demonic time. I love that about it.
FMWL favorite The Bloodsprayer and many other fine places - has spearheaded a campaign to get Popcorn the proper - nay, the FANTASTIC - release and restoration that it deserves. You can check out the progress made by going to the production site HERE, or - more importantly - you can check out the Kickstarter campaign that's funding the project. The project could certainly use your help, and I think it's a darn worthy cause to support.)
(Yes, I just skipped talking about the movie for a paragraph to insert a shameless plug into my list. BUT IT'S FOR A GOOD DVD RELEASE OF POPCORN, and I'm willing to sacrifice for that. Go read my earlier Popcorn post if you need more of it, OK? Thanks much.)
There's Nothing Out There is first and foremost a Troma release - within the first 40 minutes I felt like I had seen every pair of naked breasts on set, and the special effects rival those of a three year old playing with toy dinosaurs - but it also features a hero that any horror nerd - like myself, I proudly admit it - will fall absolutely in love with. If you like Randy Meeks (And who the heck doesn't like Randy Meeks? By golly, he was THE best thing about the Scream films!), you'll get one heckuva kick out of TNOT's Mike. (Hey film, great choice of name!)
And that's five. I suppose I could have talked about Craven's own New Nightmare - in which Freddy Krueger visits actress Heather Langenkamp - but Craven will get his due throughout the week. And though I don't think these five films directly influenced Scream, their place in history is worth noting. Horror has a long history of referring back to itself - ask any horror film that takes a break to tell the story of some terror gone by. Like, for example....
On second thought, that's another list for another day. ;)
Come on back tomorrow for more of Scream Week!