Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dracula: The House of the Monsters

Entry six in the Dracula chapter I used for the proposal of Vampires' Most Wanted. The tale of Universal Studios is a fascinating one, more so than I could go into this entry. But the movie studio created some of the most enduring movie monsters ever. And were it not for their willingness to take a chance on a film adaptation of Dracula, the character's popularity might never have become what it is.

6. The Studio

Carl Laemmle, Sr.
Were it not for nickelodeons, Dracula may never have risen. In 1905, A German Jewish immigrant by the name of Carl Laemmle noted the popularity of nickelodeons while on a buying trip to Chicago. For the cost of a nickel, a person could stand at a console and watch a short silent movie played out on a screen the size of a small television. Instantly struck by the hold film had over people, he purchased several nickelodeons and when The Edison-backed Motion Picture Trust decided to start charging fees for any of the productions that ran in the machines, Laemmle and a group of others decided to start producing their own product. From there, he merged his Independent Moving Pictures Company with eight other companies and formed the Universal Film Manufacturing Company (which was later incorporated as Universal Pictures Company, Inc. in 1925). 

The beginnings of Universal Studios
In 1915 he converted a farm near Hollywood to what was the world’s largest movie studio. When it came to the movie business, Laemmle danced to his own tune. Unlike his competitors, he did not risk his money on opening a theater chain and preferred to finance all his own films rather than take on debt. He also opened up his studio to tourists, creating a chemistry with the audience who flocked to the studio’s inexpensive westerns, romances and serials. It was for a decade, the largest studio in Hollywood and found in Lon Chaney, box office gold with his horror movies “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1923) and “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925). 

Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Why then, would Carl Laemmle balk at producing further horror movies to feed the bank account? He was originally against the purchase of the rights to Dracula. Later, when discussing “Frankenstein,” he would claim that he didn’t believe in the morbid genre. People didn’t want to see that sort of thing. But he felt compelled to go with it since, “Junior wanted it.” In 1928, as a 21st birthday present, Carl, Sr., handed over the studio to his son Carl, Jr., making him president of Universal. Carl, Jr. saw the potential of both talkies and the horror genre. The Great Depression hit the nation hard and monster movies connected with need of movie-goers for escapism which was growing as bank accounts were dwindling. 

Frankenstein's Monster
The Wolfman

The Mummy
Not all of Carl, Jr.’s ideas were healthy for the studio. His creation of a theater chain and occasional high-quality film productions proved too taxing financially for a studio that, like the others, was struggling to stay afloat in the poor fiscal climate. But his insistence that horror would prove to be a goldmine was all too right as the studio saw success with “Dracula,” the “Frankenstein” movies, “The Mummy,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Wolfman,” and decades later, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” These monsters would be horror staples for decades to come. In the past few decades, it brought us film terrors like “The Exorcist” and “Jaws” ; and sublime fantasies like “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.” Were it not for the success of that original monster mash, who knows where the studio would be today?

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