The classic horror that monster kids like me grew up with and came to enjoy so much all began with Universal Studios.
When we saw that plane circling the planet, we knew we were in for some good stuff! And, as good as the actors were that gave life to our monsters, we really need to credit the amazing makeup work and original designs of Jack P. Pierce. He’s the man that gave the monsters the iconic look we all know today.
Here’s Jack at work with Boris Karloff…
And the result of his work…
When Universal made “Werewolf Of London” in 1935, Pierce’s original concept for the makeup was different than what we saw on the screen because Henry Hull, who played the title role, pointed out to Pierce that the script called for the characters to recognize who he was, so they modified the design accordingly.
Stories circulated at the time that Henry Hull’s vanity was behind the redesign, but it was simply to align with the script. I got the true story from Henry’s great nephew, Cortlandt Hull, during a visit to his amazing “Witch’s Dungeon” in Plainville, CT.
As he said when he told us the story about the makeup change, “And this is straight from the wolf’s mouth!”
Jack was able to use his original concept a few years later, when Universal released “The Wolf Man” in 1941 with Lon Chaney Jr. in Pierce’s original werewolf makeup.
As we entered the 1950’s, American movies shifted toward Sci Fi for the source material, with the Big Bug films (Them!, Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis) and the outer space adventures, such as Forbidden Planet.
Gothic horror made a comeback before the end of the decade, courtesy of our British cousins across the pond at Hammer Studios!
This title card, dated 1958, is from Hammer’s “Horror Of Dracula”, which introduced us to Christopher Lee wearing the cape and bringing a ferocious side to Dracula that we never experienced with Bela Lugosi.
Hammer added three elements we’d never experienced with our beloved Universal classics. They presented in Technicolor, they literally spilled buckets of bright red blood throughout the films, and yes… the women in Hammer horrors were often buxom beauties in varying stages of undress (which had teenage monster kids like yours truly lined up at the box office for every new release!)
Since those early days, we’ve been dazzled by CGI effects creating the impossible and making it look so realistic.
But I still prefer the originals, the incredible makeup and performances of the classics which were groundbreaking at the time and hold up so well even now.
And that’s why they’re called Classic Horror!