Halloween Highlights: Vintage Vampires

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There are few monsters more closely associated with Halloween than the Vampire.  Vampires have been haunting our nightmares even before Bram Stoker unleashed Dracula upon the world in 1897.  Since the first printing of the famous vampire novel, Dracula has been haunting our nightmares for over a century.  Most famously portrayed by Bela Lugosi in the 1931 screen adaptation, Dracula is the quintessential creature of the night.  Featured today are two vintage Halloween decorations featuring the undead count.

First is a vintage Halloween cutout of Bela Lugosi in his most famous role.  This Halloween decoration was released by the C.A. Reed Company in the early 1980s.

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Bela Lugosi Dracula Cardboard Cutout

 

Next up is a large, jointed Dracula from Eureka, originally marketed as “The Count – 55″ Jointed Halloween Decoration.”  This cutout was released in the late 1970s.

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Eureka “The Count” Jointed Cutout

 

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Dracula Returns to Theaters: Bela Lugosi’s Un-Dead

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Dracula

“Just a moment ago, I stumbled upon a most amazing phenomenon, something so incredible, I mistrust my own judgment…  Look!”

Bela Lugosi, the king of Terror, returns to cinemas for two nights only as Fathom Events presents Universal Studios’ Dracula: Double Feature.  The classic film, and its Spanish-language counterpart, will be playing in select cinemas on October 25 and October 28.  For a complete list of cinemas showcasing the Universal Monsters event, be sure to check out this link.  The terrifying trailer follows.

Universal Monsters Week | Mezco, Trick or Treat, & WOWindows

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The following does not constitute an endorsement of any product or retailer.   It is for information purposes only.

The only authentic Halloween decoration featuring the Universal Monsters this year is a pretty nifty WOWindows poster featuring Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster.  But — have no fear — there are plenty of other Universal Monster items out there this season.  So, hold on to your electrodes, as we recap the shocking offerings.

Diamond Select Toys is supposedly wrapping up its Universal Monsters line of toys, ending on a disappointing note with a non-likeness, no-need-to-be-licensed Van Helsing figure.  Although Diamond is coming out with an amazing Creature from the Black Lagoon figure next year, as well as a nice Son of Frankenstein, without any signs of Dracula’s Daughter, Son of Dracula, Werewolf of London, Kharis, or any supporting characters, it’s time to turn to other toymakers for our fill of Monster goodness.  And it looks as if Mezco is slowly taking away Diamond’s luster with its expansive offerings: Universal Monsters Living Dead Dolls and stylized figures.  This October saw the release of the amazing Dracula Living Dead Doll.  The Mummy stylized figure, which follows the ghastly Monster and Creature figures released earlier this year, will come to life soon.

Mezco Monsters

However, the grandest of this year’s Universal Monster items are not even officially licensed by Universal Studios.  Nope.  Instead, they are licensed through the estates of the individual actors.  Trick or Treat Studios, the up-and-coming leader of the Halloween mask-making world, has unleashed two great masks: The Bela Lugosi Mask (based upon Lugosi in the DRACULA play) and the Phantom of the Opera Mask featuring the likeness of the Man of a Thousand Faces, Lon Chaney, Sr.  These two incredible masks deserve to the be the first in a long line of masks based upon the actors who invented the monsters.  Unfortunately with Universal involved, one never knows if “what should be” will be, but we’ll see…

Universal Monsters Week | Monster Hot Wheels & New Stock Art

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The following does not constitute an endorsement of any product or retailer.   It is for information purposes only.

The official Universal Studios Monsters are back from the grave, this time adorning some sweet rides from Hot Wheels.  These creepy cars are now available at select grocery stores, such as certain Kroger stores and Winco, and will probably be found in the Halloween aisles.  In total there are six vehicles: Creature from the Black Lagoon Low Flow, Dracula Neet Streeter, Bride of Frankenstein ’59 Cadillac Funny Car, Frankenstein Double Demon Delivery, The Wolf Man Volkswagen T1 Panel Bus (not pictured) and The Mummy 1934 Chrysler Airflow (not pictured).

Universal Monsters Hot Wheels

And what is interesting about them is that they feature new artwork for our Monster friends.  Instead of the horrible CGI monstrosities created at the beginning of the last decade, these monster toys feature characters with a more “hand-illustrated” look.  And while none of them look much like the original characters (or, God forbid, actors), it is a step in the right direction, even if it means eliminating the Wolf Man’s dog snout (poor choice, indeed, Universal).  Perhaps these line-art versions of the Monsters will be seen on other products in the future.  Maybe the CGI-looking, computer-drawn abominations from 2002 will finally be gone forever…  Only time will tell.  All I know is that I’d give almost anything to have these 1997 versions back.  Or the 1991 Monsters…  Or the Aurora Monster Model art…  But anything is better than the ones we’ve had to endure for the past decade.  That is certain.  We’ll be back Friday with our final look at the Universal Monster products of 2013.

Universal Monsters Hawthorne Village Collection Guide

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The following does not constitute an endorsement of any product or retailer.   It is for information purposes only.

In the mid-2000s, the Bradford Exchange acquired the license to the Universal Studios Monsters and began to produce highly detailed collectibles based upon these timeless characters and their respective films.  The company created a train set (featuring images of the Monsters), as well as miniature figurines, and, of course, a haunted holiday village comprised of several famous buildings and structures from the Universal Monster movies.

The collection, part of the Hawthorne Village, could be obtained by purchasing a subscription, where a new 7″ building and scale figurine would be shipped every month.  With the help of our Internet friends who own the collection, The Big Scare has compiled the following collector’s guide.  Special thanks to Ms. Mapes for sharing photos of her collection with The Big Scare, and for allowing us to snap some of her very spooky scenes during our visit.

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THE BUILDINGS

The following list is the sum total of the buildings issued in the Universal Monster Collection.  They are listed in order of their release:

Dr. Frankenstein’s Lab with Frankenstein Monster figure
Dracula’s Castle with Count Dracula figure
The Mummy’s Tomb with Kharis figure
The Creature’s Black Lagoon with Gill Man figure
The Wolf Man’s Lair with Wolf Man figure
Frankenstein’s Burning Windmill with Monster and Henry Frankenstein figure
The Bride of Frankenstein’s Castle with Bride of Frankenstein figure
The Phantom’s Paris Opera House with Phantom figure
The Invisible Man’s Inn with Invisible Man figure
Transylvania Train Station with Train Conductor figure
The Mummy’s Museum with Imhotep figure
Frankenstein’s Cottage with Frankenstein and Maria figure
Burial Site  (Frankenstein) with Fritz figure
Gothic Cathedral  with Lurking Dracula figure
Fortune Tellar Campsite with Bela the Gypsy figure
The Creature’s Haunted Rita with Dr. Reed figure
House Of Dracula with Dr. Edelman figure
Castle Frankenstein with Monster on rock figure
Ritual Chamber  with Boiling Pot figure
The Invisible Man’s Demise with Policeman figure
The Creature’s Excavation Site with Excavation figure
The Wolf Man’s Mansion with mustached Talbot figure
 

DEVIL IN THE DETAILS

The first house in the collection is Frankenstein’s Laboratory.  Like all the buildings, it measures about 7″ in height.  The design is partially inspired by the lab as seen in the 1931 classic, but it takes influences from other famous movie structures as well.  Bats and torches adorn the walls.  And Fritz, Frankenstein’s mad assistant, can be seen peeking out from the window.

The second piece in the series is Dracula’s Castle.  This one is almost completely inspired by the castle seen in the 1931 movie.  It is very detailed.  There are evil trees surrounding the property, vines climbing the walls, and dozens of bats – including some encircling the topmost tower.

The next building in the collection is The Mummy’s Tomb.  This one is very neat, because it has a whole area where you can display figures on the actual piece.  You can position characters just outside the entrance to the tomb and all along the walkway.  Of course, that makes for great scenes, especially when Kharis is involved!  This one even has torches that light up!

As you can tell by the photos, the Hawthorne Village pieces are very detailed, most of that detail comes from the delicate sculpting.  Every shingle has texture.  Every stone in the wall has depth.  This is what sets these pieces apart from similar villages from the likes of Department 56 and Lemax.  The paint schemes, however, fall somewhere between those of  the detail-oriented Department 56 villages and the mass-produced application of Lemax.  But they aren’t really anything to complain about, considering that these buildings are actually smaller than your average Lemax or Department 56 piece.  Taking that into consideration, they are actually fairly good.  The pieces don’t give off too much light, but that is where exterior ambiance lighting comes into play.  And the Universal Monsters buildings lend themselves wonderfully to that!

The Wolf Man’s Lair is the fifth structure in the collection.  This one takes a lot of liberties, but it is one of the most desired of the collection nonetheless.  It comes complete with its own full moon and an interior courtyard that is perfect for making little scenes with the monster accessories.

The seventh piece in the series is the Bride of Frankenstein’s Castle.  This one lends itself well to the Gothic theme of the village.  With its series of chimneys and vine-covered walls, it manages to combine the classy with the creepy, just like the Bride herself!  This piece comes along with its own Bride of Frankenstein figure, striking a very familiar pose.

The eighth structure in the collection is the very forbidding Phantom’s Paris Opera House.  This building has the most unique design of all and is very detailed.  It has a ton of windows, but the “stone” figures which adorn the roof are probably the most eye-catching decorations on this one!

Issue number nine is The Invisible Man’s Inn.  It is probably one of the most-detailed in the collection.  The accessory that comes along with it, the Invisible Man himself, is also one of the best accessories in this village collection.  He’s not all there – you can see through his hand!

The final piece we will be showcasing comes from later on in the collection.  It is called the “Haunted Rita,” based on the boat of the same name in Creature from the Black Lagoon.  Coming in at issue number sixteen, it is probably one of the most popular pieces – if only because it is one of the most iconic images from any Universal Monster film.  Can you spot the Gill Man’s claw coming from out of the water?

VILLAGE ACCESSORY SETS

While the buildings themselves each came with a “free” accessory, the Bradford Exchange offered a separate line filled with additional figures and scene-setters.  There were thirteen sets of figures released in total.  Each set included two to four figures.  The following list details the contents of each set.

1.  It’s Alive! – Dr. Frankenstein, Fritz, and the Monster rising from his slab
2.    Dracula Rises – Dracula and victim, Dracula rising from his coffin, Dracula hiding in the garden
3.    Mummy’s Curse – Imhotep, Mummy in Sarcophagus, Ankh-es-en-amon and Imhotep
4.    Black Lagoon – Captain Lucas, Dr. Reed, Creature in the water, and Kay on the rocks
5.    Beware the Full Moon – Maleva in the wagon and the Wolf Man trapped in the forest
6.    Frankenstein’s Town Mob – Man with dogs, Villagers with torches, and the Monster
7.    Bride of Frankenstein – Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Pretorius, and the Bride in bandages
8.    Phantom of the Opera – Phantom Fleeing, Phantom and Christine in boat, and Christine at tomb
9.    Invisible Man – Invisible Man in lab, Invisible Man outside, Villagers
10.  Uncovering Artifacts – Various Archaeologists, “tools,” and “maps”
11.  Dracula’s Vampires – Count Dracula in the catacombs and his three brides
12.  Grave Robbers – Fritz with cart, Elizabeth, Dr. Waldman, and Priest
13.  Searching for the Creature – Archaeologists and “Creature Claw Rock”

The figures are only a few inches tall, but they are jam-packed with detail. Take a look for yourself.

Universal Studios Monsters Village Frankenstein Scene

Thank you, Ms. Mapes for sharing your collection with all of us!

If you enjoyed this page, check out the other sections of the site for more articles about haunted villages, decorations, and, of course, the world famous Universal Studios Monsters!

Sunday Matinee: ”Horror of Dracula” Revisited

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It had been two years since I last sat down to watch the Hammer classic Horror of Dracula (1958).  It is a film I owned on VHS and never upgraded — not because I didn’t like the movie.  Rather, because it was a film I always considered to be “just good enough.”  It was “just good enough” to replay at Halloween every year or so, “just good enough” to enjoy as a time-filler.  In other words, it never made my essential viewing list, quite unlike the original Dracula (1931) or Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966).  Upon re-watching it, I am unsure why.  The film itself is rather well done.  It takes the main story of the novel, condenses it, and creates an enjoyable product that has some truly memorable moments —  to name one: the best Dracula death sequence in the history of film!

But there’s something about it that causes me to take pause, to not fully love it as many fans of the genre do.  Part of the problem is I had always viewed the title character in this version as little more than a glorified prop.  By now, some of you are shocked and ready to delete this site from your bookmarks.  But, allow me to explain.  I love Christopher Lee, and I love his interpretation of Count Dracula.  He is menacing, strong, powerful, and downright evil.  But, in this film, he has very little screen-time.  And while the main action revolves around him, we don’t see him that much.  This film is very much a Peter Cushing movie — and I love Cushing, especially as Van Helsing; but there’s just something about the uneven screentime given the Count that doesn’t sit well with my Dracula-loving heart.

After really thinking about it, the lack of Dracula actually makes this film closer to the novel than it would otherwise appear.  Bram Stoker never featured his main character all that much, so why should this second film adaptation be any different?  And I suppose that is why so many people give it a pass and automatically relegate it to “must see” status.  Don’t misunderstand.  Dracula is extremely effective the few minutes he is on screen – his fangs, his fierce expressions, the blood.  The whole characterization marked a new chapter in the monster’s history.  But with so little of him and so much of the rather bland Arthur Holmwood, the film had always been relegated to my stack of lesser-viewed films.

Another reason I disliked the film was because of its rather claustrophobic settings.  Nothing is grand or luxurious about this movie’s sets.  Nothing convinces me that this demon Count is at all wealthy or that he lives in a castle.  (The exterior shot of Dracula’s home doesn’t help change my mind.)  It’s as if the director, Terence Fisher, never wanted his audience to experience a delusion of the Count’s grandeur.  Nearly every scene has a very confined feel, and it is not to the film’s benefit.  Unlike Universal’s rather grand approach  to the material, complete with sweeping staircases and vast catacombs, Hammer’s version is small-scale in every sense of the word.  And while this sometimes works well in the visual medium (think TV’s Dark Shadows), the close quarters here detract more than they add.

So what made me change my mind about Horror of Dracula?  Two things:  First, the fact that this is virtually the first and  last truly decent picture where Lee and Cushing face off  in their most iconic Horror roles.  Second: the iconography the film helped to create.  This is the film in which Dracula sprouted his first real pair of fangs.  This is the film that added a whole new level of Horror to the vampire legend.  This is where blood and red eyes got their start.  Despite all of its drawbacks, this is the one vampire film since Bela Lugosi’s original Dracula that actually helped redefine the genre.  And so while my preference in the Hammer realm will always fall towards Dracula: Prince of Darkness (More on this in a week), Horror of Dracula has finally earned its rightful place on my “must-see” Halloween viewing list.

4.5 bats out of 5.

Halloween Home Entertainment Preview: Pet Sematary, Mad Monster Party, Meet Frankenstein, & More!

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 This week, we have a complete lineup of the “must-have” home entertainment releases of the season.  Check out our round-up below, and return tomorrow for our take on the upcoming release of the original Dark Shadows feature films on Blu-Ray and DVD.

The News:

The 1989 adaptation of the Stephen King classic, Pet Sematary is coming to Blu-Ray on October 2!  The film features Fred Gwynne, best known for portraying the lovable Herman Munster on the classic monster sitcom, The Munsters.  Gwynne’s character is not quite as lovable in this, but his inner-Herman certainly shines through (at times).  Over all, in our opinion, the story is both frightening and compelling, and we don’t think the classic theme by The Ramones can be beat…  Let us know your thoughts.  And read more about the film here.

We also wanted to note that there were a number of Halloween Blu-Ray releases that occurred earlier this month that we didn’t have a chance to cover.  You can check out our round-up below:

The Rankin/Bass animated classic Mad Monster Party was released on Blu-Ray disc for the first time on September 4.  It’s a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, so you will receive both discs if you should decide to pick it up.

The Disney Halloween cult classic Hocus-Pocus was also released on Blu-Ray disc on September 4.  It also comes in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack.

In addition, yesterday, we mentioned that Meet Frankenstein was not included in the Universal Monsters Blu-Ray collection, but the terrific film is available on Blu-Ray disc.  It came out on August 28, another release in celebration of the Universal Studios centennial.  It stars Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr.  The film follows the comedic duo and their hilarious encounter with Count Dracula, whose sinister plans are thwarted by the Wolf Man and an out-of-control Frankenstein Monster.

You can purchase all of these Blu-Ray releases online, and some of them may pop up in a store near you!  So be on the look-out!

And now we want to know… What are your favorite Halloween films?  Will you be picking them up on Blu-Ray?  Share your thoughts in the comments section!

*The pictures on this page are not from any film.   They were taken by THE BIG SCARE.