Digging in a box for an errant paperback turned up this volume which I’ve owned for years but never read. Having recently watched Jan Svankmajer’s Lunacy, which has a Sade-like character among its cast, I thought I should give it a proper look. Sade’s irreligious and libertine philosophies haunt the Surrealist world, hence Svankmajer’s interest, Jean Benoît’s performance art and so on. Surrealism didn’t have any saints but it did maintain a pantheon of precursors, with Sade accorded the status of “Genius of Wheels” (ie: revolution) in the Surrealist deck of playing cards.
Guy Endore (1900–1970) wasn’t a genius, a satanist or a saint but he was an interesting character, an American writer best known today for The Werewolf of Paris, another novel I own and have yet to read. He was a vegetarian and a socialist at a time when both these pursuits were regarded with suspicion or outright hostility (his Communist sympathies later caused him to be placed on the Hollywood blacklist). He wrote a great deal of historical fiction—in addition to Satan’s Saint there are novels based on the lives of Casanova, Voltaire and Shakespeare. And his Hollywood credits include work on scripts for Tod Browning (Mark of the Vampire, The Devil-Doll), writing the source novel (Methinks the Lady) that became Otto Preminger’s psychological film noir, Whirlpool, and, with John Balderstone, adapting Maurice Renard’s The Hands of Orlac into the screenplay that became Peter Lorre’s Hollywood debut, Mad Love. The latter is a great film that I’d love to see again. Satan’s Saint was first published in 1965. This Panther edition appeared in 1967. Now I just have to find the time to read it…
Continue reading “Satan’s Saint”
Cover art by Edgar Alfred Holloway for the Rider edition of Bram Stoker’s novel, an edition reprinted many times during the early 20th century. Holloway’s Count is shown as Stoker describes him in the early chapters of the book, white-haired and bearded.
Last year I illustrated a number of stories by Edgar Allan Poe, and the entirety of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for Spanish publisher Editorial Alma. Earlier this year I was illustrating Dracula for the same publisher; now the book is in print I can show the results here. This was another difficult task since I had a few weeks to illustrate all 27 chapters of the novel while trying to do something new (or at least slightly different) with a very familiar story.
As with Frankenstein, I opted for fidelity to the text and period details. Despite its epistolary form, Dracula is much more readable (in a contemporary sense) than Frankenstein, so more people will have read Stoker than Shelley; but the sheer scale of cultural mauling that Dracula has been subject to means that—as with Frankenstein—even the allegedly faithful adaptations often deviate from the novel. The lounge-lizard vampire that everyone knows was a creation of Hamilton Deane’s 1924 stage adaptation, the success of which led to Tod Browning’s film and Bela Lugosi’s performance (which I’ve never liked); film and theatre may have made Dracula universally popular but the Lugosi stereotype has overshadowed the more powerful and violent character that Stoker gives us, with his bearded face, hairy palms and glowing eyes. So that’s who you see here, although the restrictions of time and brief (one picture per chapter) meant that some of the moments I’d have liked to illustrate had to be forfeit. Poor old Renfield gets short shrift, and some of the minor male characters are out of the picture altogether.
On the plus side (I hope), many of the background details are well-researched even if they’re not at all obvious. The castle in the first picture (above) is Bran Castle, known today as “Dracula’s Castle” even though the building in the novel is Stoker’s invention; it certainly looks the part. As before, the full run of pictures follows below. All may be seen at a larger size here.
Continue reading “Illustrating Dracula”
The pulp fiction of the early 20th century favoured remote or uncharted islands as locations for the bizarre and the fantastic; in isolated jungles all manner of savage and grotesque behaviour could take place out of sight of the civilised world. Islands are secure from interference; they can be visited by accident or intention, and later fled from when everything goes wrong. The Island of Doctor Moreau is an early example of the type although Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island (1874) pre-dates it by twenty-two years. The Island of Lost Souls (1932), the first film adaptation of the Wells novel, is one of a crop of mysterious islands that appeared in the 1930s following the success of the Universal adaptations of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931). The recent Eureka DVD/Blu-ray edition of the film is the first UK release to present the film in its original, uncensored form. I watched it this weekend.
Moreau (Charles Laughton) and Montgomery (Arthur Hohl) at work.
HG Wells famously hated the film, and his vociferous complaints helped to ensure it was banned in Britain until 1958. Even without Wells’ complaints there was enough there to bait the censors who declared it to be “against nature”: writers Philip Wylie and Waldemar Young push the erotic implications of Wells’ story to a degree that would have been impossible in 1896, and would be equally impossible two years later when the Hays Code clamped down on cinematic salaciousness. Charles Laughton’s Moreau is eager to discover whether Lota, the Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke), will show any sexual interest in the marooned Edward Parker (Richard Arlen). The bestiality theme continues when Parker’s fiancée arrives on the island and finds one of Moreau’s Beast People at her bedroom window. Add to this Moreau’s declaration that he feels like God (a similar line was cut from James Whale’s Frankenstein), a traditional British squeamishness towards maltreating animals (unless they’re foxes), and the Panther Woman’s skimpy outfit, and it’s no surprise that the authorities collapsed with the vapours.
Sensationalism aside, this is one of the greatest horror films of the early 1930s, and one which follows its source material with much more fidelity than Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein. The production had been commissioned by Paramount to capitalise on the success of the Universal films, hence the presence of a very hirsute Bela Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law. Cinematographer Karl Struss had worked the year before on Rouben Mamoulian’s excellent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; prior to this he photographed Sunrise (1927) for Friedrich Murnau. The combination of Struss’s chiaroscuro compositions, some adept direction from Erle C. Kenton (including crane shots), and a tremendous performance by Charles Laughton puts The Island of Lost Souls in a different league entirely to Tod Browning’s stagey and over-rated Dracula. Laughton’s cherub-faced Mephistopheles is a performance that runs counter to the cod theatricals of the period: he’s sly, confident and completely authoritative even if he looks nothing like Wells’ white-haired doctor.
Continue reading “Uncharted islands and lost souls”