Things in Horror Movies

Moments, characters, scenes and other details from the scarier side of the film world.

Frankenstein

Frankenstein (1931)

Those metal studs in the creature’s neck, much beloved by the makers of horror parodies and Halloween costumes, aren’t bolts at all.

They’re electrodes, left over from the mechanism that fed electricity into the creature’s body when he was brought to life. So leave the spanner set at home when you go the storm the castle / windmill / wherever he’s got himself holed up this time: it’s not going to do you one bit of good.

Frankenstein

Frankenstein (1931)

Near the beginning of James Whale’s 1931 version of Frankenstein, the hunchbacked assistant breaks into a university in order to steal a brain. First he rather wisely takes a jar marked “normal brain”, but he’s startled by a loud noise and drops it, forcing him to instead take the other brain on offer, this one bearing the less promising label “abnormal brain”.

According to Rudy Behlmer, who supplies a commentary for the Universal DVD of the film, this detail was apparently a last-minute addition. It would seem to contrast with the film’s presentation of the creature as an innocent, and Behlmer suggests that perhaps the intention was to provide a shorthand explanation for the creature’s violence early in the film.

Still, the brain substitution is a bit silly, and doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the story. It was deservedly parodied in Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein (1974), in which the hunchback is under the impression that he’s picked up the brain of one “Abby Normal”.

The Normal Brain
Dracula

Dracula (1931)

Watching Tod Browning’s 1931 version of Dracula for the first time can be an odd experience. Apart from seeing Bela Lugosi laying the groundwork for eighty years of imitations, there are some real double-take moments, like hearing those classic lines spoken without irony (“Listen to them… Children of the night… What music they make.”), and seeing Dwight Frye as Renfield laying the groundwork for Andy Serkis’s Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and, well, and the vampire bee…

The vampire bee appears near the beginning, when we first see the Count’s castle and the Weird Sisters are waking up. After a couple of shots of the women beginning to emerge from their coffins, there’s a brief shot of what appears to be a bee (or maybe a wasp?) crawling out of its own, teeny-tiny coffin.

A report from a fantasy convention in 2000 does mention the bee, and suggests that it might be intended to be a giant bee in a regular-sized coffin. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t look that way. It’s almost cute.

Lacking any definitive explanation of the bee, why its there, and whether it’s a giant bee or a tiny coffin, it’s probably best not to even get started on the armadillos that appear a moment later…

Armadillos in Dracula
Nosferatu

Nosferatu (1922)

There’s a rumour that F.W. Murnau’s classic vampire film Nosferatu features actor Max Schreck in not one but two roles. He is of course the vampire himself, but – the rumour goes – he also appears briefly in another role near the beginning of the film, as a clerk in the office where Hutter works. (Nosferatu was an unofficial adaptation of Dracula, and the character names were changed in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid incurring the wrath of Bram Stoker’s estate. Hutter in the film is Jonathan Harker in the novel; Dracula becomes Count Orlok.)

There’s a still of the clerk above, and of Schreck as Orlok below, and plenty more images of Schreck in and out of make-up online.

Max Schreck in Nosferatu

It’s a tricky one. The clerk seems to have Schreck’s height, his narrow shoulders, and certain mannerisms. There’s something similar about the area around the eyes, too. The clerk’s head looks more rounded in the still above, but as he lowers his face at the end of the shot, it takes on something of Orlok’s length, before being hidden (very pointedly) behind a large hat. The forehead seems different, but as Orlok this would be hidden by make-up or prosthetics, and the prosthetic teeth would lengthen Schreck’s face.

Ultimately, there’s nothing here to either provide a definite ‘yes’ or a definite ‘no’. The only source I can find for the rumour is on IMDb, under Nosferatu trivia, which is user-submitted, and so not really authoritative. A discussion on the boards there is indecisive, and raises the question of who added the fact and what their source was.

The Last Man on Earth

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend has been filmed several times: most recently, there was the 2007 Will Smith movie. In 1971, it was filmed as The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston. First, though, in 1964, it was filmed as The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price in the title role.

Although set in the USA, The Last Man on Earth was filmed in Rome (these being the days when Italy still had a thriving international film industry, and the legendary Cinecittà studios were used for something other than television commercials). As a result, the production was able to make use of Rome’s wide variety of architecture, from the crumbling buildings of the countryside to the wide roads and brutal angles of EUR, a district founded in 1935 by Mussolini and intended as a new Rome, a city designed according to fascist ideals.

In EUR stands the Square Colosseum, (Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana), which is partially visible in the scene above. It’s a central feature of EUR, less than thirty years old when the film was made, and yet already a relic of a disappeared ideology and a failed model for civilisation. Which is rather fitting.

There’s a better, more recent view of the Square Colosseum here. As this film is now in the Public Domain, you can watch it online or download it from the Internet Archive: The Last Man on Earth.