Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Raven, and Horror Ethics

I love classic horror movies, but I do not hold with their morality. Or rather, their lack of it.

If you know horror films like I do—and I've seen hundreds and hundreds of them, thousands of times—you recognize several archetypes. The mad scientist model, typified by Frankenstein; the creature-features, like Dracula and The Wolfman (and Frankenstein, to a degree); supernatural horror, like the Mummy, and legions of ghost and devil pics; and the enfatuated Genius model, as expressed in 1934's The Black Cat, 1935's Mad Love, and 1936's The Raven.

One thing every model has in common: Boris Karloff never gets the girl. And it's not fucking fair.

I'm watching The Raven now, and it's a perfect example. Bela Lugosi plays a brilliant doctor, with a very unhealthy fixation on the stories and poems of Edgar Allen Poe. Although he has retired to his palatial estate, a fortress that would impress Tomás de Torquemada to no end, he agrees to the incessant pleas of Judge Thatcher to come out of retirement to save the life and limbs of his daughter, played by Irene Ware. She could've been played, though, by any number of frantic over-acting women of the period, whom I refer to as Virginal White Girls Who Scream a Lot (VWGWSLs). And brother, do they scream. A lot.

Toodling down the road to an assignation with her boyfriend (an affable, ineffectual clod usually named Geoffrey, a pencil moustache affixed to the shadow of a man who really doesn't ever do anything), she becomes enchanted with her reflection in the rear-view mirror, and cracks up her car, along with her supple bod. Lugosi works his genius, and restores her to her previous glory, and in the process falls in luvvvv—you know, the twisted kind of love typical of Geniuses. She is his Lenore.

At a performance of the ballet—where VWGWSL is inexplicably employed as a dancer—Lugosi's drooling attention is noticed by Judge Thatcher, and not favorably (As an aside, should mention at this point the dancing of VWGWSL, which is a thing to behold—she moves like a tweak-head Elaine Benes—really must be seen to be believed).

Thatcher initiates a private audience with Bela, at which he attempts to disabuse him of any ideas he has about he and VWGWSL. While Bela ultimately feigns acceptance of this rejection, we know better—our boy would never give up that easy. This is where Boris shows up, as an escaped convict (with a heart of gold, another element of the archetype), asking Bela to change his face, so he can be free. Bela agrees, but instead hideously deforms his face, using the promise of ultimately repairing it to keep Boris in his thrall.

Then the fun begins. Bela has a party, attended by Judge Thatcher and VWGWSL and the inevitable Geoffrey. After dinner, he begins using his various torture devices to extract his revenge. Is Geoffrey any fucking help during the melee that follows? If frantically running around in circles and stroking your fucking moustache and saying things like "The devil you say!" and "You fiend!" is heroism, then he's Achilles, I guess. When he is stuck in the room with VWGWSL (after she has spurned Bela yet again—at some point her rejection of him starts to seem a little counterproductive), with the walls collapsing to squish them into squishy squiggly bits, early on he says, "It's no hope, darling", or some such, and resigns himself to die. Other side of the door Karloff—whom she had hurt and insulted earlier by screaming at the sight of him—walks into a bullet to save her, turning the lever to stop her squishing, opening the door to free her, and dragging Bela in. It should not require saying that Geoffrey merely observed during all this, lifting not so much as a finger to help the man—the real man—who saved his worm-like life.

Then, they all run to check on Judge Thatcher, leaving the man who saved their lives to bleed out on the floor. Once they remove him from the table he was tied to—the scythe was more than 2 feet away, he wasn't in real danger—they give Boris no thought at all, until they are driving away.

"Poor (Boris)", VWGWSL says. "He gave up his life." Geoffrey's eyes gleam. "Yes Darling. He saved us from being crushed alright." And they drive away, blithely into the night, although I like to think that somewhere down the road they both become so fixated on their image in the rear-view, they crack up again, and join Boris and Bela in a really just reward.

I ask you, where is the justice is this? Boris lays down his life to fill the world with lots of little Geoffreys, bloodless little fucks with impeccable manners and little pencil moustaches and not one noble impulse among the lot—just a superficial and posturing passel of Dewey Republicans—and it's not fucking fair. And this is played out in many films, from The Bride of Frankenstein to The Mummy to any number of others, where Boris gets the short end. And it's not only immoral, it makes no sense—think of what interesting children these women would have with Boris, what a colorful world they would create.

More action. Less talk. Fewer pencil moustaches and Republicans.

It's a crying shame.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say, you have applied a measure of thought in the crafting of that masterful arguement. And I agree completely with absolutely every single point you magnificintly, spectactularly and heroicly failed to mention.

    Good Day Gov'na.

    Jeffery S. Page

    My way of sayin', "Read it, and pleased to do so."