Thomas Edison’s Frankenstein and John Barrymore’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Richard J. Hand
Two great works of fiction at opposite ends of the nineteenth century continue to be paradigms of horror with the concept of 'adaptation' at their heart. They are Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus and Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Both present mad scientists who experiment with adaptation in the sense of metamorphosis and transmutation. This chapter looks at the Thomas Edison Company's Frankenstein and John S. Robertson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, two intrinsically 'melodramatic' adaptations that nonetheless resonate profoundly over the subsequent legacy of popular horror culture. Film adaptations of Frankenstein would remain as the Edison studios pioneered: a monstrous adaptation reliant upon special effects for an explicit creation sequence with an actor beneath extreme make-up at its conclusion. John Barrymore was already a legendary stage actor by the time he appeared in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Terry Gilliam was drawn to Watchmen, with its dark overtones and caustic take on American dreams, as well as its ambitious scope, making it for him 'the War and Peace of comic books'. Gilliam joked that The Fisher King was his 'selling out' film. The film had another distinction: few filmmakers are involved in hits based on the legend of the Holy Grail; The Fisher King made Gilliam perhaps the only individual to have performed the feat twice. The Fisher King offers a diagnosis of the soul's scurvy. The screenplay casts a critical eye over the egotism and vacuous materialism of contemporary America, depicting and denouncing that society as a sterile wasteland, lorded over by indulgent, vicious, morally corrupt and emotionally unaware elites.
Graeme Turner's judgement of the place and significance of the period films produced during the revival re-emphasises several key issues already acknowledged in relation to the Ocker comedies and the Australian Gothic. The film credited with inspiring the cycle of period films, and with endowing the new Australian cinema with an aesthetic maturity belying its age, was Picnic at Hanging Rock. Picnic's basis in the Gothic and its extension of its director's interest in alienating subjective experience underline the film's adoption of a period setting in order to offer a critique of authority within a fantasy-horror format. Fred Schepisi's films which use the period setting focus on male experience of intolerance and oppression, and refuse to temper their criticism of prevailing attitudes through simplification of issues or prettification of mise-en-scene. Sirens achieves a belated revival of the period film cycle, while developing the themes of its writer-director.
Monty Python's Flying Circus clearly plays the key role in launching Terry Gilliam as a filmmaker. This chapter also addresses certain pertinent aspects of one of television's greatest comedy shows. One of these aspects is the importance of Gilliam's animation to the style as well as the structure of the show. One of the few self-referential moments occurs in Gilliam's animation, The Killer Cars, in which pedestrian-devouring cars are consumed by a giant mutant cat. Gilliam's animations transfer better than many of the great verbal sketches. Holy Grail is more focused on a single set of characters and a relatively coherent narrative. Hence the animation is decidedly less surreal than on television or in Something Completely Different. Holy Grail gave Gilliam a tough and highly instructive apprenticeship in filmmaking, but the opportunity only arose because he and Terry Jones were Python members.
This book is about the British film director Terence Fisher. It begins by setting the context by detailing Fisher's directorial debut to Hammer's horror production and the importance of the Hammer horror to Fisher's career. Hammer's horror production represents one of the striking developments in post-war British cinema. The book explains some professional and industrial contexts in which Fisher operated and shows how these relate both to the films he made and the way in which these films have been judged and valued. It presents a detailed account of The Astonished Heart, Fisher's sixth film as director, highlighting the benefits and some of the problems involved in thinking about Fisher's career generally in its pre-horror phase. The successful Hammer film, The Curse of Frankenstein, both inaugurated the British horror boom and established Fisher as a film-maker whose name was known to critics as someone who specialised in the despised horror genre. After The Curse of Frankenstein, Fisher became primarily a horror director. The book presents an account of the highs and lows Fisher faced in his directorial career, highlighting his significant achievements and his box-office failures. It also shows Fisher as a director dependent on and at ease with the industrial and collaborative nature of film-making. In a fundamental sense, what value there is in Terence Fisher's work exists because of the British film industry and the opportunities it afforded Fisher, not despite the industry.
This book argues the centrality of hybridity to Terry Gilliam's films. Gilliam had a collaborative approach to filmmaking and a desire to provoke audiences to their own interpretations as other forms of intertextual practice. Placing Gilliam in the category of cinematic fantasist does some preliminary critical work, but crudely homogenises the diversity of his output. One way of marking this range comes from understanding that Gilliam employs an extraordinary variety of genres. These include medieval comedy; children's historical adventure; dystopian satire; the fantastic voyage; science fiction; Gonzo Journalism; fairy tale; and gothic horror. Gilliam's work with Monty Python assured him a revered place in the history of that medium in Britain. As a result, the Python films, And Now for Something Completely Different, The Holy Grail, Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life, along with his own, Jabberwocky, Time Bandits, and Brazil, show him moving successfully into the British film industry. Most of his films have been adaptations of literary texts, and Jabberwocky forges an extended tale of monsters and market forces. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen builds on some tales from the original texts, constructing a complex examination of fantasy, representation and mortality. Taking crucial ingredients from medieval and older mythologies, the screenplay of The Fisher King resituates them and reworks them for modern America. Gilliam's complex interaction with Britain and America explains his ambiguous place in accounts of American and British films.
The decade of the 1990s was characterised by a range of science fiction, fantasy and horror films that constituted a revival in the respective genres, both in terms of critical acclaim and box office takings. In his essay 'Horrality', Philip Brophy argues for reading post-1975 horror films as a 'saturated genre' in a constant process of referencing itself as a textual object. This combination of hybrid genres creates a film that offers both parody and homage to its antecedents: The Breakfast Club, Alien and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This chapter examines how the film The Faculty combines the tropes and stylistic conventions of teen movies, gothic horror and science fiction to effectively create what the critic Thomas Kent has identified as a 'supergenre'. Supergenre is a process in which the spectator/reader can observe a 'shift ceaselessly from one set of generic conventions to another'.
Terry Gilliam was keen to develop two very different projects, The Ministry and Theseus and the Minotaur, a proposal that would resurface several times in his career. By late 1979 Gilliam had Denis O'Brien's verbal backing for Time Bandits. Fantasy in Time Bandits is not an escape from reality, but a means of tapping into the realms that rationality has neglected, or replaced with a world mediated by the commercial media, ideology and tradition. Time Bandits marks the first of several films that feature children as protagonists or as critical observers of the actions and failings of adults. Time Bandits seems to function simply as the cinematic version of a Bildungsroman, a novel of development. Gilliam had teamed up with producer Arnon Milchan in his efforts to realise Brazil, which had been on hold since 1979.
Twelve Monkeys marks the commercial high point of Terry Gilliam's association with American studios. Commenting on the genesis of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson gives the account of what Gonzo journalism should be in its purist form. Gilliam's own cinematic practice regularly involves experimentation, failed, frenzied and successful, but Thompson's honest assessment of the completed text's shortcomings hints at the difficulties of recreating his literary experiment on screen. The anarchic verve of Thompson's attack bears the most obvious affinity with the tone, form and imagery of Gilliam's major and most personal film of the 1980s, Brazil. Raoul Duke had appeared in Thompson's Hell's Angels, and the idea that he existed seemed confirmed by the article titled 'Police Chief: The Indispensable Magazine of Law Enforcement' published under Duke's byline in Scanlan's Monthly.
H. P. Lovecraft described his work as a form of 'non-supernatural cosmic art' and the Lovecraft scholar, S. T. Joshi, uses the term 'cosmicism' to describe the sensations described in and evoked by Lovecraft's stories. Considering the immense impact of Lovecraft's stories on modern culture, at first sight it might seem surprising how few of them have been filmed. Lovecraft himself judged films based on literary works solely according to their fidelity to their source. He concludes that: 'Generally speaking, the cinema always cheapens and degrades any literary material it gets hold of, especially anything in the least subtle or unusual'. As in all horror, the creation of monsters carries with it the danger that they will not be horrifying enough and the films vary in how they translate his slimy, tentacular beings to the screen.