Yesterday I took a break from watching every single moment of the World Series (since Friday’s game went seven freakin’ hours!) to attend a Halloween-themed double feature at the Zeiterion Theater here in New Bedford, MA. Despite the fact that a pounding rainstorm was in full effect, I was determined to get my big screen horror fix – in fact, the rain only added to the monstrous mood of the day. I met my friend Rob at the theater, and proceeded to enter the beautifully refurbished 1920’s era movie palace. First on the agenda was a real classic – Robert Weine’s 1920 Expressionistic silent film THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI!
CALIGARI is a landmark of the horror genre and the German Expressionist style that influenced the visual styles of both early Universal Horrors and the film noir movement of the 40’s. The marvelous 4K restoration was without question the sharpest print I’ve seen of this film, with it’s weirdly angular set design (“Everything’s pointy”, said Rob) and dreamlike (or is it nightmare-like) quality. Of special interest to a CASABLANCA buff like me was the presence of Major Strasser himself, Conrad Veidt, as the somnambulist Cesare, and Hans Heinrich von Twardowski (the Nazi who accompanies Madeleine LeBeau’s Yvonne to Rick’s) as the accused murderer.
Accompanying the film was Bernie Anderson on the theater’s mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, and what a treat! Anderson’s (of the East Coast chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society ) music fit the images onscreen perfectly, and his precise playing enhanced the experience. As I glanced over from time to time to watch him play, I noticed he had no sheet music, and later when I asked him where that marvelous score came from, Mr. Anderson replied he hadn’t seen CALIGARI in a few years, and was “just improvising”! Bravo, Bernie Anderson!!
After scoffing down on some Mexican food at No Problemo (try the Buff-Ah-Que Quesadilla, it’s awesome – just be prepared if you use the super-spicy Red Hot Sauce on it! Yowie!!), we returned to The Z for the second feature, Mel Brooks’ horrifically hysterical YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN! I hadn’t viewed this pitch-perfect tribute to Universal Horror Classics in quite some time, and it was great to laugh along with the rest of the audience at the comically creepy antics of stars Gene Wilder , Peter Boyle, Madeleine Kahn, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman , and the gang. If you haven’t seen Feldman in a while, you forget just how funny he was as Igor (“It’s EYE-gor”), whether delivering the wrong brain to Wilder’s Dr. Frankenstein (“That’s FRONK-en-steen”) or delivering a quick quip (“You take the blonde, I’ll take the one on the turban!”).
Besides the classic bits and scenes everyone knows so well (the horses neighing every time Frau Blucher’s name is mentioned, “Abby Normal”, the dart game between Wilder and Kenneth Mars’ Inspector Kemp, Boyle’s visit to blind hermit Gene Hackman , “Puttin’ On The Ritz”, “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life”), there are so many throwaway gags and zany one-liners it’s hard to keep up with all the madness going on! Universal Horror fans will have a ball keeping up with exactly which scene is referenced from which Frankenstein movie – and there’s a little something from all of them here, if you know your Universals!
And the good news is, I made it home in time to catch the bottom of the third inning for Game 4 of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Dodgers. Unfortunately, I was so exhausted I nodded out on the couch in the 5th… but woke up just in time for the final out and another Red Sox victory! Go Red Sox! And Go Classic Horror Movies On The Big Screen!