Sunday, October 29, 2023


“Dracula, Frankenstein – and Friends!” was a 1977 season in which BBC Two broadcast the classic series of horror films made by Universal Pictures in the 1930s and 40s. Starting with Bela Lugosi in “Dracula” and Boris Karloff in “Frankenstein”, they ran in double bills on Saturday nights, handy for people who invested in the first home video recorders. These films had appeared on various ITV regions in the previous decade, but this season appears to be their first showing on the BBC, following appearances of the later Hammer horror films like “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” with Christopher Lee.

Interestingly, “Dracula, Frankenstein – and Friends!” was broadcast from the seemingly unseasonable month of July, through to September, ahead of the BBC's own "Count Dracula", one of the most faithful adaptations of Bram Stoker's novel. This time is bookended by the premiere of George Lucas’s “Star Wars” in the United States (on 25th May) and in the UK (on 27th December). Much like Nirvana reshaped the rock music mainstream with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in 1991, “Star Wars” seemed to wash away the “monster madness” that cemented the imagery of Universal’s characters in general popular entertainment for children as much as for adults. From then, science fiction fantasy would be dominant in popular culture, except at Halloween, and whenever an individual work, like “Hotel Transylvania”, can break through.

I am fortunate to live surrounded by Gothic imagery: skulls, candlesticks, heads from marble statues, ivy and (fake) deer’s heads. Our land line phone is shaped as a chrome skull. A previous video of mine confirms we have bats circling our back garden. Of course, the gothic literary and arts tradition on which both Universal and Hammer drew for its film series – in both cases a niche and specialty for each studio, before the idea of film franchises took hold – is centuries old, but it is a tradition not limited to a certain time of the year.

Decades of familiarity of Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula and the flat-headed Frankenstein’s monster made the Universal monsters, and legally distinguishable variations of thereof, into family fare such as the coincidentally concurrent “The Addams Family” and “The Munsters” of 1964-66, and of Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash” of 1960, of which the later album is best described as non-essential, even if you will hear the “Transylvania Twist”. Add into this the preponderance of monster imagery in food aimed at children, such as Smith's Crisps’ original Horror Bags, followed by Monster Munch, Wall’s Dracula ice lolly, and Count Chocula breakfast cereal, and it was clear how embedded in the culture this imagery truly was.

Of course, it is still pervasive, but only in the run-up to Halloween, which in the United States appears to be from July, in the run-up to when Halloween begins the period known as “the Holidays”. The UK is catching up, Guy Fawkes Night having become meaningless over the decades, and however much Halloween is an appropriation of Celtic, British and Christian tradition imposed as American mass culture, I approved of its imposition. The more we see of it, the more its imagery becomes part of the mainstream again.

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