Sunday, October 16, 2011

Night of Terror #16: 'The Black Camel' and 'Charlie Chan at the Opera'

Tonight I watched a pair of quasi-horror movies in the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan detective series. The first one, The Black Camel, features a performance from horror icon Bela Lugosi, while Charlie Chan at the Opera features a performance from another horror icon, Boris Karloff. Hence their inclusion in this blog.

I guess I should talk about whether or not these movies are scary, first of all. I'd seen both of them many years ago, but couldn't really remember much about the horror elements of either of them. It turns out that despite the presences of Lugosi and Karloff, the horror elements in both of these are quite minimal. They're a bit stronger in the Opera, with Karloff stalking the halls of the Opera house as a maniac maybe-killer. There's even a jokey reference to his famous horror career: "this opera is going on tonight even if Frankenstein walks in!" Ha ha.

Although I'm planning on writing up at least one purer horror movie from each actor this month, now is as good a time as any to discuss the great Karloff/Lugosi dichotomy. It's one of those great pop culture debates, like The Who/Led Zeppelin, Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin, or Pokemon/Digimon. I think it boils down thus: Lugosi is a more bizarre presence, while Karloff is the better actor. In these two Chan movies, Lugosi downplays the weirdness of some of his other characters to play a suave psychic, and I've never seen him more charming in a movie (no, not even in Dracula). Karloff is playing a more typical role for him, as the psychotic but fundamentally sympathetic Gravelle.

On the movies themselves: They are both delightful little whodunits, just like all the Warner Oland Chans. I especially like the Opera because of the presence of Keye Luke as "Number One Son" Lee Chan, although his role isn't as big as I would have liked.

Sorry about the rambling nature of this post, I guess that's what happens when I wait until after 1 in the morning to do these. Check out both of these movies if you get the chance.

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