Who Belongs in the Royal Family of Horror? Part 2

Horror movies would never be as impactful or special without the actors that star in them. Just think of your favourite horror film and try to imagine someone else in the main role, it is impossible. When I think of horror actors my mind jumps straight to the original horror icons, Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf man, The invisible man and even the Phantom of the Opera. All of these icons would be forgotten if it weren’t for the magnificent faces behind the masks that bring these characters to life. Of course, when I think of horror actors the list is endless, Jamie Lee Curtis, Linda Blair, Robert Englund and even Peter Lorre spring to mind because their performances have encrypted on my brain and I will never forget how I first felt when I watched those performances. I am a true fan of horror and I appreciate how much it has grown, changed and reinvented the genre but to me, horror would never be how it is today without the classic monsters and classic actors who changed the way we watch cinema.

In this blog post I’m continuing to discuss something very close to my heart, horror. I have grown up learning about horror and how much it has changed over the years but I have always been taught to appreciate the classic monsters, which I will disclaim is the reason why none of my favourites are strictly ‘modern’ actors. This post will concentrate on the actors behind the monsters within this fascinating genre because I’m going to share my top two horror legends of all time…

What I love about this first pioneer on my list is that he was a well established, talented actor within cinema before he ventured into the world of horror. This actor had a raw talent that was utilised by his love for characters, the dramatic acting styles within the 1920s were present due to the fact that movies had no sound. The actors of that time were skilled in pantomime, gestures, and facial expressions but to the highest degree of ‘over’ acting. This actor wasn’t just a talent at telling his audience all they needed to know in one subtle look but as he found his love for creating characters, specifically in horror he found his love for the magic of movie make-up. I hope that gives a bigger clue as to who this exceptional person was, of course, I’m talking about Lon Chaney. I would consider this man the grandfather of cinema make-up as he invented and experimented with countless examples of how to change the human face on screen. As he created something new, the rules of movie make-up were being rewritten every day in response to his accomplishments. Some of Chaney’s more impactful or revolutionary, strictly horror performances were: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), He Who Gets Slapped (1924), The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and London After Midnight (1927). Although I cannot discuss all features in this blog post I still recommend you go away and watch them, some have not aged well but whilst watching simply consider how impactful Chaney’s performances and especially his make up skills have been to cinema history. The one movie I am going to discuss is one I have been pestered about for years by my mother, I have been told time and time again by her to watch this movie because of how incredible Chaney is as an actor but how incredibly horrifying his make up and special effects looked whilst under the thematic lights and atmosphere of… The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Lon Chaney was the master of using his body to sell a scene, as the Phantom he moves elegantly and almost beautifully despite his disturbing facial expressions, which are thanks to his own craftsmanship of creating his very own, unique special effects. This man was a natural at every performance he produced but watching him as the Phantom felt as though he had been the Phantom his whole life. Not only did Chaney shape the way we make horror cinema today but he shaped the respect for horror actors I have today. He dedicated his stardom to creating the best performances he was capable of, in a genre that was only increasing in success, it saddens me to think this genre of horror has been created into something amateurish or almost inept in recent years. I respect the actors that helped form this genre but in Chaney’s case he helped form not only the horror genre but make up, special effects and cinema as a whole. Being a monster lover is the soul reason as to why I am drawn to Lon Chaney and that is why he is on this list but in all due respect Lon Chaney was not strictly just a ‘horror actor’ he was a movie actor, period. His roles in horror movies were, in my opinion, some of his best but Chaney deserves all the recognition. I wish he got a chance to create more…

Next, having stared in one of the most impactful horror movies of all time and embodying one of the most iconic monsters of cinema history, this second place on my list can only go to Frankenstein himself, Mr. Boris Karloff. There are many reasons as to why Frankenstein is one of my favourite horror icons, movies and novels. Firstly, Frankenstein (1823) or The Modern Prometheus is a novel written by English author Mary Shelley which tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a hideous sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. The history behind this creation is revolutionary, a female writer creating one of the most recognisable movie characters, ever, is simply astonishing for the 1800s. Boris Karloff then reprised the role of Frankenstein nearly one hundred years later in 1931. Karloff stared in four  Universal Frankenstein movies and another of Universals iconic monsters, The Mummy in 1932. Since then Karloff has performed in over thirty other horror movies, he is by far the most dedicated to the genre and the most memorable of them all. I could never try to image another actor in the role of Frankenstein, despite the age of this movie and the sometimes comical physicality of Karloff’s Frankenstein the impact never changes. The negative comments I would have to say about this movie is simply because of its age and the scope of how many horror movies I have seen since and cannot help to compare. For this post, I happily throw all those comments out of the window because this is not a review or a reflection of these actors talents but almost a love letter as to how grateful I am for their performers and for their commitment to the craft of horror cinema. Described as the ‘uncanny’ Karloff he will aways embody the incredible unsettling and strange imagery of Frankenstein, in my opinion no other actor could have created this character to encourage both sympathy and fear from its audience. Every time I see Frankensteins face it makes me shiver and that is strictly down to Karloff’s performance. Every time I think about the scene in Frankenstein (1931) with the little girl I wince, that is entirely down to Karloff’s talents. I speak very highly of Boris Karloff and I have no regrets of that, I think the man was very special and was a very special asset to Universal and all of their success, I love Universal movies but I adore Universal horror movies.

Overall, this blog post is the continuation of a conversation I started in my last post. I would love to continue, this is part two but there can always be a part three, potentially discussing different genres and the actors that represent them? I hope you enjoyed reading and enjoyed learning about some of my favourite actors in the horror genre. Disclaimer, this is all my own opinion and I would love to know who your top three would be.

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