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Friday, January 29, 2016

Bay of the Living Dead: Declare Uncle Forry's House As a Landmark

Posted By on Fri, Jan 29, 2016 at 4:15 PM

click to enlarge Forrest J. Ackerman and a few of his priceless toys. - CHANGE.ORG
  • Forrest J. Ackerman and a few of his priceless toys.

Welcome to the final edition of Bay of the Living Dead. 

For 18 months I've greatly enjoyed writing about horror movies — and horror television — in this column. But now it ends, as all things must. Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement in which I'll be continuing the mission of this column on a soon to be launched personal website. Details will be announced on my Facebook page.

It's fitting that the column closes with a tribute to Forrest J. Ackerman. "Uncle Forry" (1916-2008) was a successful literary agent in Hollywood who enjoyed a lifelong obsession with what he called "imagi-movies." Classic horror and science fiction were ingrained into his psyche as early as 1922 when, at age six, he was taken to see One Glorious Daya melodrama with horrific overtones — for the rest of his life Ackerman recalled how mesmerized he was when he first viewed the film's terrifying dream sequence. !n 1939 Ackerman attended the First World Science Fiction Conventionwhere he was credited with coining the phrase "sci-fi."

As the editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine from 1958-1983, Ackerman championed the works of horror masters such as Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and "The Man of A Thousand Faces," Lon Chaney, his favorite actor. Ackerman made it his personal mission to keep the legacy of cinema's scary past alive for new generations of fans — his home in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles was a literal museum to his lifelong obsession. He claimed to have had over 100,000 items in his vast collection of original movie posters, props and costumes which filled every room of his spacious abode — one of the capes worn by Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931) was on display for his thousands of visitors to see. Ackerman's weekly open houses, during which he regaled guests with wonderful stories of his close encounters with various horror movie icons, became legendary in horror fandom circles. 

Forrest J. Ackerman is no longer with us, but he lives on in the hearts of horror lovers everywhere. A group of his fans have recently posted a petition asking the Los Angeles Heritage Cultural Commission to declare "the Ackermansion" (the fan base's loving nickname for Ackerman's home) as an historic landmark. 

Lifelong horror fan Joe Moe, who took care of Ackerman during his final years, spoke to SF Weekly about the importance of preserving "Uncle Forry's" legacy.

"Forrest J Ackerman's collection was profoundly important to American pop culture in that it housed universal memories", Moe said. "The objects, art and literature under that single roof contained common images and icons familiar to the vast movie-loving public. It was a living, breathing thing that changed shape daily as old pieces were traded and new pieces were contributed. It became an experience unlike any other. You could get up close and personal with these tangible items that had only only ever existed of projected light before. You'd marvel in them, side by side with a generous curator and storyteller who personally knew all the masters who made them."

Moe described some of the jaw dropping items to be found inside the Ackermansion, which included dinosaurs from the original King Kong (1933), vampire fangs worn by Lon Chaney in the lost film London After Midnight (1927) and a copy of the original Frankenstein (1818) novel signed by author Mary Shelley.

"Uncle Forry was the most important part of the collection," Moe said. "It was his stories and spirit of generosity that permeated every square inch of his home/museum. To drive past the house, even today nearly 6 years after his death, inspires stories that leave strangers who never met him, wishing they had, and feeling like they have."

Help preserve movie history and sign the petition today.

click to enlarge hammer.jpg
 Those of us who read Famous Monsters of Filmland during its heyday might have fond memories of running to their local cinemas to see the latest releases from Hammer Films. From 1957 until the mid-1970s, Hammer mesmerized audiences around the world with what they called "Gothic fairy tales". The company produced remakes—and many sequels — of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, as well as original works. Many of these films were set in a dark if colorful 19th Century — the Hammer Horrors were the first films of this type to feature period settings and to be filmed in color. They were also a tad sexier than earlier genre works. If you were a horror fan during the 1960s, the Hammer films were the ones to see.

Horror Classics: 4 Chilling Movies From Hammer Films is now available. 

This simply packaged four disc set features the four films listed above. In the case of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed and Taste the Blood of Draculathese are the original director's cuts of the films, not the slightly edited cuts which were released to American theaters back in the day Taste the Blood's brothel scene, for example, restores the topless shots that my mom probably didn't want me to see in 1970—the once PG rated film is now R rated.

All four films offer superb prints, with clear, sharp images, vibrant colors and good sound. The original theatrical trailers for each film are included, as are subtitle and soundtrack options in a variety of languages.

Unfortunately, there are no interviews or behind the scenes featurettes for any of the films included, and that's a major loss. The stunningly beautiful Veronica Carlson, leading lady in both Dracula Has Risen From the Grave and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is not only still with us, she's a regular participant at horror cons. Now a resident of the USA, Ms, Carlson could easily have been called upon to share her often delightful memories of making the two films. There's also a wonderful documentary on horror icon Peter Cushing that was produced for British TV decades ago — it has yet to be broadcast Stateside. Since Cushing stars in both The Mummy and Frankenstein Must Be DestroyedPeter Cushing: A One Way Ticket to Hollywood would have been an awesome addition to this collection.

The films remain what they always been: delightfully fun Gothic fairy tales. All of the films are set during the Victorian era — the sets, costumes and lighting beautifully capture the mood of those times. Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Ripper, Veronica Carlson and Ralph Bates are all wonderful actors and iconic Hammer faces — they give spot-on performances. Bates is particularly disturbing in Taste the Blood of Dracula as a hedonistic devil worshiper who drinks the Count's blood in order to bring him back to life.

Both  Dracula Has Risen From the Grave and Taste the Blood of Dracula are visually stunning shadow plays with art direction that harken back to the German Expressionistic films of the 1920s. Peter Cushing was never more menacing, or more evil than as the blackmailing Baron Frankenstein who mentally tortures his unwilling assistants in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.

After all these years, Hammer horror still packs quite a powerful punch.             

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