Monday, October 22, 2012


CREIGHTON TULL CHANEY (February 10, 1906 - July 12, 1973) forever lived in the shadow of his illustrious father. 

The studio pushed him and pushed him into taking the name Lon Chaney Jr. -- and he resisted and resisted.  And starved.  Finally giving into the inevitable, he allowed Universal to change his name and groom him to become their number one horror star of the 1940s.  Not a role he particularly sought, he nevertheless gave it a go; perhaps fitting rather ill at ease into some of the monster roles he was given.  Lon was never as great an actor as Boris Karloff nor could he ever be as suave and sophisticated (or mysterious) as Bela Lugosi.  But his signature role as the Wolf Man placed him unquestionably into the pantheon of horror icons.  He was a mischievous prankster and had a warm sense of humour.  He was a lost cause after twelve noon as the bottle possessed him.  He was many contradictory things but above all he was and is a major horror film star.  Programming a Lon Chaney Jr. Halloween marathon may seem like something of a no-brainer in regards to the choice of films but nevertheless these are the films with some of my favourite Lon Chaney Jr. performances I would include in a Halloween Movie Marath-Lon!
  1. MAN MADE MONSTER (1941)  -  Lon's first major horror role for Universal as Dynamo Dan given electrical powers by the mad scientist Lionel Atwill
  2. THE WOLF MAN (1941)  -  Of course, the role closest to Lon's heart and the role that was solely his.  Hangdog Lawrence Talbot begins his tragic life of pathos here.
  3. THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942)  -  I've come to re-evaluate this film in recent years and its actually much better than I always considered it.  Lon plays the Frankenstein Monster ably accompanied by Bela Lugosi reprising his superb performance as Ygor.  Your father was Frankenstein but your mother was the lightning!
  4. THE MUMMY'S TOMB (1942)  -  This was Lon's first go at the Mummy following Boris Karloff's seminal 1932 film and the sequel THE MUMMY'S HAND with cowboy actor Tom Tyler in the wraps.  One Lon Chaney mummy movie is pretty much like another so I picked this one because it's got Turhan Bey in it and manages to off the cast of THE MUMMY'S HAND.
  5. FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943)  -  Not a terribly good film but features one of the greatest opening sequences in any Universal Horror.  Lon returns to his role as the Wolf Man while Bela Lugosi is shamefully hampered by the studio when his characterisation of the blind Frankenstein monster is destroyed by the studio's excision of every scene and line that refers to that fact; hence, Lugosi's performance plays as incompetent when he's actually (and rightfully) playing a blind monster as the script required.
  6. SON OF DRACULA (1943)  -  Lon may be totally miscast as a rather too-well-fed Count Dracula but this movie is another one which has gone up in my estimation over the years.  This is actually quite a good Universal horror with Chaney's Dracula totally manipulated by Louise Allbriton (who gives a fantastic performance),
  7. WEIRD WOMAN (1944)  -  The second film in Universal's "Inner Sanctum" series of 6 films features the oft-filmed voodoo tale "Conjure Wife" co-starring a bevy of scream queens:  Evelyn Ankers, Anne Gwynne and Elizabeth Russell.
  8. HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945)  -  I'm one of those who likes HOUSE OF DRACULA better than the previous HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  There's no Boris this time but there's Chaney as the Wolf Man, John Carradine as Dracula, Glenn Strange reprising the Frankenstein Monster and Onslow Stevens as the benevolent doctor turned into a ravening fiend.
  9. THE FROZEN GHOST (1945)  -  Another in the Universal "Inner Sanctum" series of films featuring Chaney as "Gregor the Great".  This film is a daffy mess but still a lot of fun.
  10. ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)  -  The final appearance of Chaney as the Wolf Man in a Universal movie teams him with Bela Lugosi reprising his Dracula role extremely well and Glenn Strange once again as the Frankenstein Monster.  This classic horror-comedy is a must.
  11. THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE (1959)  -  I'm skipping a lot of Lon's movies here because films like BRIDE OF THE GORILLA, THE BLACK CASTLE and THE BLACK SLEEP are rather dreary and THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN is just terrible.  However, Lon as the "one-armed Cajun" bellowing "I'll get you, Alligator Man!" at the scaly husband of Beverly Garland is great fun.
  12. THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963)  -  Lon doesn't have much to do in one of Roger Corman's Poe series (actually based on an H.P. Lovecraft story) starring Vincent Price but it's still an enjoyable film with an absolutely superb Ronald Stein musical score.
  13. WITCHCRAFT (1964)  -  Lon plays warlock Morgan Whitlock who is the patriarch of a family of witches seeking revenge.  A nice little film.
  14. SPIDER BABY (1968)  -  The cult classic with Lon once again playing the patriarch of a family of bizarre nuts this time around.  Featuring Sid Haig and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL'S Carol Ohmart in support and a memorable cameo by Mantan Moreland, the film also boasts the priceless theme song sung by Lon himself.
  15. LIZARD'S LEG AND OWLET'S WING (1962)  -  We back up in time to this episode of the ROUTE 66 TV show for the perfect way to end our Halloween Movie Marath-Lon.  This loving last look at Boris Karloff in the Frankenstein Monster make-up also features Peter Lorre and Martita Hunt as well as Lon being lovable in the make-up of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Mummy and his beloved Wolf Man.  A fitting coda to our marathon.

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