I’m in Buffalo the first part of this week to take part in a discussion at Canisius College called Monsters in the Closet.
I’ve had a lot of cool things happen to me since I wrote Monsters in America. Perhaps the coolest has been getting to meet Christopher Bram, the author of the novel Gods and Monsters (originally titled The Father of Frankenstein). Gods and Monsters tells the story of the final days of director James Whale, whose combination of humor, pathos and heart-breaking imagery made possible the classic Universal Studios monsters Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
You hopefully have seen the film Gods and Monsters, based on Bram’s novel. It contains an astonishing performance by Ian McKellen as Whale (he looks a bit like the director) and Lynn Redgrave as his maid/caretaker. Brendan Fraser unexpectedly shines as well. It received a well-deserved Oscar for best screenplay in a year when it was up against the ultimate Oscar-bait, Life is Beautiful.
Get a copy of Bram’s novel. It’s a hard to put down evocation of old Hollywood, being gay in mid-century America and the very meaning of horror. Bram makes the all-important link between Whale’s time as an officer in the trenches of the First World War and the meaning of terror. The torn and shattered bodies of men in that war became the basis of bodies contorted, scarred and traumatized in the best horror films of the thirties.
In Monsters in America, I suggest that the link between war and horror has always been present. In the years following the American Civil War, death was sentimentalized but the gored human body became central to the cultural imagination.
Much the same followed the Vietnam War that gave American history new imagery of dismemberment and found expression in the body horror and slasher films of the subsequent forty years.
Bram himself is a pleasure to be around though I suspect I’ve pestered him with too many Gods and Monsters-related questions. Tonight, we’ll be doing a roundtable with novelist Sheri Holman on horror movies and the nature of fear.