Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Spooktacular Watch: Supernatural (1933)
Format: Alamo S. Lamar
Say what you will about Austin, but I just got home from a Tuesday 9:30 PM showing of a 1933 horror movie almost no one has seen who is currently alive, and the place was hopping. I know this is true in other cities, but this one is mine.
For whatever reason I enjoy what the studios were up to with horror in the pre-Atomic Age films, a mix of the occult, mythical beasts, ghost stories and sometimes just creepy old houses with a Boris Karloff in them. Supernatural (1933) would have come out on the heels of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) in the era where not just Universal, but other studios, were getting in on the horror genre and the Hayes office wasn't yet really enforcing any codes.
As was mentioned by the host for the screening, the rules we now think of for horror or even film language weren't in place yet during the early 1930's. We're only a few years into sound, and while film had been around for a few decades at this point, we were still seeing a lot of experimentation with narrative structure and what could and couldn't be in a theater (especially when all movies were expected to serve all audiences).
I'm loathe to spoil Supernatural as I hope you see it, but it contains a remorseless serial/mass-strangler of the female persuasion (in the first minute!), a psychic psychiatrist, a charlatan spiritualist, a dead brother who may be haunting his boudoir, seances and possession. It's a whole scene, man.
Curiously, this movie stars Carole Lombard, most famous for comedic performances in the dynamic screwball tradition. She did start off in drama before moving to comedy, but horror wasn't really part of her portfolio.* But she's pretty great in this - maybe a little bland as the grieving sister whose brother has just died, but she experiences a sort of character transformation pretty well into the film so we know what her character is like, and, boy howdy, does she pull off the switcheroo.
It also has Randolph Scott - who is in just an insane number of movies, is very handsome, but nobody ever talks about. Go figure. But that's pretty much it for actors you've heard of.
I dug the movie. Not exactly "horror" so much as "supernatural thriller", it nods toward the early 20th century fascination with the occult and spiritualism, mixes in mad science, and manages to split the take down the middle while also telling a really fun story. And, man, so much maniacal laughing by so much of the cast. Clearly the direction was "no silence. Fill the space with a bit of laughter. You're a murderer and you're having a grand old time."
It'd be a great movie to fill out the "ghostly" checkbox for your Halloween viewing, or any time you need something fun but spooooky.
*Lombard was a massive star in this era, but died tragically in a plane crash in 1942 while married to Clark Gable. She was, I believe, at one point in the 1930's one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood.