From Hammer to George Lucas
by Thierry Girandon
In the thirties, Universal’s monsters terrorised cinema audiences. Then Dracula and Co. ended up playing at being scared, degenerating into ridiculous Z-series alongside cheesy comedians. Dracula and the Werewolf were made to meet as Alien and Predator would meet.
Lon Chaney Jr. made a mockery of the saying « like father like son ». The Mummy lost his bandages and revealed his hollow chest. In the drive-ins people wanted blood and tits. So it was that young virgins in Chevrolets lost their blood on the moleskin of the benches. It would not be surprising if this last sentence were to be the refrain of a rocker’s song.
In the 1950s, the famous British studio Hammer had the bright idea of resurrecting these monsters. Hammer’s genius was the use of colour. Blood, bright red, spurted onto the green drapes; oh, the carmine lips of Dracula’s victims! His bite, a kiss. In Psycho, the blood was only melted chocolate. What shocked then was only the toilet bowl and the obscene sound of the flush.
Terence Fisher, Hammer’s greatest director, resurrected first Frankenstein and then the others. But he took a particular liking to the famous baron, who remained the same but varied his creatures rather like a fashion designer who presents a new collection every season. I recently saw Fisher’s last film: Frankenstein and the monster from hell, made in 1974, his fifth variation on the baron and his baby. The doctor, suavely played by Peter Cushing, works in an insane asylum. His latest creation, the monster from hell, is a truly compassionate creature. This is Fisher’s genius. He had already made the Werewolf moving. He casts his creature’s soul into the powerful body of a psychopath who has just failed to commit suicide. He cocoons the brain of a genius and the skilful hands of a sculptor. The creature thus brought back to life is nothing but a monster of suffering who lives a real hell, torn by despair, murderous desires and the torments of creation. A pitiful but pathetic creature, or the opposite. The actor who lends his body to this savage creature covered in Chewbacca-like hair is no stranger. He is David Prowse. David Prowse died in 2020. He was a former weightlifter, famous for being the man under the Darth Vader costume. George Lucas wanted a massive, athletic figure, just that. Lucas in turn became the famous Dr. Frankenstein by creating this degenerate father who degenerated several generations of viewers. This Darth Vader, like Frankenstein’s monster, is a composite character. If David Prowse lends his body, it is not his voice in the films. When he shows his face, it is not his face. Darth Vader is, like Frankenstein’s creature, a piece of string. Poor David Prowse is condemned to play the same monster forever.