Guilty Pleasures: Scott Phillips

Guilty isn’t really a word I much associate with the movies. (Music is  another story. I have CDs of artists I liked when I was an adolescent that I don’t even let my wife know about.) Maybe porn would have  qualified once, but even that doesn’t inspire guilt any more. So the  closest I can come to a cinematic guilty pleasure is something that I  know isn’t very good, that fails on its own terms, but that I love  anyway.

Here are two such movies, each from a different part of   Universal’s mid-century Horror cycle: “Frankenstein meets the  Wolfman” (1943, directed by Roy William Neill and written by Curt Siodmak) and “The Creature Walks Among Us” (1956, directed by John  Sherwood and written by Arthur A. Ross.) They’re both sequels to  sequels, they’re both programmers made with much lowered ambitions,  and I saw them both on the late, lamented “Nightmare” on Friday nights  at midnight on KARD TV in Wichita, hosted by the late, great Tom  Leahy.

Oh, and they both stink. But “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman” has a great opening sequence of a mausoleum being robbed by a couple of unfortunate morons who don’t realize that the moonlight shining through the transom upon the apparently dead body of Larry Talbot will revive him and turn him into a ravenous beast; for my money it’s one of the best sequences in the whole Universal Horror canon, right up there with Karloff’s slow awakening in “The Mummy.” Unfortunately after Talbot (the barely adequate Lon Chaney, Jr.) awakes in a hospital and starts wandering around Europe looking for a cure for lycanthropy, the thing descends into an unbearable mess.

Things start looking up again when Larry and company find Frankenstein’s monster frozen beneath his maker’s old castle, and when he’s brought back to life the two of them fight it out in the ruins until some village dynamites a dam and floods the place. Some of you older readers will remember Castle Films’s abridgments of old movies on 16 and 8 mm (see the Cinema issue of The Believer, out right now, for a good article on
those); the ten minute or so Castle Films version contains only the mausoleum ad fight sequences, and I must have watched it a couple of hundred times in those pre-video days. “Creature” is another story; a sequel to “Creature from The Black Lagoon” and “Revenge of the Creature,” the story involves the Gill-Man getting badly burned and an inexplicable attempt to save him by taking away his aquatic features surgically and making him human enough that at one point in the picture he’s wearing, no shit, jammies.

It reeks, but what can I say? I may watch it again tonight.

Scott
cott Phillips is the author of three of the most highly acclaimed crime novels of recent years. His debut novel, The Ice Harvest, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and won the California Book Award, a Silver Medal for Best First Fiction, and was a finalist for the Edgar Awards, the Hammett Prize and the Anthony Award. It is now a major motion picture from Focus Features. Its followup The Walkaway continued his success, with The New York Times calling it “wicked fun.” His third novel, Cottonwood, is now out in paperback.

Born in Wichita, Kansas, where much of his first two books are set, Scott lived for many years in Paris, and then in Southern California, where he worked on screenplays. Those who frequent Showtime in the middle of the night may see his name on Crosscut (1996). He now lives in St. Louis with his wife and daughter. For more on Scott, check out his website.