The War of the Worlds
Released in 1953, the first theatrical film based on H. G. Wells novel, The War of the Worlds, became an instant hit. The movie was directed by Byron Haskin, produced by George Pal and Barre Lyndon provided the script. When aliens visit Earth, they do not come in peace. They begin by shooting heat-rays that vaporized the humans immediately. Dr. Forrester is witness to one of the first alien attacks, and is later able to obtain a blood sample from an alien he kills, along with a piece of their technology. The military soon drops an atomic bomb on the aliens, but they have no effect of the machines, leaving a grim outlook. Originally, the last one-third of the film was supposed to be shot in 3D, but the budget did not allow for it. They wanted to avoid the cliché look of UFOs in the 50s, and came up with the design for the ships that resembled a manta ray. The iconic electronic eye that was attached to the ships has been emulated many times in films since. The movie was met with positive reviews and was a box office success grossing $2 million. The War of the Worlds won an Academy Award for Special Effects. In 2011, the movie was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, and is considered one of the best science fiction movies of its time, as well as becoming a classic.
When A Stranger Calls
Producer Steve Feke and director Fred Walton penned the screenplay for When A Stranger Calls with inspiration from a folk legend titled “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs”. It is the tale of a young woman, Jill Johnson, portrayed by Carol Kane, who is babysitting a pair of children. She begins receiving distressing phone calls from a mystery man and when she alerts the police, they are finally able to trace the phone call back to inside the house. The police arrive and Jill is saved, however, the children were murdered upstairs as they slept. The film then goes forward seven years, showing that the murderer has escaped from an institution. Officer John Clifford, played by Charles Durning, had worked the case with Jill before, and the dead children’s father hires the now private investigator Clifford to track down the murderer. The murderer finds Jill who is now married with her own children and stalks her. Clifford must stop him before he kills Jill. The movie had a budget of $740,000 and grossed $21 million in the theatres when it was released in 1979.
Made in 1932, White Zombie was the first film to feature zombies. Bela Lugosi starred in this film following the successful 1931 movie, Dracula. Set in Haiti, the story follows Madeleine and Neil, who are to be married. Throw in an evil voodoo priest, Murder Legendre (Lugosi) and Charles Beaumont, who wants Madeleine for himself, and you have some conflict. Murder Legendre turns Madeleine into a zombie in order to make her do his bidding when Beaumont asks Murder Legendre for his help in winning her over. She dies and is brought back as a zombie. When Neil finds out that Murder Legendre has a slew of zombies that are under his control, he goes to rescue Madeleine. Shooting on the film was completed in eleven days. The reviews when the movie released were poor, criticizing the acting and outrageous storyline.
The Wolf Man
Starring Lon Chaney Jr., The Wolf Man was a Universal Pictures film that was released in 1941. George Waggner directed and produced the film, while Curt Siodmak provided the screenplay. Larry Talbot, played by Lon Chaney Jr., returns to his small village after his brother passes away. While there he meets and becomes interested in Gwen, purchasing a walking stick with a silver wolf on the handle. She tells him about werewolves, which he had never heard of previously. The villagers all recite the same cryptic poem when spoken to about werewolves:
Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.
Later on, Larry gets attacked by a werewolf played by Bela Lugosi and consequently turns into a werewolf. The screenwriter Siodmak wrote the poem that was recited in the film. Chaney’s makeup as the wolf man was heavy and and uncomfortable. Chaney was the only actor to play the Universal monster, and he played the wolf man in four more films due to the positive reception of the film. In 2010 Universal Pictures produced a remake starring Benicio del Toro.
Whitley Strieber’s 1978 novel, The Wolfen, was brought to the silver screen in 1981 by director Michael Wadleigh. Following brutal murders, NYPD Captain Dewey Wilson, played by Albert Finney, is on the case to find the killer. A coroner, Whittington, played by Gregory Hines, finds strange hairs on the corpses and teams up with Ferguson, a zoologist, who believes them to be from an unknown species of wolf. Wilson consults a Native American and later finds out that he believes the killer to be a Wolfen, or a wolf spirit. A special technique was used during the filming of the movie to portray certain scenes as seen through the eyes of the wolf. Wolfen grossed $10 million in the theatres.