Monsters In The Movies

Bela Lugosi as Dracula 1931 AP

Ron Chaney's hillside home near Palm Springs doesn't look much like a haunted house, but he always looks forward to getting it ready for Halloween. Chaney is, after all, a descendent of monsters.

His great-grandfather was the Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, silent film star, Lon Chaney. And his grandfather was the Wolfman, Lon Chaney Jr. So on Halloween, Chaney pulls all the family skeletons out of the closet.

"Well, you're gonna run into some vampires," he told Sunday Morning correspondent John Blackstone. "You're gonna run into some phantoms and wolf men, mummies, Frankenstein's. Chaney's played 'em all, and they're all here for Halloween."

Somehow the old monsters from the days of black and white still have a stranglehold on our imagination. No matter how many attempts have been made to kill them off…they just keeping coming back. And these undead creatures have bestowed an immortality of sorts on the actors who played them so long ago: Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster and Lon Chaney Jr. as the wolf man.

"And he was just Gramps to us," Chaney said. "He wasn't The wolf man or a movie star."

But gramps was always the wolf man when Halloween rolled around.

"The kids loved to come to his house," Chaney said. "They'd have him howl for 'em, like The Wolf Man howl. And he did it all night long, God bless him.

Having a monster in the family can add a lot to your Halloween memorabilia.

"It's mainly here in the Bathing with Boris bathroom," Sarah Karloff, the daughter of Boris Karloff. "And when we have parties, you'd be amazed at how many people we lose in the bathroom."

Karloff says her father saw it as his good fortune to become famous as a monster.

"He's one of the owners of Halloween," she said. "He always referred to it as his busy season."

But that didn't mean their door was busy with trick or theaters.

"At home, it was quieter at our house than at yours because people were afraid to ring the doorbell," she said.

Who wouldn't be afraid of the monster created by Dr. Frankenstein. When the film was made 75 years ago it was widely seen as the scariest movie ever, so scary it began with a warning.

"Nobody anticipated the film to be the success that it was," Karloff said. "My father wasn't even invited to the premier."

You might say Frankenstein was a roaring success, so universal studios quickly followed with another monster, Bela Lugosi, a Hungarian immigrant who could barely speak English, took the role of Dracula. He set the pattern for every vampire to follow, says director John Landis.

"To this day Dracula does what Bella Legosi did and they talk like Dracula," he said. "They talk like him, kind of -- you know, it's sad in many ways. It kind of ruined his career. And in other ways it's wonderful. Because who else has that kind of impact on the culture. It's quite something that Bella Legosi had."
  • Caitlin Johnson

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