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How 10 Iconic Movie Monsters Were Created

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Movie monsters have been through an evolution as wild and nuanced as Charles Darwin’s. Back in the days of silent film, they were created with paint and fish gills. Studios eventually graduated to puppets and monkey models, before CGI made it impossibly easy to dream up new terrors. Because it’s almost Halloween and you’re likely watching one of those monsters—whether it’s Frankenstein, Dracula, or The Fly—on TV, here are the secrets behind their creation. If you think they’re scary, you should’ve seen Lon Chaney’s nose on The Phantom of the Opera set.


Lon Chaney, Sr. introduced American moviegoers to Erik, a.k.a. the Phantom of the Opera, in his 1925 silent film. Chaney had previously portrayed Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and was already famous for doing his own make-up. Although he was quite secretive about his methods, most of his Phantom tricks have been revealed. For the exaggerated cheekbones, he used a combination of cotton and collodion. He accentuated his nostrils with black paint, and liberally applied dark eyeliner. Chaney also popped a serrated set of false teeth into his mouth. But the weirdest stuff concerned his nose: To contort it, Chaney attached a strip of fish skin and then poked himself with wires. As you might imagine, this wasn’t a pleasant experience. “Sometimes it would bleed like hell,” cinematographer Charles Van Enger told the Los Angeles Times. “We never stopped shooting. He would suffer for it.”

2. DRACULA (1931)

Prior to playing Count Dracula in the 1931 classic, Bela Lugosi starred in a 1927 Broadway play about the famous bloodsucker. The show was such a success that Hollywood decided to adapt it for the silver screen, and although producers were hesitant to cast an unknown Hungarian actor in the title role, Lugosi supporters successfully lobbied on his behalf.

Lugosi reportedly insisted on applying his own make-up for the film, as he did on the stage. He refused to wear the fangs Universal wanted, but agreed to a hairpiece that would add a widow’s peak to his “somewhat thinning hairline.” Some also speculate that the medallion Dracula wears was Lugosi’s own personal possession. It was clearly important to him; he was allegedly buried in a version of it when he died in 1956.


Jack Pierce is something of a legend in monster movie lore. The make-up artist was responsible for fixing the faces of the Mummy and Wolf Man, but one of his earliest hits was the 1931 horror flick Frankenstein. Pierce made Boris Karloff into the mutant by smearing green greasepaint all over his face. Karloff’s fingernails were painted black, and his eyelids were stiffened. Pierce gave him a flattop head with a combination of cotton and gum. Then the costume department got to work making the 5’11” Karloff into a looming terror. Karloff was given platform boots, each one weighing about 13 pounds, as well as a jacket that was too short and a doubled set of pants. The camera crew went the extra mile by filming Karloff at a low angle, so he looked all the more intimidating.

4. THE MUMMY (1932)

Karloff and Pierce quickly re-teamed for 1932’s The Mummy. In this outing, Pierce had a painstaking process for layering on Karloff’s bandages: As Pierce explained, “The complete makeup, from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet, took eight hours. The bandages on his body had to be put on. Then I had to seal them with tape so they wouldn't unravel. Then after that, I had to put the burned bandages on. After that I put the clay on. It was an hour and a half to take it off.”

Pierce also had to pin back Karloff’s ears and eyes, smash clay into his hair, and affix a decaying nose to his face. No wonder the actor called it “the most trying ordeal I have ever endured.”

5. KING KONG (1933)

The two men behind King Kong were Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, a pair with a taste for adventure. Prior to Kong, the friends had crossed frozen mountains to film a nomadic tribe and shot in the jungles of (then) Siam. They wanted to make a documentary about gorillas next, but producer David O. Selznick asked them to do a fictional ape feature instead.

After abandoning their initial plan—to get a gorilla and Komodo dragons and just roll—the pair tapped stop-motion expert Willis O’Brien. He’d created the dinosaurs in 1925’s The Lost World, so he was just the man for the job. O’Brien applied his movie magic to an 18-inch model of Kong sculpted by Marcel Delgado. He also built a full-sized monkey hand and a full-sized head to complete the illusion. Along with those cinematic sleights of hand, the movie featured ground-breaking use of miniature rear projection.


In this case, the details of the creature’s costume aren’t the most compelling angle. Yes, it sprang from a Citizen Kane dinner party conversation about half-reptilian men in the Amazon. And yes, the Oscar served as the earliest model for the Gill-Man. But the fight between Millicent Patrick and Bud Westmore for ownership is way more interesting.

Patrick was a rising star in the Universal movie monster machine. Previously, she had worked on It Came from Outer Space and Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a sketch artist and mask maker, respectively. She was tapped next for Creature for the Black Lagoon and once the movie was released, she was sent on tour to publicize it. This pissed off Westmore. He was part of the famed Westmore family of make-up artists and also part of the Creature from the Black Lagoon make-up team. He was not happy that Patrick was being billed as “the Beauty Who Created the Beast,” and said so in several formal complaints to the Universal execs. Those execs thought he was being a big baby, but Westmore made good on his threat to never employ her again and effectively ended her career. He also told everyone he’d made the Gill-Man costume Patrick designed for years. What a monster.

7. GODZILLA (1954)

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Godzilla has appeared in a whopping 30 movies, but the first was the 1954 Japanese film Gojira—and it came from a horrible, true-life incident. In March of 1954, the crew of the fishing boat Daigo Fukuryū Maru (or Lucky Dragon 5) was exposed to radiation, thanks to the secret hydrogen bomb tests America was conducting on Bikini Atoll. The Japanese were outraged and terrified. So producer Tomoyuki Tanaka tapped into those fears with his opening Gojira sequence, in which a peaceful boat crew is besieged.

Only they were being attacked by Godzilla, the stand-in for nuclear threats. Tanaka wanted to create a monster movie in the vein of King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. To execute this vision, he assembled director Ishirō Honda and special effects wiz Eiji Tsuburaya. Tsuburaya outfitted one of his technicians with a latex dinosaur suit featuring bamboo spars. In order to convey the monster’s forceful stomps, he shot the Godzilla scenes at double the speed and then slowed them down. Although this technique became mocked later down the line, Tsuburaya’s work (in conjunction with Honda, Tanaka, and all the rest) terrified Japanese moviegoers. "In producing Gojira, [they] accomplished a feat unequaled at the time,” Godzilla expert John Rocco Roberto wrote. “In the guise of a typical Hollywood-style ‘monster movie,’ they made Japan, and ultimately the world, experience the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki all over again."

8. ALIEN (1979)

The alien that terrorizes Ellen Ripley came from the designs of H.R. Giger. The surrealist was chosen to design the movie’s ETs after working with screenwriter Dan O’Bannon on a failed adaptation of Dune. His haunting art came to life with the help of condoms (used on the creature’s lips) and bones—Giger even fit a real human skull into the tip of the monster’s head. Once the final product was complete, Ridley Scott hired a 6’10” Nigerian art student named Bolaji Badejo to play the alien. Because his tail was so ungainly, Badejo had to sit on a custom swing between takes.


Legendary makeup artist Rick Baker got his first Academy Award for transforming actor David Naughton into a hairy hound. Baker and director John Landis had very specific ideas about the werewolf transformation: they didn’t want to do the gradual dissolves used in old monster movies; they wanted to show the pain and movement of a body in metamorphosis. While shooting the big scene, Baker applied the full wolf fur to Naughton first, let the crew film it, and then trimmed it back to shoot earlier stages of the transformation. He also came up with “change-o-heads” and “change-o-hands,” which were fake hands and heads with mechanisms inside that stretched and distorted the props to fit the transformation. Clearly Baker had a lot of creative freedom on the set, but he did lose at least one argument: he wasn’t allowed to make the wolf two-legged.

10. THE FLY (1986)

David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly arrived just five years after An American Werewolf in London. But Baker’s pioneering techniques were by that point so well-known that The Fly creature effects artist Chris Walas was determined to do something different. For the early stages of scientist Seth Brundle’s transformation, Walas applied elaborate prosthetics and make-up to Jeff Goldblum’s face and body. Each application could take up to five hours, and Goldblum was apparently not an easy canvas. For the later stages of the metamorphosis, Walas oversaw a fleet of puppets, rigs, and dollies that constituted the “fly.” Plates and springs inside the creature’s head facilitated the moment when Veronica accidentally tears its jaw. It was all pretty intricate stuff, but in the end, the work paid off. Walas took home the gold for his grotesque puppetry at the 1987 Academy Awards.

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.


Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.


Raw dough.

Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.


Kids trick-or-treating.

If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.


The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.


Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.


Kids knocking on a door in costume.

If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.


Sugar skulls with decoration.

While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.


Kids dressed up for Halloween.

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.


Little girl trick-or-treating.

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.


Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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Warner Home Video
11 Thrilling Facts About Dial M for Murder
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Warner Home Video

In 1953 Alfred Hitchcock was looking for a new project after a film he’d been developing fell through. Sensing a need to go back to his safe space of murderous thrillers, he opted to adapt a stage play that had already proved to be a hit on British television. Though he had no particular attachment to the project, Dial M for Murder would ultimately become one of Hitchcock’s best-known—and best-loved—classics.

From the film’s use of 3D to the debut of Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s filmography to a pivotal murder sequence that made the director lose weight from stress, here are 11 facts about Dial M for Murder.


Dial M for Murder is, in terms of locations and number of characters, a relatively sparse film that barely leaves its primary set. This is because it was based on a stage play by Frederick Knott, which premiered as a BBC TV special in 1952 and later opened at London’s Westminster Theater and, eventually, Broadway. After seeing the BBC production, producer Sir Alexander Korda purchased the rights to make the film version, and later sold them to Warner Bros. for $75,000.


By 1953, when Dial M for Murder arrived at Warner Bros., Hitchcock was developing a project called The Bramble Bush, the story of a man who steals another man’s passport, only to find out that the original owner is wanted for murder. Hitchcock wrestled with the story for a while, but was never satisfied with it. When Dial M for Murder landed at the studio, Hitchcock knew the play had been a hit, and opted to direct it. As he later told fellow director François Truffaut, he found the film to be “coasting, playing it safe,” as he was already known as a thriller filmmaker.


In the early 1950s, the 3D movie craze was raging, and Warner Bros. was eager to pair it with the fame of Hitchcock. So, the director was ordered to use the process on Dial M for Murder. This meant Hitchcock had to work with the giant cameras necessary for the process, but there was also a trade-off that makes the film fascinating—even in 2D. In order to make the film look appropriately interesting in 3D, Hitchcock added a pit into the floor of the set, so the camera could move at lower angles and captures objects like lamps in the foreground. As a result, the film looks like no other Hitchcock ever shot, particularly for the infamous scissors murder that’s the film's thrilling centerpiece. Unfortunately, by the time Dial M for Murder was released in 1954, the 3D fad was dying out, so the film was shown in 2D at most screenings.


Of all of the iconic blonde stars Hitchcock cast in his films, the most famous is almost undoubtedly Grace Kelly, the actress-turned-princess who first joined him for this film. Hitchcock once described Kelly as a "rare thing in movies ... fit for any leading-lady part,” and it was said he had the easiest working relationship with her of any star. They worked so well together that they went on to make two more films, Rear Window in 1954 and To Catch a Thief in 1955.


Because Dial M for Murder is based on a stage play, the original script had very little in the way of outdoor set pieces. Hitchcock wanted to keep it that way, as he later explained to Truffaut:

“I’ve got a theory on the way they make pictures based on stage plays; they did it with silent pictures, too. Many filmmakers would take a stage play and say, ‘I’m going to make this into a film.’ Then they would begin to ‘open it up.’ In other words, on the stage it was all confined to one set, and the idea was to do something that would take it away from the confined stage setting.”

Hitchcock wanted to keep the confinement intact, so almost all of the action in the film takes place indoors, largely in the Wendices' apartment. This adds to the intimacy and tension.


Hitchcock was always known as a meticulous director obsessed with detail, but on Dial M for Murder he was particularly detail-oriented, in part because the 3D cameras were going to capture objects in a way his other films hadn’t. As a result, he selected all of the objects in the Wendice apartment himself, and even had a giant false telephone dial made for the famous “M” close-up in the title sequence.


Grace Kelly in 'Dial M for Murder' (1954)
Warner Home Video

Hitchcock’s exacting eye also led to an elaborate “color experiment” to portray the psychological condition of Kelly’s character. As the film begins, the colors she wears are all very bright, suggesting a happy life in which she doesn’t suspect anything is wrong. As the film grows darker for her, to the point that she’s framed for murder, the wardrobe grows darker and “more somber,” as Hitchcock put it.


For the scene in which Swann (Anthony Dawson) attempts to murder Margot (Kelly) by strangling her (until she manages to stab him with a pair of scissors), Hitchcock had another exacting wardrobe request. He had an elegant velvet robe made for Kelly, hoping to create interesting textural effects as the lights and shadows played off the fabric while she fought for her life. Kelly reasoned that, since Margot was alone in the apartment (as far as she knew) and was only getting out of bed to answer the phone, she wouldn’t bother to put on a robe.

“I said I wouldn't put on anything at all, that I'd just get up and go to the phone in my nightgown. And [Hitchcock] admitted that was better, and that's the way it was done,” Kelly later recalled.


Dial M for Murder was shot in just 36 days, but the director took special care with one scene in particular: the murder sequence in which Margot stabs Swann with the scissors. Not only was it a key scene in the film, but it was also a moment that required particular care to make the 3D effects work. Hitchcock agonized over the scene to such a degree that he apparently lost 20 pounds during filming.

"This is nicely done but there wasn't enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce—tasteless,” he reportedly said after one take.


Hitchcock became known throughout his career for making cameos in his films, ranging from the very subtle (you can see his silhouette in neon outside the window in Rope) to the more elaborate (missing the bus in the opening sequence of North by Northwest). In Dial M for Murder, his cameo falls somewhere in between. He appears in a class reunion photo in the Wendice apartment, seated at a banquet table among other men.


Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in 'A Perfect Murder' (1998)
Warner Bros.

Dial M for Murder was a film adaptation of a stage play that had also already been adapted for television in Britain, and it proved popular enough that four more adaptations followed. In 1958, NBC broadcast a Hallmark Hall of Fame production, in which both Anthony Dawson and John Williams returned to play Swann and Chief Inspector Hubbard, respectively. A 1967 ABC television production of the play co-starred Laurence Harvey and Diane Cilento. A television movie starring Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer was produced in 1981, and in 1998 the play served as the inspiration for the film A Perfect Murder, starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.


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