What is it with south London and cinematic horror? No snide remarks please. Cabs do go south of the river these days. No less than four of the horror greats were south Londoners. Boris Karloff and Peter Cushing spent parts of their respective childhoods in Camberwell and Dulwich, Elsa Lanchester was a Lewisham girl and Lionel Atwill lived a few miles south in Croydon. In that little grouping, you have the stars of a host of classic Universal and Hammer horrors and lots of ropey B movies too, of course.

Karloff was the stiff legged, bolt-necked Frankenstein monster, played with plenty of pathos in the 1931 movie and its two sequels. He followed up Frankenstein with The Mummy, double acts with Bela Lugosi in films like The Black Cat and The Raven and some excellent work for Val Lewton in The Body Snatcher and Isle of the Dead, before playing a fading horror actor in Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets.

cushingIn The Bride of Frankenstein, Lanchester had two roles. She was Mary Shelley in the prologue, discussing her book with Shelley and Byron. Then, in the climax of the film she appears as the bride of the monster, the Nefertiti hair style and long white shift and as iconic as Karloff’s look.

In 1939’s Son of Frankenstein, Atwill was the police inspector who’s false is arm ripped off by the monster. The role is lovingly spoofed in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Earlier in the decade, Atwill had been Warner Brothers’ answer to Karloff in Dr X and The Mystery of the Wax Museum.

Peter Cushing was the youngest of this quartet and it wasn’t until the 1950s that he became well known, for his partnership with Christopher Lee in Hammer’s cycle of gothic horrors. He was a steely Frankenstein and an energetic Van Helsing and also played a sinister Dr Terror (of House of Horrors fame) and of course the ruthless Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars.

Plenty of food for thought for anyone pondering a Halloween movie night.

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