Tuesday, October 4, 2011
THE MYSTERY OF CARL DREADSTONE AND THE UNIVERSAL HORROR LIBRARY
Universal’s THE MUMMY was always a favorite monster movie of mine, although I rarely watched the entire film. In fact, I can barely remember the ending, but the first half of the film is solidly etched in my memory. The reason lies in how we watched our horror films as Monster Kids in the 1960s: on local TV stations’ Saturday afternoon Creature Features. A group of us would gather in front of the big black and white TV set in someone’s home and watch the classic (or not so classic) film of the week. In the case of THE MUMMY, the main scenes we wanted to see were Boris Karloff first coming to life as a mummy and then being put to death for his sacrilege with the Scroll of Thoth. We had little use for the silly love scenes with Frank Whemple (David Manners) and Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann). Once the smoke cleared from the pool in which Boris showed Zita their ancient past, we kids were pestering our mothers for old sheets we could rip up and use to mummify each other! Of course, I eventually watched the rest of the film and came to appreciate the ending as much as the beginning.
This reverie of a past life came to me recently, not via a vision in an enchanted pool, but in a book packed in a box in the vault (read: garage) and lately discovered and re-read. THE MUMMY was part of a series of paperback movie adaptations published by Berkley Medallion in 1977. Others in the series included THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THE WOLFMAN, WEREWOLF OF LONDON, and DRACULA’S DAUGHTER. All of them list the author as Carl Dreadstone, which even I realized was a pen name. But a pen name for whom?
THE MUMMY is well written. Not only did it bring the film back to life for me, but it enhanced the movie by adding details which fleshed out the characters and filled gaps in the story line. For example, the book includes scenes in which Helen dreams of the various lives she has lived since her death as Ankhesenamen. (Note: The book uses an alternate spelling of the more common “Ankh-es-en-amon”.) There are even photos of these scenes, which were cut from the film. According to a Wikipedia entry, the footage has been lost. The book allows the reader into the characters’ minds and histories better than a movie is able. The accompanying photos, and there are a lot of them (!), really tie book and movie together to make for a great monster experience.
Another treasure unearthed and re-read from the series is THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. A great thing about this book is the scenes devoted to the monster’s travels and thoughts that do not appear on-camera in the movie. His struggles to comprehend the world around him, to remember language his brain once knew, and mixed emotions regarding his creator, Henry Frankenstein, add rich texture to the tale. Boris Karloff did a brilliant job portraying the emotions of the creature, eliciting the sympathies of the audience, but a book offers far more opportunity to develop the internal feelings of its characters. This is particularly true with a gifted writer. As with THE MUMMY, THE BRIDE is filled with wonderful photos from the movie and makes for an outstanding reminder of why it is considered one of the greatest horror films ever made.
As mentioned earlier, all six books in the series were written by one "Carl Dreadstone" and have introductions by noted horror fiction writer Ramsey Campbell, author of such award-winning novels as THE NAMELESS, INCARNATE, and ANCIENT IMAGES. I am not usually quick to pick up on pen names, but even I thought “Carl Dreadstone” sounded phony. And the British editions credited “E. K. Layton” as the writer! Mr. Campbell has admitted to being the “Carl Dreadstone” of three of the books in the series (THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLFMAN, and DRACULA’S DAUGHTER). Ian Covell at Souvenirs of Terror identified Walter Harris as being the author of THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON. Mr. Harris confirmed that fact in an Internet post, in which he also stated that he authored THE CREATURE. Harris’s books under his own name include THE DAY I DIED, THE FIFTH HORSEMAN, and TO CATCH A RAT.
That leaves only THE MUMMY with no real writer identified. It is such a wonderful book that it is a shame that the real author has yet to receive the credit he or she deserves. Perhaps one of the readers of MMW can help solve this monster mystery.