Oft maligned, the male movie monster isn’t always all blood and gore. While most famous monsters are renowned for their ability to return from the dead, bare fangs, sprout hair, or generally scare the hell out of people, some have distinctive style and fashion sense that are easily overlooked precisely because of their more garish aspects. This Halloween, Everywhere scrolls through horror-film history, spotlighting a dozen trendsetting monsters from which the rest of us might take a few fashion cues - if we haven’t already.
Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” has proven the most tireless source for movie vampires, starting with F.W. Murnau’s 1922 German Expressionist silent classic “Nosferatu.” This early version of the vampire icon may have been a bit stiff, but the tailored silhouette of his long double-breasted coat gives him a commanding presence.
In 1925 the silent unmasking of Lon Chaney in “The Phantom of The Opera” scared audiences so much that ambulances were stationed outside theaters to treat those who fainted. Being that the Phantom resided under the Paris Opera was reason enough for him to don an opera cape, a fashion pointer that successive movie monsters would adopt through the decades – right down to the half-masked Broadway musical “Phantom.”
But it was Bela Lugosi who used the opera cape to most unforgettable effect in Tod Browning’s 1931 talking version of “Dracula.” Unlike his hairless, unmanicured predecessor, Lugosi was the first vampire to work his cape with lady-killer panache.
That same year, Fredric March also brought out the opera cape for his portrayal of that mixed up dandy/fiend “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” This nightclubbing monster always got the table he wanted everywhere he went, and proved that even a hairy, bucktoothed gent can get the girl if he shows a little class.
1931 was a prolific year for horror. One of our most legendary movie monsters was born with James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Playing him, a star was born as well: Boris Karloff. While his shabby, undersized hand-me-downs may not have been the best choice for a monster of such large stature, Frankenstein nonetheless gave us one of the most iconic looks in horror-film history, his gawky, angular style prefiguring punk and new wave by several decades – including the elevator Doc Martens.
1932 saw Karloff return in a subtler, but arguably creepier role: “The Mummy.” Starting out wrapped in vintage bandaging, he soon sheds it for stylish eastern garb, a dashing fez and a fabulous ring, managing to mesmerize his 3,000-year-old flame with his unmistakable magnetism.
In 1933, director James Whale gave us another horror movie classic “The Invisible Man,” starring Claude Rains. This was an entirely new turn for a leading man: he disappears altogether so that all we see is what he’s wearing (or in some scenes, not wearing). What better way to show off an elegant dressing gown than paired with Devo-like goggles over a neutral foundation of gauze bandages?
1935 saw the first major lycanthropy movie: Henry Hull in “The Werewolf of London.” Hull’s werewolf made the most of casual English style, layering lots of woolens and topping it off with a classic poor-boy cap. A great look to this day.
In 1958, Hammer Films restyled the Dracula myth via the extraordinary Christopher Lee. The most unabashedly sexy version of the vampire to date, he revived the cape, this time with a splash of red for added drama. Lee’s Dracula became so popular that he was resurrected for numerous sequels in which he nearly always gets the girl.
Continuing its run of luridly glamorous monster revivals, in 1961 Hammer released “Curse of the Werewolf” with Oliver Reed as an also sexier and more romantic breed of the screen monster. His incarnation featured chest-baring, billowy white shirts, anticipating the New Romantics of the 80s – minus all the blood. He was also the first werewolf that could be classified as a silver fox.
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” starred Gary Oldman in the most wildly romantic interpretation of the bloodsucking count yet. With costume changes galore, this Count Dracula has a range of looks from Victorian dandy daywear to imperious loungewear. Not to mention a killer hairdo.
Old monsters die hard, and the new 21st century variety is often slicker and more insidious than his more obvious predecessors. The prime example is the 2000 film of “American Psycho,” in which Armani-clad Christian Bale hides his inner monster behind impeccable tailoring and manicuring. Perhaps all too recognizable in today’s world, this very sharp monster might just be the scariest of all.