It’s spooky season and the best time of year to revisit some classic Hollywood horror films! This year, the Chicago Public Library–Austin-Irving Branch invited me to present my “A Hollywood Halloween” program as part of their 31 Days of Horror screenings. In advance of the programming series, I was interviewed by their branch manager, Lisa Roe. The interview is included here for your enjoyment.
Lisa: How did you first get into movies? Is there a specific film or actor/actress that really affected you in your youth?
Annette: Remember Blockbuster? When I was little, my dad would go to Blockbuster and check out classic comedies on VHS pretty often, like Our Gang/The Little Rascals or Laurel & Hardy. I enjoyed watching them so much that I figured anything black-and-white was going to be fabulous entertainment.
Judy Garland’s work was my gateway to classic films, though. I loved The Wizard of Oz (1939) when I was little. I pretended to be Dorothy and would imagine my Pomeranian as Toto. When I was about nine years old, my family got cable TV and I remember scrolling through the channels and coming across TCM. Strike Up the Band (1940)—a Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland film—was playing and it baffled my nine-year-old brain that Judy did something besides play Dorothy. I went to my local library and a librarian printed Judy’s filmography for me. I felt like I stumbled across a treasure trove of performances. It was through watching Judy’s work that I learned about so many of the other Golden Age stars.
Lisa: You have a fondness for the ‘golden age’ of Hollywood. What about this time is striking to you?
Annette: For one, the film industry today operates in a way that is so different than how it operated during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Major studios like MGM or Warner Bros. were working as part of the studio system, with these powerhouse studios being able to oversee the filmmaking and film distribution process with little to no reliance upon any third parties. That business model has its own pros and cons but is unique to that period. Additionally, it’s a wonderful thing that we are still discussing and studying the output of this era all these decades later. In the case of some of the silent films, it has been over a century since they were first screened and they are still powerful, entertaining, and worth examining. Artists are still being influenced by these films and talents (on and off the screen). Most importantly, audiences to this day are still being entertained by these films all over the world and across different generations.
Lisa: As a film professor, what is a course or series of films that you’ve always wanted to teach?
Annette: I would love to offer a course or a series about the films directed by Billy Wilder. I think that the performances he was able to elicit from actors and actresses of the Golden Age were especially memorable.
Lisa: Can you talk a little about the ‘Universal Monsters’ and their place in cinema history?
Annette: Universal helped bring these storied monsters to the screen in an artful and sometimes sympathetic way. The studio also helped shape the horror genre in America’s film output, being the first American studio to truly invest in the creation and development of horror films. Though the studio often drew from literature, they would also go on to create original stories and “monsters” as the years went on.
Lisa: Who would win in a battle between The Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein and bride, The Mummy & The Creature from the Black Lagoon?
Annette: I’m going with Dracula. The power of hypnosis would be a big plus for him—as long as the sun isn’t out!
Lisa: What are 3 horror films you think everyone should watch?
Annette: The Wolfman (1941), Cat People (1942), and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).