How Bela Lugosi's Passion Assisted Universal Studios from Going Bankrupt and Hobbled His Own Career in the Process - Dread Central
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How Bela Lugosi’s Passion Assisted Universal Studios from Going Bankrupt and Hobbled His Own Career in the Process

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In 1930, decades before “Sesame Street’s” The Count numerically educated toddlers nationwide while Count Chocula simultaneously rotted their teeth, and well before actors Christopher Lee, Frank Langella and Gary Oldman donned what had become the infamous medallion, signet ring and cape, Universal Studios was in financial trouble. And among those who assisted in saving them from bankruptcy was a man who in the process not only signed one of the worst contracts ever offered, but in doing also created arguably the most well-known horror icon in cinematic history: Dracula. His name was Bela Lugosi.

Born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1880, in what was then Lugos in the Kingdom of Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania), the actor’s early life, previous to his entrance into Hollywood and long before he immortalized the line “Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make,” was dedicated to the theater. Having dropped out of school at the age of twelve, Blaskó’s acting career commenced at the age of twenty (when he assumed the surname of Lugosi), first with performances in Hungarian provincial theaters, then to dozens of roles with the National Theatre of Hungary in Budapest, before serving in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I, in which he received the Wound Medal for injuries he sustained on the Russian Front.

In 1919, during time of the Hungarian Revolution, Lugosi was forced to flee the country due to his activism in the actors’ union, and after performing in Berlin for a brief spell, he landed in New York, where he founded a small theater stock company which toured the Eastern seaboard, playing to immigrant audiences. It wouldn’t be until 1927 when the titular role based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula would envelope him, however, in the form of the Horace Liveright Broadway stage production. Lugosi would don the cape for a total of two hundred sixty-one performances, before touring the US to much acclaim from 1928 to 1929. The success of the play eventually led him into motion pictures, first with Fox Studios (1923’s The Silent Command), then eventually to director Tod Browning’s Dracula at Universal, although he wasn’t the studio’s first choice.

Browning, who’d directed features for Universal prior (1920’s Outside the Law) as well the infamous and lost 1927 Lon Chaney feature London After Midnight for MGM, had been assigned Dracula by the studio, which was at the time financially beleaguered by the October 29, 1929, stock market crash of the Great Depression. The property, however, was far from free and clear, bogged down by litigation (Stoker’s widow, Florence, has spent eight years in German courts over F.W. Murnau’s unauthorized film adaptation Nosferatu, which resulted in a court order that all prints of the film were to be destroyed), as well as playwright Liveright’s threatened lawsuit that any film version of Dracula would unfairly compete with his production. Additionally, Universal at the time was looking at no less than six actors other than Lugosi to play the lead.

With a sense of dogged ownership of the role and prompted by director Browning, Lugosi made a protracted play for it, by corresponding directly with Florence and her New York agent, Harold Freedman, asking for her not only to bring down her asking price for the film rights, but also that she suggest to Universal that he himself don the Count’s cape.

From a wire sent to Freedman on June 25:

SPENT MANY MONTHS TO PROMOTE DRACULA SPENT MANY CABLES WITH LONDON TO BRING DOWN PRICE WILL YOU PLEASE EXPRESS OPINION TO UNIVERSAL FOR ME BEING THE LOGICAL CHOICE TO BE CAST FOR DRACULA.

Lugosi’s bid proved successful, if not contractually wise, taking the role as a “work for hire” for $3,500 total, $500 a week for seven weeks of production (by comparison, actor David Manners, who portrayed the supporting character of “John Harker,” was paid $2,000 a week). Lugosi’s acceptance of such small pay would, however, serve to cripple his later earnings as an actor in Hollywood and would in fact force him to file his own bankruptcy a year later. Dracula’s box office, on the other hand, saved Universal Studios from its own. Opening on February 12, 1931, the film pulled in $1.2 million worldwide during its initial release.

However iconic the character he’d created on screen, Lugosi would only play the role in a feature film once more in his career, in director Charles Barton’s 1948 classic monster mash Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. And while the actor did continue to work in the genre, portraying the gypsy “Bela” in 1941’s The Wolf Man, “Ygor” in 1942’s The Ghost of Frankenstein and “Frankenstein’s Monster” himself in 1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (all beloved by fans of Universal’s Golden Age of Horror), his career would descend into obscure, low budget films, the next to last of which would be 1955’s Ed Wood opus Bride of the Monster.

Lugosi passed away alone in his Los Angeles apartment of a heart attack on August 16, 1956, and was buried in the cape that defined his career at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, CA. And while he never received the Academy Award, actor Martin Landau would for his portrayal of the actor in Tim Burton’s 1994 film Ed Wood.

Still, Lugosi’s cinematic incarnation of The Count is considered by many to be the definitive Dracula and continues to this day to line Universal’s coffers via decades of licensing.

Source Material: Dark Carnival by David J. Skal

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Exclusive: Rocky Gray Talks Halloween Horror Anthology 10/31

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The last time we gave you guys word on the upcoming Halloween horror anthology 10/31 was to bring you the knock-out exclusive official poster, which you can peep to your left (click for a higher-res version).

The new horror anthology in the vein of V/H/S and Creepshow joins an ensemble cast together to spin twisted tales of the macabre. The film is executive produced by P.J. Starks, creator of the critically acclaimed Volumes of Blood.

The film’s stories are directed by the likes of Justin M. Seaman (The Barn), Zane Hershberger (Devilution), John William Holt (The Dooms Chapel Horror), Brett DeJager (Bonejangles) and Rocky Gray making his directing debut.

This past weekend we were able to catch up with producer-director Rocky Gray and ask him a few choice questions about the anticipated upcoming anthology film.

You can check out our quick interview below and then make sure to hit us up and let us know how excited you are to check out 10/31 in the comments below!

Dread Central: How is the film coming along?

Rocky Gray: The film is now completed and we are getting the perks out to our Indiegogo backers. The backers and Death By Festival got to see the first cut of the film in October and they loved it so we’re very excited to get the film out to everyone else very soon.

DC: What can expect from this anthology?

RG: Expect to have a lot of Halloween themed fun. Each segment has its own flavor so the pacing and the look change throughout the film. With masked killers, vampires, scarecrows, tricksters and old hags there’s something for everyone.

DC: Will there be a sequel?

RG: If there was a demand for it we would make it happen!

Sounds good to us. Thanks for chatting with us, Rocky!

You can become a fan of the film on Facebook HERE.

SYNOPSIS:
A Halloween treat bag of all the things that go bump in the night. From masked killers to scarecrows, witches, and tricksters. There’s a scare for everyone in this anthology of horror and the macabre from the creators of The Barn and Volumes of Blood.

Red Letter Entertainment, Inc. brings you the directorial debut from Rocky Gray (composer of The Barn, Killing Floor 2), two-time Grammy-winning musician and former drummer for Evanescence. A new horror anthology in the vein of V/H/S/ and Creepshow brings an ensemble cast together to spin twisted tales of the macabre. The film is Executive Produced by P.J. Starks, creator of the critically acclaimed Volumes of Blood.

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The Duffer Brothers Have Begun Working on Stranger Things 3

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I wasn’t the world’s biggest fan of the first season of Netflix and The Duffer Brothers’ “Stranger Things” to tell you the truth. That said, I absolutely loved the second season (read our reviews HERE).

It is with this in mind that we are all looking forward to “Stranger Things 3”.

Recently Deadline reported that at Vulture Festival LA the Duffer Brothers, producer Shawn Levy, Finn Wolfhard, Paul Reiser, and Linnea Berthelsen talked about season two and teased season three.

“We are [in] very early days on season three, and we’re still figuring it out,” Ross Duffer said, before taking a beat, then adding: “I probably wasn’t supposed to say that. That’s not official; that wasn’t an official announcement — we’re just working on it, just for our own amusement… for fun!”

Whatever.

We all know at this point that there is going to be a “Stranger Things 3” and that The Duffer Brothers will one day begin working on it. Don’t worry so much, Ross Duffer.

After all, your brother already let us know that season three will begin after a time jump:

“Even if we wanted to hop into the action faster, we couldn’t,” says Matt Duffer. “Our kids are aging. We can only write and produce the show so fast. They’re going to be almost a year older by the time we start shooting season three. It provides certain challenges. You can’t start right after season two ended. It forces you to do a time jump. It’s a long way of saying that yeah, we’re going to do a time jump.”

What did you think of “Stranger Things 2”? Did you dig it more (or less) than season one? Make sure to hit us up and let us know in the comments below or on social media!

“Stranger Things 2” is currently streaming on Netflix.

Synopsis:
It’s 1984, and the citizens of Hawkins, Indiana, are still reeling from the horrors of the Demogorgon and the secrets of Hawkins Lab. Will Byers has been rescued from the Upside Down, but a bigger, sinister entity still threatens those who survived.

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James Cameron’s Terminator Reboot/Sequel Hires Screenwriter

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The last word we brought you guys on producer James Cameron and Deadpool-director Tim Miller’s new Terminator film was when we let you know that Paramount had set the film’s release date for July 26, 2019.

Today we have news via The Wrap that the studio is bringing in screenwriter Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) to pen the movie’s script based on a story crafted by Cameron.

You may remember that Cameron and Miller created a writers room a while back to plan out an all-new trilogy of films, but while that writer’s room included David Goyer, Charles Eglee, and Josh Friedman, it seems like Ray will be the first film’s sole writer. For now.

Story details are, of course, being kept under wraps, but Cameron and Miller are treating the new movie as a direct sequel to Cameron’s T2: Judgment Day.

“This is a continuation of the story from ‘Terminator 1’ and ‘Terminator 2.’ And we’re pretending the other films were a bad dream,” Cameron told THR. “Or an alternate timeline, which is permissible in our multi-verse.”

We also know that Cameron plans to center the new film/trilogy around a new group of younger characters, who will eventually carry on the baton as it were.

“A lot of this is handing off the baton to a new generation of characters,” Cameron said. “We’re starting a search for an 18-something young woman to essentially be the new centerpiece of these stories. And then a number of other characters around her and characters from the future. We still fold time in the story in intriguing ways. But we have Arnold’s character and Linda’s character to anchor it.”

How excited are you for James Cameron’s new Terminator flick? Make sure to hit us up and let us know in the comments below or on social mdeia!

The new Terminator film is produced by James Cameron and will be directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool). The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton.

Terminator 2.5 is expected to hit July 26, 2019.

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