THE ORIGIN – UCSB A&L brings eight classic monster movies downtown

Alright, so Universal’s attempt to resuscitate its classic monster movie franchise hit a big, hairy speed bump with “The Wolf Man.” Its mixed reviews don’t bode well for the remake of “The Creature From the Black Lagoon,” coming next year. While Hollywood (in all its wisdom) tries to reinvent the wheel, why not take in the original wheel? This summer, Arts & Lectures presents all the classic Universal monster movies in one spooky fest.

Even if you haven’t seen these films, you’ve heard of the monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein (and his bride), Wolf Man, Invisible Man, Mummy, the aforementioned Black Lagoon chap and the Phantom of the Opera, who, by the way, isn’t some handsome guy in a mask.

The free film season — starting this Wednesday and ending Aug. 25 — offers a chance to catch up on these icons and gain a quick lesson in horror film history, whether you choose to watch the films indoors at Campbell Hall or outside in the Sunken Gardens at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.

The idea belongs to Roman Baratiak, associate director of A&L, and it’s been in the back of his mind for some time. It took a casual coffee meeting downtown with Ginny Brush at the Arts Commission, Geoff Alexander at the Film Commission and a few others to suggest it.

“It’d be a nice, fun summer thing,” he says.

The Arts Commission had already had some success with outdoor screenings of “The Big Lebowski” and “Seabiscuit.”

“Ginny Brush at the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission was looking to do some co-sponsorship with us, and I’d always suggested (doing something) downtown. They’d done a few,” Alexander says. “It’d be a nice fun, summer thing.”

“It’s interesting to see all eight films together,” Baratiak continues, “because you see how many of the actors appear in multiple films. You also get a sense how the plotlines mesh and to see how the original aspects of these films have been turned into later films.”

However, Baratiak does have a confession.

“I was too scared to see a lot of these as a kid,” he says. “I do remember seeing ‘Phantom of the Opera’ in elementary school, the original with Lon Chaney. It was scary.”

Baratiak notes that “Creature From the Black Lagoon” has a nice Santa Barbara angle, as much of it was filmed up at Zaca Lake, circa 1954.

Of the eight, one of Baratiak’s favorites is “The Wolf Man,” partly because it’s funny.

“His transformation is handled in kind of a comic way, but his character is tortured in trying to be human, so I’m sympathetic to that film.”

But he also likes the “crazy over-the-top” nature of “Bride of Frankenstein.”

The eight films also hearken back to a time when the monster roles went to actors who specialized in scaring people. Having Béla Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney or Lon Chaney, Jr. on the bill meant chills in store. No matinee idol would be donning monster makeup in those days. The other plus side is that none of these films last longer than 80 minutes.

“I think they are really satisfying 77 minutes, too,” Baratiak says. “People can get home early. I hope teens and college kids will come see these downtown.

“And afterward, they can have a coffee and relax,” he laughs. Sure, Mr. Baratiak.

All films play Wednesday at UCSB’s Campbell Hall and two days later at the Santa Barbara Courthouse’s Sunken Gardens. All Campbell Hall screenings are at 7:30 p.m. All Sunken Garden screenings are at 8:30 p.m. Admission for all screenings is free.

“Dracula” (Dir. Tod Browning, 1931)

Wednesday, July 7

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“Frankenstein” (Dir. James Whale, 1931)

Wednesday, July 14

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“The Wolf Man” (Dir. George Waggner, 1941)

Wednesday, July 21

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“Bride of Frankenstein” (Dir. James Whale, 1935)

Wednesday, July 28

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“The Invisible Man” (Dir. James Whale, 1933)

Wednesday, Aug. 4

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“The Mummy” (Dir. Karl Freund, 1932)

Wednesday, Aug. 11

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“The Phantom of the Opera”

(Dir. Rupert Julian, 1925)

Wednesday, Aug. 18

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“Creature From the Black Lagoon”

(Dir. Jack Arnold, 1954)

Wednesday, Aug. 25

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