In general the canon does not contain "classic" films, ala "Frankenstein," but Todd Browning's Dracula counts because it is so shoddily put together that it reeks of the same cardboard midnite ambience as Ed Wood's works. Browning too was an alcoholic and the careless assembly of this movie bears this witness. Like any true treasure of the canon, however, the slipshod nature of the film only adds to its perverse pleasure. Bela Lugosi is the stuff of legend in the title role. His career was unfortunately all down hill from here, but in this he shines with Satanic intensity, twisting every word he speaks into a poem of menace with his thicker-than-blood accent.
Flash Gordon: Spaceship to the Unknown 1936
Edited together from the serials, this movie unfolds like a strange and marvelous dream. It's pace and sense of adventure will later be studied and duplicated by Gearge Lucas and soon no one will care, but this is where the real "force" is. The slinky Charles Middleton is the staid stuff of nightmares as the merciless Ming, while his wanton daughter is the stuff of hazy pre-adolsecent S/M fantasy. In other words, this movie is an archetypal collective unconscious whizz-bang.
The Raven 1933
Lugosi gets to ham wildly as the megomaniacal Dr. Vollin. Boris Karloff plays his deformed henchman. Vollin feels he must torture the girl he loves as well as her friends and family using various devices culled from the works of Poe (including the "Pit & the Pendulum") in order to be able to concentrate on his work better. "Yes, I...like to... torture," is just one of his unforgettable lines.
The Old Dark House 1932
Canon favorite James Whale pours on the wild wind noises and rainy night ambience that makes watching this in a warm dry room seem extra cozy. Boris Karloff plays the mumbling drunk servant, and a host of similarly odd looking Brits round out the eerily lit ensemble. Charles Laughton, Lillian Bond and Melvyn Douglas comprise a genuinely touching love triangle. Ray Massey and Gloria Stuart are the "other couple". Houses dont get any older or darker than this.
The Black Cat 1935
Boris and Bela are paired off against each other in Edgar Ulmer's classic, a masterpiece of art deco on the cuff. The plot concerns the two horror stars war over the fate of cutesy-poo Jacqueline Wells. Boris wants to sacrifice her on the altar of his Satanic church. Bela wants to pretend she's his lost daughter and let her stay with the ever testesterone-challenged David Manners. Boris keeps Bela's wife's body in a class box on display... and there's even some vivisection.
Dracula's Daughter 1936
Otto Kruger's persona seems to want to dispel murky atmosphere with a hearty, logical shrug, but here he is up against Gloria Holden, who negates his condescending guff with her melancholic portrayal of the title character. There's the great Irving Pichel as her sinister servant, and one truly stunning, erotically charged seduction/murder scene that inspired millions of children and single-handedly created the much loved sub-genre of lesbain vampire movies.
The Mark of the Vampire 1935
I don't really know much about this film, except that it has Caroll Borland as Lugosi's "daughter," Luna, who in her wild vampire make-up was the original from whence came Vampira, from whence came Elvira, etc. The trouble is, the movie is so dull for so long that it's almost impossible to stay awake to see her few scenes. But... if you open one sleepy eye at just the right moment, viola! Your dreams become nightmares of a most pleasant nature.
Murders in the Zoo 1933
If you don't mind Charlie Ruggles doing his tiresome thing as a reformed alcoholic PR man working for a failing zoo, you will love the rest of this zingy pre-code wonder. Lionel Atwill turns the dementia knob to "high" as Erich, the mad zoologist whose jealousy over his wife causes him to sew a guy's mouth shut, among other things. Some truly kinky, dark moments amid the gaiety and wild animal shots.
International House 1932
W.C. Fields fans become Bela Lugosi fans and vice versa in this totally insane precursor to such psychedelic classics as "Head" and "Yellow Submarine." Fields is an inebriated (!) American adventurer who crash lands on a hotel roof in his gyroscope (fans of the Shadow, take note) Lugosi is the Russian who has the hotel quarantined to buy the Asian stereotype professor's early model of a TV, which shows, among other delights, Cab Calloway singing 'Reefer Man.' Burns and Allen are the doctor and nurse who detain the dizzy American representative (Stu Erwin!) who has somehow left a hand-print on the lingerie of Peggy Hopkins Joyce who is Bela's ex-wife and Fields consort. All this, plus Franklin Pangborn in prime hissy-fit throwing form as (what else?) the hotel concierge. You need own no other movie.
The Monster Walks 1932
If you need a glimpse into "Phantom Empire" star Jar-Jar's ancestry, here is Willie Best, as the eye-rolling racist stereotype butler in what is probably the archetypal old-house melodrama. it comes replete with ape in the basement, old man in the wheel chair, old housekeeper mad she didnt get more out of the will, the young blonde hieress, hands coming out of the wall, a raging storm outside... even Mischa Auer as the housekeeper's son. Hammer can't touch this.
Marian Marsh, forgotten but unforgettable, plays Trilby. John Barrymore does extremely well as the long-nosed Svengali. There's some creepy shots of his glowing eyes wandering over the rooftops, and did I mention Marian Marsh? She's unworldly.
The Most Dangerous Game 1932
Using the same sets and screaming heroine as "King Kong," Earnest B. Schoedshack delivers a fast paced, delirous nail-biter. Young Joel Mcrea is the hunter whose boat is steered into shark infested rocks/waters so he can meet Leslie Banks (way, way over the top). As Zarkoff, Leslie keeps a collection of human head trophies in a big mansion on a remote island. He also hunts humans for sport. Noble Johnson is the menacing mute servant. Fay once again gets her clothes progessively ripped off by jungle foilage as she runs, runs runs, and there's dogs and a stunning waterfall climax. Plus, an anti-climax, maybe the first one ever in sound film.
Helen Gahagan is a matter of taste as the frigid, ageless ruler of a Shangri-La type city visited by curious explorers Nigel Bruce and Randolph Scott. Personally, I dig Gahagan's kinky persona; she's like Margaret Dumont mixed with Mary Astor, with all the sexuality intact. And when the barbaric hordes try to put a weird helmet on Nigel before boiling him in hot oil, then you know, of course, that the great Irving Pichel directed (see Dracula's Daughter.)