Hollywood Gothique
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Universal Studios fire destroys prints of classic horror movies; revival screenings canceled

Negatives Intact; But Art Houses Impacted

Longtime Cinefantastique writer Dennis Fischer sent me this information in an e-mail, regarding the Universal Studios fire, which destroyed valuable prints of classic horror films. The good news is that these were prints, not negatives. The bad news is that many of these prints were struck relatively recently for the the Universal Horror repertory screenings in the 1990s, and with costs being what they are, new prints are not likely to be struck anytime soon, which means the DVDs may be the only way to enjoy these films for a while.

  • I’ve confirmed what I first heard on Monday: that Universal Classics has sent out an email to about 35 art house exhibitors and other film bookers of classic films alerting that the Universal Studios fire destroyed nearly 100% of archived 35mm prints kept in the so-called “video” vault on the lot. So, in the short term, Universal has canceled bookings of anything archival coming directly from Universal City and can’t honor any film bookings of prints that were set to ship from there. Let me be clear: I am assured by insiders that the negatives are not affected, thankfully – only the actual 35mm prints used for repertory circulation of classic films. Prints from that very rich vault include such classics as FRANKENSTEIN, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, BRIDES OF DRACULA, INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, HOLD THAT GHOST, and many more.
  • Some Industry types are emailing me that, with these prints gone, and the expense of making new prints, they fear that art houses and cultural organizations and film societies and festivals may never see these films theatrically again. But I’m told that Universal has already committed itself to making new prints. Of course, there will be delay and disappointment in the immediate future. But that’s only a timing issue. I’m told it’s possible that some of these prints may have duplicates in storage at other locations. So, over the next few weeks and months, Universal will be piecing together what extra prints, if any, it does have elsewhere. I still can’t get a straight answer to all your questions about why the video vault wasn’t fireproof. In part because the Universal people sound completely frazzled in the fire’s aftermath. But Universal does have an extraordinary history as a leader in film preservation. Still, Hollywood must – repeat, must – do everything to preserve its history. So everyone try harder, spend more, and just do it.

So far, casualties included planned screenings of BRIDE OF CHUCKY and John Carpenter’s PRINCE OF DARKNESS (featured at top), which were scheduled for the venerable New Beverly revival house in Los Angeles. The screenings have been cancelled because prints were destroyed in the fire.