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Monday, May 28, 2012

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) - Robert Wiene


My next installment of reviewing every Horror movie ever made is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Caligari is a Horror/Thriller film directed by German expressionist Robert Wiene. The film shows us some really spectacular art work. Again like before, this film is from 1920. To us today, on the outside, It is nothing more than a mere art film. But Caligari proves to be more than that. Wiene shows us a side of film making that hasn't been seen before. The sets and the makeup should be just enough for you to enjoy this classic. If that isn't all that sits with you, stay tuned to the end of the film for a "TWIST" ending! That's right a full fledged "We are Tyler Durden" twist ending.

The film shows us the deranged Dr. Caligari (played by Nazi actor Werner Krauss) and his sideshow act, The Somnambulist Cesare (played by acclaimed silent film star Conrad Veidt). Caligari finds pleasure in sending his Somnambulist (Sleepwalker) out to take the lives of those in the town of Holstenwall. The film is narrated by Francis, who also stars as the hero in this picture. Our Damsel in distress is Jane, played by the beautiful Lil Danover.

Watching this film it is hard to not notice the beautiful sets and art, put in to making this production. You will notice while watching this that many artists and filmmakers to this day pay a great deal of respect to the style in which this was filmed. It definitely held my interest for the 61 min that it ran, and when it was over i found myself looking back on key scenes just to figure the design.

Impeccable art and design. Great acting and an even better story line. There was talk for a while that David Lynch might be doing something with this either a remake or just something to pay homage to, but i can definitely see this film being remade. Unfortunately.

Du mußt Caligari werden!

S!D

  • The sets were made out of paper, with the shadows painted on the walls.
  • The film used early viral marketing, the phrase "Du mußt Caligari werden!" was posted all over Berlin as promotion. 
  • Made before "horror" was a designated genre, this is sometimes cited as the first true horror film (although films with elements of the macabre were certainly made earlier). 

Unheimliche Geschichten (aka. Eerie Tales) (1919) - Richard Oswald

Eerie Tales is fun like the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. This anthology horror movie from 1919 is one of the most surprising pieces of cinema. Richard Oswald really out did himself here. The movie is comprised of five chilling tales as brought to us by three haunted paintings in an old bookstore. The paintings are; The Devil, Death (Conrad Veidt), and The Temptress (I think). The first of the five stories is "The Apparition".

The Apparition - Conrad Veidt falls for a woman with an insane ex-husband. Things go awry when they check into a hotel and ONLY Conrad Veidt checks out.

The Hand - Things get deadly when two friends compete for a woman's love. However, even after death one of the friends can't let go.

The Black Cat - This retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's classic shows an abusive drunk that kills his wife and seals her up in his basement. Conrad Veidt isn't having any of it.

The Suicide Club - An unfortunate little man gets mixed up in a Suicide Club that loses a member every time they draw an Ace of Spades. This man draws the Ace of Spades on his first draw and must commit suicide in 10 minuets. This one is from Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Spook - A Victorian Baron tries to move in on his host's wife. However, they are haunted by moving pictures, falling chandeliers, ghouls, and the full nine.

This movie is one of my favorite of the silent era. It has suspense, drama, and humor. It is also the first full length horror movie. Give it a watch. I think you will enjoy it.

Oh yeah and all of the title cards are in Helvetica.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Raven (1915) - Charles Braben

The Raven from 1915 seems to be the biggest failure, chronologically speaking. Up until now a Horror movie hadn't been this bad. This was really like the film-makers... Charles Braben, didn't even try. This movie is an exaggerated biography of the famous horror writer, Edgar Allan Poe. The movie stars Henry B. Walthall as a pretty decent Poe. 

The movie is long and incredibly boring. It teeters on the edge of being scary and it never tips over. Its just a wast of time. It shouldn't be considered horror. I am only writing and posting this review to warn you all. This "horror" movie misses its mark by a huge margin.

There are some pretty great scenes with Poe going into an alcohol induced hallucination of himself in his own poetry. That is about all that I can take away from this piece of junk. Sorry. 

I recommend steering clear of 1915's The Raven. There are a ton of other silent horror pictures that better serve the purpose of entertainment.

...nevermore.

S!D
  • Henry B. Walthall portrayed Poe in a film the year prior, 1914's The Avenging Conscience.
  • The film is based on a play by the same name.
  • The film was released on my birthday November 8th 1915

The Avenging Conscience (1914) - D.W. Griffith

The Avenging Conscience is a loose adaptation of the Tell Tale Heart and Annabel Lee by none other than Baltimore's own Edgar Allan Poe. The original context of the stories depicted in this film are already scary, so it only serves for the film to be just as scary. right? Well, no. This movie is in no way scary. Not by any sense of the word.

The story is a pretty decent one that shows a man being pushed to his limits. He turns to murder to finally ease his pain. That is the coolest part of the whole story. The movie doesn't ever really take off though. It just sits on the stage failing to ever take that extra step that's needed for a movie to be mildly entertaining. We are still shades away from the Silver Age of Film. Once we hit the 1920's the quality of not only the film but also the story will be apparent. Movies will start to actually be scary, well, sort of.

As far as silent movie story-lines, this one is pretty top notch. I am also going to give credit to the special effects department. D.W. Griffith really out does himself with this movie. If you are a fan of early horror and silent films than this movie is just for you. If you like Freddy Kruger and you want blood and guts, then your going to have to wait for the 50's and 60's.

*for its time.

S!D

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1913) - Herbert Brennon

The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde is a famous story by Robert Louis Stevenson that has been adapted for the screen more times than Dracula. However, it is not as good as Dracula. It doesn’t have that spark that does it for me. That one thing that really scares me. That is what I expect when I am watching a horror movie. This is a good try though.

The problem that I have with this franchise is that this horse has been beaten. This particular adaptation, which came out 1 year after the previous, features King Baggot as the good doctor Jekyll. Doctor Jekyll takes his potion one time and turns into the biggest annoyance ever. For his first act of menace he goes to a dance hall and screams at them. Then he leaves. Proud of himself. The most shocking thing in the movie finally comes when he chases a crippled child down and beats him for no reason. What the hell?

Although bizarre, this film has some high points. SOME of the transformation scenes are good. Some of them. Others are rubbish. I like the path the film follows as well, all be it sometimes hazy and hard to follow.

S!D

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1912) - Lucious Henderson

This is a very basic and direct attempt to tell the tragic tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This version happens to be 8 minuets and leaves out a good deal of the plot and fluff. The plot establishes Dr. Jekyll as a chemist that is working on a secret formula and stumbles upon the drug that creates the maniacal and chaotic, Mr. Hyde. He goes through his usual transformation and ends up creating havoc around the town. He rips paper, knocks little girls over, generally runs amok. However, that isn't what makes you want to run out in the streets singing the praises of this century old cinematic. The movie uses its tiny budget to really show a good cast. James Cruze is the biggest name in the film and does a great job at portraying the evil Doctor. It has been told that Director Lucious Henderson helped James Cruze with his acting. He would actually stand in at times for James, giving him pointers and helping him out with his acting.

S!D

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Frankenstein (1910) - J. Searle Dawley


Frankenstein from 1910 was one of the first ever incarnations of the “Monster” that we have seen on film. This quite possibly might be one of the best versions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Adapted in 1910 by director J. Searle Dawley with Thomas Edison’s company, The Edison Group. This film follows the life of Dr. Frankenstein leaving for college and subsequently creating one of the greatest monsters of all time. Personally i believe this version of Frankenstein to be one of the scarier looking versions of his monster.

Two years into college Dr. Frankenstein plays god, creating life single handily. The life that he creates, however, is evil and haunts the good Doctor for the rest of the film. From the laboratory all the way to wherever Frankenstein is from, the monster harasses and bothers his maker. That is until a battle between good and evil breaks out and love prevails over all…

The special effects in this film are beyond reproach as we see life being given to the monster. Cheesy to our standards today, for its time period this proved to be an amazing feat. I’m pretty sure that they just set up a dummy and set it on fire and played it in reverse. However, the special effects and makeup are what you need to see this film for. Nuts to the Storyline and characters, but hail the effects.

Sid

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Sealed Room (1909) - D.W. Griffith


D.W. Griffith brings us the longest running horror movie to date (1909). It is less horror and more tragic as the movie is probably one of the first “Horror” movies to actually tug on your heart strings a bit. This is also a movie that proves that there are other directors out there not just George Melies.

The story is simple enough, we have a king who has constructed a “Pleasure Room” for himself and his concubine. But alas, this concubine is not faithful and she goes ahead and screws around with the court troubadour. The king, heartbroken and sad, commands his masons to seal the concubine and her lover in this “Pleasure Room” the two embrace as the oxygen is depleted and die in each others arms.

What do i think of this? Well, D.W. Griffith is no George Melies, but he does make a valiant effort to shove Edgar Allan Poe’s vision into this 11 min. short. Extravagant costumes and a larger budget mean a more creative and fun story. The downsides are the vacant title cards and dialogue cards. This movie could have really benefited from some dialogue, even if we have to read it.

So far George Melies is definitely the king when it comes to keeping your attention in a silent film. All be it for 1 - 3 minuets usually. The cast of this film is really the saving point. Griffith used most of his regulars, Mary Pickford, Arthur V. Johnson, and Mack Sennett. Per usual they seemed to be a package deal, as was the case with most of his films from that time.

The Infernal Boiling Pot (1903) - Georges Méliès

Here we are kiddos with another short from George Melies. This one is entitled The Infernal Boiling Pot. We open with two demons boiling women, suddenly the women's ghosts emerge from the boiling pot and dance above the demon's head.

What we have here is nothing more than experiments on film conducted by George Melies. This isn't the first Melies short that i have reviewed (ex. The Haunted Castle) but this one really shows his ingenious with using the camera. Costumes, Special Effects, and of course Set Design, show us just how dedicated a director like himself is to experimenting with film. This is in the beginning stages of film and its amazing what this director accomplished. Its fun to watch these shorts and follow the directors path of learning.

Its really hard to review something that is so short. I would have to say go to YouTube, plug in these short films, make up a margarita and sit back and relax. Enjoy these little gems from the beginning of film.

Enjoy Y'all


L'auberge Ensorcelee (1899) - George Melies


L‘auberge Ensorcelée is another jump into the experiments in film. Georges Méliès jumped into this one just after his first “horror” film Le Manoir du Diable. This short shows a man that is staying at a haunted hotel that is constantly harassing our hero. Think of this film as a family friendly and extremely short version of 1408. The movie has a very usual equation. There is one person who is being tormented to show the different use of effects during the time. The man just becomes extremely frustrated instead of scared and the whole thing plays out more like a comedy then an actual horror movie.

The jokes or “scary-scenes” are more campy than jumpy. There are various articles disappearing and reappearing. There is a pair of boots that walk on their own. There is a bed that disappears completely. However, this is all just done to showcase the “Jump Cut” and use of magnets in film.

Georges Méliès plays himself in the film, again.

S!D

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Le Diable au Convent (1899) - George Melies

Le Diable au Convent is longer than the two previous Georges Méliès ventures into short form horror. This particular French short shows the Devil himself running a convent and terrorizing the poor old nuns that live there. However he is finally vanquished by the good of Faith.

This is yet another Méliès classic, showcasing the art work that really goes into his short film-making. This is one of the earliest examples of a horror movie that could rely on its elaborate set design and artistic design. Everything in this film, although horribly aged, has been packaged extremely well. If you are a fan of production and set design then I would highly recommend just about anything that Melies has his name on.

Though nothing that is considered too extreme actually happens, Satan does have his way with a convent. The satanic imagery itself must have kept this film on the traveling carnival circuit. It certainly wouldn’t fit into the good moral bag that society shoved itself into back in those days. That would be the only vice the entire movie has.

Amazing art and suggestive content have me wanting more from Georges Méliès. Three shorts in and he hasn’t lost me. Lets see how he does after the turn of the century. Films are just going to get longer and better.

Put your faith in Moi.

S!D

The X-Rays (1897) - George Albert Smith


The X-Rays (aka. The X-Ray Fiend) is another film
from George Albert Smith. Smith directed The Haunted Castle, a remake of a George Melies film, earlier that year. The X-Rays shows us a young woman that gets confronted by an adoring older man. The older man flirts and blushes. Then an X-Ray camera floats in, or is attached to some figure in black, and presumably turns the couple inside out. Then they return to normal when the camera leaves. Fin.

That is the entire short from beginning to end. It has no purpose or thought, the camera head man doesn't seem to return in this form to any other media. This was just an odd find that happened to fit rather nicely right after The Haunted Castle.

The film takes advantage of an early “camera-trick,” the jump shot. The quick cut. The Quick Cut has actors stay in place when the director says “Cut!” They have to freeze every muscle in their body. Once something on the set has been changed the director resumes filming and the actors go about their actings. Usually surprised by the result of the cut. The finished product shows an article or sometimes a person disappearing or reappearing.

This film is fun for the nostalgic factor and artistic quality. When the young couple is turned inside out they have some really cool costumes on. That is where the jump cut was used. For its time this was probably a really interesting and fun short. Kids on boardwalks all over have been pumping pennies into the Mutoscopes just to see this. I know I would have.


  • 44 Seconds Long
  • One of the first films to utilize “movie magic”


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Haunted Castle (1897) - George Albert Smith


In 1897, George Albert Smith decided to remake a historic film that came out the year before it. Smith wanted to remake Méliès’ Le Manoir Du Diable. A short film from 1896 that showed a young man being tormented in an old castle.


The short that Smith produced is shorter than Méliès. Le Manoir runs at about three minuets, where Smiths british produced The Haunted Castle clocks in at only one minuet and one second. However, Smiths version kicks right off with the “Action” jumping right into action with our hero being tormented by the nocturnal naughtiness.

The general feel of this short(er) is actually more complete than its predecessor. It looks as if George Albert Smith took everything that was good about Le Manoir and shoved it into this short(er). You are closer to the action this time, getting a good look at the characters of menace that our hero battles. You can see details that Méliès’ version just didn’t have. The effects in this were still essentially the same, not much had changed since the year before it. Jump cuts & things moving around on wires were generally the only “movie magic”.

The version that I have seen on multiple occasions has been colored. Technicolor, I suspect. Perhaps I have been spoiled. I know that I would not have enjoyed this if it were in Black and White. So, I guess I confess that the color added deep, deep, deep, after post helped me keep interest. Go ahead and take a good look at a short(er) that is over 100 years old and can give you a quick chuckle.

  • George Albert Smith did everything for this short(er) including Acting.

Une nuit terrible (1896) - George Melies

Georges Méliès does it again in the same fashion as Le Manoir du Diable. Albeit shorter than his prior voyage into horror film. This is at least a different story. Instead of this being a period piece, it appears to be a modern one.

The film shows George Melies, himself, having One Terrible Night with a creepy, crawly, spider. The film is one of dozens of shorts released during the era that focused more on drawing crowds biased on technology rather than the plot of a film. It is still going to be a few years before Horror is fully shaped and functioning.

If you are curious to see what film looked like in the 1800's then check out below where I have included the short.


  • Georges Méliès stars as himself in this one man performance.
  • The Film is called One Terrible Night in English.


Le Manoir du Diable (1896) - George Melies


According to Wikipedia in August of 2011, Le Manoir du diable by Georges Melies is the first horror movie. Well, actually its a short film (about three minuets or so) but film was really hard to come by in that time so this counts as a film to me.

The plot of the film is basic, you have your hero being tormented by demonic things in a crazy castle room... However, that plot isn't what brought the crowds. The thing that drove the popularity of these films was the fact that you were seeing motion on screen. I suggest going and seeing Hugo. That film is spectacular. It answered so many questions that I had. It really sets the scene and the tone.

The film has strong christian overtones and actually ends with Christianity prevailing over the "tides of darkness". I provided a link at the bottom of this review for anyone that would like to see this pioneer in Horror Film. The movie uses very, very early "movie magic" that is an abundance of smoke and mirror trickery mixed with quick cuts. The acting is too brief to judge, somehow none of that matters I am just in awe of this being a film that is over 100 years old. That is nuts.

- Known as the Haunted Castle in English.
- Was released on Christmas Eve 1896 in Paris, France.
- It is considered to be the first Horror Film.

 The first of many