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Sunday, September 30, 2012

London After Midnight (1927) - Tod Browning


London After Midnight is considered to be Lon Chaney's lost masterpiece. This film can be viewed in some sort of entirety on the internet or at the bottom of this write-up. 

This movie has Lon Chaney doing what he was born to do. Putting on layers and layers of his own make-up and putting on one hell of a performance. It doesn't hurt that the story was created by Tod Browning, written by Tod Browning, and directed by Tod Browning. It is so sad that I am never actually going to see the movie. 
The plot of the film, as I can surmise it, begins with a murder investigation. It appears that Sir Roger Balfour has been shot to death. The characters are interviewed and subsequently it is determined that Balfour had committed suicide. Five years pass and the Balfour residence is eventually taken up by ghoulish residents. This naturally leaves one question on everybody's mind. Did this ugly guy and creepy girl, kill Balfour? Natrually. 


My assumption, based on the promotional stills, is that this film would have been a treasure to see. It could have been one of the best of the twenties. However, like so many of its peers, it went up in flames in a studio vault fire. This one happened to be a really nasty vault fire that resulted in a big hunk of classic cinema to go up in smoke, as it were. This movie appeared to have that Norman Rockwell-ish quality that most Tod Browning movies have. He chooses his actors so well. They can really drive the story along and make it very interesting. Tod Browning would go on from this movie to make some cinematic history. I think he actually became blacklisted at one point, either Browning or Whale... one or the other.

Young man, I'll take one of your cigars... and have a little talk with you
  • Lon Chaney is always putting his art first, in this movie he wore prosthetic teeth that were so uncomfortable he could only wear them in short periods. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Unknown (1927) - Tod Browning


This is a fantastic horror film with a great star sprinkled cast including Joan Crawford and the always entertaining Lon Chaney. It is directed by veteran, Tod Browning. This is widely considered to be one of the greatest of the silents and I would have to agree. It has shades of The Penalty, which also starred Chaney. I really enjoyed this, mostly the great looking sets and amazing plot.

Alonzo the Armless is a fugitive who poses as a circus freak. He pretends to be an arm-less knife thrower by tying his arms down to his sides. Oh, and he has two thumbs on his left hand? Joan Crawford plays his beautiful assistant and love interest, her father is the circus owner. One evening the circus owner notices that Alonzo has arms and he is faking his circus freakish-ness. This creates a problem. The owner wants Alonzo out. But he wont leave with out a fight. 

The acting is really heavy in this movie. However, it doesn't feel too heavy. Lon Chaney does his usual job of holding the audience. His character is chaotic and bad, however, his character is also one to be sympathized with. Usually this kind of thing doesn't drag me in. Lon Chaney works in mysterious ways. Joan Crawford is fantastic as well. Believe me, I have seen a thousand of these movies. This acting is where its at. In this movie and in The Penalty. 

The suspense in the movie is where the scares come from. By today's standards this movie would be a thriller at best. Back in the day, however, this movie could have been on par with something like Halloween or Paranormal Activity. Something like that. Times have changed and this movie isn't compelling for the fear inducing story, it is more compelling for the actors and story telling. None the less, check this movie out. Learn about what was scary in times or yore.

Director: Tod Browning
Country: USA
Style: Dramatic Thriller

Did you know...
Joan Crawford looked at this a turning point for her career. This film has been pieced together from other releases. Found through personal collections or the Black Market. Tod Browning based this on his time spent with a traveling circus. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Student of Prague (1927) - Henrik Galeen


Doesn't Werner Krauss look just like
Sgt. Angel Batista from Dexter? 
Also know as The Man Who Cheated Life, this is a fantastic film that I believe, falls short of Caligari and Der Golem, but still holds its own. Conrad Veidt is quickly becoming my favorite silent screen actor along with Werner Krauss and Lon Chaney. Cool thing about this movie is, it stars both Veidt and Krauss. They turn in awesome performances and do not disappoint. It's too bad Krauss turns out to be a Nazi, but at least Veidt got out when the getting was good. 

The film is a Faustian tale of a young, poor, student named Balduin (Veidt) who is in love with a rich, yet gold-digging heiress. Unfortunately, being poor leaves no gold to dig. So he makes a deal with a seedy man named Scapinelli (Krauss), to sell anything in his flat in exchange for $600,000. After selling some of his things, Scapinelli draws Balduin's doppelganger out of a mirror. Together they wreak havoc. 

This is a surprisingly lavish film. The acting isn't very surprising. I knew that Conrad Veidt and Werner Krauss would deliver. It is perfectly cast and amazingly directed. There are parts to this, most notably near the end, that are mildly creepy. However, it drags in a few scenes and leaves you wanting some real action. Again this is a wonderfully acted and brilliantly told story. It is worth seeing here on the Internet but as for buying this one, hold on to your money.

Der Doppelgänger

S!D

  • This is a remake of a 1913 film.
  • Günther Krampf is the cinematographer, the name might not mean much to you. However, he is a very famous camera worker. 


Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Bat (1926) - Roland West


The Bat by Roland West is a crime/mystery movie that is wrapped up in a nice little creepy house story. West is known for his noir-style films and this movie is a testament to those. The heavy shadow use and dark almost never ending night sequences are enough to really play into the horror genre. If it weren't for the forced comedy, this movie would have been top notch. It just isn't scary.

The movie has to do with a group of people all spending the night in a creepy house, looking for a lost fortune in a secret room. Unbeknown to them, they are joined by The Bat, a creepy thief that murders people in the group one by one. The Bat is pretty interesting, he dresses up like a giant bat. Not like the Batman, just actually in a giant bat costume. It's pretty strange. However, according to Bob Kane this character was the inspiration for Batman. Hell, they even had a Bat Signal in the movie. Pretty interesting stuff.

The movie has a lot of moving shadows that are meant to keep you entranced. Tons of sneaking around and a plethora of finger-pointing. Oh, it even has a cockney maid that plays comedy relief, to round out the crowd. The Bat plays into just about every stereotype in the movie. The only outlier being The Bat himself. He is pretty original. It isn't until 1930 that we see the return of this guy, and I understand that this is remade in the 50's with Vincent Price. I will be sure to give that a peek.

While this movie was provided on YouTube without a soundtrack, I suggest watching with Danny Elfman's Dark Shadows: Original Score. It actually followed the film quite nicely and did it justice in a few scenes. The times don't really add up with the scenes, but who really cares. The movie doesn't scare you but it does keep you entertained.

Stay here jappy, watch that other room!
  • This was a former Lost film. It has been found. 
  • The filming was done mostly at night. Just a few scenes were done during the day. 
  • The villain for the movie, the Bat, was the inspiration for Batman.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Faust (1926) - F.W. Murnau




I didn't know that when I started watching these silent films I would fall in love with them. When I started this, I thought that silents were going to be boring and dull. I really had no interest. Boy was I way wrong. These old things are sometimes better than the crap we have now. 

1926's Faust is one of the most well shot and put together films of its time. This is one of the best movies I have ever seen. F.W. Murnau is an amazing director and he is on a roll with me here. Firstly directing The Haunted Castle, then Nosferatu, and now this! The special effects here are phenomenal and the acting is superb. I have come to expect both of these elements in a Murnau film. It's not really scary though, but who cares. 

Faust is an old man that sees some bad stuff going down in his town. His town being somewhere in olden times Germany. Whoa, back it up a bit... The Angel, Gabriel and The Devil, Mephistopheles make a bet that if The Devil can seduce Faust, a human, he will inherit the earth. Well Faust (See above) is torn by seeing some really bad stuff go down, a big thing being Satan showering his town with the plague. He sells his soul to the devil at first to help the town, but, he is outed because he is found to be doing the devils work. So he decides to let Satan keep his soul as long as he can be young. He sells his soul to the Devil and regrets it. Things don't really turn out the way that Faust wanted, but Gabriel wins the bet. 

Like I said above, this is one of the most beautiful and creative movies I have ever seen. Kino video restores the audio in this beautifully. You can watch this with both German and English subs as well, which is nice for my friends from the land of Beer. I was blown away with this film. I wish i could see more of it!

Go out and find this movie, its on YouTube, but you should probably just put it on your Netflix queue and watch it the right way. Its really not that bad to sit down and watch it. Its only like 102 minuets, its a quick easy watch and its really entertaining. Satan is really pretty funny in this too.

Watch for Satan copping a feel, i busted up laughing!

Director: F.W. Murnau
Starring: Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings, and Camilla Horn
Style: Dramatic Horror
Studio: Universum Film
Country: Germany


Wolf Blood (1925) - George Chesebro

Wolf Blood has an interesting take on the werewolf genre. If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I am extremely critical of werewolf movies. I dislike CGI and that unfortunately takes away just about every modern wolf-ie movie. The best that I have seen so far is American Werewolf in London. Them's are some mighty big shoes to fill, nothing has touched it. Wolf Blood isn't fantastic, and it isn't American Werewolf but it is pretty damn good. I think its all about the different take on the lore.

Wolf Blood is a movie about two warring logging camps in Canada. Things turn bloody when the evil logging camp decides to "Assassinate" Dick Bannister, the leader of the good logging camp. Dick's blood loss is so bad that he needs a transfusion and they do it with a wolf. They give him wolf blood. He begins to have these vivid "dreams" about killing people! Pretty cool. This is a pretty interesting take on the usual werewolf story. I like it.

The movie isn't bad to look at either. Fantastic shots of the giant trees and beautiful forest. The shots are pretty clear and it has held up well over time. The timing is just a little sluggish at times. There are a lot of dragging moments, and so much going on that it begins to become a little much. However, it did well for its time. I would suggest taking a gander at this one. It is available on YouTube for free.

A Tale of the Forest

S!D

  • The movie has no official soundtrack
  • The copyright expired in 1954
  • It is not available on its own in DVD or VHS formats. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Maciste In Hell (1926) - Guido Brignone

Maciste is a classic tale that had been borrowed from the pages of the classic Inferno by Dante. The film deals with heavy amounts of religious content while strangely remaining removed from the religious aspect of hell and dealing with the conventional, physical hell. God is rarely brought up. The version that I could get my hands on was horrible, but under that I witnessed a movie with a great deal of potential. I was watching Guido Brignone, laying the brickwork for Italian directors that would come after him.

This is a movie about the Devil trying to corrupt the world's strongest man, Maciste. He brings him to hell and offers him all of the usual fare: pleasure, fortune, power. The film follows Maciste as he wonders this horrible world. The visuals are fantastic. You can literally see the influence that George Melies has had on this director. Some of the shots are too fantastic. They actually get aerial footage, and a couple shots where you can spot a zeppelin in the background. It is very well made--it's a wonder that it was so hard to find. 

Bravo to the direction of this movie. It is a shame that there isn't more people that know about it. As of 2012, you can get this movie on Internet Archive for free. Check it out if you can. Spread the word. This is a good movie. Not really creepy, but really fun and well made. 

S!D
  • The visual of some scenes in Hell, as a demon buried to the waist in ground, are from the published illustrated novel book by famous French illustrator Gustave Doré.
  • Bartolomeo Pagano had the role of Maciste in over a dozen films. Apparently he had his name changed to Maciste before his retirement. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) - Rupert Julian


Lon Chaney is a master of acting, his portrayal of the Phantom is one of the classics in the film universe. He does well at carrying this film. That isn't a jab at any actor impeticular, it was that Chaney's role was so tremendous that the other characters fell into the background. He added to the enormity of the Phantom. Well not just him I suppose, I mean the sets are spectacular. When I watch this movie it makes me think that it could be the first blockbuster horror movie. This is a huge movie with huge sets, huge performances, and a huge soundtrack. The masked ball scene is a testament for the entire movie. It showcases color and music in  a way that had never been done before. It is quite the treat. 

The film takes place in the 1880's in France, we see the opening of the season for the Paris opera house where they are showing Faust. There are murmurs back stage about the mysterious Phantom of the Opera, who is seen briefly throughout the opening of the movie.  The Phantom becomes intrigued with an actress by the name of Christine. He becomes enamored by her and ends up kidnapping her. It is a story of love, but Rupert Julian does such a good job of bringing the horror out in it. The Phantom is the grotesque monster that Julian set out to create. However, he draws the audience in and tugs on their heart-strings a bit. This all comes to a head in the grand finale, the pinnacle of Lon Chaney's performance. 

This movie is full of scenes and shots, like the above mentioned mask ball scene, that really grasp the vastness of cinema creativity. The famous unmasking scene between Christine and The Phantom was filmed in such a way, that when presented to an audience viewing for the first time, they would jump out of their seats. The film is one of the greatest and most important of all time. 

Phantom of the Critics

S!D
  • Lon Chaney provided his make-up for the film. 
  • Filmed in the haunted Studio 28 in Universal Studios, California. 
  • On October 31, 2008, this film was screened at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with live musical accompaniment by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Ads contained a tag line that was a clever twist on that for Alien: "In silent films, no one can hear you scream".

Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Monster (1925) - Rowland West


Rowland West is a veteran director of film noir from the 20's and 30's. The Monster is still pretty early on in his career, but it packs the same punch as other movies that he would be responsible for. This horror/comedy was one of the first films to be advertised as such and one of the first that I am reviewing starring horror extraordinaire Lon Chaney. 

Lon Chaney takes the lead in this film as a mad scientist that has recently overthrown the staff at a local sanitarium. He enslaves some of the inmates and locks away the remaining staff. Now running the sanitarium he can begin his journey to find the secrets of life. He would, however, need a female to complete the "experiment". Our hero is a comedic one. Donned with the handle Johnny Goodlittle. Goodlittle runs the general store and becomes a detective of sorts. He and a curious couple stumble upon the sanitarium and unravel its secrets. 

The movie hasn't received many positive reviews and I found it to be rather bland. The comedy is great and it doesn't even need to be scary. That aside, this movie shouldn't be considered a horror movie. Yes, we have a mad scientist that preforms crazy experiments in his goal for total understanding. However, the other elements that make a horror film are noticeably absent . I could see this film sitting on the shelf next to Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein

It seems apparent to me that The Rocky Horror Picture Show, used this movie for inspiration. There are a few similarities. However,  I would really believe that Richard O'Brien had this on in the background while writing the movie. 

A human monster watched with cat-like eyes for victims.

SID


  • This film is arguably the first Mad Scientist film, excluding Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. 
  • The film is different, in that, the comedy is presented in such a way that sets it aside from other horror/comedy films of the time. The comedy in this movie is ironic and fuses running gags with slapstick. 
  • The original play opened in 1922 in New York. 

Waxworks (1924) - Paul Leni



Waxwork is a movie about a young man and woman that are hired by a local wax sculptor to create terrifying stories about his sculptures. This of course leads to a series of chilling tales being told. Each one unique in its own right. 

The first is the tale of Harun al-Rashid and how he lost his arm. The arm having fell off of the wax sculpture in the previous scene. The story isn't very terrifying. Harun al-Rashid (The sultan or something) wants this Bakers wife. He tries to seduce her but it doesn't go right. Its kind of a comedy and not really a horror bit. Weird. 

The second is about Ivan the Terrible wanting a girl that is about to get married. Much like the above, but less comedic. 

The last, however, is the best one. The last wax figure, actually comes to life and attacks the writers. Spring-heeled Jack is a version of Jack the Ripper. This is more of an early slasher feature. The ending to this one is pretty creepy, however, cliche. 

This movie is fantastic for its visual aesthetic. Each scene is done with such creativeness. The sets and costumes are fantastic. This is a really solid movie. They went all out and made something from nothing. The acting doesn't hurt the movie either. Our good friends Conrad Veidt and Werner Krauss put in an expected great effort. I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone that is looking to get into silent films. 

ASSAD!

SID
  • There was to be a fourth scene. The director cut it to put in the Spring-Heeled Jack bit. 
  • Leo Birinski actually directed half of the film and directed the actors. Paul Lini directed the scenes and scenery. 
  • Spring-Heeled Jack is referred to as a birder. This is a term about being as flighty as a bird.