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Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Hands of Orlac (1924) - Robert Weine

Director Robert Weine, is a visionary with the camera. He is definitely on the contenders list of greatest horror directors, at least from his era. You can see all of the future directors that have taken interests in his film-making. David Lynch, for example, must have taken dozens of notes during this particular Weine film. Aside from Cabinet, this movie really takes the cake when it comes to Expressionist Horror. The movie is so fantastically presented that it couldn't get much better, right? Well... It stars none other than Conrad Veidt, horror actor extraordinaire. His performance as Paul Orlac is fantastic.

Silents are hard to watch sometimes, you really have to be in just the right mood. You have to appreciate the fact that they weren't able to portray any drama through speech. They had to rely soul-ly on their bodies. Some argue that silent acting is True acting. They think that getting someone to feel for you and actually get into your performance, based entirely on your actions, is incredibly hard. They were right. It is extremely hard. Conrad Veidt and Fritz Kortner really bring their performances to this one.

The plot is also something of a treat to me. The movie is based on the book Les mains d'orlac by Maurice Renard. It stars Conrad Veidt as Paul Orlac, a young up-and-coming composer that loses his hands in an accident. However, through experimental surgery, Orlac receives the hands of a murderous killer that was freshly executed. Orlac begins to go insane when his hands go on a vicious murder spree with him attached. The film deals with a great deal of tension and mystery.

The film is one of the best from the Silver Age of Horror (1919 - 1929), this era has seen some amazing films so far. Add this to the top of the heap. This movie is coming to you highly recommended. Do what you can to see this. I think that you can find it online.

Czech it out.

  • The film was approved for German release on 25 September 1924, but for adults only. An application was made by the Ministry of the Interior of Saxony dated 10 January 1925, urging that the film should be censored, because it " likely to endanger public safety and order..."
  • Hans Androschin, the cinematographer for the film, was a Nazi cinematographer during WWII. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Nosferatu (1922) - F.W. Murnau

Murnau's Nosferatu is one of the most iconic silent films of all time. The scene of Count Orlock drinking the blood of some victim and then looking out at the audience is burned into my mind. That is literally the picture that pops in my head when someone says Nosferatu. Which doesn't happen as much as you think it would. Its really not talked about in normal cinema conversation. Even when vampires are brought up. It should. It really should be talked about. This movie has seen so many re-releases that it is hard NOT to see. Its really hard to find an unaltered copy of this film as it has been in the Public Domain now for some time. The movie is yet another German Expressionist film showcasing art above all. Wonderful set design and beautiful acting bring this movie full circle.

This leading vampire is one of the best to be put to celluloid. Max Schreck is right on par with his blood sucking peers, the other top vampires being Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. He might just be tied with Bela Lugosi and putting them up against each other (Dracula or Count Orlock) is like comparing Heath Ledger's Joker to Jack Nicholson's. Two completely different performances of two completely separate versions of the same character. 

The plot is simple yet familiar. Count Orlock (Max Schreck) is securing the purchase of a home from Real Estate Agent Thomas (Gustav von Wangenheim). While on his journey, Thomas gets a hold of a book on vampires and vampire lore. The text warns him of various vampire-stic things. Thomas goes with his gut and doesn't listen to the book. Instead he plays this one by ear. However, his judgement is flawed and, turns out, Orlock is a vampire. Count Orlock then moves to England where he has his new digs and terrorizes the locals. 

The thing that carries this movie is the performance from Max Schreck. He was superb. The more that I read about him the more he becomes this creepy figure that had a great niche. The art/set design in this movie is spectacular. F.W. Murnau knows exactly what he is doing behind the camera. This is a crowning achievement in expressionist horror. Definitely on the list of greatest horror films of all time. The older this movie gets, the creepier it becomes. 

Catch ya in the rye

  • Count Orlok is only seen blinking one time on screen (near the end of part 1)
  • Bram Stokers widow hated the movie and had all prints burned. However, some started to pop up around the world in different countries. 
  • This is the very first time in film history in which a vampire is killed by sunlight. F.W. Murnau knew that he would be sued for borrowing heavily from Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, Dracula without permission so he changed the ending so that he could say this film and Dracula were not exactly the same.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The Headless Horseman (1922) - Edward D. Venturini

While the story is timeless and the characters are classic. This particular telling of this tale falls a bit flat when delivering in the entertainment department. Albeit interesting, this silent horror/comedy from 1922 is just boring.  It is most likely the format. However, this was an unbearable viewing. The quality of the film was horrible, this definitely needs a face lift. 

Though this movie may be dry and boring, actor Will Rogers really carries the film. He does a great job as school marm Ichabod Crane. That isn't enough however, the other actors seem confused or sub-par. The effects were botched and not put together really well. 

There are 30 min. of the film dedicated to Ichabod Crane (Rogers) getting tarred and feathered. It is a waste of time watching those scenes. There are some saving parts to this movie though, even though the transfer from film to DVD is crap. You can tell this is a higher quality film grade. Its this way because it is the first feature photographed on panchromatic negative film, which was equally sensitive to all colors. Unlike the earlier film, which rendered blue skies and blue eyes as pale white.

  • Sleepy Hollow Corporation is the production company for this movie

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Häxan (1922) - Benjamin Christensen

So this is more of a documentary than a actual horror film. In fact it is one hell of an amazing documentary done by a great director, Benjamin Christensen. The film shows us a history of witchcraft from the middle ages. It has strong religious imagery that documents the standings of the religious people against witchcraft and paganism. 

The film is divided by chapters using the first couple to give you a background. The next couple show different situations that may have arouse around that time. However, they do have a more exaggerated and scary twist. For example, there is a woman that is lured away from her sleeping husband to have relations with Satan played by Christensen himself.

The movie is a fine example of what could be accomplished with creative film making, even back in the silent era. I hear there is a version out there with William Burroughs doing the narration, that's one that i want to find. I really enjoyed most of this movie, although parts did drag out and it is very, very, long. It certainty didn't follow the hour and a half horror movie length. I did get bored with parts and some parts were rather dry.

If you are collecting horror movies along with me than this is a great movie to pick up. It is a very interesting take on the horror genre. The costumes and set design are amazing. Look at the satanic symbols and imagery. It looks amazing. The special effects are really ahead of its time and, although a bit dry, it can actually hold your attention. This is a great movie to get really serious about. Also, this film was released in a Criterion Collection so I am pretty sure its on Hulu+.

eye of neut


The Phantom Carriage (1921) - Victor Sjöström

Körkarlen's brutal, realistic qualities, come mashed up with some drunken ancient lore to produce one of the most powerful horror movies to date. Well at least during this era. Director Victor Sjostrom takes audiences to places that they normally wouldn't have wanted to go in their time. The imagery that he uses and the way that he presents death is so fantastic but it has this nagging realism to it. This movie makes you fear death. 

This story comes with a bit of background. Every year on New Years Eve, Death goes around collecting souls. The last one to die before the hands on the clock strike midnight gets to be the carriage driver the next year. That being said. The tale is a depressing one with three men getting pissed drunk in a grave-yard and then one of them, David, dies only to have to serve out that horrible job description from above. David is taken by death to see what the prior year had been like for him. He is shown, in various flashbacks, that he treats everyone around him like garbage and lets booze lead his life. It costs David his family, friends, and everyone that he loves. 

The special effects in this movie are the best for its time. Audiences must have been frightened when they saw it. Scenes of the ghostly carriage meandering around the film are haunting, while the shots of Death himself walking through walls or picking up souls are phenomenal. Then we have the imagery. This movie wasn't for children. The movie has some really harsh overtones and some really violent scenes. It makes for great suspense. 

This movie is insanely cool, if you are not used to watching silent movies than I would highly suggest this one. Its a really good find and you can watch it online. Its not a expressionist piece. Its not a ghostly jump out of your seat kind of horror either. This movie has a genuinely frightening feel to it. The movie feels real even though obviously it isnt... or is it? Ingmar Bergman chose this movie to describe why he got into film. This movie is that good. If you don't know Berman I would suggest looking him up before seeing this.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Haunted Castle (1921) - F.W. Murnau

F.W. Murnau (Frederich Wilhelm), is a major player in the Silver Age of horror that is 1919 - 1929. During this time he has treated us to a number of ghoulie movies. The Haunted Castle from 1921 is one of his first ventures into the genre that survived. 

Schloß Vogelöd, as its known in German, is a film that takes place inside of a haunted castle (looks like a regular mansion to me). A group of guys meet up to go hunting and they are joined by Count Johann Oetsch, a guy that supposedly shot his brother. To make matters worse, his brothers widow will also be attending. 

Accusations fly, everyone is blamed and the movie begins setting everyone up. It turns into a who-done-it detective story and it is really questionable to weather or not this is actually a horror movie. It has one completely out of its element scene that is really well done but it feels so far removed from the movie that it is hard to take seriously. The movie is more of a nail-biter that has a pretty decent twist at the end. Its a fantastic movie just not a jump out and scare you kind of horror movie. This is one of those movies that were considered horror just due to the questionable content of the era. At least, that is what it looks like to me. 

This movie is also pretty hard to find and I had to order a copy from Amazon ($3.00) not bad.

  • The movie is based on a serialized story that was being printed in the Berliner Illustrierten. This film was finished and released before the final story had been printed in the publication.
  • Many Murnau films have been lost, this is the earliest film of his that has survived. The Hunchback and The Dancer (1920) is another horror movie that he worked on but is now considered lost. 
  • The film is 1625 m (5 reels) in length. 

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Der müde Tod (1921) - Fritz Lang

Destiny from 1921 is the first successful film by Fritz Lang. Since I am doing this in chronological order, this is the first Horror movie to be made this well. Fritz Lang takes into account every aspect of the film. He weighs the contrast of the lighting with the mood in the scene. He gets these wonderful HUGE shots outside and the film is still visible. He actually spent the time experimenting with film to get the actual science behind successful cinematography. Sure, Robert Wiene had some fantastic sets in Caligari. However, Lang is successful with both artistic set design and beautiful cinematography.

The story is deeper than most horror films up to this point. The title suggests that Death might be the “Destiny” of every man, or I should say that every man’s destiny is Death. However, I believe that it actually shows that bringing souls out of the living is the Destiny for Death.

Death in this movie is quite well portrayed, perhaps the most well portrayed version of Death. His character, although the antagonist, is quite sad and full of moroseness. He challenges our leading lady to a game; if she can stop Death with love in three trys then she can win back the soul of her fiancee. Thus the movie is broken up into three tales.

The three tales all feature our characters in different roles, in different places, in different times. The first takes place in old Arabia, the next is a renaissance era piece, and the final is a comedy that takes place in China. Each are beautifully sculpted pieces of cinema. However, they are all very involved. This isn’t just a casual silent picture. Every scene has been carefully crafted by Fritz Lang. This is a film that is very deep and involved. It is not light.

That being said I am going to have to condemn this film on the basis of being a weak horror film. I can’t really say that the movie was scary but it was great under so many different aspects. Death was portrayed here by, quite possibly, the best actor to take the role at the time. The other choices were disposable. This is a great film but it is just an okay horror movie.


  • This is Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel's favorite movie.

The Penalty (1920) - Wallace Worsley

The Penalty from 1920 just might be the most demanding role that Lon Chaney has ever had to take on. This role called for him to play Blizzard, a gangster that has not had legs for most of his life. They were amputated. To preform this role Lon Chaney had to literally tie his legs behind his back so that he could appear as an amputee for the film. This proved to be extremely painful for Chaney who would only be able to film scenes for about 5 - 10 minuets at a time. This was about when the pain would become excruciating. This role actually left the great actor with permanent damage to the muscles in his legs. Now, that is going out on a limb (or two) for your role.

The Penalty is nothing more than a gangster picture. Wikipedia and the sources that I use to research horror movies says otherwise. They classify this movie as a Crime/Horror film. However, there isn’t a scene in the entire movie that makes a hair stand vertical on my neck. That being said the movie is really interesting. The lengths that Chaney went through for his role should at least give the movie some credit. It’s a fine movie too, the timing is just fine, the acting is spectacular. This just isn’t scary.

The movie introduces us to Blizzard, the perspective kingpin of San Francisco. Blizzard has huge visions for his city. Visions of chaos and carnage that would leave him sitting as king of the city. The police are wise to him though and they get a young girl to infiltrate his lair. She is witness to the various abuses that he puts people through including cold-blooded murder.

Chaney is frightening. He describes himself in the film as the closest thing to the devil himself. He is coldblooded and maniacal, yet strangely sad. He “befriends” a young sculptor that uses him as a muse for sculpting a bust of Satan. Through these modeling sessions the two grow close, but how close is too much for this young innocent.

If you agree that Lon Chaney is a master of the silver screen and a father of horror, then I would suggest looking this movie up. You can probably find it on YouTube (its Public Domain). It is a great movie if only for Chaney’s performance. Watching himself put it all into a role is really a great treat. Also, try watching this movie with the Nine Inch Nail’s album Ghosts on. It kinda fits.

Thats it for now…


  • Lon Chaney had to have his legs tied to his back so that he could appear as an amputee for the film, The Penalty. It was extremely painful and caused permanent damage to his legs.
  • In 2009 Empire Magazine named it #17 in a poll of the 20 Greatest Gangster Movies You've Never Seen* (*Probably)
  • A shot of Lon Chaney walking down stairs was put onto the end to prove the audience that he was not an amputee. It was removed from the 1926 release and the film footage is now lost. 

The Golem: How He Came Into the World (1920) - Paul Wegener

This movie is among the greatest silents to have ever graced a silver screen. Der Golem is truly superior work, it shows that famous brand of expressionism almost better than Dr. Caligari. The effects alone are enough to make you fall in love with it and beg for more.

The story, shows the Jews who are under persecution from the kingdom of Prague. Rabbi Lowe, the main character in this story, has enough of the persecution. He creates a giant Golem out of clay to protect his Ghetto. Then he brings the Golem to life by placing a star of David, emblazoned with a ‘magic word’ on it. The Golem does the Rabbi’s bidding and helps rid the kingdom of its evil emperor and evil citizens.

Its not enough for the Rabbi’s right hand man though. Who is jealous that the Rabbi’s daughter is dating some shiksa! Furious the Rabbi’s buddy sicks the Golem on the shiksa and all hell breaks loose. The only way to stop the Golem now is if there is some little girl who will rip the star from the Golem’s chest! Whats that? Oh there is!? Well, i guess you’ll have to see it to see if that happens.

So not only does Paul Wegener direct this classic of the silver age of horror, he also acts in it! He is a friggin’ powerhouse that is batting 1000. He really hits it out of the park with this one though. The Hero/Antagonist Golem is a very, very imposing force. His expressions are great, it makes the movie worth watching just for the expressions. I was thoroughly impressed with this gem and you should all see it. Top 100 movies to see before you kick the bucket! I think so. Excellent film, all be it a little Anti-Semite.

Dir: Paul Wegener
Country: Germany
Style: Expressionist

Did ya know...
This was a remake of the lost film Der Golem from (1915) and it was remade as The Golem (1936)

Friday, June 01, 2012

Genuine: The Tale of a Vampire (1920) - Robert Weine

Genuine: The Tale of a Vampire from 1920 was the first movie to inspire me to take this path. Unfortunately the version that I watched was presented as a special feature on my Cabinet of Dr. Caligari DVD. That meant that I only got the condensed version that is absent of about 5 or 6 minuets of footage.

This movie is one of the most interesting takes on Vampirism. The Vampire in the movie is named Genuine (Fern Andra). She is more of a savage succubus rather than a Vampire. This is where this movies whole Vampire take is really interesting. Genuine feeds on men that she has a sexual allure over. She uses this allure to have the unsuspecting men do her bidding.

This is really a great movie that could definitely be on par with Caligari. If it could only be cleaned up and presented in that way. The art of this movie is just non-stop amazing expressionist work. Definitely go see this movie. You will not be sorry.

  • A 43-minute condensation of this silent film can be found as an Extra Feature on the Kino Video DVD of _Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The (1920)_ The full-length version can only be viewed at the Munich City Film Museum archive in Germany. 
  • In Germany this film is called Genuine, die Tragödie eines seltsamen Hauses.
  • The film's sets were designed by the Expressionist painter César Klein

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) - John S. Robertson

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is probably a great movie, just don't watch The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari before this. German Expressionism blows American Horror out of the water. At least during the Silver Age (1915 - 1929), the longest run of great horror cinema. American Horror couldn't keep up with the Germans until the 1930's. Thank you James Whale. Anyway, I digress, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is a so-so horror movie.
After watching and being blown away by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Robertson’s Dr. Jekyll is just downright un-watchable. John Berrymore is a decent choice to play the bi-polar scientist but the movie just loses steam right out of the gate. Perhaps a better soundtrack or just a more interesting story-line would help. This is where I should tell you that I am not that crazy for Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. The best part is, we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of renditions. There are countless.

John Berrymore is always a treat, he can really bring a performance all be this one is a bit underwhelming. The costumes, the set-design, the whole thing really has the potential but it just can’t make it out of the gates. The transformation in the movie is amazing. Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde is one of the better transformations and Barrymore didn’t even have to use that much make-up. He is quite the character actor.

Watching the film for a second time made me realize that my dislike for the movie comes from the soundtrack. There is no musical change to set moods or even scenes. Long, pointless, songs are played with disregard to the things going on in the movie.

This won’t be the last time we see these characters, or John Barrymore for that matter.