Happy Halloween, my friends! I couldn’t resist putting this piece on one of my favorite films of all time–just in time for this spooky day, I might add. There is so much to say about this film that it easily could’ve been three times as long. Enjoy!
Some films transcend regular genres. They might draw on an eclectic mix of inspirations, from literature to art, and the result is a work of strength and imagination whose stature only increases with the passing years. You can hardly find a better example than the gothic masterwork The Night of the Hunter, most easily definable as a horror film (I know I can’t resist it every October).
The elements are familiar–riverside towns and the Great Depression, prayer meetings and Bible stories, fairytales and fables. It’s soaked in the atmosphere of what we’ve dubbed “southern gothic,” and softened by several haunting songs (few non-musicals would use songs more effectively). But it draws its greatest power from something less familiar to the modern viewer: the rich influence of silent film, particularly Expressionism and the work of D.W. Griffith.
Nosferatu (1922) fans such as myself (and, hopefully, yourself) are highly aware of its iconic status, its gothic cinematography, and its limitless ways to inspire today’s filmmakers. It may not be as jump-out-of-your-seat scary as some later horror films, but we highly appreciate how it broke ground and managed to create a beautifully haunting atmosphere.
Oh, and we’re also well aware of this guy:
This acquired taste in human form is Gustav von Wangenheim, the source of a few unintentional chuckles in the early scenes of the movie. But maybe that’s a little harsh. As I wrote in my Nosferatu review, Gustav’s babyface and habit of laughing just a little too long actually make his later scenes with Count Orlok pretty effective–if a character that happy-go-lucky starts getting scared, it must be for a good reason.
In fact, his acting left enough of an impression that I decided to take a closer look at this young actor. How did he come to star in Nosferatu, and what happened to him thereafter?
‘Tis Hallowe’en, and may an abundance of spooky, autumnal fun be had by all! In the spirit of the season I’m sharing this essay from the November 1920 issue of Photoplay, mainly for the author’s reminisces about childhood Hallowe’ens, but also to remind us that we simply don’t write gentle, moralizing essays like this anymore.
Sangster was actually the granddaughter of the warm, philosophic poet and writer Margaret Elizabeth Sangster, who had passed away in 1912. The younger Sangster was given her own column in Photoplay in the summer of 1920, where she shared her thoughtful look on life. Since she wrote this in 1920, her childhood probably took place around the 1900s–the Meet Me in St. Louis era, if you will. Feel free to give it a read–you might find its message surprisingly timeless! Illustrated throughout with Hallowe’en imagery from those days of “magic and mystery.”
BOBBING FOR APPLES
A heart to heart talk with the Family Circle
by Margaret E. Sangster
When I was a little kiddie I used to look forward to Hallowe’en with nearly as much happiness and nearly as many anticipatory thrills as Christmas or a birthday awoke in my breast. Christmases and birthday were wonderful times of present giving and joy and congratulations and extra-special things to eat, but Hallowe’en was a day of mirth and magic and mystery! Hallowe’en was a day when you wore your old frock–a day when you could tear stockings and lose hair ribbons without being scolded. Hallowe’en was a boisterous day–a day when spirits were high and laughter was the king of the universe.
One of the few silent classics virtually anyone’s willing to watch, Nosferatu has been iconic practically since its release in 1922. The strange, hunched Count Orlok has a permanent place in cinema history, a unique pedestal that keeps him apart from the suave villains of later pop culture.
I’ve reviewed this gothic masterpiece before, but didn’t delve much into the details of how or why it was made. A few of you may already know the tale, with its background of modern art, WWI, occultism, flu epidemics, and gleeful copyright infringement. But if not, do read on. Continue reading →
In the annals of old-timey horror–and don’t get me started on those 19th century ventriloquist dolls–some of the weirdest and most gleefully grotesque imagery of all can be found in our oldest silents. One example that leaps to mind is Segundo de Chomón’s The Haunted House, a six-minute film from 1907 that you’ll doubtless recognize from this still:
Ah yes, that one–with the hairy, paint-streaked demon with admirably bushy eyebrows. Also known as The Witch House, La Maison Ensorcelée, or The House of Ghosts, this frolicsome–hold on, is it called The Haunted Hotel too? Oh, that’s a different 1907 film–that’s not de Chomón’s too, is it? And wait, is The House of Ghosts actually an entirely different film from 1906? What’s going on?? Continue reading →
One of my favorite days of the year has arrived! A very HAPPY HALLOWE’EN to all, and if you haven’t watched all the silent horror movies you’ve been planning to, get crackin’, there’s still time!
Lon’s waiting patiently for you!
While this mournful article I found doesn’t quite fit the “Fan Magazine Fun” title, it seems appropriate since it’s silent Hollywood’s idea of a truly haunted place. It comes from the August 1926 Motion Picture Classic, and is a deeeeeply sentimental look at the site of the old Famous Players-Lasky studio just after it was torn down. A taste: “Once upon a time these shadows of the past walked triumphantly thru the sets. Now they hover unseen in the background, and the world looks upon them as memories.” (Click on the images to to read the article.)
“Ghosts…ghosts that seem to tread softly in the gathering darkness, ghosts that will soon be homeless, wandering sadly thru a new maze of buildings that will spring up on this site…” Man, just from that you’d never guess this article was talking about famous names from a mere ten years (or less) prior!
To be honest, though, I truly love that magazines published such unabashedly sentimental articles back then. No holds barred, dripping with feeling and “poetic fancy.” Sometimes they can be funny, but often they’re refreshing.
Once again, happy Halloween my friends, and have a safe and spooky holiday!
Aside from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu or Metropolis, how many German Expressionist films can you name? (Or maybe I should say, how many semi-German-Expressionist-ish films can you name? That’s an easier question.) After all, Caligari didn’t spring forth from thin air, and you’ve always heard that German Expressionism was kind of a big deal.
I guess this was influential, or something.
To help with that question, I’ve compiled a handy list of Weimar-era rarities that you may or may not have heard of before. Keep in mind that “true” German Expressionism is, technically, a very specific genre that used deliberately artificial-looking sets and props, and relied on emotion and psychology instead of realism. Thus, most of these entries are examples of that type of film. (By the way, if you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you’ll probably remember #1 and #2 since I covered them in the past. If you’re a newbie, though–enjoy!) Continue reading →
So you want to dress up as a flapper or a Prohibition-era gangster for Halloween!! (Don’t we all, at some point?) And you probably already have some visions in mind–a fringed dress paired with a feather boa, a pinstripe suit and white tie–something along those lines.
Don’t worry, even Hollywood with all its millions couldn’t get it right.
If you visit your nearest Halloween store, fringe and white ties are the only options you’ll find. Now, if that’s what you really want to wear, it’s your funer–I mean, it’s up to you. It’s okay, I will only judge you in the privacy of my mind (and only a little harshly). But if you want an authentic look that draws inspiration from the many real styles of the Jazz Age, then boy oh boy have I got some handy tips for you!! Continue reading →