As you sit down to sometime this weekend to enjoy the great German Expressionist classic Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (just ahunch, but something tells me you will!), keep in mind that 2022 has a special significance: it’s the 100th anniversary of this milestone piece of cinema!
Its “birthday” of sorts is technically March 4, 1922, when the studio Prana-Film hosted its grand premiere at the Marmorsaal (“marble hall”) of the Berlin Zoological Garden. It was released in German theaters on March 15, and then slowly made its way around the Netherlands, France, Estonia, a few other European countries…and that’s about it, until it was finally released in the U.K. in 1928 and the U.S. in 1929.
In the annals of “Whodunnit?” spooky old house movies, the awesome The Cat and the Canary (1927) ranks pretty high. But how about The Bat (1926)? It’s not quite a masterpiece of murder mystery films, but it does its job well, has some quasi-Expressionist cinematography and features one of my favorite comediennes (and she livens up the reels quite a bit). And yes, it features a mysterious “bat man” quite a few years before the Batman. Hmm, could this murder mystery be more influential than we realize…?
In 1914, horror wasn’t a recognized movie genre. Yes, there were films with macabre elements (like those strange, ancient special effects excursions by de Chomon and Melies), and you had your usual dark mysteries and thrillers (often in serial form). But the idea of being an enthusiast of “horror films” wouldn’t enter the public lexicon for quite a few years.
So in order to find the ancestors of Frankenstein, (1931) and The Haunting (1963), we have to weigh our options. The 1910 Frankenstein certainly counts, yes? And something like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) does, obviously. What about the serial Les Vampires (1915), with that one famous still? Or something off the beaten track, like Charley Bowers’s surreal short There It is (1926) or Max Linder’s Au Secours! (1924)?
One film that’s an obvious candidate is The Avenging Conscience, or Thou Shalt Not Kill (1914), D.W. Griffith’s Poe-infused drama containing visions of leaping demons and fake skeletons. I know I prefer watching it around Halloween.
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 →
If someone asked me about my thoughts on the existence of a Higher Power, I might ponder upon different answers, arguments I would hope to elucidate with all the finesse of an old-school British professor sitting in a leather wingback chair next to a crackling fireplace (as they do). I say “might ponder.” Because what I instinctively wanna blurt out is: “Heck yes a Higher Power’s gotta exist, because He made sure I never saw The Mascot when I was a kid!!”
“Mommy, peees, turn it doff!”
In the past, I’ve mentioned that there’s certain, shall we say, unique silents that would’ve terrified me back when I was a kid–especially ones with papier-mache goblins or weird stop-motion sequences. The Panicky Picnic (1909)? Ew. Ah! La Barbe (1906)? No thank you. Don’t even bring up Le cochon danseur (1907)–it just stopped making cameos in my nightmares. So now I must announce that Ladislas Starevich’s The Mascot (Fétiche Mascotte, 1933), which I saw for the first time recently, is currently #1 on my “Do Not Show To Sensitive Children” list. Did I mention its alternate title is The Devil’s Ball?
While exploring Starevich’s work for Silent Stop Motion Month I became fascinated by this peculiar short, a distinctively European work showcasing some of the era’s most brilliant stop motion animation and some of its creepiest imagery. Apparently it’s already freaked out a generation of ’80s children, thanks to being shown with other cheaply-acquired shorts on late-night British TV. Now it dwells on YouTube, to unsettle all unsuspecting animation fans who doth click on it (and oodles of indie rock bands who use clips for their music videos–like flies to honey, my friends). Since The Mascot is practically a silent film and was made by a silent era master, I say we take a look at it.
In October, the cinephile’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of German Expressionism. Accordingly, I thought we’d discuss an intriguing topic–those “bookend” scenes (otherwise known as a “frame story”) from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
If you haven’t seen Caligari, be forewarned now that this post discusses spoilers–nay, it depends on spoilers. So if you haven’t gotten around to watching one of the most important films of the 20th century, well…ya oughta! 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 →