Per a reader’s request, here is a piece on one of the greatest and most respected silent film legends–Lon Chaney. As you read this, I am currently at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival–and yes, I’ll be recapping every moment of it!
There was a popular, widespread joke back in the 1920s–“Don’t step on that spider, it might be Lon Chaney!” A joke which, of course, referred to his remarkable use of makeup and acting skills to create bizarre characters who stick in the popular imagination. Indeed, Chaney was one of the rare actors who was so skilled that he became a legend in his own time, graced with the title “The Man of a Thousand Faces”–a title which is linked with his name to this very day.
This wonderful illustration is from Dennison’s Bogie Book, a book of Halloween decoration and party ideas that seems to have been published every year, with updates I presume. This comes from the 1925 edition–isn’t it priceless? Here’s another illustration:
To celebrate this spooky holiday, here’s a roundup of all my Halloween-inspired posts from the past. Counting my posts from this month, this includes the films: Continue reading →
People talk about how everyone is six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. Well, I’m here to tell you that as far as cinema history’s concerned, everything’s six degrees of separation from Georges Méliès. Maybe three degrees. If there’s a film trope, storyline, or special effect that you’re trying to trace to its origins, I say give up right now, and just assume it’s Méliès. And by way of demonstration, here are at least six things the French wizard seems to have put on film before they were a twinkle in anyone’s eye. Continue reading →
UPDATE 4/12/17: The winner of the drawing is Kevin S., randomly selected by Flicker Alley from the many entries for this exciting DVD giveaway. Congrats, Kevin!
We will (finally) return to the last few MélièsMonth posts this Friday. I didn’t want you guys to miss out on a chance to own a free copy of this rare, and distinctly unsettling, early horror film!
Last October I reviewed one of the most disturbing silent films I’d ever beheld: Behind the Door (1919) starring Hobart Bosworth, a film that starts out like your standard 1910s drama and ends up like a murderer’s fever dream. It was a slightly awkward review to write since I knew it had never been put on DVD, was only playing at select film festivals, and that few people would ever get to see it.
Why do we hold such reverence for Nosferatu? Why does a film with such simple special effects and occasionally humorous acting linger in our minds? Why, when Hollywood offers a wealth of svelte–even sexy–vampires, do we keep turning to the gaunt, bushy eyebrowed Count Orlok with his protruding rat teeth?
It must be more than simple curiosity to see one of our earliest vampire films, although that’s probably a big factor for many. According to some of my non-silents-accustomed friends, its style and film speed can make it effectively creepy. That said, I’ll admit that plenty of people find it hysterical. Continue reading →
If you mention Behind the Door to a silent film fan, they’ll react in one of two ways: the blank, racking-their-brains-have-they-heard-of-it-maybe-actually-nope-never-heard-of-it look, or a sudden widening of the eyes and a little gasp: “You’ve seen it?!”
Because it’s that kind of film, my friend. Its notoriety precedes it, and once you watch it you’ll know why. The screen doesn’t show anything graphic, but the implications are crystal clear…and stomach-churning.
“On a lonely pine-clad hill overlooking the Hudson, stood the grotesque mansion of an eccentric millionaire…”
It’s a dark, rainy October evening as I type this. And what could be more fitting, when I’m writing about The Cat and the Canary (1927)? If you’re looking for entertainment to pair with spooky autumn weather, you can’t go wrong with this archetypal “old dark house” movie. Just look at that title card I quoted up there.
Can you imagine a world without horror movies? Their tropes are so familiar–monsters with bloody fangs, screaming teens, and tired old jump scares–that it’s hard to imagine pop culture without them. Thanks to Halloween turning autumn into an extended celebration of all things spooky, in many ways the horror genre is part of life’s memories.
As well as being Tim Burton’s reason for life.
But while there were macabre films in the silent era, people wouldn’t start using the term “horror” until Universal started releasing its famous monsters in the early 1930s. Before that, spooky films used to be lumped in under the banner of “mysterious” or “mystery pictures.” In the 1900s, at least. The “mystery” distinction might’ve mattered more to exhibitors than the audiences at your basic moving picture show, who probably just felt that some of the (very) short films in the program were more eerily entertaining than others.
Or simply more pants-wettingly terrifying than others.
To be unable to grow old is terrible… Death is not the worst… Can you imagine enduring centuries, experiencing each day the same futilities…
My favorite vampire film of all time happens to be an homage to film history’s most significant vampire film of all time. You could call it a remake, but the word doesn’t fit…”homage” is far more appropriate. And to use another appropriate word, it’s deeply haunting: Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979).