Monday, October 31, 2022



October 31: The Scarlet Crystal (1917)


The Scarlet Crystal was a crime drama with supernatural elements. The titular crystal hails from ancient Egypt and allows a gazer to see visions of the future, or rather future horrible harm and violence. Several of the characters experience the visions, the most intense of which happens to Vincent Morgan (Herbert Rawlinson). The visions of horror that he sees involve the harm to Peggy Worth (Betty Schade) and her invalid mother. The fore-warning allows Vincent to wholly avoid the dreaded outcome and insure the safety of both  Peggy and her mother. The film apparently sported a special "crystal vision" effect. Though it wasn't the first film that "framed" visions and thoughts in a visual fashion, it had to be one of the earliest to create a an effect that conveyed visually (instead providing an explanation on title cards) a special movable cue to indicate an supernatural event was taking place.  Though not the star of the film, the most well known member of the cast was Dorothy Davenport. From the famous Davenport theatrical family; she was just as likely to be credited as "Mrs. Wallace Reid" during this time. She would go on to be one of the only female film producers in Hollywood in the 1930's. 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

October 30: Le Petit Chaperon Rouge [Little Red Riding Hood]


Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (or Little Red Riding Hood) was an experimental take on the Red Riding Hood story directed by Alberto Cavalcanti (who was one of the director's of the 1945 horror anthology Dead of Night). Avant garde artist Jean Renoir was deeply involved in the production of the film, which was 1 hour in length.  Renoir was not only primarily responsible for the adaptation to a screenplay format (which was done with Cavalcanti), he was also the Compère de Loup or wolf of the film. Only in this adaptation, the wolf takes the form of a lecherous tramp. Descriptions of the film make it clear that whatever form that wolf's attempt to devour Red Riding Hood took, it was in some form sexual. This is made even more clear when the few stills of Le petit Chaperon rouge, played by Catherine Hessling, are examined (Hessling was Renoir's wife at the time). Descriptions of the film make it clear that the story has been completely modernized and are meant to be artistically tongue-in-cheek.  The film was completed in 1929, and released as a silent/partial sound film in France in the spring of 1930. That fall it was re-released with a soundtrack. This Jean you know it had to be pretty weird. 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

October 29: Mini Post on Some Makeup Men


We all know Lon Chaney as "the man of a thousand faces" for his many roles that required either heavy makeup or prosthetics of some sort in the 1920's. Many people also know that Chaney was his own makeup artist, what is not as widely known is that Chaney was just one of a long line of actors that were also very accomplished makeup artists. Two actors to appear in horror before him that stand out are Charles Ogle and King Baggot. They both created their monstrous looks that have in many ways become iconic today.

Charles Ogle was the star of Edison's 1910 adaptation of Frankenstein, the film is only 16 minutes long, but it is memorable for it's creature. Ogle created the complete look himself and makes an unforgettable entrance in the film, emerging from a "creation chamber." His visage is as monstrous as the creature has ever been in film. With wild hair and deformed hands, he appears more a wholly supernatural monster, than a deformed human created wholly by science. Long thought lost until the mid-1970's; the film has been restored multiple times, most recently by our own Library of Congress. 

King Baggot was cast in the dual role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the 1913  IMP/Universal adaptation of the Stevenson work.  Not the very first adaptation of the work, it was the first for Universal, making Baggot really the first "Universal Monsters." He was responsible for creating the visage of the wild and insane Hyde.  What is interesting about Baggot's Hyde is that it is a look that apparently influenced the 1941 MGM production starring Spencer Tracy.  Originally released in the two parts, the film in total runs close to half and hour. Both are available to stream online and are well worth a view. 

Friday, October 28, 2022

October 28: Unheimliche Geschichten (Uncanny Stories)


Germany's Unheimliche Geschichte or Grausíge Nächte (Horrible Nights) is the earliest horror anthology; released in 1919 and containing five distinct stories with a sixth frame story. Three of the five stories were written by well known writers of the gothic: Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson and Germany's own Anselma Heine. Director Richard Oswald provided a fourth story with "Der Spuk" (The Spectre). The fifth writer, Robert Liebmann was on the cusp of establishing himself as an important screenwriter in the country when he provided a story for the film; he would go on to be one of the most successful screenwriters of 1920's German cinema (he would later die at the age of just 52 in 1942 because he was Jewish). The most famous cast member (by far!) is Conrad Veidt, who not only appears as Death in the prologue, but also has roles in the individual stories themselves. The other two principle players appearing in all of the stories are Anita Berber and Reinhold Schünzel.  The director himself makes a cameo in the prologue as well; in what would become a the norm for director cameos, he went uncredited. 

The director in the middle with his two principle male players

The film's original runtime was 112 minutes (or 1 hour 52 minutes), with DVD releases having it cut to 98 minutes. The five principal stories as follows:

The Apparition by Anselm Heine

The Hand by Robert Liebmann

The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe

The Suicide Club by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Spectre by Richard Oswald

The film goes by several different translated names in English, including:  Eerie Tales, Five Sinister Stories, Weird Tales, Tales of Horror and Tales of the Uncanny. The film is not just a milestone as the very first horror anthology movie, it is also an oft over-looked early film of German expressionism. Though the direction style is not as outlandish as Murnau or Wiene, it is a very important work in the vein of gothic silent cinema in Germany, a great example of a work that gave ideas to the imagination of later films of Expressionism. Oswald would remake the film in 1932 with full sound as The Living Dead with Paul Wegener as the principle actor. 

A Few Stills & GIFs


Thursday, October 27, 2022

October 27: Puritan Passions (Lobby Card)


Lobby card for the 1923 film Puritan Passions, set in Salem, Massachusetts.  The film, based on a popular play, was about the witchcraft hysteria in 1692.  Note the Puritan at the top left hand corner of the card as a puppeteer. It was not a accident that the image resembles the devil. This film is also featured in the 3+ hour long documentary Woodlands Dark and Day Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021). 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

October 26: Those Who Dare (1924)


Those Who Dare was a sea-voyage drama that featured supernatural practices (and capitalized on superstitions about non-Christian religions) released in 1924 by Creative Pictures. The main "horror" element of the film was the practice of voodoo. Even today the voodoo trope is used in the horror films; in 1924 adding the practice of some form of voodoo to the claustrophobic confines of an ocean voyage would have been extremely menacing to an all white audience.  Though a print was discovered in Italy, the film has not been restored; so we don't have as many source materials or extant stills or posters to go on as we do many of the film's contemporaries . The over all story concerns a ship that is ordered removed from a harbor because it is considered cursed. Largely the story was told in flashback, as the current captain tells the story of how he came to be in possession of the ship. The story involved him encountering the ship at sea, finding a mutineering crew aboard that were under a "voodoo spell" by a voodoo priest (or some such). He bests the evil man; and the captain, grateful, just gives him the ship. Implausible at best! The film went by a couple of different titles, including Superstition, a poster of which is posted below. There are two silent horror connections in the film and both concern cast members who acted in two famous horror films (one before this production, and one after). The most important of these is Sheldon Lewis, who is playing the evil voodoo sorcerer "Serpent Smith." Lewis had been a member of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) cast with John Barrymore; he would go on to appear in other horrors in the 30's and principally remembered for The Monster Walks (1932). The other connection is Cesare Gravina, who would later be a member of the cast of Leni's The Man Who Laughed

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

October 25: Arachnida the Human Headed Spider


There are a few images from silent films that always show up on various social media platforms around Halloween. One of the most famous is from a Tod Browning's film from the 1920's. Thing on the image is just as likely to be wrong as right. The image in question is Browning's human spider from his 1927 film The Show. I will leave off any analysis of the film and any connections to Browning's Freaks. Focusing instead on giving credit to French born actress Renée Adorée who is the head of the "human spider" Arachnida costume created for the film.

The concept was not original to Browning; and he was not intending to take credit for it. It was meant to be a quote of sorts. It had long been an actual sideshow attraction that was popular for years before the film's production; it even showed up later as a prop that a person could insert their head in to have a photo taken as a carnival memento. The film which has Adoreé as Salome opposite John Gilbert as Cock Robin, centers around a group of carnival performers in Budapest that perform a variety of dances and illusions in a side-show; the human spider is but just one. The film is based on the 1910 novel The Day of the Souls and is really more of a crime story than a horror. But, this is Tod Browning, and the images are always going to be striking!

Below is a still with John Gilbert in the foreground in character as Cock Robin.  

Monday, October 24, 2022

October 24: La folie de Docteur Tube (1915)


La folie du Docteur Tube (or The Madness of Doctor Tube) is an experimental film from early French film artist Abel Gance made and released in 1915.  The film is only 6 minutes long, and quite "mad cap." Much in the vein of Dream of a Rare-bit Fiend (1906) in concept, the film is much weirder, much less narrative and far more disorienting.  Where as Rarebit Fiend has a narrative warning against the evils of binge drinking and drunken states; Gance admitted that the very idea of this strange little film came to him when he was in a seriously inebriated state. The general story of the film is that of a mad scientist who invents a powder that deforms; fortunately the effect is temporary.  It was principally a vehicle for Gance to experiment with mirrors and distortions with lens. The cast is naturally small, with just two roles of principle import. The scientist is played by Séverin-Mars. While the most famous cast member is Albert Dieudonné as the "young man;" he is best known for his work with Gance in the 1910's and 1920's, and principally famous of appearing as Napoléon Bonaparte in Gance's 1927 Napoleon. To call this film a trip, is kind of an understatement; it is quite hallucinatory. It was intended to be a side-splitting comedy, but it is not very funny today.  It's also hard to watch if you have any issues with visual triggers.  It is certainly strange enough to include it on a Spooktober watch list!

Sunday, October 23, 2022

October 23: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1921)


A Sherlock that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle found compelling! (well that is the modern tagline I would put on the film anyway). Doyle saw the film in the theater and said the following about it:

Mr. Ellie Norwood, whose wonderful personification of Holmes has amazed me. One seeing him in The Hound of the Baskervilles I thought I had never seen anything more masterly. {quote from Alan Barnes 2011 book Sherlock Holmes on Screen}

The Hound of the Baskervilles has always been listed has Doyle's one true Sherlock Holmes horror story. It, from the beginning of it's film history (which began in 1914), has been promoted as a horror mystery. The ghostly backstory of family transgression, the supernatural nature of the hound in the story (most definitely equated with a "hounds of hell"), the brooding haunted nature of a moor, a house isolated with strange lights seen but not explained--they are are all deep horror tropes/themes. The fact that it is a Sherlock Holmes mystery means that eventually it will out as all explainable through human action; though the truth is no less horrifying. Furthermore, the inspiration for the story came from actual legends from Dartmoor (see this Wikipedia entry--damn spooky stuff!). 


Ellie Norwood as Holmes [public domain Stoll picture still]

The film was released in August of 1921 in London; it was the production of Stoll Pictures, had/has a length of 5500 feet on five reels and shot on locations in southwest Surrey (though several sources have incorrectly claimed that it was shot on Dartmoor, where the story is set).  It was eventually internationally released, with a wide distribution in 1923 across the United States. It was the very first British adaptation of the novel.

Still of the hound from the film [Stoll Pictures]

The B.F.I. is reportedly working on a full restoration; the work is expected to be completed some time in 2023 (as part of a series). Eagerly awaited here!