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Apr 9, 2008

I've been meaning to jump into the silent era since the October challenge, so 13 there, plus any challenge that I can't tie into that.


Apr 9, 2008

Finally started on my actual challenge rather than binge-watching whatever Shudder puts up.

1. Satan's Rhapsody (1917)

Faust but female. Alba makes a deal with the devil to regain her youth, gets her strut on, and then, well, it's Faust.

This is really close to being great, but it has some weird pacing problems. The sets and costuming are absolutely gorgeous, but the first part of the film has far too much of them - it's dance scene, party scene, dance scene, dance scene, party scene. I suppose it drives in the benefits of the deal she made, but it just feels interminable. Once it gets towards the end of the first part and picks up a plot, it gets a lot more interesting. The lead does a great job of emoting both the joy of youth and the cruelty of someone who'd make a deal with the devil in the first place. Her two paramours are played competently, and the devil, typical of the period, isn't really evil, he's just a jerk (and, in this case, a creeper).

It gets very impressionistic towards the end of the film, with a great multi-mirror shot of her preparing for the wedding that she thinks is happening and a great long-shot of her in shadow exiting the mansion. And then the pacing problems kick in as she wanders through the woods for an excessive amount of time until she finds her supposed groom, and gets turned old again. (Also, goes to hell. They depict getting old as the more important part of that.)

Bonus: A cat that really, really does not want to be on camera.


Apr 9, 2008

2. The Eyes of the Mummy (1918)

A pre-cursor to She-Wolf of London in the exact way that every one hates that film for, this stars Pola Negri with a bit of shoe polish on her face as Ma and future first-ever Best Actor winner Emil Jannings with a whole lot of shoe polish on his face as Radu. Ma is held prisoner by Radu as part of a fake mummy scam he's running. She's rescued at the end of the first act by vacationing painter Wendland and taken back to Europe as a trophy his betrothed. Then it gets racist.

Wendland promptly takes Ma out to a fancy dinner and tells the woman who's been held in captivity for god knows how long that she eats too much. Then she's pressured into Westernizing and gets depressed, which I started to read as some acknowledgement of the issues here, but then she goes back to native dress, performs a dance, and is promptly thrown in the circus a variety show, so nah. Radu has also come to town and finally manages to track Ma down in the last thirty seconds of the film, murder-suicides her, The End.

Also, Jannings is credited as "Radu, an Arab" despite the character being Egyptian, Egypt is repeatedly referred to as the Orient, Osiris is referred to as a high priestess, and did I mention the blackface? Because there is a lot of blackface.

The transfer on Youtube is terrible, although the score someone stuck on it is adequate.


Sono fucked around with this message at 03:23 on May 13, 2021

Apr 9, 2008

3. The Student of Prague (1913) - Another loose variant on Faust (although Wikipedia says it's Poe's "William Wilson"), but in this case, our protagonist Baldwin sells his reflection to the devil. Much like my earlier Faust-alike, Satan's Rhapsody, this has similar pacing problems - spending almost the entirety of the movie with rather utilitarian shots of Baldwin's romance with the Countess, before going all out with some very expressionistic shots as things turn bleak and we head for the final confrontation with the devil. 3/5

4. Malombra (1917) - Marina moves in with her uncle, only to be possessed by the ghost of his wife Cecilia, whom he murdered. Sounds great, but practically speaking, it means Marina/Cecilia spends 70 minutes of a 75 minute movie moping about before we get to the last five minutes and, again, go to the fireworks factory. That said, it's very, very pretty with great set designs. 3/5

5. Fear (1917) - Robert Wiene before Caliguri. Maybe Faust-alike? Art collector Graf steals a Buddha statue from a temple, returns home to Germany, and immediately orders the castle barred to everyone. The head of the "terrible Buddhist priests" tracks him down in spectral form, and when Graf begs for a quick death, the priest instead curses him to live well for 7 years before dying at the hands of his beloved. There are three acts here, and they're all well done - Graf's manic paranoia at the beginning, when he's expecting to be tracked down and (justifiably) murdered at any moment, the party scenes of the "live well" period, which aren't as excessive as they were in Satan's Rhapsody, and then the return of the mania when he knows it's death day and is trying to figure out who's going to kill him. 5/5

6. Arrival from the Darkness (1921) - Czech film about a Baron who's gifted a book by his wife's spurned lover that leads to a secret alchemist laboratory underneath The Black Tower in his castle, where he revives one of his ancestors using the elixir of life. Said ancestor thinks the Baron's wife is the reincarnation of his beau, so now everybody in the movie is macking on this dude's wife. Wonderfully shot and creepy through out - the neighbor is a double-crossing sneak, and the ancestor is a more direct threat. I almost want to ding it because they cop out on the ending (It was all a dream), but 5/5.

7. The Bells (1926) - 13. Horrible Holidays - Lionel Barrymore plays Mathias, an innkeeper who is very much in debt due to his generosity at the bar and his campaign for BURGO MASTER, straight up murders a character named "Baruch Koweski, The Polish Jew" for his gold. Mathias quickly comes under triple threat: his policeman soon-to-be son-in-law is hoping to solve the case to get a promotion, Baruch's ghost is haunting him, and Baruch's brother has shown up with a 30,000 franc bounty and this creepy motherfucker:

Guess who? Boris Karloff, practically an infant at this point (39 years old).

Great acting throughout, great pace, and a satisfying ending. Also, takes place at Christmas, I should probably mention that. 5/5

8. The Headless Horseman (1922) 2. Sometimes They Come Back - Does it count for having been remade if the original is a short story? Will Rogers stars in a fairly faithful adaptation of the story. The problem is that when you remove the quality of Irving's prose, you mostly have the story of a guy who stands in front of kids teaching all day, sits in front of kids telling stories all night, and occasionally tries to court Katrina. They do add a scene where Brom Bones has one of the students accuse Ichabod of witchcraft and the villagers get ready to tar and feather him, but it comes far too late in the film to add any excitement.

The final chase sequence is shot very dynamically... and that's about the only good thing I have to say about the movie. They also remove any ambiguity from the end of the story by having The Horseman break the fourth wall and reveal himself as Brom Bones. 2/5

Apr 9, 2008

Spatulater bro! posted:

This is one of the most interesting set of reviews in the thread so far. Every one of these has piqued my interest, especially The Bells. What made you decide to watch these particular silents?

No real grand strategy. Working off this list, looking for things that are not lost, close to an hour, available on the Internet, with English titles or subs (btw, the copy of Arrival from the Darkness on YouTube that says it has English subs does not; the copy with the description purely in Czech does), and avoiding things that look more crime than horror narrows the field considerably.

Apr 9, 2008

9. Midnight Faces (1926) - Perfectly fine old dark house mystery. Lynn Claymore inherits a mansion from the uncle he never knew he had and suddenly there are two mystery men creeping about the property (one in yellowface), a damsel in distress who magically shows up at the mansion that everyone else had to take a boat to get to, and attempted murders everywhere. As I said, fine if not remarkable for the most part, but I'll give extra credit for the neat twist at the end. 3.5/5

10. Salome (1922) - Scream, Queen! - Based on the Oscar Wilde play based on the Biblical story, Letterboxd has it classified as horror and it is about a guy getting murdered. Art film with minimalist set design and maximalist costume design, especially the hair...

It's glorious.

Unfortunately, it spends way too long on Salome obsessing over wanting to kiss John the Baptist, which is mostly long shots of her standing on tip-toes looking through the cage at the top of the pit he's being held in. Once we're through that, there's some excellent emotion displayed throughout the cast during her dance and her request for her reward being his head in a silver charger. Am I glad I watched it? Yes. Am I ever going to watch it again? No. 4/5

Lot in Sodom (1933) (28 minutes towards the shorts challenge) - Speaking of LGBTQ movies based on the world's oldest horror anthology, I saw this mentioned on the Salome Wikipedia page and decided to give it a watch. Not quite silent (there is one line of dialogue when Lot prays towards the beginning) and very surreal. Some of the shots of the model city with overlaid effects reminded me of the American version of House of Usher, and there's a constant stream of effects, generally with nude or semi-nude men dancing, wrestling, or "wrestling" under them. This contrasts well with the shots within Lot's house that are drastically more plain, with the only real effect being God speaking via words appearing on the screen.

I found it particularly interesting in that this is a gay film where gay men are portrayed as unrelenting antagonists. There's a psychotic glee that reminds me of A Clockwork Orange when they're demanding that Lot turn the angel over to them.

Actually, now that I've taken that screenshot, I know exactly what I'm seeing: "Warriors, come out to plaaaaa-aaaaaaay."

Things turn surrealist again when the angel decides it's time to murder everyone, and the effects here call back to those of the early film. There's a very nice model city with some very nice fire overlaid, and a great series of double exposures as Lot's wife transforms into a pillar of salt. 4.5/5

11. A Fool There Was (1915), a.k.a. "The Vampire," but I'll get to that. First, my favorite thing about the movie is that it's set contemporaneously with its filming, so we get lots of great shots of the streets of New York, with cars, horse-drawn carriages, and pedestrians all doing their best to murder one another travel, the insides of houses and apartments, and a significant part of the film is spent aboard an ocean liner, three years after the Titanic went down, so we get to see that too. It's also one of the very few surviving films of Theda Bara, who was apparently a big loving deal.

The "vampire" is not the traditional fanged blood-drinker, although her penchant for dark lipstick and red wine certainly evokes it. (On the other hand, she spends a lot of time sunbathing.) She does seem to have some rudimentary mind control abilities and drains the life out of her victim, aging him from his 30s to his 70s in the course of a few months. Credit there goes to Edward Jose, as "The Husband" John Schuyler, and the makeup team, as his appearance and character devolve smoothly from a young family man to a disgraced, tottering drunk over the course of the film.

On the minus side, there are a lot of scenes of people speaking and very few intertitles in the film, including entire conversations where the subject matter is unknown. Some of these work (Schuyler being shunned by high society for showing up to parties in London with his mistress); some of them (a contextless, angry conversation between Schuyler and the vampire) don't. 4/5


Apr 9, 2008

12. 80 minutes of Short Cuts

Lot in Sodom (1933) (28 minutes) - See previous.

Koko's Haunted House (1928) (5 minutes) - Fleisher Brothers with a very cute animation over film featuring a clown and a dog. The central conceit is that the animator takes a real inkwell, pushes it into a canvas, stretches it out into a haunted house, and then takes the haunted house model back out of the canvas. Koko leaves his canvas and enters the house, while the animator uses a drum and a bellows to create thunder and wind outside of the house. A lot of good gags in 5 minutes, including "THERE'S A SKELETON INSIDE YOU" made literal, and Koko eventually escapes and brings the ghosts with him into the real world. 5/5

The Ouija Board (1920) (5 minutes) - An earlier, cruder version of the same gag. Koko is left alone on a canvas with a haunted house while the brothers play with a Ouija board. He eventually escapes and hides under the planchette, moving it around with no one touching it and freaking the brothers out. 5/5

Prelude (1927) (7 minutes) - A man falls asleep reading Poe's "Premature Burial" and dreams of premature burial (duh), heaven, and hell. This would be fine if it was 20 years older, but there's nothing in it that wasn't done better, earlier. The heaven scene could have been done on a magic lantern. 2/5

The Witch's Fiddle (1924) (6 minutes) - A tale of an enchanted fiddle that makes people dance non-stop, this also feels older than it is and doesn't bring anything interesting to the table. That said, it was made by Cambridge students, and I always grade amateur efforts on a curve. 3/5

The Haunted House (1921) (23 minutes) - Hilarious set of Buster Keaton pratfalls as he screws up his job at a bank, accidentally runs into a (fake) haunted house, and accidentally arrests the counterfeiting operation in the basement who is using the haunted house story to keep people away from their hideout. 5/5

Felix the Ghost Breaker (1923) (6 minutes) - Who ya gonna call? Cute, if crude (not a great print either), cartoon about Felix the Cat battling a ghost to get it to stop haunting a house. 3/5

13. West of Zanzibar (1928) - Absolutely carried by Lon Chaney exhibiting menace, then tragedy, throughout, but Mary Nolan stands as his equal whenever they're together, and Lionel Barrymore is great in the few scenes that he's in. If anything, it's too quickly paced, and we could have used more of Maizie's degeneration at the compound. Also, the revenge plot of "I'm going to raise the daughter you don't know you have to be a raging alcoholic" is rather far out there, but the film works regardless. 5/5

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