Saturday, October 27, 2012

Oh, the Horror!

Now here is something that never comes up during a first date:

I love classic horror and sci-fi movies. 

By classic, I mean silent films from the 1920-1930s, or monster/alien invasion movies of the 1950s-1960 that by law must include a dance scene or a road chase, no matter the monster or plot line. Modern day gore filled horror shows I have not time, patient or desire for. Spine tingling? Yes. Gross out? No.

Since Halloween is next week, and this isn't a first date (or is it? Suddenly I'm feeling awkward), let's talk about silent films. I know that it is pretty cinema snobish to have an adoration for silent films, but there were some amazing things being done when this whole moving image medium was new. For one thing, the acting was different. Because there was no spoken dialogue, actors had to act from the tip of the fingers to the point of the feet. I also feel they acted more with their eyes and face and expressions, sometimes to the point of being over exaggerated, but that just adds to the charm. And since I am specific talking about horror movies, silent films by nature, I believe, have more organic suspense to them. 

As an interesting point of introduction, many of the first silent films came out of Germany. During the early part of the 20th century, Germany had a government sponsored film studio called UFA.  During the silent years, it was really easy to distribute films internationally because all you had to do was switch out title cards.  UFA had a monopoly in Germany, and were able to get their films distributed and were well funded by the government.  Germany also had a bit of an artistic renaissance during this time which was reflected in the films.  Since they had a monopoly they also had access to the best talent in the country.  The studio overextended itself financially and then the N.azis took over and basically turned it into a propaganda wing.  A lot of German directors and writers fled to Hollywood and made a huge contribution to the American film industry (Fritz Lang, Murnau, Billy Wilder etc.). That fine history lesson is via my film school educated sister, she is way quicker than google, and can also recommend movies and tell you how to make homemade chicken stock at the same time.  

Metropolis (1927, German).

 This isn't so much horror as it sci-fi, and it is sci-fantastic, so much so that it almost bankrupted the UFA. Let's go through the science fiction checklist: futuristic dystopian society? Check. Creepy robot? Check. A chosen one/prophet? Check. Crazy inventor? Check. And a  for a touch of horror, out of control mob scene?  Check. From that list you know there is a lot going on this film, so first let's set the scene: in future, society has been divided into two classes, the (literal) upper class lives in high towers and reaps the benefits of modern technology. And this modern technology is run by the (literal) lower class that lives underground, working to keep the huge machines of society running. Remember this is Germany in the 1920s. But then love (please pronounce 'love' like a deep voiced late night disc jockey on the radio who spins tunes for long distance lovers) enters into our story.  Freder, a privilege boy of the upper class falls in love with Maria who is not only a member of the lower class but also a kind of prophet, who get kidnapped by the crazy inventor. And then it get weird. The creepy robot, or Maschinenmensch if you are wearing your fancy pants is made to look like Maria, but is an evil Maria,  and a mob scene, a flood, and SAVE THE CHILDREN,  a fight scene, and a very symbolic ending uniting the two classes. And fade to black. The special effects are pretty unreal for the time period that the film was shot, this is definitely a case of film is art.  And fun fact: C-3PO, or his design, from Stars Wars was largely modeled after the Maschinenmensch, although a male version. 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, German). 

Brilliant, brilliant film. It is also one of the first films to employ a twist ending. Most of the film is told in flashback which begins with a trip to a carnival (red flag! red flag!). At the carnival our friends Francis, Alan and Jane witness a side show from Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist (sleepwalker) friend, Cesare, who can predict the future (red flag! red flag!). Cesare is creepy and lives in the cabinet (which came first, I don't know.) Someone (I'm looking at you, Alan) had to be all silly and ask when they are going to die (never, ever, ask this), which, (dramatic music) is foretold to be the next day. AND IT HAPPENS. There is an investigation and then omg the surprise twist, which I don't want to give away, and I know that you guys are just going to to google it anyway, but an insane asylum is involved, and also I can think of a couple other films that have stolen this twist ending, but this was the first one, it's the hipster of twist endings. 

Nosferatu, or Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. (1922, German)

  The best vampire/Dracula film ever made. Full stop. Period. The end. This was an unauthorized adaption of Bram Stoker's Dracula. The studio couldn't obtain the rights to the novel, so they just changed the names of the characters, because no one would ever notice. The story is pretty faithful and similar to every Dracula movie you have ever watched in your life. But Count Orlok (not Dracula, wink, wink), played by Max Schreck is the perfect amount of horrifying and creepy. He is not sparkly, we don't have to worry about his feelings. He actually doesn't even care about "making" more vampires. He just wants your blood, and your life.  Straight forward vampire.  And I think that because it is a silent film, the suspense is so much more heart pounding, there is a lot creeping along dark hallways and slowly opening doors, coffins, and stuff. This is also the first movie where a vampire's demise is caused by sunlight. The whole sunlight thing is not mentioned in Bram Stoker's novel, 'cause you guys, Nosferatu is a totally different story, said the directors so they wouldn't get sued.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925, American, yay we made movies back then too!). 

I will be honest, I haven't seen the Broadway production of Phantom. I know that upon hearing this, many of my friends may  rethink our friendship. I have actually never made it through any other production of Phantom, I just love this silent version of Gaston Leroux's novel so much. I'm actually watching it as I type this right now . Christine, I have come for you . . . . Lon Cheney, Sr. is magnificent as Erik (the phantom)  even when he is in shadow, even when he is masked, and then his true self is reveled and EEK! And yes, Erik is the phantom's real name via Leroux, I didn't just randomly name him, but I do usually say, "Oh that Erik," a lot during the film, which may take away a tad from his scary facade.  Cheney, a very talented movie make up artist and actor, did all his own make up as the phantom, which he based off descriptions in the book. In the book and in this film version, the phantom is deformed from birth, not from an acid attack or fire.  There were reports of the audience members fainting and screaming at first sight of the phantom. (You can see images of his phantom here).

I feel the story is pretty well known, so I don't feel I have to go into it, but in the end, it is just another love story. A tragic love story. A tragic love story with an angry mob with torches at end.  And c'mon let's be honest, love can be quite horrifying.

1 comment :

  1. Thanks for the new recommendations! I love Phantom and Nosferatu but haven't seen the first two. I think this shall be a great way to spend some cozy/creepy nights this stormy week! (Barring any power outages of course!)