Sunday, October 31, 2010

Horror Explorer (Sneak Peek): 1923-1924


At an unspecified date in 1923, director H. Manning Haynes and screenwriter Lydia Hayward released the film The Monkey's Paw, an adaptation of the short story by author W.W. Jacobs.  This movie is said to follow the source material quite closely, as a family comes across the magical monkey paw that has the ability to grant three wishes, the third of which involves bringing a deceased son back from the grave.  Some sources claim that this was the first adaptation of the story, but there is some evidence that other adaptations were made in 1915 (directed by Sydney Northcote) and 1919, although very little information regarding these versions could be found.  

The French comedy Au Secours! (Help!) was released on June 17, 1924, and deserves at least a brief mention.  Writer-director Abel Gance sends talented but often overlooked silent era comedian Max Linder (who predated Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton by years) into a haunted house on a dare.  Although it features yet another hoax ending, there are plenty of spooky effects and monster moments throughout that make it noteworthy.  The scene in which Max is about to be beheaded is priceless.  Linder only appeared in one more film, 1925's Chevalier Barkas, before he and his wife died in a suicide pact.  (Watch online here)

Orlacs Hände (The Hands of Orlac) was released in Germany on September 24, 1924 and is considered another classic of German Expressionism with a lean towards horror. Genre stalwart Conrad Veidt (again directed by Robert Wiene, who had teamed up with the actor four years earlier for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) plays tormented pianist Paul Orlac who loses his hands in a train wreck, and receives a new pair "donated" by a recently-executed murderer. With the hands come the criminal's desire to kill, and Orlac fears that they are taking on a mind of their own. While this may sound like standard fare these days, it was a pretty fresh idea upon this film's release, although the idea of transplanted hand with a mind of its own own had previously been seen in 1915's Mortmain, and jokingly been foretold even earlier than that by the Vitagraph Company's 1908 short The Thieving Hand (watch online here). The Hands of Orlac was remade in 1935 as Mad Love (starring Peter Lorre) and again under the original title in 1960 (featuring Donald Pleasance and Christopher Lee).

Dante's Inferno was released on September 7, 1924, the second film based (albeit loosely) on part of Dante Alighieri's poem The Divine Comedy (following 1911's L'inferno)--although this version also seems to contain elements of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  Written by Edmund Goulding and directed by Henry Otto, this tale follows a greedy businessman whose unsavory tactics cause a man to commit suicide, leading to him being tried for murder.  Upon his execution, he's dragged to Hell by demons, where he is destined to spend the rest of eternity.  Prints of this film still exist in the archive of the Museum of Modern Art.

Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Waxworks) made its way to screens in Berlin, Germany on November 13, 1924.  Written by Henrik Galeen, with directorial credits divided between Leo Birinsky and Paul Leni, this anthology film revolves around a poet (William Dieterle) who is hired by a wax museum owner and his daughter (John Gottowt and Olga Belajeff, respectively) to write about three of their exhibits, which lead into their individual tales.  The first is the tale of Haroun-al-Raschid from ancient Bagdad;  the second is about Ivan the Terrible, played by Conrad Veidt; and the third about the serial killer Springheel Jack.

1 comment:

  1. If you can, see if you can locate Haxan, a silent film that is part documentary and part supernatural scare fiesta. While hardly scary by modern standards, some of the costuming and effects are pretty fun.


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