Sunday, October 31, 2010

Horror Explorer (Sneak Peek): 1927


Metropolis was released in its native Germany on January 10, 1927, hitting the United States in March of the same year. Set in a teeming metropolis during the future year of 2026, society has been divided into two main groups: the Thinkers who have vision but no skills with which to carry out that vision, and the Workers who have skill to fulfill these visions, but no vision of their own. The Thinkers live above ground in hedonistic delight, while the Workers toil away endlessly beneath the Earth. A possible Worker uprising brings the Mediator to the subterranean world where he witnesses the life of the Worker first hand.  While certainly more of a science-fiction film than horror, it has had a long-lasting cross-appeal that defies the boundaries of genre.

Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (the director's first thriller) had a UK release on February 14, 1927, and would hit American shores in June of the following year.  This adaptation of the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes revolves around a serial killer known as The Avenger, based on Jack the Ripper, stalking the streets of London.  A new lodger (Ivor Novello) at a local boarding house owned by Marie Ault (previously of 1923's The Monkey's Paw) behaves strangely, and often leaves his room on dark and foggy nights, making him suspect in the eyes of Joe (Malcolm Keen), a police detective covering the case.  The Lodger was adapted again in 1932 (also with Ivor Novello), 1944, 1953 (as Man in the Attic, with Jack Palance), and 2008.

Tod Browning released The Unknown on June 4, 1927, starring Lon Chaney as Alonzo the Armless, Norman Kerry as Malabar the Mighty, and Joan Crawford as Nanon Zanzi. In case the colorful names haven't tipped you off, this film takes place in a circus, where Chaney plays an armless knife thrower who is in love with Crawford's character, his partner in the act and the daughter of the circus manager. Kerry's strongman character is also in love with Crawford, but because she has a deep fear of being touched, Chaney is the man for her. When it comes to light that Chaney does indeed have arms (they have been tied at his sides all this time), he realizes that he can not marry her if he has those unsightly he visits a surgeon and has them removed. A twisted little ending makes this obsessive act come across as even sadder. Peter Dismuki, a man truly born with no arms, acted as uncredited double for Chaney's character and would appear a year later as 'Armless Man' in Howard J. Green's The Sideshow.

Those looking for further circus fun may want to seek out the difficult-to-find 1916 mystery-thriller Hævnens nat (Blind Justice; Night of Revenge) from Haxan director Benjamin Christensen about a circus performer named Strong John who is falsely accused of murder and vows revenge against the woman who betrayed him, as well as the similarly-themed (and possible remake) 1917 film The Tell-Tale Step from director Burton George.

The Cat and the Canary hit the screens on September 9, 1927.  It was written by Alfred A. Cohn and directed by Paul Leni, based on a stage play from John Willard that had opened in February 1922 and ran for a total of 148 performances.  The movie revolves a group of would-be heirs who gather at the home of the deceased Cyrus West in hopes of claiming the inheritance, where a number of strange and deadly events occur.  Blending comedy, mystery, horror and even twinges of expressionism, this movie was a huge success for Universal Pictures, so much so that it was remade five times.

London After Midnight premiered on December 3, 1927. Lon Chaney starred as Inspector Burke of Scotland Yard in this Tod Browning film, called in to investigate the supposed suicide of wealthy Sir Robert Balfour. The old Balfour home has been taken over by strange unusual sorts that are reportedly vampires, and among them is a disguised Inspector Burke, using his skills as of mesmerism to aid in closing the case. All footage of this film has long been considered lost, but a good many still photographs remain, as does a copy of the shooting script. Using this script and these stills, a slide-show reconstruction of this movie was released in 2002. Browning remade this film as a talkie in 1935 with Bela Lugosi and Lionel Barrymore under the title Mark of the Vampire, with some alterations made to the script. The remake is often panned by critics today (as it was upon its initial release), but unless a copy of London After Midnight resurfaces, it and the reconstruction are the only two options we have.

For a more in-depth account of the film, written by a blogger more talented than I, click here.

1 comment:

  1. gotta love lon chaney sr. he is by far... my favorite of the classics...


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