WAXWORKS (1924) – The Dungeon Review!
Waxworks will round out my hattrick of German expressionistic silent horror films. My next review will be for an American made silent horror film. Waxworks is unique for being an early anthology. The film is comprised of three short films based on figures featured in a waxworks exhibit at a carnival. We get a glimpse of a character in a black hat when we first enter the waxworks exhibit. This character was originally the subject of a fourth story that Paul Leni eliminated. The film actually seemed in need of a fourth segment; it had the feeling of an unfinished work to me. Two of the segments are at the half hourish mark and the final piece is less than ten minutes! The final story was so ridiculously short it felt awkward. It is reassuring to know that even early anthologies had a weak link. I am not saying the perfect anthology doesn’t exist, I just have never seen it. Most anthologies have a film that just doesn’t cut it; or at least one you are less fond of than the others. The weak link for me was the first story based on Haroun-Al-Raschid; Caliph of Bagdad starring Emil Jannings as the Caliph. The tale is an adventure comedy type thing that just did not tickle me much; although I did chuckle a few times. It was unnecessarily long and the narrative began to feel redundant. The middle segment based on Ivan the Terrible “Czar of all the Russias” starred Conrad Veidt. The Czar’s story was my favourite by far. I do have a bit of a crush on Conrad Veidt and I won’t lie to you, it gained points for it. The man is extremely talented. The final spot featuring Spring-heeled Jack aka Jack the Ripper was interesting and trippy but as mentioned was far too short and the ending was very blunt. I liked the idea of the characters in the wraparound also having roles in the three main stories. A writer, his employer and the employer’s daughter, all three remain nameless throughout are featured in each story. In the wraparound a writer answers a want ad; “Wanted – An imaginative writer for publicity work in a waxworks exhibition.” The young writer is hired immediately and is watched over by the proprietors lovely daughter. The writer concocts three tales each of which feature a role for himself and his employers attractive offspring. Every single expressionistic German silent horror film I have watched the visuals are spectacular, the sets are gorgeous and the costumes are out of this world;Waxworks is certainly no exception. I will get into more detail for each story but I thought wax figures were a fun way to connect the three segments and as regular readers of this blog well know; I really do love my carnivals and circuses. Like Mr. Veidt, they do elevate a film in my mind. I was mad in love with the look of the first section despite not being mad about its story. What I enjoyed about the film I enjoyed excessively and it overcame the films lesser qualities. Waxworks as a whole package was definitely flawed but nonetheless very entertaining.
Below is a photo gallery and details about each story in Waxworks trilogy. But before you read on, check out this awesome live music performance from Mike Patton, Scott Amendola, William Winant and Matthias Bossi from May 17, 2013. You can play it and than read my review and it will be like a live music performance of my review! Mike Patton’s work has been featured on this blog several times this year. Thanks to my friend David at My Kind of Story who introduced me to both Patton’s solo and collaborative work with Fantômas. I have posted several pieces of music from Fantômas; The Director’s Cut and a solo piece from Mike Patton’s soundtrack for Crank: High Voltage.
Haroun-Al-Raschid “Caliph of Bagdad” played by Emil Jannings.
Ivan the Terrible “Czar of all the Russias” played by Conrad Veidt.
Spring-Heeled Jack aka Jack the Ripper played by Werner Krauss.
The writer and his employer’s daughter; the characters are nameless but play a role in each segment. The writer has been hired to write “startling” tales about the above wax figures; Haroun-Al-Raschid, Ivan the Terrible and Jack the Ripper.
SEGMENT ONE – Haroun-Al-Raschid “Caliph of Bagdad”
The writer concocts a story for the Caliph whose wax figure likeness is missing an arm…
The Caliph blames smoke coming from the home of the local baker for his chess loss and orders his head on a platter.
The Baker (who is played by the nameless writer) feels obligated to prove to his beautiful wife that he is a man worthy of her attentions.
A very cool M. C. Escher-esque set. If you look carefully you can see the Baker using the stairs.
The Baker’s wife with Haroun-Al-Raschid. “My pond-lily, have you a hiding place for a fat man?”
A comedic adventure with a few chuckles and some really astounding visuals. Will the baker’s head be spared? Will the wife leave the baker for the Caliph? Will she find a hiding spot for a fat man? How did the Caliph lose his arm? All questions will be answered!
SEGMENT TWO – Ivan the Terrible “Czar of all Russias”
Ivan the Terrible plays with his favourite toy; an hour-glass. Ivan is a nasty son of a bitch who rules with a bloodied iron fist and among his tortures enjoys poisoning folks. To his great amusement he uses the hour-glass to mark his dying victims last moments.
A nobleman arrives at the Kremlin to remind the Czar of his promise to attend his daughter’s wedding.
The happy couple and their guests.
Ivan the Terrible arrives.
He steals away the frightened bride.
It does not end the way Ivan the Terrible would like. A rewarding finale, beautiful imagery, a compelling tale and a great performance from Conrad Veidt made this segment bar none my favourite.
SEGMENT THREE – Spring-Heeled Jack aka Jack the Ripper
Spring-Heeled Jack appears everywhere! Multiple versions of himself…stalking…slashing.
In pursuit of our writer and his lady-love.
Will they escape? This segment was a psychedelic trip of superb imagery but irritatingly short. I would have liked to have seen more!
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Leo Birinsky & Paul Leni
Starring: Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss, William Dieterle, Olga Belajeff, John Gottowt