Goregirl’s 20 Favourite Horror Films of the 1920s: #20 – #11

#20 THE BELLS (1926)
Directed By: James Young
U.S.A.

The Bells is based on a French play from the late 1800s; a story of murder and guilt starring Lionel Barrymore. Lionel Barrymore plays husband, father and innkeeper Mathias. A generous man living beyond his means that has taken out a significant loan from Jerome Frantz. Desperate for cash and unable to repay the debt he has already incurred he murders a wealthy guest and his problems are temporary solved. Unfortunately Mathias is overwhelmed with guilt to the point of hallucinations and we see the effect of this and his slow deterioration throughout the film. I had specifically seeked out The Bells due to the fact that Boris Karloff had a small role. I was not aware that Boris Karloff has been in any silent films and he has long been a favourite actor. In The Bells Karloff plays a mesmerist; not a man our already edgy Mathias wants to be keeping company with! It was difficult not to notice some of the visual similarities to Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari having watched the film twice in its entirety and scrolling through it thrice for slideshow pictures. Boris Karloff’s character seems to be modelled directly from Dr. Caligari with a carnival background and all! Nonetheless, Karloff is fantastic in the minor role. Also excellent is the likable Lionel Barrymore as Mathias. Despite the fact that Mathias was downright idiotic with his money he still brings empathy to the character and does a wonderful job with his decline into guilt-ridden insanity. I wasn’t sure I quite got the desperation of this character as he seemed to have a pretty great life; he was just a complete spastic idiot with money. This detail did stick in my craw a bit. It might have been based on an old French play but it is clear it was borrowing from more current influences of the time. The Bells had a nifty and intriguing story (I loved the significance of the titular bells), a great performance from Barrymore and an early scene-chewing turn from Boris Karloff that certainly made it worth a visit.

The Bells

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#19 THE GOLEM (1920)
Directed By: Carl Boese and Paul Wegener
Germany

The Golem is a German-made, visually impressive extravaganza with breathtaking set design, and amazing cinematography. The Golem is a creature from Jewish folklore and in Paul Wegener and Carl Boese’s film The Golem is created from clay by a Rabbi after the stars reveal a terrible misfortune will befall his people. The Golem was a gorgeous visceral experience but its story did not move me much. The Golem is more a fable heavy on fantasy than a horror film as it is promoted and the clay creature himself is somewhat humourous. Despite not being moved by the story I enjoyed looking at The Golem and would certainly recommend to anyone interested in silent film to check it out if for no other reason than the stunning imagery. To read my full review for The Golem click here.

the golem

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#18 THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927)
Directed By: Paul Leni
U.S.A.

The Cat and the Canary was a must see when I made my list of silent horror films. There was a lot of love out there for this one. Obviously I enjoyed it enough to put on this list but I didn’t quite share the enthusiasm of others. The Cat and the Canary is an American-made film directed by German filmmaker Paul Leni. The film is a comedy-horror adapted from the play written by John Willard. The film was quite nice to look at it and had a touch of German expressionism to its visuals. The story might have been a dark comedy on paper but in reality I found it on the light and airy side. A millionaire’s greedy family is ready to descend on it ailing patriarch like cat’s on a canary; hence the title. The millionaire decides to punish them by making them wait twenty years to read the will. Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah. The relatives turn up and it is the young niece Annabelle who stands to inherit the fortune but she must first be analyzed by a doctor as sane. Needless to say the still greedy relatives make plans of their own. Complicating matters a character known as “The Cat” has escaped from the local insane asylum and is hiding out in the creepy old house. Yet another reference to the film’s title as the escaped patient believes they are actually a cat and tears their victims apart like they were a small feathered friend. The humour is cute, I smiled often but it didn’t elicit a chuckle. I was not bowled over by The Cat and the Canary’s humour. Annabelle was a little too adorable for my liking but I did enjoy the nasty relatives and I sure loved “The Cat”. The performances were quite good. The frights are slim but they include a few moments that worked nicely and the house is a great setting. The compelling story kept me watching and “The Cat” was a righteous character; I also dug the ending which I found quite satisfying. The visuals are quite impressive as are the sets and costumes. Despite my lukewarm feelings about the humour I found The Cat and the Canary quite entertaining.

tcatc

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#17 THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928)
Directed By: Paul Leni
U.S.A.

The Man Who Laughs is an another American made film directed by German filmmaker Paul Leni. The film is adapted from Victor Hugo’s book. The appearance of Conrad Veidt and the twisted looking makeup of his character made The Man Who Laughs a must see for this feature. I mean REALLY! Look at that picture of Conrad Veidt…creepy! The Man Who Laughs just barely qualifies as a horror film however. The film does have some horror elements but it is more of a mystery/melodrama with a love story at its core. The film is set in England circa late 1600s. A man of the courts is condemned to death by the King and his son Gwynplaine is punished with a permanent disfigurement of a foul grimace “to laugh forever at his fool of a father.” Wandering about the land disfigured and unwanted Gwynplaine finds a baby girl abandoned like himself. The two are taken in and brought up by Ursus. Gwynplaine falls in love with the baby girl Dea who grows up to be a beautiful woman; but his hideous grin prevents him from acting on his urges. The trio make their living performing plays and in their travels Gwynplaine’s lineage is uncovered. The uncovering of his lineage inevitably leads to trouble for Gwynplaine and his adopted family. It is definitely a bittersweet story with a decidedly Hunchback of Notre Dame vibe which was also written by Victor Hugo. Conrad Veidt gives another fantastic performance and it is impossible not to admire that nasty freaking grimace; powerful imagery that in grains itself on the brain. The beautiful Mary Philbin is lovely and charming as Dea and the supporting performances across the board were all decent. Another beautiful film visually but in the case of The Man Who Laughs it is the performances from its two leads and story that shine.

the man who laughs

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#16 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920)
Directed By: John S. Robertson
U.S.A.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was adapted from the story by Robert Louis Stevenson. There have been countless film versions of Stevenson’s story. I have reviewed two considerably sexier versions; Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde and Dr. Jekyll and his Women. In director John S. Robertson version John Barrymore plays both Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. The story is all about the duality within us all. Good and evil, dark and light. Jekyll is engaged to the daughter of his friend and mentor Sir George Carewe. After spending the evening in a lounge Jekyll is aroused like he has never been before by a beautiful dancer. He becomes obsessed with the idea of good versus evil. He spends day and night in his lab and eventually creates a cocktail that brings out his bad self. The only problem being his bad self becomes difficult to control. Barrymore is given little aid from makeup as the Edward Hyde character; relaying the transformation through expression. He jerks and twists while hair flops about his face. Barrymore summons his inner ghoul and creates an amazingly effective menace. The transformation scenes alone make the film worth visiting. The story is a classic and they don’t mess with it too much. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a well-preserved and visually appealing film. It was one of the cleanest looking prints of all the films I watched during No Volume Needed November. It is Barrymore’s performance that really makes this one worth a visit; but you can’t beat this story, it is a classic. To read my full review click here.

djamh

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#15 THE PARSON’S WIDOW (1920)
Directed By: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Sweden

The Parson’s Widow is a Swedish film directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. Dreyer directed one of the most stunning and heart-aching films I have ever had the pleasure of seeing The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) not to mention the gorgeous and creepy Vampyr, which absolutely would be on this list if it had been made in the 20s (it was made in 1932). The Parson’s Widow is based on a story by Kristofer Janson. I was reminded of one of my favourite discoveries from last year VIY (1967) which was also a comedy-horror about a cheeky Seminary. Söfren is a seminary graduate engaged to be married to the lovely Mari. Mari’s father isn’t having any of it until Söfren finds employment. He does indeed land a position as a pastor but only on the acceptance of a marriage to the previous pastor’s widow. The pastor’s widow Margarete is considerably older than himself and looks as though she is always on her way to a funeral. This does not stop Söfren from taking the job and marrying her. Whether the decision to marry her was his own is difficult to say as it would appear that Dame Margarete may have bewitched him. He introduces his former fiancee Mari as his sister so that the two can be near one another which needless to say causes complications. The complications are mostly humourous ones as The Parson’s Wife definitely leans more towards the comedy than the horror. It also gets unnecessarily sappy at the end. This is definitely a light-hearted film and while I have only seen a handful of Dreyer’s other films, light-hearted is not generally his schtick. Just the same, I found this film, funny and charming. I laughed regularly and I especially enjoyed Söfren’s constant foiled attempts to visit with his beloved. Einar Röd is fabulous as Söfren as is Hildur Carlberg as Margarete. I enjoyed the hell out of The Parson’s Wife but would definitely have to take a point from it for that overly sentimental ending.

tpw

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#14 THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923)
Directed By: Wallace Worsley
U.S.A.

Oh Lon, Lon, Lon, oh how I love you! Mr. Lon Chaney; the man with a thousand faces is Quasimodo and what a fine Quasimodo indeed! The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an American-made film directed by Wallace Worsley and is based on the previously mentioned story by Victor Hugo. Another story with countless film adaptations; and some pretty outstanding ones too. I really feel this story barely qualifies as horror but since it is often qualified as having some genre elements I am including it. I would be hard pressed to say which I enjoyed more, this version or the 1939 version with Charles Laughton. I wouldn’t discount the 1956 version with Anthony Quinn either. But it is pretty tough to top a Lon Chaney performance. The sets in this thing are nothing short of spectacular! This may have been the most esthetically pleasing of the American made silents I watched. If you are unfamiliar with its story, it takes place in Paris and focuses on a badly hunchbacked bell-ringer named Quasimodo. His master Jehan Frollo, a hard bastard of a man tasks him with kidnapping a beautiful gypsy dancer named Esmeralda. Quasimodo’s attempts to kidnap are dashed by Captain Phoebus. Quasimodo is later sentenced to a public whipping. Captain Phoebus becomes smitten with the kind-hearted Esmeralda much to the chagrin of his master and Esmeralda’s adopted father Clopin. Both Frollo and Clopin have their own plans to prevent this union. Quasimodo feels an affection for Esmeralda after she shows him some kindness and he is willing to sacrifice himself to save her. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a bittersweet story and an enthralling one. The amazing elaborate sets, strong performances and the great costumes and makeup all make this film the classic that it is. Especially notable of course is Chaney’s Quasimodo makeup which is nothing short of pure unadulterated perfection that is matched by the actor’s brilliant performance. This film is public domain and can be watched all over the place online completely legally.

thond

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#13 WAXWORKS (1924)
Directed By: Leo Birinsky & Paul Leni
Germany

Waxworks is a German expressionistic anthology comprised of three short films based on figures featured in a waxworks exhibit at a carnival. The film was co-directed by Paul Leni who directed the aforementioned The Cat and the Canary. The first story is based on Haroun-Al-Raschid; Caliph of Bagdad and stars Emil Jannings as the Caliph. The tale is an adventure comedy about a baker and his wife and their interaction with the Caliph. The Caliph initially wants the baker’s head believing the smoke from his baking distracted him and caused him to lose a chess game. The Caliph however becomes smitten with the baker’s beautiful wife which complicates issues. The second story is a psychological drama with horror elements based on Ivan the Terrible, Czar of Russia and stars Conrad Veidt. The Czar is a heinous bastard who rules with iron fists. He tortures his victims for the most minor of infractions; his favourite mode of punishment is poisoning. The Czar likes to present an hour-glass to his poisoned victims so they can watch the sand slip through the glass cylinder representing their last dying moments. Needless to say the Czar gets his medicine in the most delightfully satisfying way. The final story was based on Spring-heeled Jack aka Jack the Ripper and stars Werner Krauss. A great trippy little thing but far too short. In the wraparound story a writer answers a want ad; Wanted An imaginative writer for publicity work in a waxworks exhibition. I liked the idea of the characters in the wraparound story also having roles in the three main stories. Another gorgeous expressionist German film worth watching simply for its visuals. Of course it has that very appealing carnival theme and I always enjoy a good anthology. Not all the stories are equal in quality. I thought the first story was a little on the long side and felt redundant after a while but it was still enjoyable. The Ivan the Terrible story was fantastic as was the final story even if it was too short. Waxworks was flawed but very entertaining. To read my full review click here.

ww32

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#12 WARNING SHADOWS (1923)
Directed By: Arthur Robison
Germany

Warning Shadows is an expressionistic German-made horror fantasy thriller. The first thing that struck me about Warning Shadows after watching it was that it wasn’t better known! Bloody hell this film is superb. Strange, trippy, beautiful, mysterious and at times amusing. I am very sorry I did not find the time to review this one! The characters remain nameless but the plot revolves around a wealthy Baron with his comely wife who can not get enough attention from the men around her. Attention men who meet her are more than happy to give. A quartet of suitors are in attendance for dinner at the Baron estate and are entertained by a shadow puppeteer. A shadow puppeteer? Well, I did no research on whether there was an official term used for people who are really fucking good at making shadow puppets but I think that works. The shadow puppeteer creates scenarios in which the Baron’s jealousy of the suitor’s advances do not end well. The film is also known as Shadows – A Nocturnal Hallucination which insinuates that what transpires may in fact be a vision created by the Baron’s jealous mind. I really thought Warning Shadows was a total trip! I loved the tinting and the sets and costumes were absolutely phenomenal. And the shadow puppets! Shadow puppets are cool man! When I was a kid I would sometimes camp in my friend Elizabeth’s backyard. Her parents would put up a tent in the backyard and we would make shadow puppet with a flashlight. We’d make creatures with our hands that would bite off Barbie’s shadow head! It was great fun! Warning Shadows is a moody, eerie little film with a ton of spunk that I will definitely watch again in the future. German expressionism at its finest!

warning shadows

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#11 DR. MABUSE: THE GAMBLER (1922)
Directed By: Fritz Lang
Germany

I am really taking liberties including Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler on a horror list. The Dr. Mabuse series really are not genre films; they are definitely more mystery thriller crime-drama’s. They are a bit of a genre stew so I included it on the list anyway because I am a big fan. This film is epically long; four hours plus long! Lang divided it into two parts so you could take an intermission (kidding, but it is a DAMN long film). It is based on a character from Norbert Jacques series of novels. Also outstanding, and my personal favourite in the series is The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933). Dr. Mabuse is a sly devil who plays with people’s heads; my favourite type of sly devil! He has multiple henchmen and is himself a master of disguise and a criminal mastermind! He is actually a doctor; not surprisingly a doctor of psychology who knows all the tricks of the trade to messing with minds. In the film’s first part Mabuse creates a panic in the stock market which allows him to make huge gains. After another rich dude in a string of rich dudes is manipulated and essentially robbed, the state prosecutor gets involved. The prosecutor goes undercover and crosses paths with Mabuse ever so briefly. The prosecutor continues to search for the elusive Mabuse to no avail. At one point he jails Mabuse’s lady-love who refuses to give up any information. Meanwhile Dr. Mabuse has become intrigued by a Countess. Dr. Mabuse is surrounded by the most delightfully unsavory types including a chauffeur who doubles as an assassin and a coke head servant. Some of the underworld types are a bit on the inept side but no matter, there is always someone else to replace them when they screw up. Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler is a wicked and meaty crime-drama with plenty of bite. Dr. Mabuse is a fantastic character; an intelligent bad-ass sonofabitch who will stop at nothing to get what he wants; and he wants it all. An absolutely mesmerizing film with a fascinating character at its center who is one of the all time great criminal masterminds. An amazing looking film with an electric atmosphere full of tension, intrigue, violence and a few trippy moments. There are even a few ghosts and demons to back up my insistence on having this fabulous film on a horror list. My only complaint is I have to put aside an entire night to watch this film! I mean four hours! Come on Fritz Lang; you are killing me here! This was actually my third viewing of Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler and I am just kidding about the time; it is worth every minute!

dmtg

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5 Responses to “Goregirl’s 20 Favourite Horror Films of the 1920s: #20 – #11”

  1. backlashcomix Says:

    I rarely delve back into the 1920s when I watch films, so there must be a wealth of them that I haven’t seen. I especially like the look of The Man Who Laughs, which I will try to find.

    • Since starting this blog 4ish years ago it has been my intention to watch more silent horror films. I rented most of what I watched from the library, but a lot are available to watch on YouTube and some are even available through IMDB archives as they are “public domain.

  2. […] EVIL. SEE EVIL. SPEAK EVIL. « Goregirl’s 20 Favourite Horror Films of the 1920s: #20 – #11 Stepping Out Before STEPPING INTO SOMETHING WEIRD […]

  3. I’m going about watching all silent films considered horror and found Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler in the horror section. After checking several other sites, I don’t know whether to add this to my horror list or not.

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