Goregirl’s 20 Favourite Horror Films of the 1920s: #10 – #1

For My Favourite Horror Films of the 1920s: #20 – #11 click here.

#10 THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE (1926)
Directed By: Henrik Galeen
Germany

The Student of Prague is a German-made film directed by Henrik Galeen and starring Conrad Veidt based on the novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers. This is the first of three films on my top ten featuring the fabulous Conrad Veidt. The Student of Prague reunites Conrad Veidt and Werner Krauss who starred alongside one another in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1920. Conrad Veidt plays the titular student named Balduin who is a renowned party animal but is beginning to tire of his role. The partying is also draining Balduin of funds. He also begins to contemplate the notion of settling down and taking a wife. A mysterious stranger named Scapinelli played by Werner Krauss offers him a large loan which Balduin refuses. Before he parts ways with the stranger Balduin adds that if he really wanted to help, he would find him a rich woman to marry. Scapinelli begins working on the project immediately and we learn he has supernatural abilities. Scapinelli’s plan almost works as a young Countess meets Balduin but their introduction is cut short. Balduin can not stop thinking about the beautiful Countess. Meanwhile a flower vendor named Liduschka has a mad crush on Balduin which he does not reciprocate which does not prevent her from continually attempting to change his mind. Scapinelli calls upon Balduin once more with an even grander more tempting deal of a huge amount of gold in exchange for Balduin’s mirrored reflection. Balduin accepts this deal and furnishes himself a lovely new home and makes his move for the Countess. Needless to say, such an insidious deal does not come without drawbacks. Balduin’s own malcontent reflection threatens to destroy him completely and utterly. What a fantastic story! I loved every minute of this sorted fantastical tale. The Student of Prague is also a beautiful film visually. The camerawork seemed particularly competent among the films I watched from this era. The Student of Prague is lively paced and the story is utterly engaging. The mood and atmosphere in general is electric with mystery and suspense. The Student of Prague is superbly acted and while I certainly do have a significant crush on Mr. Veidt, his performance really is undeniably fantastic. The Student of Prague is a magnificently macabre and mysterious tale with fantastic visuals and great performances.

tsop

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#9 FAUST (1926)
Directed By: F.W. Murnau
Germany

Nosferatu was one of the first silent films I ever seen and I loved it so checking out director F. W. Murnau’s other work was a no brainer. Faust is a German-made film based on Goethe’s story. God and the Devil make a wager on Faust’s soul. The Devil will rule over all of humanity if he manages to corrupt Faust. During a terrible plague that has swept the town the devil appears to the frustrated Faust in the form of Mephisto, a pot-bellied middle-aged man. Faust makes a pact with the devil to help the dying people but this backfires and he is forced to seek the devil’s assistance once more. The Devil offers him youth which Faust readily accepts and as you might expect does not quite work out as he may have hoped. Frankly Faust was pretty easily tempted for a supposed good Christian but no matter as it makes for a helluva good watch! This film is yet another visual stunner. I am a little conflicted about the love conquers all message at the end but beyond that I have no complaints about this hypnotic, gorgeous well-acted masterpiece. Especially notable is Emil Jannings who plays Mephisto/The Devil; he plays the character with such panache that if Satan existed he would be proud. He perfectly embodies a mischievous little devil with his widow’s peak, goofy outfits and that naughty smirk. Such a fantastic character! The imagery of the Devil wrapping his massive black wings around an entire town is phenomenal; there are in fact numerous phenomenal scenes in Faust. The mood is eerie and intense with the right amount of lighter moments threaded through. The Score by Timothy Brock, performed by The Olympia Chamber Orchestra for the Kino DVD release of Faust is superb. Faust is a breath-taking, visual odyssey that is an absolute pleasure to behold. To read my full review click here.

faust

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#8 THE PENALTY (1920)
Directed By: Wallace Worsley
U.S.A.

The Penalty is the first of three films featuring Lon Chaney to make this top ten list. It is official, I am a fan. The Penalty is an American-made film directed by Wallace Worsley adapted from the book by Gouverneur Morris who also wrote the screenplay for the film. Morris’s father was a statesman and founding father of the United States! IMDB lists The Penalty as crime, drama, horror and while I am not really seeing the horror I enjoyed this film so damn much that I am sneaking it in as a genre film anyway. The Penalty does an extraordinary job of creating special details for its central character Blizzard. Lon Chaney’s character Blizzard is an amputee. Every aspect of his environment has been created to accommodate his legless stature. Pegs used for climbing walls, door knobs lowered, ramps, ladders and a fireman’s pole are employed. Chaney goes to great lengths when he plays a character. In The Penalty he moves about with the natural ease of a man who has actually been without legs most of his life. Blizzard is “lord and master of the underworld” and he is a brutal sonofabitch who is not afraid to rough up the ladies or have someone snuffed out for the most insufficient of reasons. The Penalty focuses on Blizzard’s elaborate plans for revenge. Blizzard should not have been an amputee and he intends on making the doctor who performed the operation, his family and the entire city of San Francisco pay! Chaney’s Blizzard is deliciously rotten and nasty to the core. Anyone who appreciates a good crime drama and fantastic performances should check out Wallace Worsley’s The Penalty. “Fate chained me to evil – for that I must pay the penalty.” To read my full review click here.

the penalty

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#7 THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1924)
Directed By: Robert Wiene
Germany

The Hands of Orlac is a German-made film directed by Robert Wiene who has two films in my top ten (the second is in the glory hole at #1) it also stars Conrad Veidt who makes three appearances in my top ten. The Hands of Orlac is based on a story by Maurice Renard. The Hands of Orlac is about a concert pianist who is in a terrible train accident where he is severely injured and loses the use of both of his hands. His wife Yvonne pleads with the surgeon to save her husband’s hands at any cost. The surgeon is unable to save the hands and opts to perform a transplant. The transplanted hands are those of a recently executed man named Vasseur which has lasting repercussions for the musician. Plagued by the notion that he has adapted the murderers affinity for killing he is tortured by their presence and begs the surgeon to remove them. The surgeon of course reassures Orlac that such a thing is impossible and actions are ruled by the heart and mind not the hands alone. Orlac’s inability to play the piano has caused the couples funds to quickly dwindle. Adding to his trauma is the murder of a loved one Orlac believes he may have committed and a blackmailing con artist. Orlac’s personal decent into hell is a joy to watch! Conrad Veidt is at the top of his game as Pianist Orlac! He is so deliciously animated and every move is perfect and haunting. As is the case with all the German silent films I watched for this feature the visuals are quite phenomenal; although expressionistic elements are a little more spare in this one than others from the period. The print I watched was not in the best condition unfortunately, but the elaborate visuals nonetheless shone through. I adored The Hands of Orlac and thought it was a tremendously fun and creepy little tale elevated hugely by a perfect performance from my man Conrad Veidt.

thoo

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#6 THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (1921)
Directed By: Victor Sjöström
Sweden

The Phantom Carriage is a Swedish-made horror film directed by and starring Victor Sjöström based on the novel by Selma Lagerlöf. Director Victor Sjöström plays the central character David Holm an alcoholic bastard. Sitting around getting stinky with a couple of his buddies they speak about the legend of death’s carriage. Allegedly the last person to die in a year is tasked with being the driver of the carriage that picks souls up for the following year. A friend of the group Georges had died the previous year and just may be the carriage driver. Crazy legends! Meanwhile a woman’s dying wish is to see David the drunken lout before she passes on. The dying woman is a good-hearted volunteer for the Salvation Army. David is located and his presence requested but he refuses to go see the woman. A drunken fight breaks out and David is killed just before the stroke of Midnight. And wouldn’t you know it, the legend is true! Soon the carriage driver, who is indeed his friend Georges appears to pass on his duties. The film from here is basically a series of flashbacks of which we see the deterioration of David and his character. We learn of the breakdown of his marriage and how he came to know the salvation army volunteer. The imagery of the “phantom carriage” is genuinely chilling. The special effects in this film are amazing! Victor Sjöström does a hell of a job with the visuals in The Phantom Carriage; it is absolutely gorgeous. The color tint and remastered print I watched was practically without flaw. Mr. Sjöström also does a brilliant job in his central role as David. I hated David although when all is said and done he does find some redemption. Spell-binding, gorgeous and unique; The Phantom Carriage was a real stand out from the decade.

tpc

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#5 THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)
Directed By: Rupert Julian
U.S.A.

The Phantom of the Opera is an American-made film adapted from the novel by Gaston Leroux. The film was directed by Rupert Julian but IMDB also lists Lon Chaney, Ernst Laemmle and Edward Sedgwick as “uncredited”. The film features Lon Chaney in the title role. This is the second of three films to make my top ten featuring the immensely talented Lon Chaney. Chaney’s makeup takes the cake! Bloody Hell! Look at that magnificent makeup! I said LOOK dammit! Really look! It almost brings a tear to my eye it is so goddamn beautiful! As if the man’s immense acting talents were not enough he actually did his own makeup! What the hell?! It takes my breath away! It really does! Has there ever been or will there ever be anyone quite like Lon Chaney in the world of acting? He died so tragically young it breaks my heart that the world of cinema lost someone so great so early! An immensely talented actor who went to incredible lengths for his work which is clearly illustrated with the three films on this very list! I had not seen The Phantom of the Opera in years but always loved it and that gorgeously grotesque makeup has always stayed with me. Those unfamiliar with this story, it is about a phantom that haunts a Paris opera house. The film opens with the opera house celebrating a new season and we meet Christine; the understudy to the prima donna. A sudden resignation of management due to the opera house ghost is laughed off, but not for long. The prima donna Carlotta receives a letter from the phantom demanding that she allow her understudy Christine to replace her. She of course refuses but the next evening she falls ill and Christine sings in her place. The phantom becomes completely entranced with Christine and begins speaking to her and eventually mesmerizes her and allows her to enter his trippy dream-like world. She becomes free to come and go from his world as she pleases. There is just one rule, she must never see what he looks like beneath the mask he wears. I am not sure how anyone who loves and admires cinema in general, horror or otherwise could not appreciate this grand production. The sets and costumes are lavish, the camera work and direction is skillfully executed, the effects are fantastic, the performances are pitch perfect and the atmosphere is eerie. A beautiful breath-taking affair that deserves all the praise heaped upon it.

tpoto

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#4 HAXAN (1922)
Directed By: Benjamin Christensen
Sweden

Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages is a Swedish-made documentary about witchcraft directed by Benjamin Christensen. Christensen shows how superstition and fevered religious beliefs poison the mind and cause human beings to act irrationally. Christensen spent two years pouring over countless manuals and other documents to learn as much as possible about witches. Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages consists of a series of images in the form of illustrations, models and re-enactments. He highlights the witch hunts, the confessions and torture devices used by the monks, female hysteria, and how shoplifting and sleepwalking might have been interpreted as devil possession or bewitching; among other topics. Häxan is, “A presentation from a cultural and historical point of view in 7 chapters of moving pictures.” Benjamin Christensen wrote the script and produced this film between the years 1919 and 1921 with help from Johan Ankerstjerne who did the photography and Richard Louw who handled the art direction. Häxan was heavily edited or outright banned in just about every country in the world. Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages is actually quite brutal at times and shocking even by today’s standards. At one point they bleed an unbaptized baby and throw it in a pot! The costumes, sets, props, art work, performances; everything about Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages is first-rate, not to mention incredibly informative. Häxan is without a doubt one of the most interesting and visceral documentary/docudramas I have ever seen. Whether you seen the full version or the truncated version narrated by William Burroughs you are getting a one of a kind treat. To read my full review click here.

haxan

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#3 THE UNKNOWN (1927)
Directed By: Tod Browning
U.S.A.

The Unknown is an American-made film directed by Tod Browning and starring Lon Chaney. Lon Chaney is the star of three films on my top ten! In The Penalty he had no legs and in The Unknown he has no arms. I was going to review those two films back to back but after reading my chum Jo’s review over at The Last Drive In I decided I should direct you there instead. In The Unknown Chaney plays knife thrower Alonzo the Armless. He is in love with the carnival owner’s daughter Nanon who also performs as his assistant. Alonzo however is not what he appears to be and is in fact a mastermind criminal with a deadly smirk. Man, you just gotta love Lon Chaney’s smirk! The talented Lon Chaney learned how to smoke and play the guitar with his freaking feet! You gotta respect that! Its appealing carnival premise and an outstanding performance from Chaney make this film well worth a visit. I would be amiss if I did not mention Joan Crawford in an early role as Nanon who is absolutely lovely and charming and is really perfect in the role. It is an intriguing story, lightening paced that made me wish it hadn’t ended so soon. A fantastic finale too I might add. I highly recommend you check out Jo’s awesome extensive review of The Unknown here. I also did a tumblr post of Alonzo and Nanon images here.

the unknown

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#2 NOSFERATU (1922)
Directed By: F.W. Murnau
Germany

Nosferatu is another German-made expressionist masterpiece and F.W. Murnau’s second film to make the top ten. The film focuses on Thomas Hutter tasked to travel deep into the mountains to meet with a Count Orlok who intends to purchase a residence in Wisburg. Strange and disturbing things occur while Hutter is a guest at the Count’s home and he becomes unwell and has difficulty making the long journey back home. His motivation is his beautiful wife Ellen who awaits his arrival but whose lovely neck has unfortunately caught the eye of the mysterious Count. There is some impressively immense and breath-taking scenery along the route Hutter takes from Wisburg to Orlok’s castle. The vastness and seclusion of his surroundings as he heads towards his destination, created an effective foreboding to the scenes that follow. Orlok’s castle is this amazing, massive, tomb-like structure. An ancient relic and the perfect nest for a vampire. The chilling scenes that take place on the ship Count Orlok travels to Wiburg in are especially effective. Nosferatu is a beautiful haunting film and Max Schreck as Count Orlok is nothing short of inspired. His captivating performance is a pleasure to behold. The hunch in his lanky frame, his bat-like ears and long pointy fingers cast a most intimidating shadow. Nosferatu’s bad-ass vampire, impressive visuals and eerie atmosphere make it a classic of the first order. To read my full review click here.

nosferatu

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#1 THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920)
Directed By: Robert Wiene
Germany

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a German-made expressionist masterpiece directed by Robert Wiene; Mr. Wiene’s second film to make the top ten. It is one of the better known films from the genre and rightfully so; it deserves every bit of praise that is oust upon it. I absolutely loved this film. I watched it twice just for the joy of it and had to scroll through it three times to do screen caps for slideshows. I would love to see this on the big screen and I think Zenzile, whose music I have featured this month would be the perfect live accompaniment. Every single gorgeous hand-painted set is extremely elaborate and immensely impressive, every beautiful minute of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is perfect. It is genuinely creepy and features a top-notch cast including Lil Dagover (Jane), Werner Krauss (Dr. Caligari) and the great Conrad Veidt (Cesare the somnambulist). It tells the tale of a man named Francis who attends Dr. Caligari’s act at a carnival passing through town with his friend Alan. Dr. Caligari presents Cesare the somnambulist who has been asleep for his entire twenty-three years on earth. He awakes the somnambulist who is able to predict people’s future. He predicts Alan will die that very night and the prediction comes true. Francis and his fiancée Jane become entwined in Dr. Caligari’s eerie world. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is “A film in six acts written by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz.” The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is not only visual eye candy it is also well written and well-performed. It has a perfect eerie atmosphere and a creepy vibe with an intriguing premise that keeps you mesmerized. I adore this film, and like every film on this top ten it will get repeat viewings in the years to come. To read my full review click here.

tcodc

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8 Responses to “Goregirl’s 20 Favourite Horror Films of the 1920s: #10 – #1”

  1. First-rate list,written with your usual stylish excellence. Although Hammer’s version will always be my favorite,I love the silent Phantom of the Opera,and I doubt Lon Chaney’s make-up will ever be surpassed for me. It’s amazing. Another silent film I truly adore yet doesn’t fall into the horror category for your list is The Lost World. Great job,Goregirl!

    • I had a look at The Lost World and it looks FANTASTIC! Added it to my library queue for January! I am DEEP into The Something Weird library right now and I am having SO much fun with these! I have a lot of music I am very excited about it for The Something Weird feature and have enjoyed the hell out of the vast majority of the titles I have seen thus far! Can’t wait to share the goodness! Happy Thanksgiving Conrad 🙂

  2. backlashcomix Says:

    That’s a great image at the top. Even before reading what the film is about, you can still feel the horror purely from the lighting and the frightened man making his way inside. I know that people have little patience for things which aren’t completely up to date these days, but black and white film can really capture an atmosphere that colour rarely can.

    • Absolutely! Many of these films had phenomenally eerie segments that were so much more effective than so many of the more current flicks I have watched in the last few years. I have always loved black and white photography but I am kinda in love with the color tint used in some of these silents also.

  3. Another great thing about FAUST: The old-age makeup for the actor in the title role was absolutely convincing, something many movies just can’t get quite right!

  4. […] according to IMDB there were only eight horror films made that year. I concluded the feature with my twenty favourite horror films from the decade and two of those films were 1927 entries; The Cat and the Canary and The […]

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    Goregirl’s 20 Favourite Horror Films of the 1920s: #10 – #1 | GOREGIRL’S DUNGEON

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