Archive for 1920

THE PENALTY (1920) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in movies, USA with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2013 by goregirl

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I had seen a handful of Lon Chaney films before starting this feature and had four others I wanted to watch before I put together my list of top twenty favourite horror films from the 1920s. Two of these were re-watches that I had seen too long ago to remember details. Bizarrely they all showed up last Monday. The vast majority of the DVDs I watched for this feature came from The Vancouver Public Library which had a phenomenal selection of silent horror films. The only problem with the library is the films are often in abysmal condition. I guess some folks feel they don’t need to treat the property of others with the same respect they would their own. That really sucks for the rest of us and those people are douchebags. I had to re-rent a few of the damaged DVDs through Zip (our version of Netflix). So yeah, I pick up two Lon Chaney films from the library on the way home on Monday and when I checked my mailbox there were another two waiting for me! It is sort of freaky that four Chaney flicks should all enter my life the same day. Eerie. A Blind Bargain, While Paris Sleeps, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and today’s subject review The Penalty. What is even more peculiar is these are all directed by the same man; Wallace Worsley! When I did some homework however it wasn’t really all that peculiar at all; Worsley directed Chaney in at least six films that I could find (Voices of the City (1921) and The Ace of Hearts (1921) were the other two titles). I enjoyed all four of these films but I only intended on reviewing one so I chose my favourite of the quartet. Chances are you will see a couple of those other titles on my top twenty favourites list. The Penalty is adapted from the book by Gouverneur Morris who also wrote the screenplay for the film. Morris’ pop was a statesman and founding father of the United States! I wonder what dad thought of his son writing pulp fiction for a living? He should have been damn proud if you ask me because The Penalty is a rock solid bad-ass crime drama! IMDB lists the film 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

The vast majority of the 1920 horror films I watched have been from Germany and USA. There is no two ways about it, the Germans bitch-slapped the American’s visually speaking. The American’s however certainly know how to tell a story. The Penalty did not wow me with its beauty but it sure as hell impress me with its details! I can not believe the effort that was put in to making Lon Chaney’s character’s environment. Lon Chaney plays a character named Blizzard who 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; even a freaking fireman’s pole has been installed to take him from one floor to another! It is extremely admirable. Chaney goes to great lengths when he plays a character. In The Unknown he plays an armless knife thrower (wrap your head around that) and he not only throws knives with his feet, he plays the guitar and smokes a cigarette effortlessly; like he was actually born that way. In The Penalty he moves about with that same natural ease of a man who has actually been without legs from childhood. It is impossible not to admire an actor who goes to this sort of effort. Chaney’s 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 minor of infractions. He isn’t only a mean sonofabitch, he’s an intelligent one. The Penalty focuses on Blizzard’s elaborate plans for revenge. Blizzard should not have been an amputee and he intends on making not only the doctor and his family pay but the entire city. All of San Francisco shall feel the wrath of Blizzard! Bloody Hell! I love how rotten and nasty Chaney is in The Penalty. I have watched several Lon Chaney films over the course of this year, including some outside of the genre and I think Blizzard is one of his best baddies; and the man has played a few. I was unfamiliar with The Penalty before embarking on this 1920s project and I am hugely pleased to have stumbled upon it. If you appreciate a good crime drama with some punch from the silent era you really need to check out Wallace Worsley’s The Penalty.

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The Penalty opens with a prologue. A boy is the victim of a traffic accident and a young Dr. Ferris makes a bad call. The boy has suffered a contusion at the base of his skull and his legs have been badly damaged. Dr. Ferris makes the call to amputate both of the child’s legs above the knee. His mentor is horrified by his decision.

“Good God! You should not have amputated!”
“You’ve mangled this poor child for life!”

The boy overhears this conversation.

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We jump ahead twenty-seven years to San Francisco; the richest city in the Western world.

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Barbary Nell is attacked and killed.

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Blizzard, “lord and master of the underworld” ain’t afraid of no copper.

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Lichtenstein of the Federal Secret Service with Rose one of his top operatives. Lichtenstein has asked Rose if she would be willing to go undercover as one of Blizzard’s employees. Rose accepts the detail. Lichtenstein believes Blizzard is hatching something huge that will put the entire city at risk.

“It means living in that devil’s house til you find out what he is up to.”

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One of Blizzard’s cronies.

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Blizzard has the gals from his dance hall working in his home making hats. Here he is checking in on their handiwork and finds some shoddy workmanship. Chaney roughs one of the dames up good as a lesson to them all. Her co-workers look on in horror.

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This is Blizzard’s flavor of the month. The gals in Blizzard’s favor get the opportunity to peddle while he plays the piano. Feeling bolstered by his plans for revenge and city wide domination he barks;

“And I shall walk as men walk! I shall be the master of a city! And for my mangled years the city shall pay me with the pleasures of a Nero and the powers of a Caesar. But you won’t live to see it if you don’t pedal better!”

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Barbara Ferris; daughter of the aforementioned surgeon Dr. Ferris. Barbara has dedicated her life to art. Here Barbara is pictured with her father’s assistant Dr. Wilmot Allen; who is also her intended.

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Lichtenstein is disappointed that Rose has yet to uncover anything about Blizzard’s plans.

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Blizzard uses a fireman’s pole to move from one floor to another.

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Rose finds Blizzard’s hidden underground lair below the fireplace.

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Wanted: Model to pose for statue of “Satan after the fall” if you think you look like Satan apply at studio of Barbara Ferris 32 Institute Place.

Blizzard has the perfect “in” to begin enacting his revenge. Who better to pose as the devil than he?

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Blizzard aka “Satan after the fall” in clay form.

“Why do you live in the underworld?

“When Satan fell from Heaven he looked for power in Hell.”

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Rose attempts to send Lichtenstein a note about what she has found in Blizzard’s hidden underground lair. Unfortunately Blizzard intercepts the letter. Blizzard has a bit of a soft spot for Rose on account of her top-notch peddling.

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Blizzard and Dr. Ferris “the now famous surgeon” finally meet.

“I have followed every step of your career and you have indeed profited by your early mistakes.”

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Blizzard’s plan is hatched.

“Your ten thousand foreign malcontents will filter into the city in small detachments.
By fire and riots I shall draw the police and military into the suburbs.”

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Blizzard tells Rose he intercepted her letter. Instead of fearing for her life Rose is relieved as she has bizarrely fallen in love with this most unlovable of men.

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Blizzard has one of those nasty trap doors built-in the floor. He has found himself a nice pair of replacement legs.

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He prepares his “replacement legs” for surgery.

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He blackmails Dr. Ferris into conducting the surgery.

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Blizzard recovering with Rose at his side.

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No spoilers kids. The Penalty ends with the following:

“Fate chained me to evil – for that I must pay the penalty.”

Dungeon Rating: 4.5/5

Directed By: Wallace Worsley

Starring: Lon Chaney, Charles Clary, Doris Pawn, Jim Mason, Milton Ross, Ethel Grey Terry, Kenneth Harlan, Claire Adams

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in Germany, horror, movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2013 by goregirl

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Banner

According to Wikipedia Expressionism is: A modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas. Expressionist artists sought to express meaning or emotional experience rather than physical reality. Expressionism was developed as an avant-garde style before the First World War. It remained popular during the Weimar Republic, particularly in Berlin. The style extended to a wide range of the arts, including expressionist architecture, painting, literature, theatre, dance, film and music.

According to Guggenheim Museum (online) Expressionism is: Primarily Germany, and Austria, first decade of 20th century. The very elastic concept of Expressionism refers to art that emphasizes the extreme expressive properties of pictorial form in order to explore subjective emotions and inner psychological truths.

According to Goregirl Expressionism is: A mostly German thing as far as I know. Used in some very freaking cool German silent movies the bestest and shiningest example of which is Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The sets all look artificial and everything is severely angled and exaggerated in size. Every single gorgeous hand-painted set is extremely elaborate and immensely impressive. I dreamt of walking through a Dr. Caligari forest to a Dr. Caligari carnival every night for the past several nights. I’ve dreamt of being chased by letters of the alphabet and being kidnapped by a handsome somnambulist who wears a lot of eyeliner. I can not expressionism myself more clearly when I tell you anyone who loves and appreciates art and all things wonderful, strange and unique must absolutely positively visit Robert Wiene’s amazing The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Viva la Expressionsim!

Writers Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer started the ball rolling with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’s concept. The two were excited by this still very new medium called filmmaking. An endeavor that would bring together artists of all kinds; painters, actors, writers and photographers. The two men admired the work of Paul Wegener (The Student of Prague, Der Golem) and decided to begin work on a horror tale. The men drew on their experiences as all good writers should. Janowitz and Mayer regularly visited a local fair and were inspired by the sideshows; a key part of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’s plot. The film’s visuals were put in the very capable hands of designer Hermann Warm and painters Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig. Fritz Lang was the first director approached but was committed to another project. Robert Wiene (whose film The Hands of Orloc is the next film in my queue to watch) was brought in to direct and the rest is history. I watched both a black and white and color tinted version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari but I went with the pics from the color tinted version. I thought the images were sharper in the black and white version but I am a little bit in love with color tint at the moment so I decided to go with that print.

“The following print of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (with the original color tinting and toning) was reconstructed by the Bundesarchiv – Filmarchiv of Germany.”


A small German village called Holstenwall is the setting for our strange tale. 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. The performances are all excellent but the iconic role of Cesare the Somnambulist played by the immensely talented Conrad Veidt is particularly memorable.


Francis relays a story to a companion after a dazed woman walks by. The dazed woman is Jane; Francis’ fiancée. “What she and I have lived through is stranger still than what you have lived through.”


This is Francis’ best friend Alan. Alan and himself both have their eye on Jane. The two decide to visit a carnival travelling through town. “Special edition fair in Holstenwall for the first time! Entertainments of every variety.”


“Step Rrrrright Up! Presenting here for the first time Cesare the Somnambulist! The miraculous Cesare twenty-three years old, he has slept for twenty-three years continuously; day and night. Cesare the Somnambulist will answer all your questions. Cesare knows every secret. Cesare knows the past and sees the future. Judge for yourselves. Don’t hold back! Ask Away!”



Alan cannot resist asking Cesare how long he shall live. Cesare tells Alan that he will die at dawn.


Alan and Francis pause to read a post on the wall “Murder in Holstenwall 1000 Mark reward.”


The somnambulist’s prophecy comes true and Alan is murdered at dawn.


Francis goes to the police. “I won’t rest until I get to the bottom of these dreadful deeds!”


Francis tells Jane of Alan’s death.


“Extra! Extra! Holstenwall mystery solved; two-time murderer caught in third attempt.

“I had nothing to do with the two murders, so help me god.”

Indeed this gentleman has been wrongly accused.



Jane meets Dr. Caligari and Cesare. Dr. Caligari orders the sleeping Cesare to murder nosy Jane but her beauty prevents Cesare from ending her life. Cesare attempts to kidnap her but gets exhausted from the chase.


Back in the safety of her home she tells Francis it was Cesare who tried to abduct her. “It couldn’t be Cesare! He was asleep at the time. I’ve watched him for hours.”


Dr. Caligari.




Francis goes to the Insane Asylum and asks the staff if they have a patient called Caligari. They recommend that Francis speak to the director personally.

“He, himself and none other than Caligari!”

“While the director now placed under observation is sleeping in his villa…” They take the opportunity to snoop through the director/Dr. Caligari’s office and discover a book on somnambulists as well as the doctor’s diary.


“Director, unmask yourself, you are Dr. Caligari!”


The film ends with a great twist although it was not the ending that writers Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer originally wrote for the film. Apparently the producers wanted a less grim ending and suggested the ending that was actually used; which I will not divulge for those who may not have seen it. I have seen close to thirty silent horror films at this point in my life and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is absolutely one of the best and most unique amoung them. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari deserves heaps of praise; it is a hypnotic, creepy and visually spectacular masterpiece.

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Robert Wiene

Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Rudolf Lettinger

Goregirl’s Dungeon on YouTube: Zenzile – Cesare (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)

Posted in Germany, horror, movies with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2013 by goregirl

Another groovy track from Zenzile! Zenzile’s take on the score for Robert Wiene’s 1920 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with images from Mr. Wiene’s film. Also check out my two nifty tumblr posts dedicated to Cesare here and here. Tomorrow I will have a review for Robert Wiene’s gorgeous film!