Archive for Wallace Worsley

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

Posted in movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2013 by goregirl

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

Directed By: Henrik Galeen

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.



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

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.



#8 THE PENALTY (1920)
Directed By: Wallace Worsley

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


Directed By: Robert Wiene

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.



Directed By: Victor Sjöström

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.



Directed By: Rupert Julian

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.



#4 HAXAN (1922)
Directed By: Benjamin Christensen

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.



#3 THE UNKNOWN (1927)
Directed By: Tod Browning

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


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

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.



Directed By: Robert Wiene

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.



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

Posted in movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2013 by goregirl

#20 THE BELLS (1926)
Directed By: James Young

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


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

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


Directed By: Paul Leni

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.



Directed By: Paul Leni

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


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

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.



Directed By: Carl Theodor Dreyer

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.



Directed By: Wallace Worsley

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.



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

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.



Directed By: Arthur Robison

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


Directed By: Fritz Lang

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!



THE PENALTY (1920) – The Dungeon Review!

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

the penalty banner

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