Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A History of Horror pt. I: The Silent Horror Films.

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A History of Horror Films

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Hello My Loyal & Awesome Readers, this is Das Film Junkie here introducing a new Mini-Segment to the Blog.  Now I mostly only review Straight to DVD Horror films made between 2001-and-the-present, but I wanted to try something different.  Instead of me tearing apart some Blood & Gore crap-fest, I decided that I wanted to talk about the Good Horror films that have left a lasting impression on filmmaking and open some of you up to some Horror films, that you may not have heard of or even seen.  This is a Mini-Segment that I am introducing to the blog called “A History of Horror Films”.  I am going to still post my regular reviews (and other things like Top 5’s, Retrospect’s, and 2-4-1 Specials), and I will try to limit these postings to only 1 per month so as to not overwhelm you the reader, but to also give you all the opportunity to provide feedback to this new segment of the blog.  Please, let me know what you think, and be sure to check out Part I of the “History of Horror” here on “Confessions of a Film Junkie”.
PART I.  Silent Horror Films

     Since the earliest days of motion pictures, there have been Horror films.  Since motion pictures were new form of visual medium and artistic expression, many of the early silent films relied and trial and experimentation.  Many early films had short running times as well.  Some films ranged from only a few minutes long to as much as an hour long.  This is quite a stark contrast between films today that typically range from 90 minutes to 120 minutes.  The shorter the film, the less time the filmmakers had to tell their story.                                
   Following the end of World War I in 1918 there was an emergence of “Expresionist” Art films that came out.  These films bounced across multiple genres and eventually managed to influence the earliest Horror films.  One such film was the 1920 German classic, “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” (translated into English: “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”).                    
“Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” was written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer.  Both Janowitz and Mayer were both heavily influenced by their experiences from World War I as well as some pre and post war activities.  For example, while attending a carnival in 1913 in his native Germany, Janowitz came across a young girl (whom he had never met before) named Gertrud.  The next day Janowitz was shocked to find that Gertrud had been found murdered in the woods.  While attending her funeral, Janowitz re-marked that he had an unsettling feeling that the killer was—perhaps—among the mourners attending Gertrud’s Funeral.  These experiences from Janowitz’s own life are a very good explanation as to why the murders in the film occur after the two main characters leave a carnival.                    
I ADORE these sets; they are phenomenal
   Another distinctive characteristic that set’s “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” apart from other early Silent Horror films was its creative and unique sets.  The set design for the film was heavily influenced by Austrian Expressionist artist Alfred Kubin, whom both Janowitz and Mayer wanted to personally design the set’s for the film.  However, the film’s producer, Erich Pommer would not give Janowitz or Mayer the funds to pay for Kubin and instead, Pommer paid his own studio crew to design the set for the film.  Most of the sets—actually—had to be painted in the dark because Pommer didn’t want to spend the extra money on his electricity bill.  Many of the sets were painted in black and white and contain spirals, curves, and many other German Expressionist designs.                   
Doctor Caligari & Cesare
What “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” is known most famously for is for being the first film to have a “twist-ending”.  Many film scholars and historians claim that “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” was the first film to an incorporate a twist ending into its plot.  This new idea shocked and impressed audiences who thought they were just walking in to see a film with a basic plot.  To this day, many people still consider it one of the best “Twist-endings” in film of All-Time.  What is this twist-ending, you may be asking.  I dare not spoil it for you.  This film is far too important for me to ruin the ending, and it simply must be viewed by all to appreciate its influence it has left on filmmaking.                                                   
    A shot-for-shot remake was done of the film in 2005.  The plot remained unchanged and the film studio actually re-created the entire set from the original 1920 film, which speaks volume of their dedication.  This fan has two benefits for modern movie watchers; it includes Sound and it was done in English.  It is ideal for those of people who find it difficult to make it through “silent films”.                                               
One year later, in 1921 another film following the German Expressionist art trend was made.   The name of the film was “Nosferatu”.  “Nosferatu” was another important early Silent Horror film, but unlike “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari”, which was an original story, “Nosferatu” is an unofficial (Or “unauthorized”) adaptation of Bram Stoker’s popular Horror novel, Dracula.  Since the film studio could not obtain the film rights for Stoker’s novel, some changes had to be made to avoid legal troubles.  The word “vampire” was replaced with “Nosferatu” and Count Dracula became “Count Orlok”.  Despite the name changes to all the characters, the films makers were still sued by the family of Bram Stoker, who ordered that all copies of “Nosferatu” be destroyed.  Fortunately, a few copies of “Noseferatu” were saved.                                          
    “Nosferatu” was a direct rip-off of Dracula, and even though Universal Film Studios got the rights to make an official adaptation of “Dracula” in 1931, many people still praise “Nosferatu” and believe it has left a legacy on all Horror films made since its release in 1922.                                   
Not all that Subtle, eh, Count Orlok?
    The make-up worn by actor Max Schreck’s for Count Orlok is still quite frightening, and has become one of the most iconic images in Horror films.  Despite its influence, and popularity, I still don’t get the appeal of “Nosferatu”.  I’m not saying it’s a bad film, I just feel like Bela Lugosi’s “Dracuala” (1931) is much better.  The problem with Max Schreck’s Count Orlok is that he looks like a monster, so there’s no subtlety or suspense whatsoever.  Lugosi actually looks like a person in “Dracula”, and so it’s much more suspenseful.           

The Most Iconoic Shadow in Horror Film History
     I hope you all enjoyed this article, and stay tuned for next week when we will be discussing the Universal Movie Monsters of the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s as well as other “Pre-Code” Horror Films

1 comment:

  1. Bravo! Caligari is still one of the best/most convincing twists I've ever seen. I still need to get to Nosferatu, wasn't there some crazy "making of" movie about it?