Showing posts with label lost horror films. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lost horror films. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Film Dirt's 31 Days of Silent Horror Films


Think Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are all the world of silent horror has to offer? Have I got a surprise for you!

I've seen a lot of people talking about watching 31 horror films during the month of October—one film for every day of Halloween month. It occurred to me that it would be an interesting challenge to do the same, but specifically with silent horror films. With that in mind, I plan to watch and blog about 31 silent horror films, beginning this Thursday.


I'll be covering some old favorites in unexpected ways, but some of the titles I'll be choosing may be unfamiliar to many readers. In fact, I'm betting a lot of people can only name a handful of silent horror films. It's time to fix that! My book has me spending so much time researching lost horror films that it's going to be a real treat to write about films that still actually exist.

I'll be editing this page frequently to act as a hub for all 31 posts. This also is a good time to subscribe to Film Dirt, which you can do by email or RSS feed on the sidebar.  You can also keep up with current posts by liking Film Dirt on Facebook (also to the right), where you'll also find a lot of obscure photos and film ephemera.

If you can't wait till Thursday, check out some of these articles on lost horror films. Sadly, no one will get to watch these films in October—or possibly ever:

Phyllis Gordon: The First Movie Werewolf (1913)

The Lost First Film Version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1908)

The Lost Film Version of the Monkey's Paw (1933) 

Absinthe: A Lost Film on the Terrors of Addiction (1914)


If you have a favorite silent horror film, I'd love to hear about it in the comments. See you Thursday!

===

Film Dirt's 31 Days of Silent Horror Films: The Complete List

  1.  Wolf Blood (1924) *
  2.  A Page of Madness (1926) *
  3.  Haxan (1922) *
  4.  The Unknown (1927) *
  5.  Waxworks (1924) *
  6.  Un Chien Andalou (1929) 
  7.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)  
  8.  Hangman's House (1928) 
  9.  The Lodger (1927) 
  10.  Maciste in Hell (1926) 
  11.  The Monster ( 1925)  
  12.  Three short films by Segundo de Chomón (1908) *
  13.  Danse Macabre (1922)
  14.  The Penalty (1920)   
  15.  Genuine (1920) 
  16.  The Bat (1926) 
  17.  Edison's Frankenstein (1910) 
  18.  The Cat and the Canary (1927)
  19.  The Fall of the House of Usher (1928 short)
  20.  The Haunted House (1921) 
  21.  Destiny/Der Müde Tod (1921)  
  22.  The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
  23.  Menilmontant (1926)
  24.  Die Pest in Florenz (The Plague in Florence) 1919 
  25.  Warning Shadows (1923)
  26.  Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920) 
  27.  Au Secours! (1924) 
  28.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)  
  29.  The Hands of Orlac (1924) 
  30.  Fall of the House of Usher / La Chute de la Maison Usher (1928)   
  31.  The Phantom of the Moulin Rouge (1925)
* Denotes full reviews.
 




Sunday, August 16, 2015

Phyllis Gordon: The First Movie Werewolf

Lost films are fascinating by their very nature, and the fragments of stories that they’ve left behind are haunting. One of the reasons I’m drawn to lost horror films in particular is the loss of so many firsts: the first full-length adaptation of Frankenstein, for example, and film’s first Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The first film appearance of Dracula, the first Phantom of the Opera, and the first mummy film are also lost.

One of the early horror films whose loss I most lament is 1913’s The Werewolf, and not just because it was the first werewolf film ever made, but because the werewolf is a woman. Let that sink in for a moment: the first movie werewolf was a woman. It’s a fact that few people are aware of, thanks to the fact that the film has been lost for almost a hundred years (like the vast majority of silent films).

Gordon played ingenue roles in almost fifty silent-era films, most of which are lost, but you can still see her today in a small role as a housekeeper in Another Thin Man (1939). She’s fifty years old by then, and she may have seemed like housekeeper material to studio execs, but she was still quite the glamourpuss in real life, and the photograph of her walking her pet cheetah on a downtown London street often makes the rounds on the internet. Few who post it seem to know that the photograph is of Phyllis Gordon, and that she was once a silent movie actress. Even fewer know that she originated the character of the movie werewolf.

Phyllis Gordon walking her pet cheetah in 1939.


In 1913, she was 24 years old and at the height of her acting career when Bison Films cast her in The Werewolf. Gordon plays Watuma, a Native American woman who shapeshifts into a wolf to fight off invading white settlers in the two-reel movie. What we know about the film comes mainly from brief reviews and synopses in silent film magazines, such as this one from Universal Weekly:

“The play opens in pioneer days. Kee-On-Ee, an Indian maiden is married to Ezra Vance, a trail blazer. When her child is five years old, Kee-On-Ee is driven back to her tribe by Ezra’s brother, who scorns all squaws. Ezra is killed by an old enemy and Kee-On-Ee, thinking his failure to return to her to be indifference, brings up her child, Watuma, to hate all white men.

When the child is grown, Clifford and a party of prospectors appear. Kee-On-Ee, now a hag, sees her way to be revenged. She sends her daughter to Clifford’s camp and he is driven nigh mad by her beauty. Clifford finds her in the arms of a young Indian. She taunts him. Enraged beyond control, Clifford shoots the buck. He flees to the mission. Watuma leads the enraged Indians against the Friars. When one of them raises a cross, Watuma slowly dissolves into a slinking wolf.

A hundred years later, Clifford, now reincarnated in the form of Jack Ford, a miner, receives a visit from his sweetheart, Margaret. Hunting with her he comes upon a wolf which he is unable to shoot. The wolf dissolves into the woman of old, and there appears before his puzzled eyes the scene where he slew the Brave. The “Wolf-woman” would caress him, but he throws her off. She returns again as the wolf and kills his sweetheart. Clifford’s punishment for the deed of past life is made complete at the death of the one he loved.”

 
Phyllis Gordon as Watuma, the "wolf-woman" who seeks vengeance by shapeshifting into a wolf.





It would be almost twenty more years before a film featured a female monster that anyone still really remembers—The Bride of Frankenstein. It’s worth noting that Bison Films was a brand of Universal Studios, which means that Phyllis Gordon was not only the first film werewolf, but may technically have played the first Universal Monster.

What makes the loss of this film even more poignant to me is how much its existence, if it had stuck around, could have changed the very idea of film werewolves. The Wolf Man and Werewolf of London established the rules of werewolf movies for decades to come, but how would those rules have been different if The Werewolf had stuck around? Would werewolves be thought of as female monsters? Would the long-established trope of male-as-monster and female-as-victim be inverted?

We might know the answers to these questions if Universal hadn’t destroyed its silent film collection in 1948. While many silent films were lost to fire, just as many were lost due to intentional destruction, as studios thought they were too worthless to store. Perhaps Watuma should have set her werewolf sights on thoughtless studio executives as well.


I’ll be expanding on the story of film’s first werewolf in my upcoming book on lost horror films, along with many other stories of long-lost films. Subscribe to Film Dirt (several options on the right), and/or follow on Facebook for more forgotten film stories.

This post was written as part of the Anti-Damsel Blogathon, hosted by Movies Silently. You can read the rest of the entries by clicking the image below.

http://moviessilently.com/2015/08/10/update-the-anti-damsel-blogathon-schedule/

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Lost First Film Version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1908)

One of the things that pains me most when it comes to lost horror films is the loss of so many firsts. Gone, possibly forever, are the first full-length adaptation of Frankenstein, the first depiction of Stoker’s Dracula, the first film werewolf, the first mummy—and the list goes on and on. And what makes the loss even more of a tragedy is when there are not even surviving posters or photographs for the production. It’s almost as if the film never existed at all.

That’s the case with the first film version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Its loss is especially  ironic, considering that theater is, by its nature, an ephemeral medium, and yet we have more artifacts around from the first stage version of the story than we do for the first movie. 


Cabinet card of Richard Mansfield in his dual stage role. 
 
Advertising poster for a stage production, 1880s.

Handbill for Mansfield at the Lyceum.



Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel had become a hit when it was transferred to stage by English actor Richard Mansfield. His transformation into the gruesome Mr. Hyde was thought so convincing that some theater-goers deemed it a little too convincing. At least one spooked audience member wrote to the police in 1888, suggesting that Mansfield might be Jack the Ripper. No one took the idea seriously, but the show closed early anyhow. “There is quite enough to make us shudder out of doors,” wrote one reporter.

Mansfield took his performance on the road, and he continued to play the dual role to great acclaim until his death in 1907. While Mansfield’s performance may have been the most famous stage version, it was by no means the only one: stage versions of Stevenson’s novel were being performed by companies all over the world. One of the better-known productions around the time of Mansfield’s death was that of the Thomas R. Sullivan Company, who had been touring with the show since 1897, with a script by Luella Forepaugh and George F. Fish.

It was this company that Colonel William Selig, of the Polyscope Film Company, saw perform Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde in Chicago, and he was taken with the idea of recreating the show on film. Selig used the theatrical company cast in what would become the first filmed version of the famous story, condensing its four acts into a one-reeler. Otis Turner, who would go on to direct the first silent film version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, directed.

Selig's Chicago studio, before moving west.
Hobart Bosworth, film's first Jekyll, on a 1916 cigarette card.
 
Bosworth in a stage costume, around 1900.




Being signed by Selig was a life-changer for Hobart Bosworth, the stage actor playing Dr. Jekyll and his evil counterpart. His stage career was pretty much at an end, as tuberculosis was robbing him of his voice, though he was still in good physical condition. Silent film turned out to be the perfect medium for him, and he went on to star in dozens of films, taking rest breaks to keep his tuberculosis in remission. (He lived to be 76.) Co-star Betty Harte also caught the film bug. After signing on to Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, she went to make 107 more silent films in her career.

While the stage play was drastically condensed, the film left the most dramatic elements intact. Like just about every adaptation of the novel, it veered from Stevenson’s story—which doesn’t reveal that Jekyll & Hyde are the same man until the end. The film, like the stage plays, revealed the truth right away, allowing Bosworth to writhe and contort himself into the horrible Hyde. In subsequent scenes, Hyde attacked a girl named Alice, then murdered her father. The film concluded with Hyde, fearing the gallows, taking a poison that ends the life of both identities.

An interesting aspect of the film as described by those who saw it was that it began and ended with the raising of a stage curtain. Though filmed, it was made clear to the audience that they would be watching an adaptation of the famous play. Critics enjoyed it, and one said of Bosworth’s performance that “the change is displayed with a dramatic ability almost beyond comprehension.” (Bosworth was lucky that, unlike Mansfield, he wasn’t rumored to be a serial killer.)

Out of the hundreds of films made by Selig Polyscope, only a handful survive. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is not one of them. Just as there were dozens of stage productions of the story, though, more film versions soon followed. In fact, Jekyll & Hyde is one of the most filmed novels, ever. Over the next few years, it would be filmed about a dozen times (including a lost version by F.W. Murnau). The total  number of film versions today is closer to 125.

The oldest surviving version is a 1912 Thanhouser film directed by Lucius Henderson and starring James Cruze. Not the first Jekyll & Hyde by a long shot, but at least we have it.



You can also placate yourself with the transformation scene from a lot of people’s favorite version: the 1931 Mamoulian-directed Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde with Frederic Marsh.




Is this 1908 film in your secret vault? And if not, do you have a favorite version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde?





Thursday, August 14, 2014

Absinthe (1914): A Lost Film on the Terrors of Addiction

From Reefer Madness’ famous defenestration to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s PCP freakout in Death Drug, poor-souls-under-the-influence films are more often a source of hilarity than horror. These types of scenes, though, were meant to scare the daylights out of the masses—and scare them straight. 

Absinthe was among the first films of its kind, depicting the horrific hallucinations and criminal repercussions of addiction to the alcoholic liquid nicknamed “the green fairy.” Released in January of 1914, the film's scare tactics may have worked. Absinthe was banned in August of the same year in France (it had already been banned in the States in 1912).


 
Ads from Moving Picture World.


It didn't seem to matter to the public that the tales of absinthe's psychoactive properties were false (it's no more hallucinatory than any alcoholic beverage). Temperance societies (and winemakers, who didn't like the competition) circulated stories of the evils of absinthe, claiming it led to insanity and violent crime. 

They ran with the story of Jean Lanfray, a Swiss farmer who murdered his family after consuming absinthe, conveniently ignoring the fact that he had been drinking wine and liquor all day, topped off with a mere two ounces of absinthe. It was an alcohol-fueled rage that led to the murder, and not an absinthe-induced hallucination, but the stories persisted. 


French anti-absinthe poster.


A 1906 petition calling for the ban of absinthe outlined its perceived evils and echoed the beliefs of much of the public:


"Absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country."

It was into this climate that the Independent Moving Pictures Co. (now under the umbrella of Universal) released Absinthe. From what we can glean from newspapers and film magazines, the four-reel film centers on a French artist, Jean Dumas, who is introduced to absinthe by his mistress (he is French, after all). Dumas becomes addicted to the drink, and becomes a full-on absinthe fiend, joining an Apache gang and committing robberies to fuel his need. He strangles his own wife to death in the course of one of the robberies, and ultimately ends up as a ruin, mocked even by dirty street urchins.


Still of Baggot in a hallucination scene. (Illustrated Films Monthly)




Production still from Absinthe.

King Baggot played the absinthe fiend, and he was at the height of his career. Said to be the first individually-publicized leading man, Baggot was fresh from his stint in the Brenon-helmed 1913 film of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde when he was cast as the lead in Absinthe, which Herbert Brenon wrote as well as directed. Leah Baird was cast as his wife. Baird began her film career playing opposite Jean, the Vitagraph Dog (a subject for a future post, perhaps?) and ultimately turned to screenwriting, but in 1914, she was a well-liked leading lady.



Baird and Baggot on collectible stamps.


Brenon hauled the whole cast to Paris in a bid for authenticity, and Baggot was said to have spent his time among the lowlifes and absinthe addicts to study their habits. The result was a film that the audiences of the time took as absolute truth—just short of a documentary in its depiction of the evils of absinthe. 

Absinthe received rave reviews, and was so successful that it was revived again in 1916, and newspaper ads show that it continued to play in some theaters for at least two more years. 

While Absinthe is lost (there are no known reels in existence), its legacy lingers in the form of shows and films that sensationalize whatever is deemed to be the cause of violence and social ills—and not just drugs and alcohol, but video games, the Internet, or fast food. There's always something to blame.





Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Lost Film Version of the Monkey's Paw (1933)

The second of three lost film articles to originally appear at Book Dirt. Brand new content will begin appearing next week, so be sure and subscribe.


W. W. Jacobs’ short story “The Monkey’s Paw” is undeniably a horror classic. It’s a staple of anthologies, and almost anyone with even the vaguest interest in horror has encountered some version of it. The Monkees borrowed it for an episode, Alfred Hitchcock filmed it fairly faithfully, The Simpsons spoofed it, and Stephen King built on its theme in gruesome ways for Pet Sematary.

Oddly enough, Jacobs was known mostly as a writer of humorous stories. Many of them even appeared in The Idler, the British magazine co-edited by Jerome K. Jerome (and discussed a little more in this recent forgotten book post). “The Monkey’s Paw” first appeared in a collection called The Lady of the Barge, and the cover alone is evidence that the stories are more sweet than scary. It’s this one horror tale that has proven to be Jacobs’ legacy, though. 

 
"The Monkey's Paw" first appeared in a 1902 collection.


Some have noted that there’s never been a really successful film version of the story, but it’s quite possible that the lost 1933 version may have been one of the best. The first talkie version of “The Monkey’s Paw” (it was also filmed in 1915 and  1923), the movie was made at a time when horror films were starting to really gain steam. Filmed during David O. Selznick’s short production stint with RKO, it was directed by Wesley Ruggles, himself on an upswing from directing Cimmaron, the first western to win Best Picture.

The story as written is only a few pages long, so it’s no wonder that so many filmed versions are short features. The 1933 film expanded on the story, adding extra characters (and some sex appeal along the way), and giving some background on the origins of the enchanted paw with a prequel set in India. 

 

Lobby cards for The 1933 Monkey's Paw, the first sound version.


The cast included C. Aubrey Smith as Sgt. Major Morris, the man who brings the paw to the White family. Smith was a British ex-pat who made a career out of playing distinguished gentleman roles in Hollywood -- a quick look at his parts on IMDB reveals a slew of character names preceded by “Colonel” and “Sir.” He was a ringleader of sorts to a group of British film actors working in America that were sometimes referred to as the Hollywood Raj.

Ivan F. Smith and Louise Clark played the Whites, and their son Herbert was played by Bramwell Fletcher. Classic horror buffs know Fletcher from his small but memorable role in 1932’s The Mummy as the Egyptologist who completely goes to pieces. (Check out the clip; it’s one hell of a crack-up.) 




 
The movie’s eye candy came in the form of sultry Nina Quartero (and what a form it was). Quartero was often cast with her looks in mind, playing torchy Latin dancers and bar girls, plus a slew of “other woman” roles. She was often the foil to the nicer, blonder lead actresses. While her role in The Monkey’s Paw was likely a small one, the film posters make the most of her assets. No doubt her raven hair and naked shoulders were deemed more of a box-office draw than Louise Carter’s matronly bun and apron. 

 
Nina Quartero in a publicity still (top), and in an added prequel scene in The Monkey's Paw.

What makes the lost film seem most exciting, though, is an actual review from a viewer. It’s not a critic’s take, or one of the many hoax reviews of lost films that unfortunately turn up all over the place (a subject for another post), but an IMDB post from an elderly user who saw the movie in 1933, at the age of nine, and was plenty spooked.
 
“It was so scary that the memory has stuck with me for some 71 years,” he says. “It seems that it was always raining, with lightning and thunder, and people coming in wet and cold, and that most of the action took place at night -- a real film noir!”

Most compelling, perhaps, is the description of the monkey’s paw itself, which no doubt made a big impression on a child:

“White nervously held the paw in his hand and spoke the wish for money. At that instant, naturally, there was a blinding flash of lightning close by with an immediate crash of thunder! The dead hand of the monkey contracted into a fist momentarily, then returned to its curved-fingers relaxed position. I saw this clearly on the screen, but I'm not sure the characters in the movie saw it.”

While you can’t watch the 1933 Monkey’s Paw (not even a trailer exists), you can watch some of the other versions, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s TV adaptation, as well as some more modern retellings.

Or, you can go back to the source with the links below.


Free at Project Gutenberg (Lady of the Barge collection)
Free at Amazon (collection)