Hello to all those faithfully reading and hopefully enjoying this effort to make even the worst horror movie more watcha... aw, screw that - I'm not that good. If a movie makes you cringe because yet another batch of unlikable teens that are pushing 30 are inching toward their deaths, having a party no one does anywhere ever, a paranormal movie is boring you to tears with unending pans of empty rooms, or thanks to CGI technology when people finally bite it, their blood squirts everywhere except on the victim, the ground, the people next to them... you're in good company and this is the right place for you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

IN THE BEGINNING THEY GOT IT RIGHT




The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920) German, Silent
The Phantom Of The Opera (1925) 

US, Silent

Be quiet, a little culture is good for you. I'd managed to see the original Phantom some time ago (I actually haven't seen any of the remakes) and loved it. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was offered a couple of times but I somehow didn't ever get around to it. Both these movies are now available on Netflix so if you have an hour (107 minutes for Phantom) it is well worth it.



The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari: I thought hmm, German horror. It is considered one of the greatest horror movies of the silent era although, lets be blunt, there's not a whole lot of them out there to compare against each other anymore. I understand there's a nicely restored version of this movie out there - I don't know if this particular copy is it but the title cards were redone in a kind of scrawling script that made it a bit hard to read - but it was English. The sets are surreal (everything seems to lean at an angle, including buildings) the people of course in the really thick makeup used to 'express' the emotions they couldn't voice. This is also thought to have introduced the twist ending. I wish current film makers would watch this one and learn how it's done.

Our story is told by Francis who is in an asylum telling his shrink why he's there. A catatonic woman floats by and he calls her Jane, his fiancee'. And it begins: Francis and Alan both love Jane. They've determined to let her decide and stay friends no matter what. One day a carnival comes to town, featuring Dr. Caligari and what he calls his somnambulist (sleepwalker). This man he calls Cesare is supposed to be 23 years old and asleep his entire life (I think that's called a coma but...) and Caligari claims he never wakes unless the doctor tells him to.

After collecting a group and their money he takes them in a tent where a coffin-like cabinet stands. He slowly opens it and we get a good look at Cesare (this is supposed to build suspense, nothing happens fast - it's all very deliberate). He invites the audience to ask Cesare a question since he supposedly also knows past, present and future. Alan gets the courage to go up and asks how long he will live. We already know that answer - sorry this is good and original, I'll shut up. Cesare answers that Alan will be dead by dawn. Alan is brutally murdered during the night and found dead the next morning.

These people may be small town rubes but they're not that stupid. They know that somehow Dr. Caligari and Cesare are responsible. The sets are just gorgeous, the setup is superior and of course it is found out that Dr. Caligari substitutes a dummy of Cesare to put in the box (in case anyone's watching) and sends Cesare out to do his dirty work. And this time he's after Jane. Does he get her? Well...

After hearing this tale, the psych is astonished - until Francis shows him that Jane and Cesare are fellow inmates and Dr. Caligari is in fact the director of the asylum. It is really Francis' delusion that created this whole scenario. The director, now knowing what's in Francis' mind, says now he can cure him.



The Phantom Of The Opera: Oh I would love to get hold of more Lon Chaney movies. He was such a master of his craft - using the most of the little they had to make magic. He plays a deformed man who haunts the Paris Opera House. He falls in love with a woman and her voice, and threatens the House with horrific deeds unless they make her the star of the current opera they are performing. The woman's name is Christine, and although she is already engaged the Phantom wants her for his own but, of course, cannot let her see him.



Because of his threats towards the people of the House and his tutelage of her voice, she rises up the ranks of the singers until she is the prima donna. He wants her but of course knows the second she sees his hideous face it's all over.

And the rest... well you really need to see it yourself. It is love and betrayal and longing and more betrayal and of course, the fabulous Lon Chaney. Any other version is just, well if you want to actually HEAR an opera, see the remake. If you want to SEE a truly good story, watch the original. It's one of those few stories where you actually WISH the monster could win...