Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Haunted House (1921)

The Haunted House is a hilarious short directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton, written by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton, and produced by Joseph M. Schenck.  The short stars Buster Keaton (of course), Virginia Fox,  and frequent Keaton antagonist "Big" Joe Roberts.  It also costars Edward F. Cline (as one of the bank customers), Dorothy Cassil, and Natalie Talmadge (she's the girl who faints in the bank) who would become Keaton's wife.

A bank teller (Keaton) manages to get out of one sticky situation only to find himself in another as he foils a bank robbery and ends up in a "haunted house" which ends up being the bank robbers hideout.  Keaton, who's now mistaken for one of the bank robbers/counterfeiters, hides out in the house with a troupe of performers (in full costume) who were booed and chased off the stage of a local theater. 

The house is actually rigged with trick gadgets to scare off anyone, especially the police, who happens to stumble upon the hideout.  But Buster doesn't know this and it takes him a little while to catch on.  And when he does he catches the crooks, saves the girl, and saves the day.  He does have a slight problem negotiating a stairway to heaven, but everything turns out okay in the end.  Great two-reeler, and lots of fun.

Eddie Cline started out as one of the Keystone Cops and also directed several W.C. Fields films.  Joseph Schenck was fairly successful in his career producing films and shorts for Keaton and others, as well as his own wife Norma Talmadge (Keaton's sister-in-law).  Virginia Fox appeared in some of Max Sennet's comedy shorts, and Joe Roberts frequently appeared as a villain in other Keaton films.

Check out for some pretty cool collectibles and stuff.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Haunted Spooks (1920)

Haunted Spooks is directed by Hal Roach, and stars Harold Lloyd as the boy, Mildred Davis as the girl, and Wallace Howe as the uncle.  It also has some beautiful title card artwork by Harley Walker and the music is composed, arranged, and conducted by Robert Israel and performed by The Robert Israel Orchestra (Europe). 

In the story a Southern gentleman has died "for the first time", and his estate goes to his grand-daughter and her husband provided they live in the family mansion for one year. Otherwise the girl's uncle inherits everything. There's only one problem - the girl isn't married. This already sounds like a recipe for disaster.  There aren't many chills but plenty of laughs when you throw Harold Lloyd into the mix in this classic short by one of the silent era's comedy masters. 

According to the commentary by Suzanne Lloyd, Annette D'Agostino Lloyd, and Richard Correll this short was filmed from August 19th through August 23rd 1919, and then from January 5th through January 25th 1920, because of an accident Harold Lloyd had during filming.  The accident with a bomb mistaken for a prop resulted in the loss of the thumb and index finger of his right hand and some serious burns to his face and right eye.  This is the first short in which you'll notice Lloyd uses a prosthetic right hand due to some of the scenes being filmed before and then after his accident.

There is some political incorrectness that some viewers might take exception to, but as always these shorts need to be viewed in the context of the times they were produced in. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Old Dark House (1932)

Imagine being stranded out in the middle of nowhere on a dark rainy night unable to continue on your journey.  Luckily you're able to find shelter in a charming old home with a loving family that agree to put you and your fellow travelers up for the night.  This is totally not what happens in The Old Dark House, except for the being stranded part.

The film was directed by the great James Whale and boasts a stellar cast including Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Gloria Stuart, Raymond Massey, Ernest Thesiger, Lillian Bond, Eva Moore, and Boris Karloff.  Whale seemed very comfortable churning out horror films for Universal, but he was also involved with many other films including Waterloo Bridge (1931), Show Boat (1936), and The Man in the Iron Mask (1939).

The film begins with the Wavertons, a bickering couple (Massey and Stuart) traveling across the countryside with their wisecracking traveling companion Penderel (Douglas) on a rain-soaked, stormy evening.  When the road they're on gets washed out by the storm they notice lights burning in an ominous looking house up ahead and decide to try to stop and seek shelter.  After being greeted at the door by Morgan (Karloff), a scar-faced mumbling butler, the trio enter the house and meet the eccentric owners Horace and Rebecca Femm (Thesiger and Moore).

Another pair of unsuspecting travelers (Laughton and Bond) arrive and are reluctantly allowed to spend the night. As the storm rages outside and the travelers try to settle in, they find that the house and the Femms have a long, sordid and questionable past.  As everyone tries to get better acquainted with each other, and they begin to explore the house, they find mystery and danger at every turn.  Mrs. Waverton is attacked by the drunken brute of a butler, and a locked and bolted door at the top of the stairs conceals behind it a dark secret that the Femm family keep hidden away from all outsiders.

Great sets, special effects, and the wonderful use of lighting and shadows are what you would expect from the meticulous direction of James Whale.  Everyone in the cast is outstanding.  This is a fantastic dark comedy and a must see for any Universal horror fans.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Frankenstein (1910)

For anyone who hasn't seen this version of Mary Shelley's 1818 classic novel, Frankenstein is worth checking out.  The running time is only a little over 12 minutes.  The image is a little rough in spots but overall very viewable.  Produced by Edison Studios in 1910 (Edison himself actually had nothing to do with the film), and directed by J. Searle Dawley, this was the first screen adaptation of the novel.  It stars Augustus Phillips as Frankenstein, Mary Fuller as Elizabeth, and Charles Ogle as the monster.  Ogle must have been a pretty busy guy (almost as busy as William Schallert) as he appeared in over 300 films and shorts (mostly shorts) in his career.

I find it funny that instead of using lightning and electricity to create the monster, Frankenstein just mixes him up in a big bowl like a cake.  And throwing the film into reverse, the monster is "created" out of the flames to wreak havoc on the good doctor and any innocent bystanders. There are plenty of uber-dramatic and over-exaggerated gestures for one and all. 

All kidding aside, take a few minutes and check it out.

See it here on YouTube.  Or here on

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Phantom Carriage (1921)

I figured I'd kick off my October Horrorfest with a silent horror film and gradually work my way up through the years.  Some of the postings this month will be familiar, others maybe not so much.  The postings may be short for the familiar films so as not to reiterate information about the films that everyone, including myself, could probably recite the dialogue to verbatim.  So with this out of the way ...  On to the next ...

You know, when I first watched The Phantom Carriage I really didn't think much about it.  I thought it was okay.  And then,  for some reason, I kept thinking about it over the next couple of days, and the imagery and scenes from the film just kept popping into my head.  Then, thinking about it again, I finally came to the conclusion that it was actually quite good.  The film has a haunting and musical score to go along with the sad and tragic tale.

Based on Korkarlen, a novel by Nobel prize winner Selma Lagerlof, the film was an inspiration for Ingmar Bergman.  As Swedish legend and folklore states, "the last sinner to die on New Year's Eve before the clock strikes twelve is condemned to drive the "Phantom Carriage" until the following New Year's Eve, collecting all the recently departed souls along his endless journey".  And every day that passes in the living world is like a year for the driver of the carriage, so the passage of time literally feels like an eternity.

The story has a Dickensian kind of feel and look to it.  On New Year's Eve a man dies and is forced to look back on his wasted life and to realize the impact that he had on others around him.   The film is extremely dark and has a very eerie and creepy atmosphere.  It becomes extremely intense as it follows David Holm, played by the director of the film Victor Sjostrom, in his self destructive spiral and degradation from a happy family man to a miserable, abusive, and spiteful drunkard.  In all honesty, I found some scenes in the film painful and agonizing to watch at times.

On New Year's Eve Holm and two other drunks are in a cemetery as midnight slowly approaches.  Holm brings up the legend of the "The Phantom Carriage" to his companions.  An argument begins and a fight breaks out. Holm is struck with a bottle and killed as the distant clock tower begins to strike midnight.  Much to Holm's horror he observes the ghostly carriage and driver approaching.  Compounding his terror even further, David recognizes the driver as his friend Georges (Tore Svennberg) who had died the previous New Year's Eve, and whose place he must now take.

Refusing to go with the driver, Holm is bound and forced to view all the suffering caused by the violent and drunken path he has followed in his life.  From the abuse inflicted on his wife and children and the corruption of his friends and relatives, to the act of intentionally contaminating and spreading his tuberculosis to people who had tried to help him, namely a sweet and innocent volunteer nurse named Edit (Astrid Holm) who worked at a Salvation Army type shelter.

Sjostrom uses tinting and double exposures in his production of the film with great effect, and it still holds up extremely well even ninety years later.  The score by Swedish composer Matti Bye is amazing even going as far as mimicking the screeching and grinding of the carriage wheels.

I don't really know if it's the imagery of the film or the storyline itself, but I have a feeling that anyone who views this film won't soon forget it.  It's a very powerful story and I know it's left a lasting impression on me.  Watch one of the creepiest trailers you'll ever see here.