When I went over 'Psycho' in my "Screening Suggestions", I highly recommended it as the quintessential Hitchcock movie. However, with that, there comes a real flip of the coin. One may very well argue their preference for 'The Birds', and it would be very well warranted. Where 'Psycho' helped launch the slasher genre, this helped make nature scary in such a way that it hasn't even really been attempted since because the idea seems so absurd - birds! (except maybe 'Birdemic: Shock & Terror', but let's try not to count that as a movie).
For yours truly, I sort of split the film into two parts. The first half of it is a lot of talking, getting to know characters, etc. and subtle things start happening around them. The second half plays the horror card a lot more, and the suspense of it all still holds up fairly well today - although some of the green screen effects may not. Still, this is a masterfully scary movie for its time, using something so everyday that it makes one wonder about the effect it had on audiences at the time. Imagine leaving this and looking around at birds all perched and eerie-looking. Time has passed, and it might not have the same effect nowadays, but try Googling "birds attacking humans" and you'll find out things are a bit more common than we think.
The film opens at a San Francisco pet store where Malanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) comes across Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), who is looking to buy a couple of lovebirds for his sister, Cathy's (Veronica Cartwright) 11th birthday. After a brief misunderstanding, Mitch leaves empty handed, but Malanie decides to make amends by purchasing, and delivering the lovebirds as a gift. When she finally tracks him down in Bodega Bay, she takes a boat across the bay to deliver the birds, she is attacked by a gull. Thinking it strange at first, they sort of brush it off, but further attacks start happening and becoming more abundant. Soon enough (and after some long character developing stories from everyone), Melanie and Mitch find themselves trapped in a house, surrounded by flocks of crows, gulls and more.
With them end up being Mitch's ex; a teacher named Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette), Mitch's mother, Lydia (Jessica Tandy) and the young and terrified Cathy, who really sells it with her acting. It makes me wonder what cruel technique Hitchcock may have used on her to make her cry as distressfully as she did - like a traumatized kid who just witnessed her cat get hit by a transport truck. As far as explanation for the birds behavior, we never do get it, but that's also what makes it so good. We don't always need to be spoon-fed such things, and sometimes no explanation lends itself to the experience - as though you're one of the trapped people in a scary situation with no clue as to why it's happening or what to do. This further lends itself to the film's truly bizarre ending, which is quite a "WTF" moment, but it leaves you to interpret what Hitchock meant by it all.
Those who know me well know that on this particular coin-flip of film, I very much prefer 'Psycho'. There was something truly disturbing there that has held up to this day very well. With 'The Birds', though a lot of it does still hold up, a lot of it can look pretty dated and corny. There also seems to be a lot about it that's trying to be almost too symbolic, if you feel like doing some deep digging on the subject. I don't mind symbolism, but I mean, to directly quote an article "The Birds is a political allegory about the psychological violence of capitalism and the fear-mongering of the Cold War." 'Psycho' is just about a killer who lost his damn mind, and is the grandfather of slasher horror.
Between liking one or the other more, it's all gonna depend on what you're after. I may prefer 'Psycho', but I can't deny that a lot of the emotions that run here along with certain visual sequences are still pretty scary. For example, at one point we see a character with his eyes pecked out, covered in blood. That scene works as something scary now, let alone 1963. One could easily make this not such a "thinker" and have fun with it as a suspenseful thriller all the same. That's what I did, and the entertainment value is certainly still there. I don't find it to be perfect, but it gets a tremendous amount of respect from me for what it has accomplished. If nothing else, I have memories of this being something scary enough to lose sleep over as a kid, so much like with Freddy, these birds have a certain horrific nostalgia tied to them as one of the first things that legitimately scared me.
My personal history with 'The Fly' comes with seeing the Cronenberg version first. What made this extra strange was the fact that it didn't actually bother me as something scary that was gonna make me lose sleep. I just thought it was really gross. Mind, I think I saw it at a time when I couldn't quite comprehend what "scary" was. Much like 'Temple of Doom' and the heart-ripping scene, I watched it later and wondered what the hell was wrong with me.
Anyway, when I eventually learned to appreciate older titles, I thought a good way to start would be to check out titles that have known famous scenes. In this case, the chilling "help me, help me" scene. I eventually managed to check it out while over at a friend's house when it came on TV. At the time, I felt it sort of dragged, but that famous scene actually did manage to get under my skin. This viewing is the first since then, passing probably almost twenty years. So, did I learn to appreciate it more than I did upon first viewing? Well, yes and no. But more on that later.
The film opens with the dead body of scientist, André Delambre (Al Hedison), crushed in a hydraulic press. His wife, Hélène (Patricia Owens) confesses that she's the one who killed him, but hesitates to give a motive for fear of sounding crazy. Her behavior also shows a bizarre obsession with flies, particularly one with a funny white head. When André's brother, François (Vincent Price) fibs about having the fly she's looking for, he uses it to get her motive for the murder out of her.
The rest of the film, until the end, is presented in a flashback where André, Hélène, and their son Philippe (Charles Herbert) are living happily, while André is working on something that could potentially change the world - a matter transporter he calls "the disintegrator-integrator". He starts with inanimate objects, moves on to animals (including the poor family cat) and eventually, himself. After that experiment, however, he refuses to come up from his basement lab. We all know by this point it's because he tried his experiment with a fly in the chamber with him, and it lead to him getting the head and arm of a fly, and vise-versa. Everything now depends on Hélène finding the white-headed fly mentioned earlier.
There's plenty to appreciate here as a simple B horror movie from the 50s. It does a good job at being shlocky, and Vincent Price is one of those names you could put in anything and it's automatically a bit cooler. I also enjoy David Hedison's performance as the man-sized fly. He does a lot with his body language, like twitching his head, and delivers a sort of alien-likeness to the role. I don't know that I'd consider it any sort of must-see horror classic for its time, but it's worth checking out if you can bear in mind you're there to have fun, and not to take anything seriously.
If you were to ask me which version of 'The Fly' I like better, I honestly don't know which one I'd gravitate towards. They're both sort of "just okay" to me. Cronenberg's grosses me out, but the casting is great. Meanwhile this version has the famous scene that once managed to give me chills, but I still think it drags a bit in parts. For the record, in an hour and a half long movie, there's not much to see horror-wise until about an hour into things. But to be fair, once it gets going, it gets fun. Again, it's a B movie, and not to be taken seriously. With the right mindset, one can still have a good time with this.
I have to admit that it's actually pretty intriguing to go back to a time before George A. Romero gave us the form of zombies we all know and love now. I covered a little bit of that in my review for 'The Ghost Breakers', but I thought it might be a good idea to delve a little deeper into the origins of what it actually meant to be a zombie at one point.
Nowadays, zombies are considered a pretty damn basic concept; flesh-eating, re-animated dead people, often representing society's "zombie-like" ways. They are usually some sort of metaphor; 'Dawn of the Dead' made that concept super famous by having the zombies basically represent having consumerism take us over. But back before this idea became standard, zombies were still very much based in Voodoo, and that's the case here. These "zombies" aren't exactly dead people, they are just mindless, and obey commands at the ready.
It all starts when Betsy Connell (Frances Dee), a Canadian nurse, is hired to care for sugar plantation owner, Paul Holland's (Tom Conway) wife, Jessica (Christine Gordon). This leads her to the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian; home to a small white community and descendants of African slaves. Here, Betsy meets the likes of Wesley Rand (James Ellison), Paul's half brother, and Jessica, but she meets Jessica as a zombie-like character, vacant in expression and quite creepy to look at. Betsy soon learns that Jessica's the victim of spinal cord damage from a serious illness, leaving her with none of her own willpower.
As Betsy begins to fall for Paul, she makes it her mission to make him happy by doing anything it takes to cure Jessica. Soon, Betsy is lead down a dark and mysterious road of voodoo, zombies, and the seemingly bizarre culture of the island's locals. She also begins to discover that there's much more than meets the eye when it comes to the Holland family. So, it's not quite as action-filled or dreadful as your commonplace zombie movie today, but it's an interesting look into voodoo culture (at least as it was interpreted in 1943) nonetheless. I bring it up a lot when it comes to this kind of material, but I still think 'The Serpent and the Rainbow' may be the most intriguingly scary look into this stuff. Just remember that Voodoo, in reality, isn't quite what it is in the movies.
The film is quite passable, but I have to admit that I found it to drag in certain parts. What does sell this film, however, is the sheer creepiness of it all. Certain lighting techniques, and some creepy acting from certain characters really add to the atmosphere. There's even a particularly spooky looking starway that leads up a tower here that reminds me a lot of the atmosphere I encountered with 'Nosferatu'. So when it came to setting an appropriately creepy mood, they accomplished things quite nicely here. It's also short enough that, though there's a certain drag, it doesn't drag for long until you come to something interesting.
While the film isn't particularly fun by any means, it's quite serious in tone, and that adds a whole new twist of horror to what we've seen lately with a lot of the fun Universal monster stuff that's been going on. 'White Zombie' technically predates it, but it does still stand as one of the famous "roots of zombie lore" films out there, and rightfully so. I can't say I consider it a masterpiece, necessarily, but it's certainly solid for its creepy tone, and a lot of the visuals hold up even now as something with the potential to send chills up one's spine. I mean, just look at the zombie dude in the picture.
The third entry into the 'Frankenstein' franchise continues the tale with Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), the son of Henry Frankenstein; creator of the Monster and co-creator of the Bride. Since the events of 'Bride of Frankenstein', the family castle has been abandoned. But Wolf, his wife, Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson), and their fearless young son, Peter (Donnie Dunagen) relocate to the castle, as Wolf wants to restore the Frankenstein name.
Such an attempt is rather futile, however, when we learn how the villagers see any Frankenstein as someone not to be trusted. After all, Wolf's own father was the one who created the monster who wreaked havoc on the town, twice before. The local police inspector, Krogh (Lionel Atwill) becomes Wolf's only friend in all of this, ironically after he claims the monster ripped his arm off, and it was replaced with a false one - parodied in 'Young Frankenstein' by Inspector Kemp.
While exploring the castle, Wolf meets the Ygor (Bela Lugosi)... okay, so a brief history, this is the first association with the name Ygor to Frankenstein. Technically speaking, the hunchbacked assistant from the first film is named "Fritz", but as far as I can tell, it's supposed to be the same guy. 'Bride' had no lab assistant of that kind. Anyway, here, he's not a hunchback, but someone whos neck broke during a hanging, and he's permanently messed up because of it, plus legally declared dead. There's a court room scene involving this matter, and I couldn't help but laugh at it, but I really don't think I was supposed to.
Anyway, Ygor (some might wanna spell it "Igor", but this is how its credited) leads Wolf down into crypt where both his grandfather and father were buried - his father's reading "Heinrich von Frankenstein: Maker of Monsters". Alongside these tombs are the monster, laying on a slab, alive and well but comatose. Wolf sees his opportunity to prove that his father wasn't a madman, and may have been on to something. The results, however, have the monster obeying commands from Ygor, and we get more of Mr. friendly monster misunderstanding what life is, and why he exists. This time around he's back to the classic grunts and growls as opposed to having learned English somehow.
Sadly, this would be Boris Karloff's final appearance as The Monster, but it's a pretty solid sendoff to such a creature. It brings together Karloff and Lugosi together in a great way, both playing rather iconic characters (although it took Ygor some time to develop into a real thing). Of the three films, I consider this one probably to be the most fun. While the original and 'Bride' are the more memorable classics, this one starts to have a bit more fun with things, and it's kinda sad that it's more under the radar. When you think to name any two 'Frankenstein' titles, your mind will most likely jump to those first two.
On a final note, I just wanna clarify something about the Monster, himself. During the opening, while the family is headed to the castle, we hear Wolf speaking to his wife about his father's good name, and the fact that some of the villagers have taken to naming the monster "Frankenstein". It's not 100% on the nose, but it's absolutely implied. So based on this technicality, you will never again hear me correct anyone like a smartass about the Monster's name. Anyway, the movie is fun, and it'd be worth a marathon of the three main films as you approach Halloween. They are all something the family can watch, deemed classics in the eyes of movie-lovers, and its a monster kids can maybe relate too a bit more than other, scarier monsters of the Universal collection.
It just goes to show how detached I am from Universal's monster lineup when I had no idea until recently that this movie existed. Not only that, but this s THE sequel to 'Dracula', as it picks up where the original movie left off. Dracula has just been killed by Professor Von (not Van) Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), and he's arrested by to police officers and sent to Scotland Yard. There, he explains the situation to Sir Basil Humphry (Gilbert Emery).
Von Helsing fully confesses with the greatest of ease and simplicity that he killed Count Dracula, but he's also already been dead for 500 years. Things are passed off as mere folklore and tales at first, and it leads Von Helsing to stand alone on his case, enlisting the aid of one of his star students; a psychiatrist named Dr. Jeffery Garth (Otto Kruger). His case is that since Dracula has been dead for 500 years, what he did can't be considered murder, and he was also doing the town a favor by ridding it of the king of the bloodsuckers.
In an interesting take on vampirism, we are introduced to the film's namesake; the Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden). She remains alive, despite her father's demise, and she discovers that her thirst for blood doesn't wane, because apparently she wants it to. She tries to free herself from all of this vampire stuff several times, and in constantly failing, she turns to Dr. Garth for help, only to find that she has the desire to turn him over to the dark side of vampirism as well. Sooo, pretty basic stuff if you ask me, but I can't deny that it's interesting to see what may be a first attempt at giving a vampire that much of a human side. Sure, Dracula had a bit of a human side too, but he embraces his curse whereas Marya wants to be free from it.
All in all, I feel that the general metaphor here may be something along the lines of addiction. Marya wants out of that vampiric curse of hers in her own way, but she can't help but have those cravings. She lays the hypnotic eyes on at least a couple of people here, and we all know Dracula for that. But in this case, it almost looks like she's the one who's hypnotized by these humans. It's as though you see that inner struggle of needing something as opposed to just wanting something, and whether it be cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, or drugs in general, we've all experienced that inner struggle - perhaps most of us have experienced it when trying to diet and/or lose weight.
It's a neat take on things, but I have to confess that all in all, I found the film rather boring altogether. There was a lot of talk, and you didn't get that underlying sense of dread you got from Dracula with Marya. With Dracula, you saw his victims as a sort of fly in a spider's web. Here, it's like the spider wants to capture her victim, but sit down and have a nice chat over tea before moving in for the kill. Even when it comes to any kills, it's all pretty well offscreen, and theres just no sense of fear to anything at all. But then there's the comedic aspect. I can certainly give it credit for a few funny moments of dialogue, but it's not quite enough to pull me in. For me, the only reason to watch this is to see what happened next as a sort of epilogue - not so much to be quite as fully entertained as you were with 'Dracula'.
In the realm of Universal Monsters, I have probably always found the wolf man to be one of the most relatable. So, I was looking forward to getting to these titles; this being, not the first werewolf film, but Hollywood's first mainstream werewolf film. It was here that a lot of the common werewolf clichés come from. I'd probably venture to say that werewolf films have this to thank for perpetual material much like zombie films have 'Night of the Living Dead' to thank for their subgenre.
A renowned botanist named Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) travels to Tibet in search of an elusive plant called the mariphasa. He succeeds in locating it, but on is journey is bitten by a werewolf. After heading back to London, he is approached by fellow botanist, Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland), who claims to have met him in Tibet while he was on the same quest for the same plant. He further explains that the mariphasa plant is the only thing that can stave off the effects of "werewolfery" (otherwise known as lycanthropy).
Glendon passes it all off as superstition, but soon finds out that he should have listened when he sees fur starting to grow on his hands under a moon lamp. That night, he experiences the full effects of lycanthropy. But while he's able to hold things off on the first night, he may experience some competition with the mysterious Dr. Yogami, who the audience can pretty much figure out right away is another werewolf. It may not have been quite as predictable at the time of the film's release, but nowadays things are pretty obvious, based on the first conversation Glendon and Yogami. Further to all of that, Glendon's human side also wants to protect his wife, Lisa (Valerie Hobson). It's all pretty standard stuff nowadays
Today, it's probably a bit dated and cliche, but it doesn't stop it from being a pretty solid story. Monsters from this era are fascinating, as they all have some sort of strong humanistic side to them. Dracula is a hopeless romantic, Frankenstein's monster wants a friend and is misunderstood, The Mummy is.... stuck in the past? I've always seen the werewolf as something closer to Jekyll and Hyde. It's a personal fight with one's more animalistic side, often representing things like the effects of alcohol or drug abuse, or perhaps just one's angry and violent side. There is something a bit more classy about these monsters than the 80s slashers I love so much. Jason may be the only one that's at least a little sympathetic - the rest are pretty much serial killers.
Back to the film at hand, however, I have to say that to effects are pretty great for their time. The makeup is a bit more subtle here than what we're used to, and it adds more to the human side of things when the creature isn't just full wolf. I've always actually preferred the two-legged classic werewolf for that as opposed to the complete change (think 'The Wolfman' vs 'Twilight' - I've seen the trailers at least). At the end of the day, it's a good classic monster movie for that Halloween list, although I may prefer and recommend 1941's 'The Wolf Man' a bit more.
It's that time of year again! It's time to take a look back on some of those monstrous classics that gave the horror industry a name. I'm picking up where I dropped the ball on this special presentation last year, and I even threw in a few bonus reviews that will lead us up to Halloween night. What better place to start than with a sequel?
The film opens with Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) being praised by husband Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Walton) and Lord Byron (Gavid Gordon) for her fantastic work on her classic 'Frankenstein' novel. She lets them know that her story doesn't end with a bunch of villagers burning down a windmill with the monster inside. He survives and carries on through the village being a misunderstood creature who is, shall we say, accidentally violent. Of course the villagers still have it out for him as well.
Meanwhile, long story short, Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) also survives and though he denounces his creation, he still holds out hope for his destiny to unlock the secret of immortality. He is then visited by his former mentor Doctor Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger). Pretorius shows Henry some homunculi (representations of small human beings) and proposes that they help each other to create a mate for the monster.
That's pretty well all there is to the story, and of course, it's really another message about playing God and the consequences that comes with. But what's more interesting here is seeing the monster's interaction with some of the locals. Some may remember the blind man from 'Young Frankenstein', which is lifted right from this. Much like before, it's clear that the monster means no harm, but because he's big, dumb and different, he's feared.
I suppose in a way this could be likened to an older version of 'Jurassic Park' where monsters are created in a lab out of curiosity and without thinking of the consequences. At the very least, however, Frankenstein is reluctant to create this mate for his monster. This all leads to us seeing a whole other side to the monster in which he craves female companionship, and even uses words this time to get his points across.
Perhaps most interesting about the film is the fact that the "Bride", as we all know her with her Marge Simpson lightning hair, doesn't become a reality until the final moments of the film. Even Manhattan shows up in 'Jason Takes Manhattan' quicker. In the meantime, it's really just further delving into the monster wanting a friend - though he goes to some desperate and even kinda disturbing extremes in his attempt.
This is a fun, mad scientist film, much like the original but with a better sense of humor. In many ways, it seems to be perfectly self-aware, and it actually delivered a few genuine laughs (although I'm not entirely sure if I was supposed to laugh). It's fair to say that the ending is probably the most interesting part, and worth waiting through the film for as one of the biggest "FML" endings in old cinema, even in comparison to the first film. It's a fun time with a deeper ending than one might assume, and worth back-to-backing with the original film.
If you can believe it, there was a movie that came along in 1932 that was considered, at it's original run-time, "too shocking". The original version cannot be found, and the abridged version is cut to a mere 64 minutes. So this one's a quick watch, and still a bit disturbing in its own right.
Any of the actors and actresses in this who played the "freaks" in question, were real performers with real physical disabilities that they could offer to the silver screen without any need for makeup or special effects. It also helps us see them as real people, which is absolutely necessary for this story to work.
In the spirit of not judging a book by its cover, we see very clearly that this is a group of fun-loving people. We side with them pretty much immediately, just as about as immediately as we realize that they're largely the target of mockery from some of the "regular" folk. It doesn't hide who the villains are here in some sort of twist, they're very much right in front of our eyes, and the villains here are, really, just a couple of total jerks.
The film starts off with a mystery as to what an audience is seeing within the confines of a box we're not allowed to see. The rest of the story is a history as to how this thing they're all looking at got to be the way it is. The rest of the plot centers on Hans (Harry Earles - who you'd see later in 'The Wizard of Oz' as a member of the Lollipop Guild), a little person who has inherited a vast fortune. He has eyes for a trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), who's otherwise involved with the strong man, Hercules (Henry Victor). The couple, namely her, continuously treat Hans as a doormat, due to his affection for Cleo. Hans' sideshow friends are the only ones who really see it, though, and it's a harsh lesson in love that we can be absolutely blind to it.
Once it slips that Hans inherited his fortune, Cleo plans to marry him so that she can get her hands on whatever she can, and Hercules even helps out. But, upon realizing that all Cleo's doing is hurting Hans and making him feel ashamed of himself, the "freaks" take things into their own hands, and, well, we eventually get to see what's in that mystery box, and though it's pretty comical by today's standards, for 1932, it's a damn creepy image. If you ever Google images for 'Freaks', you will stumble on it and likely recognize it immediately, even with no further knowledge of the film.
This is actually my second time around with this film as well. The first time, I really wasn't a fan. It felt dated, goofy, and above all, very mean-spirited. Even though we're supposed to feel for Hans, he DOES ditch his current... fiancee?... Frieda (Daisy Earles) in pursuit of Cleo, and Frieda is left heartbroken, even though she says all she wants is his happiness. If you truly feel for anyone in this, it's gonna be Frieda.
The only thing about this movie that I really wanna know about any further are those missing 30 minutes. "Too shocking" in 1932 is probably pretty tame by today's standards, since the genre has come pretty damn far. It's that thing that lingers behind a dark curtain somewhere out there that you just wanna take a peek at, like the original 'Star Wars' trilogy.
By the end of this second watch-through, my mind was nudged in the direction of respect for the film, but it's still just so mean-spirited that it's an uncomfortable watch for someone like me, who himself was taunted in such ways - except no one was after my money. The "freaks" get their vengeance in the end, and it's a pretty creepy scene, but for some reason it just doesn't stick with me here as much as something like Jason Voorhees' vengeance does. And that's messed up, 'cause it makes a lot more sense here. Anyway, still worth checking out for any classic horror fan just to say that you've seen one of the more controversial classics. You might get more from it than I did, it certainly has that potential.
Here's a rare classic title that I actually had seen before, sometime during childhood. I would guess I'd have been somewhere between 8 and 10, it was on TV, we recorded it, and I watched it a few times. I hadn't seen it in years
At the time, I was avoiding horror like the plague because I was easy to scare. But here we had something where the monster wasn't a scary guy out for blood or souls or what have you, but a misunderstood creature who causes harm, but he doesn't know any better. Aside from 'Sesame Street', I wasn't familiar with any friendly fun monsters at the time (that I can remember, anyway).
By the time I was between the ages of 8 and 10, we're talking meeting the tail end of the 80s slasher era - namely Freddy and Jason, into the 90's with their respective "death" movies. Those were the types of monsters I was familiar with, and their concepts terrified me. You heard about these movies all the time on the school yard. But I digress.
Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is conducting experiments in the reanimation of dead tissue. Assisted by Fritz (Dwight Frye) they start small, with animals. He soon moves on to man, creating a body out of various body parts dug up from various graveyards. As we all know, Frankenstein is successful in his experiment, as her blurts out those famous lines "Alive! It's alive!"
Frankenstein's monster, however, was given an abnormal brain, stolen by Fritz. For anyone who has seen 'Young Frankenstein', the scene is hilariously almost the same - labels on the jars and all. Anyway, this abnormal brain causes the creature a bit of slowness, confusion, but calm and gentle with a tremendous fear of fire, which makes the climax altogether pretty hard to watch.
Meanwhile, Frankenstein's fiancée, Elizabeth (Mae Clark), and friend Victor (John Boles) worry about his health. His father, Baron Frankenstein (Frederick Kerr) ends up snapping him out of it, and it's agreed that in playing God, Henry should humanely destroy the monster. That is, if they can get to him before a bunch of PO'ed villagers do. I won't spoil things (even if it is from 1931), but the monster escapes his captivity, and though gentle and ultimately friendly, he causes an accident, taking an innocent life. This could be where I learned to appreciate movies that show you both sides of the coin, not just simply good vs evil. So it plays a part in my personal history.
It's interesting to note that this is pretty much a timeless story. The more we advance in technology, it seems we have more new things to face. For instance social media vs our overall privacy. You can look at it from another perspective as well, and say this is kinda 'Jurassic Park'-ish as far as the playing God element goes. The same sort of dangers are present here.
All in all, I have to give this one some serious credit for introducing a few new(ish) concepts to me, such as the dangers of playing God, and the idea that monsters can be innocent creatures just as well as they can be scary. Again, that is, aside from 'Sesame Street' monsters. Even so, 'Frankenstein' did it first.
This somewhat under-the-radar film managed to grasp my attention upon finding out that the titular character here was pretty much the inspiration for the Joker, at least as far as the look. I can definitely see how. But I was curious to see whatever story was behind such an odd looking, creepy character.
In 17th century England, Lord Clancharlie (Conrad Veidt) comes back from exile to see his son. King James II takes the peer, and Clancharlie finds out, just before being killed, that his son was sold to a bunch of comprachicos, Basically, comprachicos translates to "child-buyers". They would purchase children and alter their physical appearance through unnecessary processes while they grew up. When they became adults, they would either be sold to royalty as court jesters, or making their livings as charlatans, working through deception and trickery.
Clancharlie's son, Gwinplaine (Julius Molnar, Conrad Veidt as an adult) ended up getting a permanent grin carved onto his face, and abandoned in a freezing cold winter. While seeking shelter, Gwinplaine comes across a dead mother clutching her still-living baby. He takes the baby with him, and eventually finds Ursus, the philosopher. Ursus finds the baby to be blind, sees Gwinplain's secret smile, and takes them in from the cold to raise them.
Some years later, Gwynplaine ends up putting on shows, as a clown, with Dea (Mary Philbin - the baby he found). The pair are in love now, but he won't marry her due to shame of his appearance, even though she can't see it. He soon takes a liking to Duchess Josiana (Olga Baclanova), who possesses an estate that interests a jester named Barkilphedro (Brandon Hurst), a man involved with Clancharlie's execution.
Barkilphedro causes some trouble by revealing Gwynplaine's lineage in an attempt to get awarded by the queen. Gwynplaine must also face Dea now, wondering if it's possible that Josiana could love him for who he is, since she can see him, and is actually seemingly attracted to him.
Despite all of the horrific elements within the film, it's another drama, as opposed to horror. As Roger Ebert apparently put it, "The Man Who Laughs is a melodrama, at times even a swashbuckler, but so steeped in Expressionist gloom that it plays like a horror film." That pretty much seemed to be the way of things for a good chunk of the silent film horror era, and they largely brought what could be considered stage plays to life.
I have to commend the makeup Job Veidt got for this. It's very clear how this was able to inspire the look for the Joker. It's insane, but he really doesn't drop that smile for the entirety of the movie. I can only imagine what his face must have felt like after shooting this. For context, this is the same guy who played the ever-frowning and bug-eyed Cesare in 'Caligari'.
This wasn't particularly up my alley, story-wise. I found it somewhat confusing in parts, and some of the melodrama was a bit much for me. With that said, though, some of the performances here were still great. I have to give Veidt a lot of credit for really sticking to what he needed to do to make this work. I mean, where would my favourite DC villain be without this role existing? It's nothing spectacular in my eyes, but worth checking out if you appreciate silent cinema's dramatic side.