Sunday, 19 August 2012

5 Films that are Silent but Deadly

Before 5.1 audio, before stereo and even before mono, there was the silent film. The film would play on the screen and there was someone who played the piano to go along with the film.  Instead of hearing voices, the dialogue was slated and film was much more of a visual medium compared to what it is today.  In those days, facial expression and actions were key to the success of the film.

These horror movies are not the same as the ones we see today.  There is no bloodshed and the violence was always eluded to and done off camera.  The most risque shots of the human body, may be a partial shot of a bum and any foul language is done with #@&*!  With this in mind the pacing is slower but the stories that are told are still scary and medium allows the viewer to use his/her imagination.

Here are 5 Films that are Silent but Deadly:

5. Nosferatu (1922) - Knock sends Thomas Hutter to Transylvania to visit Count Orlok because he is interested in buying some land in Wisborg. While at an inn, Hutter is warned to visit Orlok because a werewolf is on the prowl and he should go in the morning.  The next morning a coachmen takes him as far as he can before night fall and lets Hutter off a ways away from Castle Orlok.  Luckily, a mysterious black coach arrives and brings him to the castle, where he meets Count Orlok.  Hutter is chastised for being late by Count Orlok and told that the servants have all gone to bed.  Over perhaps the most uncomfortable dinner ever, Hutter cuts his thumb and Orlok tries to suck it out. Awwwkward.  The next morning, Hutter notices two bite marks on his neck, which he attributes to spiders or mosquitos (?) and that evening has Count Orlok sign the papers to the house across the street from him.  Later that evening, while reading the book about vampires that he stole from the inn, he realizes that Count Orlok is Nosferatu! Dun dun dun! However, it's too late! Orlok has packed his coffins and hit the road and locked Hutter up in the castle.  Hutter escapes and heads back to Wisborg to save them from his new creepy neighbour!  Director F.W. Murnau does a wonderful job using the obvious elements of Bram Stoker's Dracula.  With the use of shadows and lighting, he creates a vampire tale that set the standard for the time.  Max Schreck is the ugliest vampire ever and is a nice change to the dashing vampires, you see after Lugosi's "Dracula".  Good film and still can be very creepy, so leave the lights on!  

4. The Cat and the Canary (1927) - 20 years after the death of their millionaire uncle Cyrus West, Annabelle West, Paul Jones, Charlie Wilder and a number of other relatives reunite for the reading of his will, which has been locked away all this time.  The executor of the will, discovers that someone may have been trying to tamper with the will, but luckily none of the seals have been broken.  They sit down at midnight and find out that Annabelle is the inheritor of the millions under one condition.  She must be declared sane by the doctor.  If she is deemed insane, then they go to envelope number 2 and that person wins the cash and prizes.  Just as everyone is preparing to leave, a guard from the local asylum(?) bursts in and tells everyone that a lunatic is loose and may or may not be in the house.  He suggests they all stay the night.  Did I also mention, everybody thinks the mansion is haunted.  Everybody thinks the mansion is haunted, so when people and things start disappearing, they all start freaking out.  Is the house haunted? Can they find the lunatic? Why is Paul Jones trying to hit on his cousin, you'll have to watch and see! Fantastic film by director Paul Leni, exceptionally funny and great atmosphere for a haunted house.  Good use of title cards, using different fonts and filming them with tilts and zooms.  Probably, the best use of the cards out of all the silent films I've seen.  Good story, reproduced 12 years later with Bob Hope, and the acting is well done.  Fun film, that will spook you and make you laugh at the same time.
3. Haxan (1922) - Writer/Director Benjamin Christensen creates a fascinating documentary of witchcraft from middle ages to present day (1922).  He cuts between title cards, still pictures and dramatized sequences that will surely please any horror buff.  The costumes of the devils are incredible and this was the most expensive Scandinavian silent film ever.  It was banned from the States and heavily edited at the time for scenes involving nudity, torture and sexual perversion.  After watching it, it's not that racy compared to today's standard, maybe a PG-13.  While watching the scenes with the inquisition, it reminded me of "WitchFinder General" and how at the time , being accused of being a witch was a no win situation.  Interesting film, great insight and good watch for those who enjoy the occult.
2. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) - Francis is sitting with a old friend, when Jane sleep walks past them.  Francis begins to tell his old friend of an adventure that he and Jane went through together.  It starts when Francis and his friend Alan visit a carnival in a mountain town of Holstenwall.  They get rooked into seeing a Somnambulist show, run by Dr. Caligari.  They see Cesare, the Somnambulist and he predicts that Alan will die by the crack of dawn.  Alan probably thought that, it was the worst show ever but he does get murdered in the night.  This has been the 2nd murder in so many nights since the carnival arrived and the police seem baffled.  Can Francis and Jane must find a way to stop this sleepy killer and wake up for his murderous nightmare!  Incredible sets and excellent storytelling from director Robert Wiene with some awesome twists at the end.  Also some scenes are tinted different colours to offer emotional context which as an interesting aspect.  Great film and one that won't put you to sleep.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925) - The Paris Opera House is sold during the new season and as the old owners are leaving they mention to the new owners to beware of the Phantom.  The new owners laugh and think the old owners are crazy until they start receiving letters from the Phantom to have a young understudy, Christine Daae take over the lead from Mme Carlotta.  He warns them if Christine does not go on, then he will take dire action against the Opera House. Fortunately, Carlotta falls ill before the performance and Christine is allowed to perform.  The next evening, the owners receive another letter saying that Christine should replace Carlotta or their will be trouble.  The owners laugh it off and that night Carlotta takes the stage.  During her performance that evening, the lights go dim and a giant chandelier falls in the middle of the Opera House! Take that bitches!  In the confusion, The Phantom steals Christine away and brings her to his underground sewer love nest.  She is totally creeped out, by the phantom, who is wearing a mask and is telling her, how he's been watching her and how much he really really loves her.  Like most stalkers, he starts playing her a song, that he thinks will bring them together and then she pulls off his mask!  To her surprise (he was wearing a mask for a reason), he is a hideous dude and he freaks.  He calms down, tells her she can go back to the surface but she has to dump her boyfriend and she agrees and goes back to the surface.  Her boyfriend Raoul is choked but won't give up on Christine and they decide to meet at the masked ball.  At the ball, the phantom over hears Christine tell Raoul everything that happened.  Enraged with jealousy the phantom devises a plan, so that everyone who has hurt him will pay! (costalkerugh!)  Lon Chaney is brilliant in this film and like in the "Hunchback of Notre Dame" creates the perfect face for the phantom.  The sets are stunning and the do an excellent job on the costumes.  Especially, during the masked ball scene, where the film was shot in colour.  There are some great moments in this film, including a very violent ending which is must see for any horror fan!

Not only are these great horror films and you can see the genesis of the movie genre but you can find most of the films on line for free or on a cheap DVD set.  These are public domain films so I've included them, instead of the trailers.  So, check'em out and listen real closely because you may hear yourself screaming.


  1. All great picks. Good list. The one I have yet to see is Haxan. I love Caligari to no end. Thanks!

  2. The only one Ive seen was Nosferatu. I need to get on this and see more of these movies. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari holds my interest of all of them