The Best Silent Horror Films

Jul 23, 2000 (Updated Aug 22, 2001)

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The Bottom Line 7 great movies you've probably never seen. . . but should. Especially if you call yourself a horror film fan.

Here are the 7 best Silent Horror films that you may still get opportunities to see. Some are easily available on VHS and even DVD. Most have been saved, preserved and also restored . Most of you will enjoy these films despite their age, and creakiness. The early german expressionistic films such as Orlac, The Golem and Cabinet are fascinating to watch for every detail ... picture composition, sets, lighting, direction, acting style. . .

There's aren't merely good for you... these are good films. Really... Enjoy them.

7. The Monster (1925)
All of this was very new in 1925 and so if you are able to pretend somehow that you've not seen the one about the mad scientist who works in a lunatic assylum and kidnaps strangers to use in his horrible experiments to bring the dead back to life, you might find this one very enjoyable. It's got another fine Lon Chaney performance and a lovely damsel in distress as well. It's dated, stiff and overly familiar but hey, it was pretty new and exciting stuff back then.

6. The Golem (1920)
Another German expressionistic classic this time directed by Carle Boese and Paul Wegener. It's about a a huge clay statue that is given life by a rabbi to help save the jews who are living in wretched conditions in a medieval ghetto in Prague. The film was a heavy influence on the look of all horror films particularly Whale's Frankenstein.

5. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
This oft filmed Robert Louis Stevenson tale of man's inner beast, was given a top notch production and starred the greatest actor of his time, John Barrymore. Barrymore is stunning to watch. He creates two distinct characters and the special effects, lighting, and make-up are far better than you'd expect. Of course it's dated, and it's a silent film, but if you can pick up the KINO video version you're in for a treat and you'll quite possibly be creeped out by it as well. If not well it's great fun and features and amazing performance. On the Kino tape and DVD you'll also find a clip of the 1911 version of the film and some other neat stuff. There's a restoration of the original color tinting and a fine music score.

4. Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Rupert Julian directed the Man of a Thousand Faces Lon Chaney whose famous un-masking caused hundreds to faint and millions to scream all around the slightly more naive (though not less innocent) world of the 1920's. The film is still effective particularly if you are lucky enough to view it on the big screen. Make sure you see the 88 minute version which includes the fully restored two strip technicolor Bal Masque sequence. It seems every fiften years or less another version of this has been made and the story is timeless enough I suspect they will keep trying. A truly inventive re-working of the tale was done by Brian DePalma in 1974. There have been versions with Claude Rains, Herbert Lom, Maximillian Schell, Robert Englund, Charles Dance and Burt Lancaster, and Dario Argento has re-worked this material twice. Once in the very loose adaptation released in 1988 called Terror at the Opera or Opera and the other a pretty bad loose/remake in which the Phantom is a strange guy who's been raised by rats (I kid you not) and isn't disfigured called Phantom of the Opera or Dario Argento's POTO that was released around 1998.

3. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)
Directed by Robert Wiene, starring Conrad Veidt and Werner Krauss. Here's the surviving father of the expressionistic movement in German cinema whose influence continues to be felt today. From the set design, to frame composition to lighting, to the strange acting style, this film should be viewed and studied by anyone serious about films. A carnival hypnotist has his sonambulist side-kick kidnap woman. This fairly primitive and dated film is utterly fascinating on several artistic levels, still entertaining and a must see.

2. Hands of Orlac (1924)
This is the original Classic silent film version of the Maurice Renards' classic story (re-made several times- Mad Love with Peter Lorre, Hands of Orlac -1960 with Christopher Lee and Mel Ferrer)about a famed concert pianists hands which are mutilated in an accident. His hands are replaced with those of a murderer and a growing urge to kill overwhelms him. Starring Conradt Veidt and directed by Robert Wiene . Yes same actor and director responsible for the influential horror expressionist classic Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. This one is also extremely expressionistic, and even better than Cabinet.

1. Nosferatu (1922)
F.W. Murnau's classic first surviving film adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula is still atmospheric and creepy. Some may have seen poorly presented version of the film run at the wrong film speed which made parts of it seem like a Keystone Cop Comedy. That's a real pity. See a properly restored copy and marvel at the how beautiful the shots are composed, how utterly frightening and rodent like Max Schreck truly is. A masterpiece you may need to see again. (a behind the scenes fictional fantasy story was concocted and was the basis for Shadow of the Vampire -2000 with Willem Dafoe oscar nominated as Schreck/Nosferatu).

Christopher Jarmick,is the author of The Glass Coccon with Serena F. Holder a steamy suspense thriller which is now available (glasscocoon@hotmail for details).

Original portions of this review Copyrightę Christopher J. Jarmick 2000. The above work is protected by international copyright law.

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