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Look, my Scary Silents series is alive! ALIVE!!! And today we’re dissecting a classic, the Edison Studios adaptation of Frankenstein from 1910. As most horror buffs know, this was the first filmed version of Mary Shelley’s novel, even though I gotta say the adaptation is a tad on the “creative” side. Time to get this experiment started, so fire up the kinetogram and watch along!
We open on a title card, which is followed by an explanatory blurb informing us that this is a “liberal adaptation of Mary Shelley’s story,” which somehow sounds both apologetic and condescending at the same time, and then the screen reads, “Frankenstein Leaves for College,” which in a just world would be the title of an epic Descendents album consisting of nothing but Cramps covers.
PLEASE TELL ME SOMEONE GETS THIS.
There follows a brief and completely pointless scene of Frankenstein bidding adieu to his father and “sweetheart” (seriously, that’s how she’s referred to in this movie). As the card informed us, Frankenstein is indeed leaving for college. See? There he goes, leaving for college. Father and Sweetheart wave at him as he goes, leaving for college. “Have fun with the leaving and the college,” they seem to say to his retreating back. “Take it easy on the butt-chugging and try really hard not to subvert all the laws of God and man while you’re there, K? Oh, and bring us a University of Ingolstadt sweatshirt when you visit at the holidays.”
Then there’s evidently a time jump, so we don’t get to see Frankenstein Wikipedia-pasting his way through Biology 101 or getting dragged up a flagpole by his manties in a fraternity hazing. In fact, Frankenstein appears to be the most diligent college student in the entire history of college, because the next card informs us that, “Two years later, Frankenstein has discovered the secret of life.” Holy shit, even Leonardo da Vinci wasn’t THAT far ahead of the curve. Unless, of course, the secret of life that Frankenstein discovered involved Dark Side of the Moon and copious amounts of weed. Hate to poop on your birthday cake, V-Frank, but we’ve ALL discovered that secret.
The next scene shows Frankie in his…lab? dorm room? man cave? He’s sitting in a throne and making eureka-type hand gestures of the sort one would expect from some smug sumbitch who discovered the secret of life, and then he is abruptly edited to his feet, where he proceeds to wave his arms around in a self-congratulatory fashion, addressing what appears to be a loaf of pumpernickel but is probably a brain, breaking only to snatch up his feather quill to jot down all his earth-shattering, life-secret-discovering mind poots. Y’know, for posterity. Then he looks at what he just wrote and sits back in his throne, all OMG I AM SUCH A FUCKING GENIUS THAT I CAN BARELY STAND TO BE IN THE SAME ROOM WITH MYSELF, JUST KIDDING, I CAN STAND IT BECAUSE I’M JUST THAT AWESOME. Then he struts out of his room, just raring to share his discovery with a world too blighted to understand him, maaaaaaan.
“Just before the experiment,” reads the next card, and from Frankie’s subsequent facial expressions it appears that he may be having second thoughts about the whole tampering in God’s domain business, but then I guess not, because he picks up a letter from his desk and smooches on it and grins like a lunatic, then scoops up his quill in order to dramatically scribble a reply, which is addressed to “Sweetheart” (is that really her name? So when they get married she’s gonna be Mrs. Sweetheart Frankenstein?) and basically gives her the Cliff’s Notes version of what he expects his “marvellous work” to amount to. “Discovered the secret of life and death, gonna create the most perfect being the world has ever known, yadda yadda, I’m really not useless like your mother says, I swear I’m gonna sew a bunch of corpse parts together and reanimate that shit and everyone will love it and then you’ll see, then I’ll be good enough to ‘claim you for my bride,’ right? Right? I promise my scientific discovery should be quite sufficient to overshadow the somewhat less pleasant discovery you’re going to make on our wedding night, my darling. Please assuage my monstrous insecurities. Your devoted, Frankenstein.”
Decent penmanship for a budding doctor, though, it must be said.
After he’s written the letter, he folds it up all nice and then he gets up from his desk and makes to toddle down to the corner post office, but then he pauses and puts his hand to his chin in that universal HMMMMMM gesture, and then he says FUCK IT, BITCH DON’T NEED TO KNOW MY LIFE and crumples up the letter and tosses it on the desk. Yeah, takin’ a man-stand! HO DON’T OWN ME AND MY GODLIKE CREATOR POWERS, BRAH.
Uh, yeah, about that? Even the title cards are onto you, dude. “Instead of a perfect human being,” the text sniffs, “the evil in Frankenstein’s mind creates a monster.” The movie does not specify which mind-evil did the deed, whether it was the relatively mild crumpling of the Sweetheart letter, the desire to want to create life in the first place, those three dead hookers stuffed under his dorm room bunk, or just the kind of general evil that resides in all our minds just by virtue of our shared humanity. I like to think that the evil in my mind wouldn’t create anything more nefarious than a doughy, middle-aged high school gym coach, or perhaps a stale bran muffin, but y’know, I’m not judging anyone on mind-evil levels here.
And now we come to the money-shot, the actual monster creation! Since whizzing sciencey doodads hadn’t been invented yet in 1910, Frankie has to go the alchemy-via-Julia-Child route, mixing up some reanimatin’ potion in his ramen noodle pot while a friendly skeleton looks on from a nearby chair. I DID SO MAKE FRIENDS IN COLLEGE, MOM, AND DON’T MENTION HOW THIN AND BONY HE IS WHEN YOU SEE HIM, HE’S REALLY SENSITIVE ABOUT THAT.
BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL, IT’S SOUP!!!
In the closet behind him is a large vat steaming merrily away, and for a moment I’m distracted by the fantasy that this is a documentary about the early days of the Frankenstein Brothers Homestyle Chili Company, when they were still a scrappy startup experimenting with different spice blends in their parents’ basement. Frankenstein’s Chili: Better Than the Sum of its Parts!
Dr. Foodenstein tosses a spoonful of the ramen noodle potion into the chili vat with a hearty “BAM!” and then remembers there’s a couple more ingredients he forgot, so he chucks those in too, and the chili emits a plume of smoke and Frankie turns toward the camera all VOILA, CHILI MAGIC, Y’ALL, and then, because the best chili must simmer to perfection in complete darkness away from the prying eyes of the public, he closes the closet doors on it, except they look more like metal bank vault doors, if those vault doors were painted with tempera on big pieces of cardboard. Then he puts a wooden bar across the doors, lest the chili escape and cause panic and intestinal distress throughout the German countryside.
Much like an oven, the closet vault doors have a little window through which you may monitor the progress of your foodstuffs, so Frankie takes full advantage, watching as his chili gains sentience. This is actually a pretty cool effect, similarities to Jiffy Pop notwithstanding. If you kinda squint, it does sort of look like a monster is assembling itself, with ropy “veins” emerging from the pot to wrap themselves around what could be a ribcage, if looked at with a generous (or drunk) eye. Now, I’m no Rachael Ray, but I have cooked a few pots of chili in my time. Is it normal for stygian beast-men to spontaneously arise from amid the bubbling stew of beans, spice, and meat? Because if it is, what am I doing wrong? I bet I’m forgetting to offer up the proper invocations to Belphegor, right? That’s gotta be it.
YOU BETTA RECOGNIZE.
So Frankie keeps peering through the window as the monster solidifies, pausing every few seconds to look toward the camera with a FUCK YEAH, WHO’S THE MAD MONSTER BAKER kinda face. The chili monster moves one arm up and down like he’s lifting a two-pound dumbbell, and then he’s on fire for some reason, and then the motion of his one arm becomes ever more pronounced, as though he’s fervently trying to hail a taxi. Then we cut to Frankie gesturing and shaking his head as if he just can’t believe how epic this shit is, then in the next shot the chili monster has two arms and a fat lumpen chest and a total fivehead positioned beneath a nest of hair that wouldn’t look out of place on a member of Ratt circa 1986.
I FEEL PRETTY.
Here’s the thing, though. Even though Frankie has been standing there watching the entire chili monster development through his little Easy Bake Oven window, he is still horrified — HORRIFIED — when he sees his creation in its final form. Dude, you just saw the misshapen torso and the spindly bone-arms and the tragic hair a second ago and you were all about it, but now, somehow, the gestalt of it is just too loathsome to contemplate? I guess I just don’t get life secrets.
Predictably, the wooden bar comes flying off the door and a creepy hand like the eyeball fella’s from Pan’s Labyrinth oozes out of the chili closet and wiggles at Frankie as the cowed doctor shrieks (silently) and points at the horror he’s unleashed. “Frankenstein appalled at the sight of his evil creation,” the title card reads, helpfully. No shit?
As further evidence of his appalled-ness, he backs into his bedchamber all OHHHH SHIT I DONE FUCKED UP NOW, tearing at his hair and fainting dramatically across his bed. Because back in the silent movie days, men were men, goddammit, and if wilting like dying daisies at the first sign of trouble was good enough for your grandpa, then it’s good enough for you, sonny. These fainting ninnies beat the Nazis, you know.
As Frankenwhiner angsts among the bedclothes, the monster quietly parts the curtains, and even though he seems to be yelling and waving his bean-sprout fingers inches away from Frankie’s prone face, it still takes forever for Frankie to wake up, slowly move his head so that he is in direct eye contact with his hellish creation, and then freak the fuck out. Pity poor Frankie, who can apparently only see things when the pupils of his eyeballs are centered directly on them. Nothing bad really happens to either one of them, though; the monster just waves his hands and goes boo, Frankie takes entirely too much time rolling out from beneath the monster’s narrow scare-zone, then he slides into his chair for a second, emoting, then he gets to his feet and paces and tears at his hair some more, and then he collapses into a heap on the floor. The monster, clearly realizing that frightening this drama llama is not enough of a challenge for him, makes a MY BAD, I THOUGHT I WAS TERRORIZING A MAN gesture and backs out of the shot. A moment later, Frankie’s…butler? houseboy? comes into the room, looking all officious and no-nonsense, but springing into action when he sees the supine form of his master all splayed across the Oriental rug. He wakes Frankie up, and Frankie stares all bug-eyed toward where the monster was, obviously not able to deal with any of this shit, and then the butler begins weirdly stroking his head as though Frankie is a kitty and the butler is Jackson Galaxy. There, there, doctor. Just cough up that hairball and you’ll feel a lot better.
The next scene, “The return home,” opens about how you’d expect, with Father Frankenstein and Sweetheart sitting in their front parlor avoiding conversation with one another. The gangly Frankie arrives, sweeping grandly into the room while removing his top hat, widening his arms in a convivial gesture that seems to say MY FABULOUS ASS HAS RETURNED, YOU LUCKY BASTARDS, NOW COMMENCE THE WORSHIPFUL FAWNING. Gotta say, he seems pretty cocky for a guy who just loosed a malevolent fiend whose first action on earth was making him piss his pants in terror. I’m actually not really sure if Dad and Sweetheart know what Frankie has been up to vis-á-vis creating unholy abominations in his chili pot, but they seem happy to see him, anyway. Seemingly less happy to see him is some doddering old guy who walks into the shot with his arm outstretched as though he’s trying and failing to get the attention of the other three actors. Who is this? Is it Thomas Edison doing a sly walk-on like a proto-Alfred Hitchcock? Perhaps Wilford Brimley attempting to warn them of the dangers of diabeetus? No idea.
“Haunting his creator and jealous of his sweetheart for the first time the monster sees himself,” reads the next card. Painful lack of commas aside, why does this film keep telling us what’s going to happen before it happens? Did people not know how suspense worked back then? Anyway, we see Frankie sitting in a room with a full-length mirror featuring prominently, and then Sweetheart comes swooshing in with her copious layers of white chiffon, and the two mack on each other and Sweetheart pins a flower to Frankie’s lapel. They chat and fart around for a few seconds, and then Sweetheart exits stage right, perhaps to have a wee off camera, and then the door opens and the chili monster barges in, looking like Pete Burns from Dead or Alive filtered through a post-apocalyptic-mutant lens. Frankie points at the monster again like YOU and the monster points back at him like NO, YOU, and then the monster seems to be trying to reason with his creator, gesturing to Frankie and then at himself, all YOU DID THIS SHIT, MOTHERFUCKER, I HOPE YOU’RE PROUD OF YOURSELF, and then he leans forward and plucks the flower off Frankie’s lapel and throws it on the floor. DID THAT TART GIVE YOU THIS FLOWER? SHE CAN NEVER BE WHAT I AM TO YOU, MASTER. YOU FORMED ME WITH YOUR OWN SECRET RECIPE, AND NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE YOU LIKE I CAN.
I LEFT A BUNNY BOILING ON THE STOVE FOR YOU.
Sorry, I got carried away and thought I was watching Fatal Attraction for a second.
So I guess Frankie knows that Sweetheart is coming back and apparently tells the monster to hide, which the monster obligingly does. Accommodating chap, that monster. Sweetheart breezes into the room carrying…teacups? a short stack? and she lays the stuff out on the table, presumably pretending not to notice the stench of the charnel house that undoubtedly follows the monster wherever he goes, including sitting next to me on the city bus, inevitably. Frankie does that I’M TOTALLY NOT STANDING IN FRONT OF THIS PLACE WHERE A MONSTER IS DEFINITELY NOT HIDING thing, and even though she’s just brought in their tea, Frankie convinces Sweetheart that she must have some pressing business elsewhere and to get gone. Meanwhile, the monster creeps out from his hiding place before Frankie and Sweetheart have even left the room, and they totally don’t see him even though he is standing right there in the open. Frankie’s intense eye-pupil focus strikes again, I guess. After Sweetheart leaves, Frankie closes the door portentously and approaches the monster, they point at each other some more, then they commence wrestling.
Just as the spoilery title card promised, in the midst of the fisticuffs, the monster catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror and proceeds to body-dysmorphia the hell out with a histrionic, arm-raising FUCK YOU FOR DOING THIS TO MEEEEEEE meltdown, after which he stalks off to sulk and binge on Little Debbie Cakes while weeping in front of his worn VHS copy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Another grammatically-challenged card informs us that “On the bridal night Frankenstein’s better nature asserting itself,” and if you could keep yourself from reading that in the voice of the Wild and Crazy Guys, then you’re a better woman than I. Dr. and Mrs. Sweetheart are being congratulated on their nuptials, and you can just tell that the two of them are giving the guests perfunctory handshakes and shoving them unceremoniously out the door so they can get started on the sweet wedding-night nookie. Once the last insufferable guest has gone, the pair embrace and eagerly contemplate the long-awaited rubbing of their no-no parts together. Frankie’s all GO IN THE BEDROOM AND DRAPE YOUR NUDITY ACROSS THAT TESLA COIL THE WAY I LIKE, I’LL BE IN THERE AS SOON AS I BLOW OUT THE CANDLES AND MAKE SURE THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NO MONSTERS WAITING OUTSIDE TO STORM IN AND TEACH ME THE MEANING OF HUBRIS. As he prepares for the BOW CHICKA WOW, he is called away by someone off camera (the butler wanted to caress Frankie’s kitty-head one last time before bed, I suppose), and while he is gone, the monster naturally breaks into the house and immediately twigs where the bridal chamber is. He makes his spindly-fingered way toward the boudoir, likely intending to indulge in a Sweetheart Sampler, if you know what I mean. And because he’s a monster, you can bet he’ll eat all the good pieces first, like the caramels and the nut cups, and by the time Frankie gets back, there won’t be anything left but those gross fruit creams.
That analogy was bad and I feel bad.
Frankie is finally done getting his head stroked by the butler (snort) and at last deigns to head for the bridal suite, where Sweetheart has no doubt got herself off with a vibrator and fallen asleep by now. But look, the doors are wide open! What could this portend? Could it be that the monster Frankie created and then just kinda left behind with a MEH, NO LONGER MY PROBLEM has returned to settle the score? Frankie closes the doors and then seems to realize OMG, MY NEW BRIDE IS IN THE BEDROOM ALONE AND THE MONSTER IS PROBABLY IN THE HOUSE, and instead of rushing to her aid, he just kinda stands there, uselessly, and wigs out until the crisis is averted by Sweetheart herself, who comes barreling out of the bedroom all in a lather after having experienced the most intense orgasm of her life; so intense, in fact, that she cannot remain upright and faints dead away, after which the monster emerges all cock-proud with his enormous schwanstücker and tries to play the whole thing off like IT WAS A TOTAL ACCIDENT, MAN, I DIDN’T MEAN TO HURT HER, BUT HEY, IT’S YOUR FAULT FOR SADDLING ME WITH JOHN HOLMES’S PEEN, DON’T HATE THE PLAYA, HATE THE GAME. Frankie and the monster tangle up again, and finally the monster is all I DON’T NEED THIS SHIT, BRO and storms out, while Sweetheart writhes around, beseeching him not to leave. But he does, and Frankie kinda shakes his fist after him, all THAT’S RIGHT, RUN AWAY, MONSTER, OR YOU’LL GET MORE OF THE SAME, even though the monster totally just whipped his ass and popped his wife’s cherry and overall made him look like a chump. Sweetheart clutches at Frankie’s legs to prevent him from following the monster, but to no avail. Frankie has finally decided to accept responsibility for what he’s done, and truth be told, he probably wants to get away from the missus for a while, since listening to her extolling the virtues of the monster’s superior tongue dexterity has gotta be murder on his ego.
Now, right here is where the “liberal adaptation” caveat comes into play, because the next card reads, “The creation of an evil mind overcome by love and disappears.” With all due respect, what the fuck is this shit? In the book, the monster killed Frankie’s wife, right? He didn’t just ring her bell (allegedly) and leave her all alive and satiated. But I guess the sight of the monster laying waste to everyone Frankie knew and loved was just a little too real for early 20th-century cinema, man, so Edison went with a happy clappy ending that completely let Frankie off the hook for his presumption. And while I was thinking that the word “disappears” was used metaphorically, like the monster just wandered off to quietly live out the rest of his days on a remote farm in Vermont or something, it seems as though the power of Frankie and Sweetheart’s luuuurve was able to suspend the laws of physics and cause the monster to literally disappear, like wink out of existence. His reflection remains briefly, and Frankie stares at it, and it’s really obvious that the movie is trying to say FRANKIE AND THE MONSTER, YOU GUYS, THEY’RE THE SAME, and then Frankie is just pointing at his own reflection before running to the mirror and going, THERE YOU ARE, YOU STUDLY HUNK OF MAN-MEAT and celebrating the fact that his grave transgression has been completely erased from the space-time continuum and there’s not even a messy monster corpse to be disposed off after all is said and done, so the entire point of Shelley’s novel was pretty much negated, meaning there’s really nothing stopping this addle-brained abomination-maker from firing up the old chili pot to try again and get it right this time. Maybe less cayenne pepper and more eye of newt will dampen the creation’s murderous impulses just a bit. It’s all just trial and error, you know. Meh.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of Scary Silents! Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
Здравствуйте, minions! Why in the ever-loving Блядь have I reverted to Google-translate Russian, you ask? Well, it’s because today I have decided to return to my long-neglected Scary Silents series with a Russian film from 1915 called The Portrait (or Портрет, if you prefer). The only remaining fragment of this film is a bit over eight minutes long, but according to this recap, it supposedly ran about 45 minutes in its original form, though only the first few minutes have survived. Nevertheless, it’s still a cool little artifact, even though we will likely never know what happened in the lost ~37 minutes of runtime. Well, unless we read “The Mysterious Portrait,” the Nikolai Gogol novella it was based on, I suppose (which is evidently being adapted as an English-language film sometime this year). If you’d like to watch along with the Goddess, here’s your linkovitch:
We open on what looks like a hinky little antique shop, its walls festooned with crookedly-hung portraits and gobs of fake-ass cobwebs. The proprietor of said shop is doing his proprietor thang, waiting idly around for customers and sipping coffee that is likely spiked with vodka, because Russia. Soon enough, an artist named Chartkov glides into the shop and greets the proprietor. GOOD DAY, SIR, the proprietor seems to say. DO YOU HAVE A MOMENT TO BROWSE MY COLLECTION OF GARAGE SALE KNOCKOFFS AND VARIOUS SUNDRIES? Chartkov begins to poke around a bit, but the proprietor evidently hasn’t read Zig Ziglar’s Selling 101, because every time Chartkov seems interested in something, the shopkeeper is all EH, YOU DON’T WANT THAT, waving dismissively and shaking his head at the dude and sipping his coffee, getting drunker and more belligerent with each adulterated mouthful (okay, not really).
After much back and forth, with Chartkov evidently knowing what he wants and the shopkeeper trying to dissuade him with contemptuous eyerolls, the artist hands over a handful of coins and pulls up a portrait of a spooky, staring old man that is apparently just the thing to liven up that blank expanse of wall in his joyless Russian hovel. OMG, THIS WILL LOOK JUST DARLING OVER THAT SOFA I SCROUNGED FROM THE BOMB SITE! AND IT EVEN MATCHES THE CURTAINS! OR AT LEAST IT WOULD IF I HAD ANY CURTAINS BESIDES TORN BURLAP RAGS!
I would like to note here that the shop contains what appears to be a teeny Rembrandt peeking out from beside a much larger painting on the back wall. Did Chartkov consider that he probably could have snagged that for a couple rubles if he played his cards right, and then perhaps offloaded the thing on eBay for a couple mil? He does not, and hence we have a horror film and not a heartwarming rags to riches story. But hell, the dude’s an artist, maybe he recognized it was actually one of those worthless print-to-canvas jobbies for sale at every Bed Bath & Beyond, and had the good sense to steer clear.
Chartkov leaves the shop with his prize, and it is at this point that we, the viewers, get the first clear look at the thing. It’s a pretty slapdash affair, honestly, but it gets points for being uncomfortably creepy in a Disney Haunted Mansion sorta way. Chartkov carries it through snow-choked streets, glancing down at it every now and again, as if to say, YEAH, THIS WAS DEFINITELY A MUCH BETTER INVESTMENT OF MY MEAGER FUNDS THAN A BAG OF POTATOES AND A SIX-PACK WOULD HAVE BEEN. I’M LIVING THE ART COLLECTING DREAM, AND SCREW YOU, MOM AND DAD, FOR THINKING I’D NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING. I’LL SHOW YOU. I’LL SHOW YOU ALL. I’LL HAVE THE MOST BADASS COLLECTION OF SKETCHY OLD MAN PAINTINGS THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN, AND THEN YOU’LL ALL BE SORRY.
In the next scene, Chartkov is sleeping in his apartment, and the portrait is hanging above his bed and staring into our very souls. Watching. Waiting. Chartkov awakes with a start as if from a nightmare, glancing over at the painting and then laughing at himself, because he’s such a silly ass for having nightmares about some Manos-lookin’ portrait that’s clearly plotting his death.
THE MASTER WOULD NOT APPROVE OF YOUR NON-MANOS-BASED ARTWORK PURCHASES.
Then, thinking that maybe the picture won’t look quite so murderous after a spot of TLC, he gets up and begins scrubbing it with a rag. This has pretty much the opposite effect of what he probably intended, for he ends up rubbing off the entire image, revealing a more realistic and EVEN CREEPIER painting of an old man that was hiding under there all along, just biding its time. Chartkov is understandably put out by this development, pacing around his room with fetching plaid trousers and furrowed brow, peeking anxiously at the painting from behind his little wooden dressing screen. I mean, sure, the portrait was ominous before, and that was just fine, but THIS?!? It’s just that one shade of sinister too far, and Chartkov isn’t sure he’s gonna stand for it, man.
ARE YOU CHECKING OUT MY ASS? YOU ARE, AREN’T YOU?
But instead of chucking the blighted thing out the window, setting it on fire, or even doing the obvious thing and taking it back to the store, getting his money back, and using his returned rubles to hie to a bar and get nice and plastered, he decides the best course of action is simply to cover the hellborn canvas with a dropcloth, utilizing the same logic as a kid who believes hiding under the blankets will keep the closet monster from getting him. If I can’t see the problem, he reasons, then it magically disappears. QED. That solved, he makes a WHEW gesture, shrugs out of his overcoat, puts on his special sleeping overcoat, and climbs back into bed, because wiping at a painting and then throwing a cloth over it just plumb tuckered him out.
Then there’s a fade to black, and when we fade back in, Chartkov is lying awake in bed, his eyes all bugging out. There’s a partial fade, and then we notice that the dropcloth has vanished from off of the painting. DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUN. Chartkov sits up, verrrrrry slowly, pointedly NOT looking at the painting, because he evidently already knows how shit like this is gonna go down. He stands up and staggers over to the painting, getting all up in its canvas weave, and then there’s a close-up in which we see the eyes of the old man in the painting shift to look at him. And then the old man’s whole head moves, and he’s giving Chartkov a devastatingly bitchy look, even though you’d think the old man would be happy that Chartkov liberated him from that cramped antique shop, but I suppose evil ghost dudes trapped in paintings aren’t especially known for their gratitude. And maybe Painting Geezer had a thing going with the Rembrandt in the antique shop and is pissed that he was spirited away to this ghetto-ass apartment with no other paintings to hang with.
STEP OFF, BORSCHT BREATH. YOU’RE FOGGING UP MY VARNISH.
At any rate, Chartkov, not exactly a model of proactiveness, fails to do the intelligent thing and run like hell when Painting Geezer moves, but simply sinks down next to the painting, all the while making a face like he just can’t deal. Painting Geezer puts his hands on the sides of the frame and leans outward toward the cowering Chartkov, who is visibly freaking the hell out, but strangely staying within grabbing distance of the old man’s talon-like fingers.
DON’T MAKE THAT WIGGED-OUT FACE AT ME, BOY, YOU’VE GOT SCARIER SHIT GOING ON BENEATH THAT OVERCOAT.
Finally, Chartkov puts his hands on the side of his head and begins to back away, but then there’s another fade and we see that, surprise, IT WAS ALL A DREAM, and Chartkov awakes thrashing in his bed, with the dropcloth still over the painting, just like he left it. FACE! After a few seconds of relief, he settles back into his nap.
Then there’s another sequence exactly like before: a fade where Chartkov is awake and the painting is covered, then a partial fade in which the dropcloth disappears. This time, though, Painting Geezer is moving before Chartkov even gets out of bed, and the artist is just going OHHHHH SHIT FUCK ME while the old guy straight up climbs out of the picture like Samara out of a TV, using a conveniently placed step stool beneath his painting.
LIKE THIS TRICK? I LEARNED IT FROM MY RUSSIAN GRANDPA.
Chartkov frets and rolls around against his pillows while Painting Geezer casually makes his way across the apartment and sits in a chair right next to Chartkov’s bed. He reaches into the pocket of his cloak, because he’s been dying for a ciggie after being trapped in that painting since the Renaissance, I’m assuming; but no, he actually pulls out a big canvas sack, while Chartkov looks on in disbelief and hams it up like he’s gonna faint dead away.
The old man pours the contents of the sack out into his lap. It looks like a bunch of small cylinders, and I’ll admit I thought they were hot rollers and Chartkov was about to get a supernatural spiral perm, but according the the above-linked recap, they’re actually rolls of gold coins. The old guy starts unwrapping one of the rolls, presumably to count his hoard, but unbeknownst to him, he has dropped one of the rolls on the floor and Chartkov has surreptitiously snatched it up. While Chartkov frets some more and makes Mr. Bean faces, Painting Geezer puts the rolls back into the sack, stands up and then peers back down into the bag for one last check. He seems to notice that one of the rolls is missing, because then he starts looking around on the floor behind the dressing screen that serves as Chartkov’s headboard. It should be noted that the entire time Painting Geezer was fussing about with his money bag, he paid no attention to Chartkov at all, acting as if the artist wasn’t even there. Chartkov quickly wraps the coin roll up in his sleeping overcoat, but then Painting Geezer, crouched down near the floor, peeks his creepy-ass face around the dressing screen, right near Chartkov’s head, BOO! And Chartkov predictably loses his shit.
But then POOF, Money-Hoarding Painting Geezer disappears, and Chartkov wakes up again. He makes the WTF IS GOING ON HERE face again, and then opens the hand that was holding the coin roll, only to find that it is empty. No ghost gold for you, buddy. *sad trombone*
Looking bummed out that dream-money evidently can’t cross the veil to become legal tender in real life, he goes back to sleep, and that’s where the movie fragment ends.
According to the recap, the novella this film was based on had Chartkov later finding a real roll of gold coins hidden in the painting’s frame, and then went on to detail his downfall after he abandoned his artistic integrity to sell out and pursue a life of wealthy excess. Whether the original film stuck to that story is anyone’s guess, but at any rate, this remaining fragment of The Portrait is a rare and interesting glimpse into a mostly lost era of Russian film.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
Yes, I have returned at long last! Did y’all miss me? Of course you did. Again, sorry I was away for so long; it’s just that I was up to my ass-crack in design work, trying to finish up the Vegan Black Metal Chef’s rad cookbook (which made $70,000 on Kickstarter, because the internet is an awesome place sometimes). But now that’s mostly been squared away (and of course I will post the link when the book is available on Amazon), so I am returning to my patented horror ramblings (and the crowd goes wild. Yay).
I was planning to do something with my Scary Silents series, but I also wanted to write something I could cross-post in some of the other categories, just so I could feel like I was killing a couple hobos with one brick, as it were. So what I decided to do was browse YouTube for some modern, black and white, silent short films (as I did for my previous post on 1991’s Begotten) and give some of those a gander to see what people of the 21st century were doing with the silent film aesthetic. There are a few good ones floating around out there, and these were the best ones I came across, so let’s get right to it, shall we?
Directed, photographed, and edited by Tony Falcon
This one didn’t have an actual title on the video itself, but the film title came up at the end. Maybe they didn’t want to spoil what the movie was about before you watched it? If that was the case, I guess I just spoiled it, so sorry about that. But even if you know the title, this is still really nicely done, beautifully filmed, with some pretty shocking, gross imagery. It’s only a little over four minutes long, but still makes quite an impact. Disturbing in the best way.
The House In Spain
Directed by Chris Hyde
I liked this one a great deal, because it had a lot of that “horror out of the corner of your eye” thing that I dig so much. Main character Jay has flown to his father’s house in Spain after his father ostensibly committed suicide, but it turns out that the death wasn’t quite as self-inflicted as it appeared. Eerie, subtle, and effective; give it a watch if you’re into the Paranormal Activity type vibe.
Written and directed by Neil Westwood
This one was pretty straightforward and more atmosphere than plot, but still looked great; the imagery actually reminded me of the aforementioned Begotten a bit, as well as the infamous Häxan. A photographer out in the woods stumbles across a gift box with a note reading, “Do Not Open,” which of course he disregards, much to his eternal chagrin. I think. Props for nice use of a plague doctor getup.
Written and directed by Travis Dahlhauser
A decent quasi-homage to Psycho, about a burglar who REALLY breaks into the wrong house. The first half is a nice slow burn, though I thought the use of Bernard Herrmann’s famous “slashing violins” score was a tad over the top. Great little short, though, and pretty impressive that it was made entirely by one guy, and that every scene was done in one take.
Hopefully I will be back to posting on this blog as regularly as I did before, so stay tuned, and until next time, Goddess out.
It’s time for another scintillating installment of Scary Silents, kiddos! As I mentioned in my last post, today I’m going to be discussing the eleven-minute D.W. Griffith film The Sealed Room from 1909, which as you might imagine bears a slight resemblance to the Poe story “The Cask of Amontillado,” as well as the works of Honoré de Balzac. It also stars Mary Pickford in a very small, early role as a lady in waiting! If you’d like to watch along, YouTube can hook you up:
A title card informs us that the King (no, not Elvis) has constructed a dove cote for his main squeeze. I don’t see any doves, so I’m gonna assume that “dove cote” is a euphemism for “secret sex dungeon.” Significantly, the room only has one entrance. DUN DUN DUUUUUUUN.
Then we see the king and his band of merry fops and sycophants, and the king gestures around the room, pointing at stuff with his cane while his posse look on, suitably attentive and impressed. When he leaves the room, there are a bunch more hangers-on out in the hall, bowing and scraping and blowing vuvuzelas at the monarch’s dandified approach. Then he calls out for his lady love, who sweeps into the room, takes his hand, and bows before him, as do her ladies-in-waiting. It’s good to be the king, I guess. Maybe the ladies can even polish his shoe buckles while they’re down there.
King’s all COME SEE WHAT I BUILT FOR YOU, MY DARLING and she’s all, AWWW, YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE, and whooshes into the sex dungeon. I mean dove cote. Everyone is in the room, and it must be really awkward just to have this huge phalanx of people galumphing along behind you at all times, especially when you’re trying to show off your rubber-encased love nest to your paramour, but hey, royalty has its privileges, and I guess they get used to it. There are still workmen in the room sealing off the windows, presumably so no one can peek in and see the king’s pasty, naked buttocks straining mightily between the creamy thighs of his beloved whenever the “dove cote” is in use. They coo and smooch at each other, and you’ll notice that standing at the entrance of the room, looking right at the camera, is a mustachioed troubadour playing a ukelele and kinda rolling his eyes at the king’s PDA. You can probably guess where all this is going.
They had to leave room in the middle of the frame for all the sexual tension.
The next title card reads, “After the festivities,” and I wasn’t aware that just showing your crew the results of your weekend construction projects counted as festive, but okay. There are two guys in the sex dungeon, and then another dude comes in with a king-announcing vuvuzela, and then the king duly makes a grand entrance through the curtains, and drags his bae in behind him. He kinda waves his arms around to show everyone that the room is done, and he is like TOTALLY proud of this room, you guys, and then he tells everyone to amscray, all ME AND THE MISSUS ARE GONNA INAUGURATE THIS ROOM, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN, BOW CHICKA WOW, so everyone slumps dejectedly out of the room, knowing that the king is about to climb beneath the voluminous skirts of his hot consort while they will be spending the evening alone with their scabies. The troubadour takes his sweet time leaving the room, and in a moment it becomes clear why; as soon as the king’s back is turned, the troubadour and the lady make moo eyes at each other and pass an unspoken signal between them. Oh shit, son, gonna be some infidelity up in this piece!
The king turns back around and the troubadour makes his escape without the sovereign seeming to suspect anything. He’s STILL showing that damn room off to his girl, doing a Vanna White on the curtains, all THIS IS REAL VELVET, HO, YOU BETTA RECOGNIZE, and she’s like, YEAH YEAH, PUT A SOCK IN IT AND GET LOST SO I CAN CHEAT ON YOU. They smooch for an uncomfortably long time, and then there’s an abrupt title card that says, “The king becomes suspicious.” So now you know.
Now they’re all out in the hall, and the king is macking on his girl AGAIN, and I swear she’s gonna have some chafed-ass lips after all this is said and done. The troubadour is giving them the side-eye again, and then the king tries to get his lady to come with him someplace, but she stays put, all UMMMM, I HAVE SOME SKETCHY GIRL STUFF DO DO, HONEY BUNCH, I’LL CATCH UP LATER, and he’s all, OKAY, BUT NO WHORING WHILE I’M GONE, and he loves on her some more while the troubadour furiously strums his ukelele alongside them (heh).
The king and his kinglings leave, but the ladies in waiting are still there—y’know, waiting—so the faithless hussy tells them to leave, and man, no sooner have they wandered out of the frame than the ho and the troubadour do that thing where they’re staring intensely at each other and kinda moving slowly towards each other like they’re afraid the other person is gonna disappear, and then finally THEY JUST CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE and fall into each other’s arms like troubadour’s dick is a magnet and princess has an iron cooch.
In the midst of their kissy-face, they stop, clearly hearing something, and jump apart. And then here comes the king back into the room, looking all UH HUH, YOU THINK JUST BECAUSE I’M NOT IN THE FRAME THAT I CAN’T SEE WHAT YOU TWO ARE UP TO and princess and troubadour are all, LA LA LA, NOTHING TO SEE HERE. The troubadour even starts strumming his ukelele (heh) like he’s been innocently playing a song this whole time instead of rubbing his boner up against the monarch’s chatelaine. King isn’t really buying it, surveying the situation with his severely arched brow ridge, but princess is able to sweet-talk her way out of it. King rubs her head like she’s a good puppy, and he even makes a gesture at the troubadour, all YEAH, STRUM THAT SHIT HARDER, BRO, and everyone laughs really uncomfortably.
And then king stares daggers at the troubadour, so I guess princess didn’t talk him out of shit, and then he’s gesturing around to everyone again, seeming to tell them all to come back with him to wherever they went off to before (maybe the bear baiting was starting in the courtyard?), but then a guy runs in and bows before the king and tells him something that seems pretty urgent (the bear escaped and started eating the gathered peasants?), and everyone’s raising their arms in panic and running out of the room. The king tries to drag princess out with him, but she’s all NOPE, GOTTA PEE, I’LL MEET YOU THERE and he’s all YEAH, YEAH, OKAY, I’M GOING, SOMETHING SOMETHING CUCKOLD and princess is all FUCK YEAH, GO OUT THERE AND CATCH THAT BEAR, MY HUNK OF KINGLY MAN-MEAT, I TOTALLY SWEAR I’M NOT GONNA BE RIDING THIS MOUSTACHE THE SECOND YOU LEAVE and as soon as the room is empty, she’s all over the troubadour like white on rice, you guys, flinging her clothes asunder, tearing his pantaloons savagely off him in her eagerness to get her mouth on that pulsing, glistening…oh wait, sorry, none of that happens, she just hugs him and drapes a garland of flowers around his neck. They didn’t know how to sex yet in 1909.
Princess indulges in some light BDSM as she uses the flower garland to drag the troubadour toward the “dove cote” that the king had built to hump her in, because princess is a shameless slattern. Once they’re in the room, princess is all CHECK IT OUT, NO WINDOWS SO NO ONE WILL SEE ALL THE FILTHY THINGS I AM ABOUT TO INFLICT ON YOUR BODY and then they fall upon each other like rabid wolverines, filling every heaving orifice with their…oh, sorry, that’s actually not what happens, really the princess just sits in a chair and the troubadour puts his head in her lap and plays his ukelele (heh) while she pulls off flower petals and drops them on him one by one as they laugh and laugh. Quaint.
Children, please avert your eyes.
Predictably, while the lovers are canoodling, the king returns from his random errand (bear mischief managed, I guess) and notices that neither princess nor troubadour are standing in the spots in the hallway where he left them. He looks around like he’s afraid he just misplaced them like they were his Hot Wheels cars, then he sees the troubadour’s ukelele left on the hall table, which is weird because the troubadour also has a ukelele in the dove cote/sex dungeon, so I guess he keeps a ukelele in every single room of the castle, just in case he needs to do some troubadouring at a moment’s notice. If you’d like, you may read this paragraph again, but every time you read “ukelele,” think “peen.” You’re welcome.
The king makes some side-eye toward the sex dungeon, and points at it and curls his hand in rage, even though he is alone in the hall. I’LL GET YOU, MY PRETTY, AND YOUR LITTLE BIG-UKELELE’D MUSICIAN, TOO, he seems to say. He sashays over in his fetching stockings and high heels and peeks through the curtains, only to witness the taut, quivering nipples of his lady love as the troubadour thrusts violently into her…oh, my mistake, he actually just sees the princess sitting there stroking the troubadour’s hair. Scandalous.
Apparently the king once had his hair stroked by Hitler and has never gotten over it, because the sight throws him into a full-on psychosis, clawing at the air with his hands, pushing furniture out of the way, and raising his cane like he’s gonna burst through the curtains like Kool-Aid man and beat the snot out of the cheating little creeps. BUT NO. He stops himself, because he has a much BETTER idea. Mwahahahahahaha!
See? A totally, one-hundred percent sane idea, not an overreaction at all. Nope. No sir.
Princess and troubadour are STILL dropping flower petals on each other and giggling, and like, you’d think they’d have at least got to first base by now, though I guess I respect their commitment to really lengthy, completely non-sexual foreplay. Meanwhile, the king brings in some dudes wearing pregnancy smocks and gestures for them to be SUPER QUIET while they, y’know, TOTALLY WALL UP THE ENTRANCE TO THE SEX DUNGEON. The sex dungeon whose sole entrance was only covered with a curtain, which is presumably not a fancy quilted soundproof curtain, but whatever.
The funniest thing about this is that the ENTIRE time the king’s henchmen are VERY SILENTLY building a wall a couple of yards away, the princess and the troubadour are just sitting there with the flower petals and the ukelele (ohhhh, I get it). They’re no nakeder than they were before, and the troubadour is probably getting blue balls, because he’s wearing an expression like HEY, BABY, WHATCHA DOING UP THERE, GONNA SHOW ME SOME TITTIES OR…? OH, NO, MORE FLOWER PETALS. K. She at least kisses him on the actual mouth, which is coincidentally the same moment that the king pokes his head through the top of the curtain for an illicit peek. So, so hot. Afterwards, princess leans back in her chair like she’s totally spent. Dropping flower petals will really take it out of a girl.
The king’s pregnant-man work crew have meanwhile finished bricking in the whores, so the king sends them away so he can have a private moment to gloat and taunt the wall and the still-clueless pair behind it. Inside, the princess lifts up an hourglass, showing that their allotted time is up, and I have a couple questions. Does the troubadour have to pay her now? Exactly how long were these two in that room playing with petals? Because king built a whole fucking wall outside without them noticing. And now they’re walled in and they didn’t even get laid, even though they had ample time for some P in V action if they had just got stuck in rather than being all courtly love about it. But I guess their relationship works for them, because they get up to leave the room, and troubadour doesn’t look at all like his throbbing stiffy is preventing him from walking straight.
They reach through the curtains and are all like FUNNY, WE DON’T REMEMBER WALKING THROUGH SOLID STONE TO COME IN HERE, and realization dawns pretty quickly what has happened. That’s right, princess, you’ve been BATHORY’D!
Too soon, you guys.
Outside in the hall, the king is beating on the wall with his cane and laughing like a lunatic, all HOW YOU LIKE MY STONES MOTHERFUCKERS, and princess and her side piece are all OHHHHHH SHIT. Troubadour flips the fuck out and starts beating on the walls and tearing at the curtains while the princess stands there all wigged out and useless. King knocks on the wall outside and smiles wickedly, taunting them a second time. Inside, the troubadour is pointing accusingly at the princess, because of course all this is her fault because she is an evil temptress who hypnotized him with her magic pussy and made him do things he wouldn’t do otherwise BECAUSE HE IS A BLAMELESS MAN, GODDAMMIT. She’s all TAKES TWO TO TANGO, BRAH, and really, is this how they should be spending their last few moments on earth? With this petty bickering over blame? Just accept your fates and squeeze in one last hump before you die. YOLO.
In a hilarious turn of events, the troubadour realizes he is running out of air less than two minutes after the room was sealed off, even though there should be at least enough air in there for a couple of days. Maybe he had his lungs removed and replaced with patented Electrolux Super Suction Lungs (TM). At any rate, the philandering shitheels gasp and tear at their clothing (finally!) and chew some scenery as they slowly and histrionically expire upon the floor.
What’s the invisible stuff you need to stay alive? Starts with an O?
Troubadour makes a valiant effort to fan the princess with his ukelele (saucy!), as though he’s trying to conjure more air out of…um…thin air, but it’s all to no avail. Their extracurricular snuggling comes to an ignominious end. The king cackles at the wall, all ROT IN HELL, SKANK AND UKELELE-STRUMMER, and now I’m left wondering who’s gonna have to tear down that wall so they can hose out the sex dungeon so the king can presumably bang some of the ladies in waiting in there later, but unfortunately the movie ends and leaves me hanging. I feel like I’ve just been showered with flower petals, if you catch my meaning.
Anyway, I’m gonna go take care of things, so you guys just talk amongst yourselves for a while. And until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
Welcome to the latest installment of Scary Silents! I’m doing another short one this time, but really, it shouldn’t matter much because this one is just excellent, and I’m sort of baffled at how it doesn’t get as much attention as some of the other films of the period.
Clocking in at a little over thirteen minutes long, this loose 1928 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” was directed by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber. It’s visually stunning, utilizing a lot of cool prism and silhouette effects to give the whole thing a gloriously gothic look that suits the story very well. This version on YouTube has a lovely modern score done by Colin Z. Robertson of Hands of Ruin, and the picture quality is sharp and beautiful, so check it out:
After the title cards, we open onto a neat effect of the pages of Poe’s story overlapping across the screen, which soon fades to a striking shot of a huge gray sky with a castle and a man on horseback silhouetted against it. Then there’s one of those kick-ass prism shots of overlapping staircases, which are then pierced by a crack going down the screen which splits to reveal the inside of the house, with a woman sitting in a chair at the end of a shadowed hallway. So far this whole thing is just stylish as fuck, and I’m having a little gothgasm over it already, so you’ll have to excuse me. Ahem.
The woman, obviously Madeline Usher, gets up from her chair and goes into the dining room to join her brother Roderick. Both of them are wearing outfits and makeup I would kill for, with Roderick’s eyebrows being particularly impressive and drag-queen-like. Madeline has brought some flowers that she puts in the vase on the dining room table, and Roderick pulls her chair out for her, and it’s all very genteel, dontcha know. Madeline pushes her wine glass toward Roderick, all BE A DEAR AND HOOK ME UP WITH SOME BOOZE, BRO, and he has the black-gloved servant pour her some, after which she looks at him lovingly, thinks to herself IMMA DRINK THE HELL OUT OF THIS WINE, and proceeds to do exactly that, getting a little wistful expression on her face, like that’s a damn good vintage. Maybe it’s Amontillado, yes? It was certainly Fortunato’s favorite.
Then there is an odd shot of a black screen, with a covered silver dish floating in the center. It opens, and I can’t quite tell, but it looks like maybe a coffin goes in there and then the lid comes down on the dish. So someone put a teeny coffin on the plate in lieu of Madeline’s dinner, and this is a way bigger deal than just replacing her coffee with Folder’s Crystals, I think. The servant puts the covered dish in front of her, and she already looks anxious about it, like she knows there’s gonna be something in there other than the kale and tofu salad she ordered. The servant (who we don’t see, other than his black gloves) sorta waves the tray around weirdly before setting it down, and Madeline lunges toward it to open it, all STOP MOVING THE TRAY AROUND, DIPSHIT, I’M FAMISHED, and then the servant opens it a little to show her, even though we in the audience can’t see it. Madeline’s all WTF, WHERE’S MY SIDE OF CURLY FRIES, and she puts her hands to her cheeks in shock and the camera angle goes all askew.
Then we fade to a closeup of Madeline with her eyes closed, looking like someone dropped some roofies in her wine, and the covered dish is prominent in the foreground. Then it looks like she falls asleep, and there’s a shot of Roderick, wine in hand, looking at her like WHAT ARE YOU UP TO NOW, MISS CRAZY PANTS, and then he approaches her very slowly, pretty much leaning right into her face. She opens her eyes and stands up, lookin’ all hypnotized and shit, and Roderick is just looking at her all the while, like HUH. There’s a floating effect of what looks like that coffin again, and I guess only Madeline can see it, because she just zombies out of the room while Roderick watches her retreating back. I’m left to wonder if this is a common occurrence at the Usher dinner table, Madeline spacing out after the first course and wandering off like that. Maybe she never liked the food that was being served but didn’t have the heart to say it, so she got into the habit of faking a fugue so she could sneak out later for a sack of White Castles. Just speculating here.
Let’s spend the evening tripping balls.
Next is a nicely atmospheric shot of rain falling into a puddle, and then the horse-riding silhouette guy arrives in the most expressionist manner possible. He rings the doorbell, and there’s a shot of a bunch of bells ringing crazily (tolling of the bells bells bells bells, y’all), and then there’s Madeline walking through the darkened house, presumably to answer the door, but I can’t tell where she is in relation to anything else because everything is dark. The door opens by itself, I think, and the silhouetted guy comes in, only now he’s not silhouetted and there’s two of him like one of those high school band photos from the eighties, where he’s full length in the background and then there’s a faded closeup of his face at center frame. He’s wearing a rad top hat, and at first I thought he was also wearing war paint, in the form of a black line bisecting his face, but I think that’s just the background coming through the fade. He enters, gothically, and sees Madeline as she walks down a hallway away from him.
I got lost on the way to my “Cabaret” audition. Sorry to trouble you.
Madeline stops before a staircase, which is moving like an escalator, and she looks at it like FUNNY, I DON’T REMEMBER LIVING IN THE MALL OF AMERICA, and then there’s a creepy shot of top hat dude, and I guess he DOES have war paint on, because he just came from an Adam Ant cosplay party. Madeline walks past the stairs and does a dramatic JUST CAN’T EVEN kinda gesture, and then on the wall behind her is a huge shadow of a hammer or gavel banging, as though it’s hitting her. She’s all crouched down between more moving staircases that are presumably carrying invisible passengers to housewares, and then she faints and disappears into the shadows. There are more shots of staircase looking things moving and heaving, and this is actually a pretty cool-looking effect, very disorienting and indicative of the unfolding madness. There are shots of other moving things that I can’t tell what they are, though they sorta look like UFOs.
Then Madeline is reaching toward a wall, and either Roderick or top hat guy are standing near her, and the camera goes all skewed again as she reaches out. Then there are more UFOs, because this is clearly a whole invasion of craziness, you guys. Then there’s a close-up of Madeline’s face, and she has a black cloak and a black veil, and a black-gloved hand lifts the veil away from her face and then puts his hand on her chin and closes her mouth, because she was attracting the flies, y’know, standing there with her mouth hanging open that way. But then her mouth just falls open again, so I’m not sure what he thought he was accomplishing with that. He then closes her eyes, though, and that seems to stick.
Then we just see Madeline’s chest, and a black glove copping a feel over her clothes. Then a hammer comes down a whole bunch of times against a black backdrop, and then the hammer falls to the floor, followed by two black gloves. Then there’s Roderick looking at something and seeming all wigged out, but we don’t see what he’s looking at.
Then there are a bunch of prismic shots of Madeline’s sleeping face, and then Roderick emerges through one of those crazy expressionist doors that’s all jacked and crooked, and he looks every inch a life-sized ventriloquist dummy. He sees some shadows in the hall, and swipes his hand across his eyes, and then he sees that the hall is doing all that weird prism shit again, and at this point he must be thinking that the servant must have dosed them both. There’s a couple shots of Madeline’s big ol’ hand reaching for him, and more hammer shadows. And then Roderick is coming down the stairs swinging his arm as though he’s using the hammer, although he isn’t holding anything. Then he sees a shadow of a big top hat on the wall beside him and is all WTF, and then he sees an actual top hat and coat set on a table or something, and he just looks at it like OH, WE MUST HAVE A VISITOR, BUT DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THAT, TOO BUSY PRETENDING TO HAMMER. Then Madeline is walking around with both her arms raised, still in her trance, and then there’s like ghosts of her lurking around, and Roderick is all looking at them like WHUT, and then he sees like piles of books floating around in front of his eyes, and at this point I kinda feel like maybe the Ushers might benefit from having their house checked for a carbon monoxide leak, because shit’s getting weird in here.
Roderick sees the top hat bouncing off the floor in a backwards-running shot that makes it look like it’s kinda floating, and then there’s a prism shot of blank book pages, and then there’s Roderick looking like he’s about to blow chunks, while in the foreground, someone turns blank pages in one of the books. Then white letters begin swimming in and out of the screen, and it looks like they spell BEAT, or maybe BETA, as in, these hallucinations are still being beta-tested, so all features may not be available. Then the book floats and turns pages, with the top hat guy floating behind them. Then there’s another word swimming around, and this time it’s CRACK, so I guess now we know what substance the Ushers have been ingesting, so that’s nice.
This is why Nancy Reagan told us to just say no.
Then there’s a shadow of Madeline appearing to lift up the lid of a coffin, or maybe a grand piano, and then there’s more letters, RIPPD and SCR followed by EAM. More shots of Madeline, more moving stairs, more Roderick with white letters floating around his head that I can’t decipher this time. More prisms, shots of Madeline’s feet. Then the top hat guy is sneaking up behind Roderick, perhaps so he can inquire where on earth they obtained the really quite fantastic drugs they both appear to be on, and then Roderick suddenly points, and Madeline is up there, looking all ghostly and shit, with black hollowed out eyes.
Am I Siouxsie yet?
She tackles him and they both go down, and then top hat guy runs over there and appears to wrestle with someone for a second before noping the fuck out of the joint, leaving only his wee silhouette behind. Then there are shots of masonry falling, and water splashing, and what seems to be a blurry shot of a moon reflected in the water. Then, fade to black.
Now, you may have noticed from this frustratingly vague recap that if you had never read Poe’s story (and I don’t see that as being a problem for anyone who reads this blog, frankly), then you wouldn’t have the slightest inkling what in the Samuel Langhorne Hell was going on in this movie. In that sense it wasn’t a straightforward adaptation of the story at all, but more like a visual poem exploring its themes. I thought it was beautifully done and very effective, with some really eerie shots, but those with less esoteric proclivities may find it a tad pretentious, and that’s okay. I really dug it, though, and was surprised how fabulous it looked for being nearly a century old. Check it out, if you’re so inclined, and until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
So…I thought it was about time to do another Scary Silents, but because I’m under pretty much the same time constraints as before, I had to pick another short one. Luckily there are a lot of great short horror silents floating around on YouTube, many of them directed by the groundbreaking Georges Méliès, who was responsible for the well-known film A Trip To The Moon, as well as what’s considered the first-ever horror movie, The Haunted Castle from 1896 (which I wrote about here). He’s also the director behind today’s entry, a two-minute-seven-second movie from 1903 called Le Monstre (The Monster, duh), so let’s get right to it! Here’s the link:
We open on a shot of exotic Egypt, or at least a painted backdrop thereof. You know, sand, pyramids, temples, the whole deal. In the foreground is the Sphinx, bearing a hilariously eye-rolling facial expression like he just can’t deal with this shit anymore. A man and woman enter stage right. They’re both wearing long robes, and the guy looks like a sheik and has a huge fuck-off beard. He’s gesturing to the woman as if to say AND ALL THIS COULD BE YOURS IF THE PRICE IS RIGHT, and then he bows to her and she sits on a convenient stack of boxes nearby while he waves his arms grandly, all JUST SIT RIGHT THERE LITTLE LADY, I’M ABOUT TO BLOW YOUR MIND.
He drags a coffin into the center of the frame, because apparently he’s the kind of guy who just has coffins lying about the place. The woman is all OH MY, and then the sheik opens the coffin and pulls out a skeleton. BEHOLD THE BONES OF MINE ENEMIES, I imagine him saying, glancing over at his lady to see whether she’s impressed. She just seems more confused than anything, and who can blame her? Is this a first date? Were they originally just supposed to go to Starbucks and get to know each other? Is the sheik a serial killer she met on Craigslist? Has she made a terrible mistake?
The sheik gingerly lays the skeleton on the ground and drags the coffin back to where it came from. Then he’s all CHECK THIS SHIT OUT and starts waving his arms again. The skeleton has become animated! It starts to rise up into the air! The woman is like OH HELL NO and jumps up from her boxes with her hands over her mouth. After a moment she reconsiders, because I guess she just wants to give this blind date one last chance, even though things are starting to get weird, what with all the necromancy and what not. She sits down again. Then the sheik sits the skeleton on another stack of boxes, and hilarity ensues as the skeleton keeps floating up from the seat and the sheik has to keep shoving him back down. YOU SIT YOUR BONY ASS RIGHT DOWN, MISTER.
Then the sheik brings over some foofy white fabric and places some of it primly in the skeleton’s lap like the skelly is the latest bridezilla on Say Yes to the Dress, and then he puts some around the shoulders and on the skull like a veil. And then HEY PRESTO, the skeleton spontaneously fleshes out into a mummy-looking person with a wedding dress type getup on. Marry Me Mummy stands up at the sheik’s command and then begins to dance around in the spazziest way possible. The sheik is waving his arms again like he’s controlling the mummy’s movements, and then there’s a cool shot where it looks like the mummy is sinking into the ground like the Wicked Witch of the West, but then comes sprouting back out of the sand before it sinks in all the way. Then it floats up into the air a bit and makes like your standard mysterious hand gestures and what not. Then just the neck gets really long and the head dances around, and this actually looks pretty freaky, so good job there. Then the mummy normalizes again and does more of that crazy-ass dancing. The sheik grabs the mummy’s arm and drags it toward the woman, who has been watching this whole situation with astonishment and wonder. The sheik’s all COOL, YEAH? and the woman is like NOOOOO, GET IT AWAAAAAAYYYY and the sheik’s all AW MAN, I THOUGHT YOU’D LOVE THAT, WAIT A SECOND, THERE’S MORE and then he brings another length of white fabric and enshrouds the mummy in it. And then he takes this fabric away and VOILA! There’s another hot Egyptian princess under there! Why the sheik thought his first lady friend would be happy about this development is anyone’s guess, but the lady friend kinda rolls her eyes, probably thinking, OH, I SEE, I’M NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU ANYMORE AND YOU’D BETTER NOT REQUEST THAT THREESOME YOU WANTED AND ALSO SHE HAS A DOUBLE CHIN AND CANKLES, SO FUCK YOU AND YOUR SHEIKY PERVERSIONS, JACK. But then the lady bows and crosses herself (in ancient Egypt? Okay) and kisses the mummy lady’s hand, and I realize that the lady isn’t a lady at all, but a dude! Hey, cut me some slack, everyone’s wearing voluminous robes and long headpieces, so I can’t tell which gender is which. So I guess the whole point of this is that the lady-dude asked the sheik fella to bring his girlfriend back from the dead, which I would have known if I had checked the Wikipedia page before writing this. Also, the sheik is a dervish. So there’s that.
So then the dervish wraps the hot girlfriend in the shroud again and picks her up, and then he’s all HERE, CATCH to the lady-dude, and lady-dude is all I GOT HER, I GOT HER and grabs for her feet, but when he grabs the fabric the girlfriend is gone and just a skeleton falls out! The dervish is all HAHA, SUCKER and takes off with the fabric while the lady-dude is like OMG I JUST PAID THAT GUY SEVENTY CAMELS AND A MAGIC LAMP AND HE FUCKED ME, and then he runs off stage left after the absconding holy man. Dervishes are dicks, is the lesson there. And that’s the end.
Please stay tuned for more fun, same bat time, same bat blog. I’m hoping to get a couple movies watched this weekend to post about next week (Seance on a Wet Afternoon from 1964 and a new indie film called The Sky Has Fallen, which I was sent with a request to review it), so keep reading, and until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
The Goddess is a busy hellspawn, as I’m sure you all know by now. For the past couple weeks, I’ve been running my little cloven hooves off, doing promotional radio shows for The Mammoth Mountain Poltergeist (such as here and here), researching and writing an upcoming book I’m collaborating on with parapsychologist Steve Mera about one of his poltergeist cases, formatting and uploading ebook versions of some of my other books (here, here, here, and here), as well as doing my regular full time job and all the other freelance graphic design and club promotion stuff I do. In short, minions, I’m tired, and I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming three-day weekend, over which I have ambitious plans to simply lie around like a slug, eat copious amounts of food that’s bad for me, and occasionally rouse myself, put on pants, and go out to dance and drink myself silly until the wee hours. I’m going for the gusto here, folks.
But I didn’t want to go into the long weekend before posting a little something something on this here blog, and since it’s been a week or two since I did a “Scary Silents,” that seemed the logical choice. However, since it is also Friday and I’m really antsy to get the party started but also kinda bummed out that the air conditioning in the Hellfire home busted last night and won’t be fixed until Thursday (and we live in central Florida, y’all, so this is a horrible tragedy and even though you’d think that I’d be all about the heat, being a minion of hell and all, you’d be WRONG, I’m a motherfuckin’ COLD demon, dammit, so don’t question me), I wanted to choose a silent film that would fulfill the requirements for the series but wouldn’t be too taxing on my overworked and overheated brain. Enter The Haunted Castle.
Released in 1896 (!!!), directed by the über-famous George Méliès, and considered the first horror film ever made (even though it’s more funny than scary), The Haunted Castle (French title Le Manoir du diable, ooh la la)was a massive influence on early horror films, particularly the German expressionist classics and the subsequent Universal films in the 1930’s. Even though audiences of the time had probably seen similar effects performed live on a stage, I’m thinking that seeing the same thing in a moving picture must have blown their minds in an OMG MAGIC TECHNOLOGY kinda way. The fact that the movie is only a little over three minutes long doesn’t lessen its importance or influence, and here I’d like to give a shout-out to the New Zealand Film Archive, which located a copy of this film in 1988 after it had been presumed lost for decades.
The film opens, obviously, on a static set of the cavernous halls of a haunted house. A huge bat comes sailing into the frame and flaps around a bit before poofing into a fabulous caped figure, who has a cool top hat kinda thing and some wicked Peter Pan shoes and a sweet Van Dyke beard. This is Hipster Mephistopheles, bitches. With a wave of his eeeevil hand, he materializes a big-ass cauldron at center stage. Then he produces a wand from somewhere in his dance belt, draws some Satanic-ass shit on the floor, and another poof reveals his sidekick, Imp Boy, who proceeds to stoke the flames under the cauldron, causing smoke to pour out the pot.
Drink me in, sinners.
And from the smoke emerges: VOILA! A LADY! She has a flowy white outfit on like a Greek cauldron bitch, and she’s all TA DA, and then Mephy (that’s what I call him, we’re tight) magically edits her to the floor. Then he puts his hand on her shoulder and tells her some shit, and kinda pushes her into the closet so she doesn’t embarrass the guests he has coming over or something. Greek Cauldron Bitch has a tendency to get handsy when she drinks, that’s all I’m saying.
Then he goes to the imp and sorta pets him on the head like he’s a faithful bull terrier, and Mephy’s all DO THAT THING, so then an open book appears in the imp’s hands, and Mephy writes in it. “Dear Diary: Today I made a cauldron and my imp appear in a puff of smoke, and then materialized a Greek goddess out of the cauldron and shoved her ass in a broom closet. LOL. Productive day.”
Then the imp disappears again, because he’s an imp so he has to go chill in another dimension when his services aren’t required, and then Mephy prances a bit and HUZZAH makes the cauldron disappear again. Then he’s like listening for something, and seems to hear what he expected, because he puts his cape back on and disappears. And then, sure enough, two of the three musketeers come sashaying into the castle, pointing around the place and talking between themselves like they’re assessing the property for “Flip This House,” all OOOOH, GIRL, CHECK OUT THAT WAINSCOTING, OOPS, SORRY I BEANED YOU WITH MY BITCHIN’ BELL SLEEVES THERE and then the imp poofs back with a big forked stick and starts poking them in their fey asses. They’re both looking around like WTF but the imp keeps disappearing before the musketeers can see him, so presumably they’re each thinking that the other musketeer has butt-poking feelings for him that he has not revealed until this point. I ONLY LIKE YOU AS A FRIEND, PORTHOS, GOD.
The musketeers quibble and argue and shove each other, and I may be imagining some sexual tension here (BOW CHICKA WOW), until finally one of them is all FUCK THIS SHIT, I’M OUT and the other one’s like GO THEN, YOU ASS-POKING FREAK, THE HELL WITH YOU. And then the remaining musketeer is all OOH, LOOKIT THIS BENCH, IMMA TAKE THIS FANCY SHIT ON ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, and then it disappears because Mephy doesn’t want his furniture turning up on PBS for everyone to gawk at, for heaven’s sake. Musketeer is all K THEN, I’LL JUST PARK MY ASS ON THIS OTHER BENCH OVER HERE but then POOF that one disappears too! Mephy is all about spreading evil through minor inconvenience, you see, all de-apparating the chairs you were just about to sit on. Dick.
Musketeer is all exasperated, but then he turns around and the first bench is back, and he doesn’t even find this particularly strange, he’s just OH THERE YOU ARE, GET READY BENCH, YOU’RE FIXING TO GET GRACED BY ATHOS ASS, and before he sits he points at the bench like NOW DON’T YOU GO ANYWHERE, and it doesn’t go anywhere this time, but just as Athos settles his legging-clad shanks on the bench, a skeleton appears there and he scoots booty right into a bony pelvis. FACE!
‘Sup, flesh sack.
And then, because Athos is clearly a paragon of rationality, he whips his sword out of its scabbard, all IMMA SLICE THAT SKULL LIKE BUTTA, but when he swings the sword, the skeleton turns into the giant bat and flaps at him while he puts his sword back into its sheath all like K, I’M DONE WITH THIS WEIRD ACTION, but then he reconsiders and grabs the bat, and POOF, it’s Mephy again! Athos is all SHIIIIIIIT and backs away, and then Mephy conjures up more smoke in which the imp makes a repeat appearance. And Athos seems like he’s scared, but also kinda like HUH, WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT.
They see me impin’, they hatin’.
Mephy points the imp to the floor, where he does a kinda tumble and disappears YET AGAIN, in a way that kinda makes it look like an accident. OH, THAT’S RIGHT, I FORGOT I CAN’T TUMBLE THAT WAY, THAT SENDS ME RIGHT TO THE OTHER DIMENSION. DAMN.
And then Athos, looking very put out, attempts to stomp like a manly man away from these devilish shenanigans, but ALAKAZAM! The way out is blocked by four white-clad babes! Instead of being all LLLLLADIES, Athos falls to his knees and begs them not to touch him with their ovary cooties, but they just push into him like an impenetrable wall of vampitude, and Athos JUST CAN’T EVEN and passes out. The ladies, their job done, disappear.
Mephy jumps over the prone Athos and then wafts his hands at the guy, and Athos acts all histrionic like he’s been blinded maybe, and then Mephy reaches into the closet and brings out Greek Cauldron Bitch. Athos is all WELL HELLO THERE and sorta bows to her and takes her hand, then gets down on one knee and kisses the hand, the whole schtick. But as soon as he kisses her hand, ABRACADABRA, she turns into…um…someone else? Another lady in a long white gown and maybe white angel wings, and she seems to be holding a staff. Athos is perturbed about this for some reason, and is all LET’S GO, ANGEL HO and he draws his sword again, but angel-woman raises her staff, and then a bunch more ladies appear beside her. Athos is all UH OH, but then apparently Porthos has recovered from his butthurt because he returns and starts helping his fellow musketeer fight the woman-wall. And I guess they’re supposed to be witches, because a bunch of them have brooms. The witches run around in a circle and then go out the door, but then troop back into the room through another entrance, like some kind of Wiccan conga line. Porthos has had enough and runs from the room and leaps over a railing with a hearty WHEEEEEE while Athos is back there all WTF MAN YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE HELPING ME, BROTHERS IN ARMS MY ASS.
Away with your foul womaniness, temptresses! My ass is not yours for the poking!
The ladies kinda feint at Athos, and he just doesn’t know what to do, but then the witches kinda circle again and crouch down to the floor and disappear. I feel like Mephy is just messing with the musketeers at this point, and all because Athos and Porthos were considering renovating Mephy’s sweet infernal castle into a charming bed and breakfast. (Lake views, full buffet meals, and just a hint of Stygian atmosphere, all for very reasonable rates.)
Athos searches the ground where the witches disappeared as if to say WELL, I CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT, even though all he’s seen so far in this joint is magical appearances and disappearances of various non-human entities, so at this point you’d think he’d just be going with the flow. Finally he’s like WELL, I’M DONE and makes to leave, but of course Mephy is still there in the doorway and makes laser-finger gestures at Athos while Athos cowers and chews scenery. Then Athos pulls the old HEY, LOOK AT THAT DISTRACTING THING UP THERE and he climbs up on the bench and pulls down a big wooden cross that was conveniently hanging over a doorway. Now, not to judge, Mephy, but why on earth would you decorate your house with crosses when crosses are anathema to a diabolical being such as yourself? Maybe it isn’t Mephy’s castle after all. Maybe he’s just house-sitting for Cotton Mather or something.
Predictably, Athos wields the cross at poor Mephy, Mephy does the old OH WHAT A WORLD, WHO ARE YOU TO DESTROY MY BEAUTIFUL WICKEDNESS routine, and then the movie abruptly stops. Christianity wins, Mephy scampers back to Heck, and Athos buys the haunted castle for a song and razes the whole thing to the ground to build a Super WalMart. The end.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of Scary Silents, and I hope you have a lovely Memorial Day weekend. Don’t forget to grill a nice rare steak for the Goddess, and keep it creepy, my friends.
Top of the afternoon, minions! I just realized I hadn’t posted anything in either of my movie series for several days, and I felt sorta bad about that. I also realized that I have come down with the plague and don’t really feel like doing anything other than lying in my bed and wallowing in a cold-medicine-fueled delirium. But because I love you guys and have a pathological need to do something productive even when I’m in the throes of deathly illness, I’ve decided to compromise by discussing a nice, short little silent film known as The Red Spectre. Here it is:
Released in France in 1907, The Red Spectre was directed by Segundo de Chomón and is one of the few surviving examples of early-twentieth-century “trick” films. It’s only ten minutes long and doesn’t have a “plot” per se, but I gotta admit, for 1907, this thing looks fucking amazing. How is it in color, Goddess? You may be asking. Glad you asked. It’s in color because it was painstakingly hand-tinted, frame by frame. That’s hardcore, Goddess, you may be saying. And yes, I would have to agree. Also, the effects are pretty damn cool-looking, and honestly, since I don’t know much about early film technique and can’t really figure out how they did some of them, I’m just gonna assume MAGIC IS REAL.
Does this red grotto make my hips look big?
We open in a little flaming hell-grotto with a happy dancing coffin. The coffin fades away and reveals a skeleton dude with horns and a fabulous cape, which he proceeds to open all TA-DA, BITCHES, I’M THE DEVIL. WELCOME TO MY WORLD OF EVIL AND KICK-ASS SPECIAL EFFECTS. He swishes back and forth a couple times, since that’s evil’s prerogative, and then the rocks in the background part, and then there’s like a cave background with stalactites and shit. He poses some more, like CHECK OUT THE BATCAVE, PUNY MORTALS, and then he waves his bony arms and there’s smoke and fire, and oh, I guess he’s holding a torch or a bottle rocket or something, and then he holds the torch down near the floor and GIRLS APPEAR! I get the feeling that he really digs showing off his magical girl-appearing fire wand. Evidently the girls are his harem of captured souls, and even though there are only five of them I’m not gonna hate. Maybe he’s just a minor demon, after all, or maybe he’s just starting out in the soul-capturing biz. Or maybe it’s the beginning of the month and he had a shitload of souls that he dispatched earlier and this is the new batch. I don’t know the protocol, so far be it from me to dis the Red Spectre’s meager soul count at this juncture.
The girls dance around in a circle all pagan-like, and the Spectre stands behind them with his arms crossed all like WORD. Then the girls disappear and turn into little flaming will-o-the-wisps. He dances around with his cape like he’s trying to wrangle them, but he can’t quite do it, or maybe he just doesn’t want to set his cape on fire. Then he magicks his torch back again, and with it he materializes two elaborate gold cauldron thingies which he lights with flame like it’s the Devilympics up in here. Then he does the WORD pose again, and then girls appear in the flames in the Olympic bowls. They hold their hands out and he takes one girl in each hand and helps them down to the floor, all gentlemanly, and guides them to the back of the grotto. Then he’s all IMMA BLOW YOUR MIND and draws his arms together and the gold cauldrons scoot close together in the middle of the stage. From beneath his voluminous cape, he produces a huge roll of what looks like black Hefty bag material. He lays the roll across the cauldrons and rolls out a length, then picks up one of the girls and puts her on the barbecue and wraps her up like a Triple Steak Burrito from Taco Bell. Then he waves his caped arms again, all EENIE MEENIE CHILI BEANIE and the girl-burrito floats up in the air, then catches fire and suddenly disappears, much like the contents of your intestines do after eating a Triple Steak Burrito from Taco Bell. He then repeats the procedure with the second woman, because where girl-burritos are concerned, you really need to see the whole thing twice to get the full effect.
Behold my gold-plated hibachis of death!
Then he makes another TA-DA gesture with his hand and produces a pitcher outta THIN AIR. This is better than Mindfreak, you guys, for real. He takes what are presumably the girls’ ashes out of the cauldrons and puts them in the pitcher. Then HUZZAH the cauldrons disappear, and then at stage left there’s a puff of smoke and VOILA, Peter Pan appears! Okay, not really Peter Pan, I think it’s a girl who’s supposed to be a good spirit or a wood sprite or something, but y’know, she has some Mary Martin action going on. And the Spectre looks at her all SO WE MEET AGAIN, MY NEMESIS, and she waves her hand like Vanna White and some curtains part in the back and there are more girls back there, and Peter Pan seems to be showing Spectre something and he’s pretty indignant about it, but she’s all DEAL WITH IT and waves her hand to close the curtains again. She points at him and then points at herself, all GIRLS RULE AND SPECTRES DROOL, and he looks all huffy with his ash-filled pitcher, because he just wants to do a little spot of evil in peace, for fuck’s sake, and he doesn’t need no womany do-gooder wood sprite cramping his nefarious style and being a nag, man. She keeps pointing at him and then he starts to come at her all YOU’RE GONNA GET IT NOW, HO, but she ducks behind a rock and disappears. Minx.
Anyway, Spectre is all FINALLY, SHE’S GONE, NOW I CAN GET ON WITH THINGS, and he poofs a properly Satanic-looking pedestal into existence. The base of the pedestal looks like a caduceus, and the top of the pedestal holds three bottles. Spectre picks up the pedestal and carries it really close to the camera. I don’t know why he didn’t just poof it into existence closer to the camera in the first place, but maybe he carved that pedestal and wanted everyone to appreciate his handiwork. He spent a long time making that, you guys. Sure, he could have just magicked it, but he likes to work with his hands sometimes, do things the old fashioned way. It relaxes him, dontcha know.
He pours the ashes, which are now liquid somehow, into the first bottle, and hey, there’s a tiny girl in the bottle! I guess he likes to shrink down his ladies and keep them in bottles to maintain their freshness. Turns out there are girls in all the bottles, revealed as he pours the black liquid in over them. Spectre is all smiles as he surveys his bottled ladies, and then he turns the bottles until they’re white and we can’t see the teeny girls anymore. Then he carries the pedestal back to the center of the stage, and then POOF the Wood Sprite is back! She seems a bit put out, all YOU CAN’T KEEP GIRLS IN BOTTLES, WTF ARE YOU EVEN THINKING WITH THAT and Spectre’s all YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME, but I guess she is because Wood Sprite poofs the pedestal away herself. Spectre’s all BITCH, I WAS USING THAT and chases her around, but she disappears again and Spectre is all FUCK THIS SHIT, I JUST CAN’T DEAL.
Pictured: Bottle blondes.
But he recovers quickly from his tantrum, and then poofs another thing into existence. The pedestal base looks the same, but now the top of it looks like some kind of fancy screen or whiteboard in three sections. He drags the pedestal close again and starts turning the sections around one by one. There’s another girl on the back of each screen, so this is like a screen-in-screen effect, which seems pretty high-tech for 1907. The girl on the screen bows and sniffs a flower like she’s the queen of England, and Spectre turns the screen sections back around because he just can’t stand any more of her attention-whoring. The pedestal is taken back to the center of the stage, where a newly apparated Wood Sprite appears again and magicks it away. GOD, PETER PAN, I AM JUST TRYING TO DO MY ONE-DEMON TRIBUTE TO DAVID COPPERFIELD, WHY YOU GOTTA BUST MY CHOPS. She just laughs like Nelson Muntz (I presume) and runs away from him and disappears again. I know this is probably not what the filmmakers intended, but I’m starting to feel a little sorry for the devil here.
But, being the consummate professional, the Spectre knows that the show must go on. He does a dramatic gesture and causes another big screen to appear, but this one is super fancy and gold, with a big devil head at the top and devil hands on the sides. The screen has another three girls posing and dancing around on it. Spectre goes around behind the screen and then rolls under it, which is the cutest thing, and then he’s lying on his back and waving his arms, and the picture on the screen changes to a single smiling woman in a really over-the-top feathered chapeau. Then another wave of the skeleton arms, and the picture changes to what looks like an old couple indulging in some modest PDA. And then ABRACADABRA, the screen disappears and there’s that troublesome sprite again, and Spectre is REALLY mad because that was his greatest illusion, goddammit! He tries to throw down on her and enfold her with his Liberace cape, but she keeps disappearing and he’s all FUUUUUUUUUUUCK.
Getting on with things again, Spectre waves at the backdrop and it lifts up with much flame and smoke and rock & rollery, like KISS are about to come out. Then he starts dancing, and I guess the film is running backwards because his cape is moving all weirdly, and then boxes start flying in from off-screen like he works at the world’s most aggressive post office and it’s the Christmas rush. He catches them like a pro, and begins stacking them, and then they magically cohere into a big square and they’re a screen too, because in the hell-grotto, everything is a TV showing episodes of “Real Housewives of the Underworld.” The box-stack-screen is showing a dowdy old woman in another crazy feathered hat feeding a dog, and Spectre stands there presenting it with his hand like he’s super proud of the dog thing, y’all. Then he runs his hand up the side of the boxes, and there’s another puff of smoke and then it disappears, and then, you guessed it, up pops Peter Pan. They have an altercation, Peter Pan waves her arms and all the cave curtains in the back raise up and there’s just fire and explosions everywhere like we’ve stepped into a proto-Michael Bay movie and Spectre, defeated, lets Peter Pan lead him toward the rear of the stage, where he spreads his arms like he won a trophy and acts all like YEAH, I WON ALL THIS SHIT, and then all the girls that he burritoed and bottled up earlier come rising up out of the stage at Peter Pan’s mystical gesturing. So I guess Spectre got his evil butt kicked and all his trapped girl souls got released by Peter Pan. ALL THAT WORK FOR NOTHING.
And then there’s one girl remaining, and Spectre tries to enfold her with his cape like he’s gonna give her a noogie, and she looks like she’s into it, but then BAM the girl turns into Peter Pan and everything turns red and the cave rocks come back and Peter Pan knocks the poor Spectre on the ground and just stomps the shit out of him with her little fairy shoes, and then as a final fuck you, she pours some stuff from his pitcher onto the poor fella, and then he’s just a cape, which she lifts up to reveal that our previously spry Spectre is now just a lame-ass skeleton from Mrs. Fisher’s second period bio class. She throws the skeleton on the ground and then puts on his cape, all OOH, THIS IS QUITE FETCHING AND I HAVE YOUR PITCHER TOO SO I’M YOUR GOD NOW, SATAN. SUCK IT. And then that’s the end.
Like I said, this is pretty incredible for being more than a hundred years old, what with all the really pretty decent screen effects and the hand-coloring and the devilish shenanigans. A fun little experiment in early film, all the more valuable because it’s one of very few that survived the years.
Welcome back to Scary Silents! Even though this series is relatively new, I’m already changing things up a tad, so I hope none of y’all mind. Yes, this is still a silent film I’m discussing, but it isn’t from the sanctioned “silent film era” (hence the reason I also cross-posted it in my “Creepy Scenes” category). It’s a notorious experimental film from 1991 called Begotten, directed by Edmund Elias Merhige, who was also responsible for the fantastic film Shadow of the Vampire (which of course focused on the making of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu). I became intrigued with Begotten because of its persistent appearance on pretty much every “Most Disturbing Films EVAR” list circulating on the internet, so being something of a masochist, I decided to check it out and write down my thoughts for posterity. If you would like to follow along, here is the linky-poo:
The first thing I gotta say is that this certainly does look like a legitimate silent film from the era. It’s filmed in very stark black and white, and the film stock is all grotty and the camera work shaky, so kudos for realism. There is also no sound other than the constant drone of crickets, and the occasional grunt. The first shot is a shack in the woods, and already I’m digging the whole look of the thing; it really conveys that creepy, otherworldly feel I look for in my old silent films. I have a creeping suspicion that the entire production is going to be intensely arty-farty, but I don’t have a huge problem with either arts or farts, so it’s all good.
Inside the shack is a man in an eerie Leatherfacey mask and a white robe. He has blood all down his front and he’s coughing up even more of the stuff as he shakes and twitches, so I’m guessing it isn’t really his day. From the Wikipedia entry, I’m led to understand that this is supposed to be God™, so I’m rolling with it and calling him that. He produces a straight razor and begins to disembowel himself, pretty enthusiastically, I thought. He’s pulling viscera out from between his ribs and just merrily hacking away, chucking organs on the floor all willy nilly and wiping blood on the walls, because fuck it, he’s God™ and he knows he’s not the one who’s gonna have to clean up the place. That’s what worshippers are for. And just as a final dick move, he poops himself a lot (I think; since the movie’s in black and white, poop and goopy organs look the same) and lets it splooge all over his feet and everything. OH MY GOD, GOD™, GET A DIAPER.
I have no bowel control and I must scream.
Then, from out of the mess of fabric and innards and fecal matter, a woman’s arm emerges, and the rest of the woman invariably follows. This is Mother Earth, and she’s wearing a black mask over her eyes like it’s Mardi Gras all up in here, and she can’t seem to keep her hands off her perky ta-tas. She wanders around for a bit, her head thrown back. Then, because why not, she begins giving DeadGod™ a handie. He jizzes on her tummy and she rubs it in like Oil of Olay, because the protein in semen is like REALLY good for stretch marks (claim not evaluated by the FDA). She then smooshes her man-battered hand into her impressively furry bush, making sure it gets alllllll up in there so that she may preggify her bad self with DeadGod’s™ SuperSperm™. Is anyone reminded here of The World According to Garp? Just me? Okay, moving on.
We next see a black coffin appearing at various points in an empty field, and then Mother Earth is standing next to the coffin, rubbing her preggo belly. There are some quickly-edited shots of what looks like blood on skin, and I think I saw a fetus hand in there, and then suddenly there’s a fully-grown man lying all bloody on the ground, and what looks like a janky umbilical cord connecting him to Mother Earth. She wanders off and leaves him there, all WELL, YOU’RE ALL GROWN UP NOW SO GO GET A JOB, and he’s all twitching and hyperventilating and looking like a victim of the Mount Vesuvius eruption, and I wonder if he’s gonna have abandonment issues from here on out. WTF MOM, NOT EVEN ONE SIP OF BREAST MILK? Mother Earth is super harsh, you guys.
Well, my work here is done.
Game of peek-a-boo? Bedtime story? Anything?
And then there are a bunch of hooded men shown in shadow, and I guess they’re nomads because they look like they’re all laden down with merchandise from Pier One, and they come across the Son of God, and they’re all like HEY, FREE NAKED DUDE while he writhes around. They scoop him up and tie him with ropes (or maybe this is the umbilical cord, hard to tell) and bring him along on their nomadery, because maybe they’re bored out there wandering in the barren landscape or maybe they’re gonna eat him later, who knows. Son of God (henceforth SOG) doesn’t appear to be having too fun a time, convulsing his limbs and struggling and being all WHERE ARE YOU GUYS TAKING ME, SHIT’S NOT FUNNY ANYMORE and the nomads just drag him around like it ain’t no thang. SOG begins vomiting up organs or something, and the nomads are all FUCK YEAH and start collecting the stuff in their bags, and then, because they apparently can’t wait until he yaks up some more of his insides, they start pulling the goo right out of his midsection while he’s going SO I GUESS YOU GUYS AREN’T GONNA HELP ME THEN and they’re like NOPE, JUST GONNA SWIPE ALL YOUR INNARDS AND THEN PUT YOU IN A SLING AND DRAG YOU UP A CLIFF. THAT’S HOW WE ROLL.
Pictured: Traumatic childhood.
They make a fire and drag him to it, because presumably this is like The Hills Have Eyes and they’re all cannibals too, because they really needed that last little push to cement their dickery. They stab the shit out of him while he writhes and vomits, and the nomads aren’t even fazed, man, they’re like WHATEVER, VOMIT JUST TENDERIZES THE MEAT and then they drag him around some more while a bunch of his meaty bits hang out his mouth, while the sun glares down, impassive.
Then he’s lying on the ground alone, still twitching but now all clean again, so I guess they didn’t barbecue him after all, and Mother Earth comes back and puts a collar on him and starts dragging him around too, because nothing like rubbing salt into the wound, right, MOM? SOG really hasn’t had the most pleasant introduction to the world, in case you hadn’t noticed.
The nomads, apparently peeved that someone made off with their toy, begin following, gesturing at her like GET THAT UPPITY WOMAN WHO TOOK OUR FREE NAKED MAN, BUT FIRST LET’S BASH THE MAN’S HEAD IN WITH A STICK WHEEEEE and then it looks like they punch him in the dick too, and then maybe pull it off, but the way the film is shot it’s kinda hard to tell. Sounds like something they would do, though. Fuckin’ nomads.
Hi, we represent humanity, and we’re just the worst.
Then they gang rape Mother Earth, because of course they do, all the while beating on her with their sticks and just tearing her all up and jizzing on her by the gallon. This bit was actually kind of upsetting to watch; even though it’s not particularly gory because of the black and white and because it’s so shaky and grainy that it’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening, in a way that makes it worse because you can see enough of what’s going on to imagine the rest. The flashes of them just pounding the shit out of her labia with their big mace-like staffs (not a euphemism) especially had me going:
Then Mother Earth is lying there, and SOG is kneeling between her legs, so I guess he’s still alive despite the head-bashing, and I’m thinking OH, ARE YOU GONNA RAPE HER TOO? MIGHT AS WELL, EVERYONE ELSE HAD A GO, FUCKING HELL, but I guess he’s just mourning or something. Two nomads come and drag Mother Earth away from him while he’s all WHYYYYYYY.
Therapy. He’ll need some.
And then it looks like they’re nailing her to a rock face while feeling her up some more because they’re just shameless, these nomads. Then they cut her into pieces, so that’s nice. They put the pieces into a big barrel that they’ve evidently brought along for that very purpose, so it’s good to know they were planning ahead, and at least had the wherewithal to stop by Home Depot on the way to the dismembering.
Then there’s a sunrise, and we see SOG still crawling around like a worm in the dirt, and because the nomads are nothing if not thorough, they scoop up SOG again, put him in a sack, and beat the stuffing out of him with a huge clown hammer and poke at him with sticks. It starts to rain, and there’s some waterfall action going on, then the nomads are stabbing and punching all the guts into the ground, because FUCK THOSE GUTS, and I mean, really, this all seems a bit like overkill at this point. Then I guess they’re planting the guts, and the next scene is of plants and flowers blooming. So everything worked out okay in the end, and only three beings had to be raped and eviscerated, but they’re like not even people, they’re just like representations, man, so no big. Circle of life, folks, nothing to see here. Good times.
So what was my final impression? The film is certainly nightmarish, that’s for sure, and seems to spring from some dark, primitive place of savagery miles removed from most people’s day-to-day lives. As a metaphor, it’s pretty brilliant, examining as it does the tortures that the earth and our gods go through to satisfy our human whims (or at least that’s what I understood the film to mean). I didn’t find the film particularly hard to watch, other than the rape scene (because rape scenes always give me the squicks), but that’s mostly because the shots were deliberately grainy and obscured, leaving most of the violence to the imagination. I think the horror comes more from the idea of what’s going on, rather than what the viewer can actually see. It was a strange experience for sure, and the imagery was rather haunting. I might actually give it another watch when I’m not distracted by office noises and having to stop it every few minutes to write this silly crap about it. Heh.
Please stay tuned for more Scary Silents! I will probably go back to the more traditional silent films for the next installment, but I wanted to do this one as an experiment because it was so highly recommended. Keep creepy, my friends, and until next time, Goddess out.