Scary Silents: Frankenstein (1910)

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.

Descendents

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.

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UNLIKE THIS.

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.

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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.

Belphegor

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.

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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.

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FRIEND GOOOOOD.

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.

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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.

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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.

Scary Silents: “The Portrait”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Samara

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.

Scary Silents: Some Modern Short Silents

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?

Fetal
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.

Witcher
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.

The Unfortunate
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.

Scary Silents: “The Sealed Room”

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.

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.

Boiiiiiiing!

Boiiiiiiing!

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Scary Silents: “The Fall of the House of Usher”

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.

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

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.

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?

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.

Scary Silents: “The Monster”

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.

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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.

Scary Silents: “The Haunted Castle”

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.

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.

‘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'.

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!

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.

Scary Silents: “The Red Spectre”

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?

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!

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.

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.

Until next time, Goddess out.

Scary Silents: “The Hands of Orlac”

the_hands_of_orlac

Welcome back to “Scary Silents!” Our film today is a classic one, the 1924 Austrian film The Hands of Orlac, directed by Robert Wiene, starring Conrad Veidt (who also starred in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Man Who Laughs, incidentally), and based on a book by Maurice Renard. Not only is it wonderful and properly eerie, but the fact that it’s Austrian means I get to put umlauts on just EVERYTHING. Onwärd. (Sëe? It’s fün!)

Orlac was probably the first horror film to use the now well-worn trope of the “rogue transplanted body part,” seen in later films like The Hand (1981), The Eye (2002), Idle Hands (1999), and that watershed of horror cinema, Killer Tongue (1996). The basic plot revolves around world-renowned pianist Paul Orlac, who loses his hands in an accident because fate has a cruel sense of irony, then gets a set of transplanted hands from an executed murderer and begins to misbehave in spectacular ways as the hands’ murderous impulses take over his presumably perfectly good sense. As always, if you’d like to watch along with the Goddess, I got your link right hëre:

In the opener, we see Orlac’s wife Yvonne reading a letter from her beloved. He will be returning from his final concert the following evening, and she is super jazzed about him and his skillful pianist’s fingers returning to her side IFYOUKNOWWHATIMEAN. In the next scene, she’s getting ready to go pick him up at the train station, all twitterpated. She even takes some flowers for him, because these two like to keep romance alive, yo. But when she gets to the train station, everyone is milling around and freaking out, and she hears the words “accident” and the name of a town where the train derailed, so she runs right out to her driver and demands that he take her there. And I gotta say, I immediately really like Yvonne. When the car pulls up next to the horrible train accident, she leaps right out and climbs onto the train wreck, taking no heed of her own safety or her eighty layers of clothing, and starts looking for her husband. She’s a firecracker, that one. She finds Orlac and he’s alive! ALIVE! She gets some guys to help put him on a stretcher and take him to their car and drive him to the hospital, because I guess ambulances weren’t a thing in 1924.

In the next scene, we see her talking to the döctor, who tells her that Orlac’s skull is kinda jacked, but that it can probably be fixed with some gumption and copious amounts of duct tape. Bigger problem, though: You know those fingery things he had at the end of his arms? The things he played piano with and made all the money? Yeah, he kind of doesn’t have those anymore. Yvonne goes into full drama queen mode, swooning around and begging PLEASE SAVE HIS HANDS, HIS HANDS ARE HIS LIIIIIIIIIIFE and the doctor’s like, DAMMIT, JIM, I’M A DOCTOR, NOT A…OH, WAIT, THAT’S RIGHT, I’M A DOCTOR, I’LL SEE WHAT I CAN DO. His subsequent “meh” shrug doesn’t inspire much confidence, though, to be honest.

As Yvonne carries on with her theatrics, the döctor glances out the window and sees the body of executed murderer Vasseur fortuitously being unloaded from a carriage in the street below. You can almost see the wheels turning in his lumpy Austrian head: AHA! I HAVE ONE PATIENT WITH ZERO HANDS, AND THERE’S A DEAD GUY WHO WAS A MURDERER, SO PRESUMABLY HAD TWO HANDS, BECAUSE IF HE DIDN’T HAVE HANDS THEN WHAT DID HE DO THE MURDERING WITH? HIS FEET? HIS ELBOW? I MEAN, I GUESS THAT’S POSSIBLE, BUT IT WOULD JUST BE WEIRD. HAHA, KILLER ELBOW. ANYWAY. So he does the math (1 murderer {2 unused hands} – 1 pianist {0 hands} = 1 pianist {2 useful hands, yay}) and sets to wörk!

In the next scene, we see the döctors pulling off Orlac’s mummy wrappings like it’s Christmas morning, and Yvonne comes in to see her patched-up hubby and everything is just gonna be sunshine and roses from here on out, right? I mean, Orlac has murder-hands dangling from two of his limbs and all, but I don’t see how that could possibly go awry in any way. It’s a miracle of mödern science, is what it is. Yvonne and Orlac make gooey eyes at each other, and for a second I thought Yvonne was just gonna jump right onto the hospital bed and start riding him like a carousel horse, but then she starts cooing about his “tender, beautiful hands,” which at this point are still bandaged up. While she is otherwise occupied with the hand appreciation, Orlac happens to glance up and past her, and HOLY FUCK THERE IS A SCARY DISEMBODIED HEAD FLOATING UP NEAR THE CEILING.

'SUP, PIANO MAN.

‘SUP, PIANO MAN.

The head is smirking, and rather than simply wetting his jammies in terror like a normal person, Orlac has the wherewithal to realize that the head is specifically smirking at his brand new, factory-wrapped hands. He tells Yvonne and she turns to look, but of course the head has disappeared, so she just stares at him like he’s high.

The next day, Orlac is out on the balcony cönvalescing, holding his hands stiffly out before him like the first coming of Boris Karloff, and you can tell he hasn’t really gotten over the smirking floating head incident, because he’s asking the doctors WTF IS GOING ON UNDER THESE BANDAGES, YOU QUACKS and they’re like YOU’RE TRIPPING, LOOK, IMMA TAKE OFF THE BANDAGES AND YOU’LL SEE WHAT A SILLY PERSON YOU’RE BEING and they snip off the wrappings all professional-like and DUN DUN DUUUU – well, not really, there are just two ordinary looking hands under there. I’m not sure what Orlac was expecting, maybe that they were gonna be covered with fur or tipped with claws, or maybe he was just looking for warts or liver spots or something, but he’s giving the hands some major side-eye and asking the döctors whether he’ll be able to play the piano with these creepy things, and they say, sure, with perseverance one can overcome anything, even having murder-meat at the end of your wrists, and some other motivational horseshit. They leave, and Orlac stares at the hands so hard and for so long that I thought he was trying to set them on fire with his mind.

That night, his last one in the hospital before he gets to go home, Orlac has a dream wherein the floating head, now grown to wrecking-ball size, floats and looks pissed off above Orlac’s bed. Then we see a disembodied fist that descends toward the teeny little Orlac, and this is actually a pretty effective image.

GHOST FISTS WERE FAST AS LIGHTNING.

GHOST FISTS WERE FAST AS LIGHTNING.

Orlac wakes up and looks wildly around his expressionist hospital room, but nothing is there, so he lies back, relieved. But then he’s all HEY, WHAT’S THIS THING IN MY LAP, I DON’T REMEMBER MAKING A GROCERY LIST BEFORE I FELL ASLEEP, but turns out it’s a note from someone-or-other informing him that his fresh new hands belonged to a murderer. I was under the impression he already knew that, but I guess Orlac thought the doctors had popped his own hands back on him like fleshy Duplo blocks. No wonder he was so put out by the floating head. Orlac flips the fuck out and gets out of bed, trying to hold the hands as far away from himself as possible, and then he passes out. Man, everyone in these movies makes such a federal case out of everything. LOOK, YOU JUST HAVE SENTIENT KILLER-HANDS, GUY, SOME OF US HAVE REAL PROBLEMS.

got a booger on my finger and i can't get it off.

got a booger on my finger and i can’t get it off.

In the next scene, Orlac wanders stiffly into the döctor’s office and walks right past his desk like a weirdo, holding his hands rigid as though they’re covered in snot, and then he just stands there and stares with his sunken eyes, all IS IT TRUE, DO I HAVE MURDER-HANDS and the doc’s like YEAH, BUT DON’T THANK ME FOR SUCCESSFULLY REATTACHING SOME VERY DELICATE LIMBS OR ANYTHING, and then Orlac just stares and silently freaks out, veins threatening to burst out his forehead.

HNNNNNNNGGGGGGGG

HNNNNNNNGGGGGGGG

Meanwhile, Yvonne is preparing for Orlac’s return home, and has flowers for days. She can hardly wait the thirty minutes it will take before he arrives. SHE JUST CAN’T WAIT TO GET HER HANDS ON THOSE HANDS. Oh, and probably his other parts too, which are presumably not murderous. I hear his spleen is a bit of a bastard, though.

Angsty Orlac decides that his iniquitous appendages will not be allowed to touch another person, which will likely make Yvonne’s vagina reassess its life situation. I’m sort of digging the idea of everyone’s body parts in this movie having their own separate desires and motivations, so I’m just gonna pretend that’s what’s going on. Orlac tries to put his wedding ring on his new hand, but it doesn’t fit, because aside from being a murdering scumbag, Vasseur evidenly also suffered from fingular gigantism. This scene actually kind of gave me the sads for some reason. Orlac slips the ring in his pocket and heads dejectedly home to greet his wife. She gives him a flower, but he just stands there staring with his hands by his sides, and he won’t even hug her or anything, and she’s a bit put out, understandably. Her vagina begins to whisper to her that perhaps they should start considering other options.

In the next scene, Orlac slooooooowly approaches his piano and begins to play, as his wife watches stealthily from the doorway. There isn’t any dialogue, but it looks like it’s not going too well, because Orlac slumps back and puts the cover back down over the keys. His wife creeps up from behind and embraces him, telling him she loves him, because Yvonne is just a sweetheart, yes she is. Orlac kinda reaches for her, clearly wanting to embrace her in return, but he holds back, not wanting to touch her with Vasseur’s icky murder-tainted hands. She hugs and kisses the hell out of him anyway, and it’s all very tragic. Seriously, it is a pretty affecting scene, because how weird would it be to be doing stuff you used to do with hands that hadn’t previously belonged to you? That’s some straight up body dysmorphia shit right there.

MUST…NOT…CRUSH…WIFE'S…HEAD…

MUST…NOT…CRUSH…WIFE’S…HEAD…

Then, a shifty-looking Orlac stops by a newspaper shop and asks the clerk if she got him the paper from January 15th. She’s all FUCK YEAH I HOOKED YOU UP and he passes her the money like he’s scoring PCP. Then he goes to a dark-as-hell café and sits down to read it. The article he’s interested in, obviously, is about Vasseur being taken to court, and relevant information includes the fact that Vasseur pleaded not guilty, but that his FINGERPRINTS (*dramatic gopher*) were all over just everything, including the body, the walls, the kitty, the toilet seat, a half-eaten Reuben in the fridge, and the vaulted ceilings, somehow. More significantly, the “treacherous” prints decorated the murder weapon, a knife with an X on the handle, and thus was Vasseur sent to his fate. Orlac rides a major bummer about this, and then has a vision of a hand stabbing a dude in the heart while the confused café owner gives him the stinkeye, probably wondering if he’s got a potential dine and dash on his hands. (Pun intended and immediately apologized for.)

Orlac skulks home, but when he gets there, he sees an X-handled knife stuck in the door. He reaches for it and I thought it was gonna disappear, but nope, he snatches it right up, which leads me to believe that someone is fucking with him at this point. Maybe Yvonne isn’t quite as awesome as I imagined her to be and is trying to drive her husband batshit so she can have him committed and take all his dough. DAMN THOSE SILENT FILM FEMME FATALES. Orlac hides the knife inside the piano and goes through another CURSE YOU HANDS tirade.

The next scene shows a distraught Yvonne in her nightie, writing a letter that’s making me go WHUT because it’s saying stuff like I DON’T WANT TO OBEY YOU and DON’T COME AGAIN and YOU CAN KILL ME BUT I’M NOT DOING YOUR TERRIBLE SHIT ANYMORE and stuff like that. So maybe someone ELSE is fucking with Orlac and forcing Yvonne to be complicit? I’m sorry I doubted you, Yvonne. You’re clearly just a cog in the man’s machine, girl.

Next, Orlac is lurking around his house again with his hands outstretched like a freak, and really he should quit doing that because it’s not helping matters. The hands make him retrieve the knife out of the piano. Yvonne hears Herr CrazyHands messing about and goes into the music room to find him thrusting the knife at thin air. You know, for practice. She’s all WTF, YOU’VE CHANGED, MAN and he’s all GET OUTTA HERE ‘FORE THESE HANDS THROW DOWN ON YOU KNIFE-STYLE and she  flees the room and descends into her patented histrionics. Then Orlac tries to stab his own hand, but the other hand is like NOPE, WE A TEAM, SON and makes him drop the knife. Orlac collapses, again, because he just can’t even.

Then we see the maid having a complete nervous breakdown as a man in a black cloak and hat approaches her in the house. She tells him the same stuff that was in the letter, that she wasn’t going to obey him anymore, and wait a minute, was that her or Yvonne writing that letter a couple scenes back? The two women look sort of similar, especially with all that thick 1920s silent-movie eye makeup. I guess I’ll figure it out at some point. The man gets all up on her threatening-like and we finally see his face, and I think it’s the same guy whose head was whizzing around Orlac’s hospital room, who I had thought was supposed to be Vasseur’s ghost, but I guess not…? Is Vasseur alive but just lay there playing possum while the döctors lopped his hands off? WHAT NEFARIOUS PLOT IS THIS?!? Creepy Maybe-Vasseur is all IMMA CALL HIS DAD IF YOU WON’T TALK HIM INTO THIS SHIT and the maid is all NOOOO DON’T WANNA and then Maybe-Vasseur tells her to “seduce his hands” (um, okay, I guess some people are into that) and the maid slouches off a little way before turning back to him and going DO I GOTTA and he’s all YUP, and then the maid comes into Orlac’s music room, where Orlac is moping on the couch in his usual state of existential misery. SO HEY, THOSE ARE SOME SEXY-ASS HANDS YOU GOT THERE and Orlac’s all THE HELL YOU DOING WOMAN but then he reaches for her and puts his hands on her head, one on top of the other, and even though he’s not really moving them I guess he’s like massaging her head to death because her eyes get as big as billiard balls and she’s like YOUR HANDS ARE HURTING ME CUT THAT SHIT OUT so I guess the hands maybe have some kind of magical retracting spikes or a powerful electric current or something. Which would actually be pretty rad. Orlac is all MY BAD and pulls his hands away in horror before sprinting out of the room. Then the maid collapses, because evidently there’s a carbon monoxide leak somewhere in the house that causes everyone to drop like potato sacks at the slightest distress.

JUST GO AHEAD AND FAINT, YOU KNOW YOU WANNA.

JUST GO AHEAD AND FAINT, YOU KNOW YOU WANNA.

Orlac busts into his döctor’s office with his hands splayed crazily outward and is all FETCH YOUR BONESAW, PHYSICIAN, AND KINDLY REMOVE THE OFFENDING ANATOMICAL COMPONENTS and the doctor just looks at him like ARE YOU KIDDING DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT WAS TO SEW THOSE ON but really all the title card says is “the creditors,” which makes no damn sense at all. Is he implying that Orlac would want his money back for the hand-attaching surgery and the doc is all NO REFUNDS MATE, or is he saying that if Orlac doesn’t have any hands at all, then he won’t be able to play piano and won’t be able to make any scratch to pay his creditors? I don’t get Austrian medicine.

After this baffling scene, there’s a shot of Yvonne praying in a chair as four barbers (?) stand behind her holding towels at the ready. She asks for another month, so I guess the barbers are the creditors, all arrayed there like an old-timey dance troupe asking for money. Still doesn’t explain the towels, though. They all shake their heads NOPE in unison, so I guess that answers her question. If this had been a talkie I would have expected the barbers to sing NO WAY JOSE in perfect four-part harmony.

Then Orlac is still in the döctor’s office trying to pull off the hands and going YOU GOTTA UNDERSTAND, DOC, THE HANDS WANT BLOOOOOOOOD and the doc is all YOU SO CRAZY and then I guess the carbon monoxide followed Orlac to the doctor’s office, because he collapses in a heap across the desk.

The creditors NOPE Yvonne again, and then we’re back with the doc, who is all UH, YOUR BRAIN IS IN CHARGE OF YOUR HANDS, DUMMY, THAT’S LIKE BIOLOGY 101 and Orlac’s like BUT…BUT…MURDER HANDS and then Yvonne talks the barbers into one more day, and Orlac sags out of the doctor’s office because DOCTORS JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND.

Next, Yvonne commands the maid BRING ME MY COAT JEEVES I’M OFF TO PROSTRATE MYSELF BEFORE MY FATHER-IN-LAW, who is super wealthy and can presumably give them some money to pay the sinister barbers and their debt-towels. Maid’s all DON’T DO IT, GIRL, ORLAC SENIOR IS A HATER but Yvonne just looks all huffy and determined. We next see her knocking at the door of Herr Orlac Dad, and this spooky old man pokes his head out and says he’s not allowed to let anyone in, especially not anyone from THERE, which I guess means Orlac’s house, that den of iniquity where a respectable pianist lives in relative comfort with his loving wife and faithful maidservant. Hedonists. But plucky Yvonne manages to charm her way in and they make their way down this long, arched hallway which is dark and completely devoid of furniture, which seems like a waste of some prime square footage. At least install some bookshelves or something. Even a suit of armor would liven up the place.

Frankenbutler leads Yvonne to another empty room where another old man is sitting on some kind of throne (no, not THAT kind, gross). She’s all HEY, YOU KNOW HOW YOUR SON LOST HIS MONEY-MAKIN HANDS IN AN ACCIDENT AND COULD YOU PUT ON YOUR DECENT DUDE PANTS AND BORROW US A COUPLE BUCKS but of course Orlac Dad is a stone-cold Republican who just mumbles something about bootstraps and welfare queens before dozing off in front of Fox News. Yvonne’s tears and pleas fail to penetrate his scab-encrusted shell of hatred and bitterness, and he takes great pleasure in telling her NOPE, ALWAYS HATED THAT KID, HOPE Y’ALL STARVE and Yvonne is all WHY YOU GOTTA BE A BITCH THAT WAY and leaves empty-handed.

Orlac, unaware that his wife has been trying to help him by appealing to the non-existent humanity of his buttheaded Y-chromosome contributor, is staring longingly at some of his old records. Startled by the maid, he breaks one, and then the maid is all up in Yvonne’s face saying YOU SHOULD TELL ORLAC TO GO SEE HIS DAD, THAT SHOULD TOTALLY GO WELL, and Yvonne is all SOMEHOW I DOUBT THAT, but the maid has some kind of plot going with the whizzing head fellow, so she gotta play her part in the drama. Orlac is mooning over the letter he wrote to his wife just before the accident, marveling over what his handwriting used to look like. He picks up a quill and starts to write with the murder-hands, and the writing is all jacked-looking, quite unlike his previously perfect Palmer script. Somewhere, a penmanship teacher gives him a virtual rap across the knuckles with a ruler.

Yvonne tells Orlac to go see his dad before they’re down to their last pack of ramen, and in the face of his reluctance, she’s all DUDE, YOUR DAD IS A DICK, AND ALSO, IT’S COLD IN HERE, HOW ABOUT WE TURN UP THE HEAT, OH THAT’S RIGHT WE CAN’T BECAUSE WE’RE BROKE BECAUSE YOUR DAD IS A DICK. Orlac flexes his hands and looks all tweaked when she starts to cry, so you can probably guess where this is going.

The murder-hands knock at Orlac Dad’s door, and Orlac goes inside. He makes his way down the expressionist hallway of doom and then the hands begin pulling him toward the throne room (no, not THAT one). On the floor, he finds his dad deader than Vaudeville with the X-handled knife poking out of his chest. He’s all WAIT, DID I DO THAT and streaks away to report the murder to the police, who follow him back to the house and are all like WTF IS WITH VASSEUR’S KNIFE and then the inspector is Sherlocking about the place with his magnifying glass, and can somehow tell that the fingerprints all over the table belong to Vasseur also, since I guess he spent so long looking at those damn prints during the investigation that he’s memorized every arch and whorl. Orlac looks on from the shadows, losing his shit.

The manservant shows the police a letter he received that told him his sister was ill and that he had to come see her, which is written in Vasseur’s handwriting and was apparently a ploy to get him out of the house while all that patricide was going on. The investigators are befuddled, but the main guy is actually pretty on the ball because he’s all VASSEUR KICKED THE BUCKET YEARS AGO (I thought it was just like a couple months, but okay) BUT HIS HANDS ARE STILL KILLIN’ which seems like a weird conclusion to come to on the evidence presented, but I’ll give him a pass because he’s probably right this time. Orlac hides his hands behind him, whistling and trying to look inconspicuous as he slooooowly backs out of the house.

As he’s creeping through the streets, he’s approached by whizzing head guy, who asks him to follow. They go to a tavern or something and sit down. Orlac’s like THE FUCK ARE YOU and head guy says YOU GETTIN ALL YO DADDY’S MONEY, GIMME SOME OF THAT SHIT and Orlac’s like YOU SERIOUS? YOU ALL FLOATING AROUND IN MY DREAMS AND SHIT AND ALL YOU WANTED WAS MONEY? THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM and he laughs and laughs at the absurdity of it all, and head guy smirks and says I DID IT FOR MY HANDS, MAN, so I guess this is Vasseur and he’s alive somehow, PRAISE JEEEEZUS! He pulls his arms out from under his cloak and they look like they’re made of wood from elbow to fingertip. He explains that he really is Vasseur, and that he really was executed when they said he was, but that the same doc who replaced Orlac’s hands TOTALLY GAVE VASSEUR A HEAD TRANSPLANT, so where’s this döctor’s Nobel Prize, is what I’d like to know. Head transplant is pretty hardcore. Vasseur’s all CHECK OUT THIS BOSS NECK SCAR and Orlac suddenly isn’t laughing anymore. I have to say at this point, though, that this is a REALLY convoluted way of extorting someone out of a million francs, you know? Don’t get me wrong, I’m no criminal mastermind, so I’m not judging. It just seems like there would be easier ways of going about this.

a man. a plan. a wooden hand.

a man. a plan. a wooden hand.

So Vasseur is all GIMME THE MONEY OR I’M GONNA TELL ERRYBODY WHO KILLED YOUR DAD and Orlac’s all UM…WHO DID KILL MY DAD BTW and Vasseur’s all DUH, YOU DID and Orlac’s like FUNNY, I DON’T RECALL DOING THAT, WE’LL HAVE TO AGREE TO DISAGREE and Vasseur’s like MY FINGERPRINTS ARE ALL OVER JUST EVERYTHING, EVEN IN THAT LITTLE GAP UNDER THE STOVE, HOW DO YOU THINK I MANAGED THAT, BITCH I’M MAGIC and Orlac’s all K, PRETTY GOOD TRICK I GOTTA ADMIT, BUT FOR REAL, HOW THE FUCK YOU DO THAT and Vasseur just smirks and drinks and won’t tell him, but is all EVEN IF YOU DIDN’T DO IT YOU CAN’T PROVE SHIT, ALL EVIDENCE POINTS TO YOU, SUNSHINE and then Orlac seems to have a brainwave vis-a-vis proving his innocence, and departs the bar while Vasseur looks after him with the smuggest expression ever to grace a transplanted head.

Orlac races home and begins rummaging around in his piano, presumably looking for the knife which would prove he didn’t kill his dad, but you don’t think Magic Armless Wonder Vasseur was THAT sloppy, do you? The knife isn’t there, of course, and Orlac’s all WELL THERE GOES MY PLAN, BETTER BRUSH UP ON MY PRISON LINGO and collapses yet again. Yvonne rushes to his side and he’s all I FEEL LIKE I’M TAKING CRAZY PILLS and she’s all WTF IS GOING ON, BABE, YOU SEEM EXTRA DEMENTED TODAY and he’s all THE HANDS ARE MAKING ME DO BAD SHIT and the maid listens to them from behind the closed door. Yvonne’s all THERE THERE, MAMA WILL MAKE IT BETTER and she pulls his hands to her breast and he pulls them away, all NOPE, DON’T TEMPT THEM, THEY GOT A MIND OF THEIR OWN FOR REAL, and the maid listens guiltily. Orlac says that he has to give Vasseur the money, but Yvonne’s all TELL THE PROSECUTOR EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED and Orlac’s like YOU CRAY? THEY WON’T BELIEVE THIS SHIT and she grabs his hand and is all like THEY’LL BELIEVE YOU LIKE I BELIEVE YOU, and I’m just like, damn. Good ol’ Yvonne. She’s a keeper, that girl.

We next see Orlac and Yvonne in their Sunday best, meeting with the inspectors. He tells them the whole loony story, even acting out some parts, and the inspectors are like PULL THE OTHER ONE, CHUM and snicker at each other like assholes before writing out an arrest warrant. One of the inspectors is like YEAH, THANKS FOR THAT, and I thought he was being sarcastic, but maybe he does kinda believe Orlac, because he tells him to take the money to Vasseur that evening and they’ll take care of things from there. And lickety-split, that’s what happens: Orlac goes to the bar, Vasseur waggles his wooden arms at him, and then all the cops jump out of the shadows, guns drawn. One of the inspectors says that the guy calling himself Vasseur is really a Mr. Nera, who is the accomplice of the doctor who did the transplant, a known crook named Dr. Serral. The inspector then pulls the wooden arms off Pretend-Vasseur and shows that he has normal arms just like everyone else. So I guess he never got a head transplant either. What a gyp. It’s all very Scooby Doo, but there are still unanswered questions! Orlac’s dad is still dead, and the fingerprints found at the scene still belonged to the dead Vasseur, SO EXPLAIN THAT ONE, FLATFOOT. ORLAC STILL GOT VASSEUR’S MURDER-HANDS. So Orlac gets arrested  for murder anyway.

But just then, Maid Deus Ex Machina runs in and says, NOPE, NERA WAS THE MURDERER TOO and everyone’s like HOW THE FUCK DOES THAT WORK and she’s all PIPE DOWN, IMMA TELL YOU. Turns out that Nera made wax casts of Vasseur’s fingertips before he died, and made rubber gloves with those fingerprints on them, and the maid then produces the gloves, and holy SHIT, this is even more complicated than I thought. Couldn’t Nera just have…I dunno, kidnapped Yvonne and ransomed her, or something? This kind of criminality takes COMMITMENT, man. And how does that explain how Nera was appearing as the floating head and the gigantic kung-fu fist? That dude’s got some serious connections in the afterlife, I guess.

Oh, and also it turns out that Vasseur wasn’t even really a killer at all, since Nera used the Vasseur-gloves to kill the guy whose murder sent Vasseur to the gallows in the first place. The plot has thickened so much at this point that it’s totally like that ketchup commercial from the 70s with that Carly Simon song where the ketchup was so thick it like wouldn’t even come out of the bottle, you guys. So now Orlac is all like HOORAY, I DON’T HAVE MURDER HANDS I HAVE HAPPY HANDS and Yvonne collapses, predictably, and everyone lives happily ever after, except for Vasseur, who was wrongly executed, and Orlac Dad, who was stabbed but also kind of a dick, and Nera, who’s going to prison but who cares because fuck him. Orlac runs his hands all over his wife’s face and smooches the hell out of her, and my heart, she is well and truly warmed. Awwww.

Stay tuned for more of my “Scary Silents” series, same bat time, same bat blog. Until next time, Goddess oüt.

First in a New Series: Scary Silents: “Häxan”

Since I’m always looking for ways to keep this blog as fresh as a livid corpse, I’ve lately been casting about for ideas on a new series to supplement my “Creepy Scenes” one (which will continue, don’t fret). Just two days ago, I had a moment of kismet when I ran across a Cracked article titled “9 Terrifying Old Movies That Put Modern Horror To Shame,” and just like that, the fabled witchlight switched on in my head. So without further delay, I’d like to introduce a new series here on Goddess of Hellfire, “Scary Silents.”

I’ve always had a fascination with the very earliest days of cinema, particularly as it relates to horror film. There’s something so enthralling about the films that were made when the medium was brand new, when all the possibilities were first becoming apparent. There were limitations, sure, but oftentimes, limitations can be the spur to mad creativity, and that was certainly the case in many of the earliest movies in the horror genre. These films, many of them now nearing (or surpassing) a century old, have such a pleasingly otherworldly feel, with their shuddering camera work, their luminous black and white tableaus, and their broad theatricality. Watching the best of them, it’s easy to imagine that they seeped in from some other, creepier dimension, one of flickering lamplight and mystery. Obviously, some of the effects are crude by today’s standards, and much of the acting is necessarily exaggerated due to lack of spoken dialogue, but to me, that only contributes to their eerie charm. And some of them, particularly the non-American ones, contain some pretty shocking imagery for the time.

As is my wont, I’d like to discuss some of the slightly lesser-known films in the silent film oeuvre. Yes, Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Phantom of the Opera, and Un Chien Andalou are fantastic, but they already get a ton of ink and bandwidth, so I probably won’t discuss them here (although I may change my mind about that, who knows). I would like to focus mainly on excellent examples of the genre that perhaps haven’t been so widely seen and discussed.

To that end, in this first post I want to talk about the 1922 Swedish-Danish co-production Häxan, known in English as The Witches or Witchcraft Through the Ages. If you’re curious, there was a Criterion Collection version that came out in 2001, or if you’re impatient like me, you can watch the whole thing (with English subtitles) right here:

The film is structured in four parts, and was actually conceived as a documentary. Writer/director Benjamin Christensen had done a two-year study of the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, and sought to bring his knowledge to new audiences. For that reason, the first part of the film (comprising about fourteen minutes of runtime) is basically a short summary of both the history of witchcraft and the perceptions of Hell and the solar system common in the Middle Ages. This section of the film is illustrated with stills of woodcuts that will be familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of medieval witch legends, which I would assume is most people reading this blog. Bunch of sickos, all of ya. *kisses*

Hey, there's a cockroach there, might wanna squash that.

Hey, there’s a cockroach there, might wanna squash that.

Anyway, it’s the second part where Häxan becomes more like a traditional film, with short vignettes reenacting various aspects of witchcraft in the medieval period, and then a longer story in the middle that dramatizes one particular case of an accused witch being brought before the Inquisition. This middle section is the best part, chock full of curses and flying ointments and torture and old crones mixing potions by moonlight from pieces of corpses pulled from the gallows, and anyone who’s read my novel Red Menace knows how much I love all this kind of old-school witchery stuff.

Damn, I think all the murderer's sweat boiled off.

Damn, I think all the murderer’s sweat boiled off.

About 15 minutes in, a witch pulls a grody corpse hand out of a pile of straw and pulls off a finger, sniffing it experimentally. Weird, but you do you, babe. She then pronounces that the thief’s corpse had been too long on the gallows, and that the old, stinky finger isn’t gonna be any good for the brew. She soldiers on, though, throwing frogs and snakes and other unidentifiable things into her pot.

A woman then comes to the witch for a concoction that will melt the heart of her beloved, a fat monk who is later revealed, in a shocking plot twist, to be one of the main Inquisitors. The witch makes a delicious potion of cat feces and dove hearts. But then the woman wants the stronger stuff, so the witch gives her a potion boiled with a male sparrow, which evidently makes it like EXTREME love potion. Also, as a kinda two-for-one deal, the witch gives the woman an ointment that will let her and the object of her affections fly through the air and make kissy-face among the clouds. There are some broadly comic moments as the woman imagines the porcine monk taking the potion and then chasing her around a table and out into the woods before macking the hell out of her.

Things get REALLY interesting in later vignettes when the Devil (played by the director himself) shows up and starts pulling all kinds of evil shenanigans. “The Devil is everywhere and takes all shapes,” a title card informs us after his scary ass has popped up in a monastery and begun screwing with the chubby monks therein.

Surprise, mothafucka!!!

Surprise, mothafucka!!!

There are some really lovely silhouette shots of a naked woman walking zombie-like across a moor after being called by the Devil. One of my favorite scenes included one where the Devil comes to the window of a sleeping couple and begins banging on the shutters to call the wife to him, going all GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE, HO with his big clawed hands. Delightful.

One particularly cool sequence occurs when the Devil summons his minion, a poor woman named Apelone, into her “dream castle” where he showers her with money and a sumptuous feast, then begins to claw his way through the wooden door. The stop-motion animation here is great, and the little Devil figure, with his creepy beaked face, is super well done. Very Lynchian, this part.

In the longest segment of the film, there is a family gathered around the bed of Martin, a printer who has suddenly fallen ill. One of the male relatives wafts a ladle of hot lead over the sick man, and then drops the lead into a bucket of cold water, since the shape the lead takes will determine whether the man’s illness was caused by witchcraft, obviously. The guy pulls the lead shape out and is all OH SHIT, Y’ALL, THAT’S A BEWITCHING ALL RIGHT, and the gathered women are like AWWWW, HELL NO. The printer’s wife, Anna, gives food to an old beggar woman who comes in, and the old woman stuffs gruel in her face like a pig and totally blows a snot rocket on the floor and also has the evil eye, so the lady calls in the Inquisition, yo, since this beggar woman is clearly the agent of the bewitchin’. Family members throw the old woman in a bag (with one of the older female relatives making a particularly amusing YEAH, GET HER!!! gesture) and take her away.

The next bit, we cut to the Inquisition in progress, where the ancient old woman (Maria the Weaver is her name) is getting her torture on while the gathered monks swig wine and harangue her to CONFESS, CONFESS! At first she denies any witchy doings, but then the pain is too much for her and she’s all OKAY, FINE, I BIRTHED THE DEVIL’S BABIES, YOU HAPPY NOW and yes, they are happy, because now Maria is gonna confess all kinds of scandalous shit that the monks get to listen to and write down for later, masturbatory perusal. Maria starts telling the monks about all the witchery, and there are extended flashback sequences of a sabbath. The scenes of the witches flying are pretty cool, I gotta say. There are more beautiful shots with the witches flying across the sky in the background while the silhouetted devil orgy goes on in the foreground. The imagery of the witches’ sabbath is really gorgeous and unsettling, especially the weird skeleton-horse thing that lopes into the frame at one point, and the potion that one of the witches drops a dead baby in. There’s dancing and some (tasteful) nudity, and ladies making out with demons and doing jigs all over a cross on the ground. The monks are listening to this raptly, all WTF THIS IS KINDA HOT YOU GUYS. Maria tells them about the Devil-butt-kissing ritual, and the monks laugh and laugh like twelve year old boys.

That's my fetish.

That’s my fetish.

Through some plot contrivance, the comely printer’s wife also ends up accused of witchcraft, because payback is a bitch. I think it happened because the youngest Inquisitor had the hots for her, so the other monks assumed she had bewitched him. For his sinful thoughts, the littlest Inquisitor gets a whippin’, and when the whippermonk stops, the younger guy is kinda like WHY DID YOU STOP I WAS TOTALLY INTO THAT. You know those monks are total freaks.

One of the monks tells Anna he will let her free if she shows him one of them there witchy spells, and I’m all DON’T DO IT, GIRL, IT’S A TRAP, even though of course she’s not really a witch and can’t do magic, so what the hell am I even saying. The monk then tells her that her baby will be alone in the world without her, and then the monks actually bring the baby to the prison to show her, because monks are just the worst. Meanwhile the other monks are listening in, waiting for her to do the spell for the first dude so they can later testify that she’s a sorceress for real. See? Trap. CALLED IT. So then she starts telling them how to make thunder out of the water, because y’know, baby and freedom, and then the main monk pokes his fat face through the window and is all like GOTCHA, GONNA BURN YOU ALIVE TOMORROW, LOL and Anna is all YOU MOTHERFUCKERS and starts beating on the one monk in the cell with her, as you would, so she gets hauled off too. Cut to all the monks packing up their shit and moving on to the next town, because their work here is done (that work being torturing the shit out of innocent women and getting their sadistic jollies, obviously).

The next chapter is kind of an overview of witch confessions, torture equipment, and so forth, and opens with a creepy image of a door flanked by two people wearing scary pig heads.

Furries were a known scourge of the Middle Ages.

Furries were a known scourge of the Middle Ages.

And then all these other people in scary animal heads come shuffling out of the door and to be honest it kinda freaked me out. This bit’s kinda uncomfortable, because even though they don’t show anyone getting tortured for real, they do show actual people in the contraptions and show how they worked with a very matter-of-fact, “like so” kinda vibe. “One of my actresses insisted on trying the thumbscrew,” the director says in a title card, and then there’s footage of a laughing young woman wearing the thing while the hand of someone off camera begins tightening it. And suddenly her laughing mouth starts looking more like YOOOOWWWWCCCCCHHHH!!! “I will not reveal the terrible confessions I forced from the young lady in less than a minute,” the next title card reads. Very droll, Mr. Director.

Then there’s a nun putting on a spiked belt as a weird sort of self-flagellation, then there’s a whole convent of nuns running around like lunatics. And then the Devil’s back, wagging his tongue at another nun.

No thanks, I use toilet paper, hurr hurr.

No thanks, I use toilet paper, hurr hurr.

The Devil reaches into a box and pulls out what looks like a big spiked dildo and hands it to the nun and she takes it from him, looking horrified, before the cut. In the next scene we see that it’s a knife, and I guess the Devil wants her to stab someone with it, but she’s all GET THEE BEHIND ME and flings the knife away, only to have the Devil pop up behind her and brain her with a club. This is kind of a weird movie, if you hadn’t noticed.

She gets up off the floor, all flummoxed, and the Devil cracks open the door and gestures to her, so she picks up the knife and zombies her way after him, lookin’ all pop-eyed and crazy. She goes to the altar and with the devil’s encouragement, pulls out one of them Jesus crackers and goes to stab it while Jesus appears all like NOOOO, DON’T DO IT, MY CHILD, but I guess she does because then all the other nuns file in and find her all zonked out and they look in her hand at the wafer and they’re all like SISTER CECELIA’S IN LEAGUE WITH THE DARK ONE, Y’ALL and the nuns freak out and scatter. Then Sister gets up and starts lurching toward them, and the Mother Superior is giving her a piece of her mind vis-a-vis consorting with evil, and the sister sticks her tongue out at the Mother. And then all the nuns start dancing around and laughing, because I guess the Devil got them too through the power of the nunly raspberry, and the Devil wags his tongue and happily surveys his handiwork. In the next scene, another nun kipes the baby Jesus statue off the altar and carries it to the Inquisitors and tells them they need to burn her at the stake tout suite because the Devil is making her do some bad shit. She then spits on the baby Jesus and screams that the Devil is RIGHT IN THE ROOM, YOU GUYS. Fade to black.

The last chapter is sort of from a modern perspective, with the director pointing out that poor old women were usually the innocent victims of these medieval wackos, and then enumerating all the ways a woman could “stand out” back then and get the fingers of the Inquisition pointed at her. Like here’s a woman with a hunchback, or who is blind in one eye, or otherwise looks kinda fucked up or diseased. And then the director says, via title card, that we shouldn’t think that the Devil is only consigned to the past, because the actress who played the old witch Maria in the film once told him that the Devil was real, and that she’d seen him at her bedside.

He called me out into the yard; apparently he had a new lawnmower he wanted me to look at.

He called me out into the yard; apparently he had a new lawnmower he wanted me to look at.

But he says that now we know that all of the so-called symptoms of witchcraft were simply physical or mental ailments, and he has an actress portray a few of these ailments as examples, including pyromania, sleepwalking, hysteria, and the like. It then goes into a discussion of witch’s marks, and shows a naked and prone woman on an altar with the devil’s claws touching her back in various places. Then there’s those Inquisitors, leering at a topless woman while poking at her for signs of those “insensitive” areas. Contrast that with the next scene, which shows a modern doctor poking at a woman’s back, understanding that such areas on the body are completely normal and merely a symptom of that good old feminine complaint of “hysteria.” (This WAS almost 100 years ago, y’all; they weren’t THAT modern.)

And then it’s kinda weird, because one of the doctors says something to the mother of the patient about “Y’know, it would be a shame if your daughter’s hysteria made her have a run-in with the police” (WTF) and then the title card says, “Poor little hysterical witch! In the Middle Ages you were in conflict with the church. Now it is with the law.” I can’t really tell if the director was actually feeling pity with the women, or if he’s just being a sarcastic douche. That’s one of the downsides of silent movies, I guess; you can’t hear people’s tone of voice, and the text in silent movies doesn’t have emoticons.

Then, inexplicably, there’s a scene of a woman in a jewelry store totally pulling a klepto while the jeweler’s back is turned. So I guess that’s what the law thing was all about. The jeweler peeps in the ring box and is all HEY, THERE WAS ANOTHER RING HERE and the chick’s all I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU MEAN, WHAT ARE YOU ACCUSING ME OF, SIRRAH? Jeweler’s all, INTO MY OFFICE MISSY OR I’M CALLING THE FIVE-O, so she sheepishly goes into the office and hands over the ring she swiped. And then the jeweler’s all GIVE ME YOUR CARD IMMA CALL YOUR MOM even though the woman is like forty. The woman begs him not to contact her family, or else she will be “forcibly detained,” which doesn’t sound too good, and wait, weren’t there witches and devils and stuff just a few minutes ago? This is taking a turn into crazy town.

Anyway, she tells him she’s not well, and that her behavior is seemingly caused by something outside herself, and I suppose we’re just trying to draw parallels between the treatment of mentally ill women in the modern day as opposed to the days of the Iron Maiden, but it’s still a bit odd. And then the woman is like YEAH, I’M BROKEN, AND LOOK, HERE’S SOME OTHER SHIT I STOLE, I’M SO CRAZY, and probably showing your other pilferings to a guy you just tried to steal from isn’t the brightest idea, but she’s arguing for her life, you guys. Then she pulls out the pity card by saying that her husband died in the war and she hasn’t been the same since. And it totally works! See, we have compassion nowadays, not like those bloodthirsty medieval fuckers, and the jeweler lets her skate. I admit I actually did feel bad for her, so good on ya, jeweler guy.

At the very end, there’s a little recap of the medieval view on Hell and such, and the implication that it’s awesome we don’t really believe any of that silly shit anymore. He says there are no more witches on broomsticks, and then there’s a shot of a smiling woman piloting a biplane. YEAH, GIRL POWER! But wait, he says! Superstition is still rampant! There are still tarot readers and crystal ball gazers galore! We no longer burn the old and poor, but don’t the poor still suffer? Are we really that different? No, Mr. Director, we are not. Food for thought, my minions. Food for thought.

And because happy endings are not very Swedish and all, the final shot is of bodies burning alive at the stake, so that’s nice. I also enjoyed the ending title card that simply said, “SLUT” (which is Swedish for “end” or “out,” but don’t spoil my juvenile fun).

Until next time, Goddess slut. I mean out.

Slut.

HaxanPoster