Tuesday, September 08, 2009

House of Silent Scream: Just a hunch.

While it is always a pleasure to introduce a guest blogger, this one is special for me. There wouldn't be an ANTSS is it wasn't for her. Literally. It was Heather's Mermaid Heather horror blog that convinced me - for better or for worse - that I should try my hand at horror blogging.

So, you see, she's the one to blame!

When my first post went up in September of 2006, her blog was one just three links on the ANTSS sidebar. She's been an inspiration to and supporter of this blog from its earliest days. And for that, I thank her.

Screamers and Screamettes, Boils and Ghouls, here's Heather!

Around a month ago I got this email from CRwM telling me that his fourth year anniversary as a blogger was coming up. He also asked if I could help him out, by reviewing a silent era film as part of his silent film reviews. As you all know, he visits these films every time his blog anniversary roles around. CRwM has told me that my blog happens to be one of those that inspired his own, so how could I refuse helping him out? Even though CRwM has outdone me in every way: a better writer (in my opinion anyway), with more posts, and more followers, and the list goes on. Wait, why am I doing this again? One simple reason really. CRwM is a great guy, and one I am proud to call a friend.

When CRwM asked me to review a silent film, I had no clue which film to watch. This is a genre, if that is the correct term, that I have rarely visited myself. If I'm not mistaken, this could very well be my first review of a silent film actually. It took me a while to figure out which film to watch, which I think worried CRwM just a bit. After some research, and some debate with myself, I narrowed it down to two films. Needing to get my mind off things for a while, I decided to watch The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923). Even though it isn't listed as a horror film, I always come across it on lists for silent horror films.

In 15th century Paris , times are ripe for a revolt. King Louie XI is running things with an iron hand, and the peasents are getting tired of being treated like mere sheep. Clopin (Ernest Torrence) is something of a king to the poor people of Paris . His foster daughter, Esmeralda (Patsy Ruth Miller), is a woman that seemingly every man wants. Jehan (Brandon Hurst) is a brother of an archdeacon, who is trying to get Clopin to revolt against King Louie, and Jehan is also very interested in having Esmeralda. Then there is the newly appointed Captain of the guards, Phoebus de Chateaupers (Norman Kerry), who is also attracted to Esmeralda. However, Phoebus represents everything that Clopin hates about the upper class. Even though Esmeralda wants to be with Phoebus, she knows that it could never happen. In the mix with all this is Quasimodo (Lon Chaney Sr.).

Quasimodo is the deformed hunchback of the title. He is half blind, deaf, and has a hump on his back. Because of this, he is treated worse than poor people. The church has taken pity on him though, and allows him to do small duties around the church. Quasimodo's greatest joy though is to ring the grand bell, since he can feel the vibrations from it. He is also attracted to Esmeralda, but knows he doesn't stand a chance. Jehan tricks Quasimodo into kidnapping Esmeralda for him, but it doesn't go as planned. Quasimodo is arrested for the crime, while Jehan slinks off into the shadows. After Quasimodo is punished, Esmeralda is the only person to give him water and be kind to him. When Esmeralda gets into trouble later, Quasimodo takes it upon himself to come to her rescue. With a revolt about ready to boil over, can even Quasimodo save Esmeralda?

One of the things I noticed right away while watching The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is that it gives you the feel of actually being filmed in Paris . It isn't like the film takes us on a tour of Paris , but because of the massive church, it still feels like Paris . In truth, it was all filmed on sets. The cathedral set remained standing until a fire in 1967 destroyed it. It grossed over $3 million dollars at the time, or roughly $23 million today I think. Lon Chaney was a well known actor already, but this film is said to have made him a star in the eyes of Hollywood . When it was filmed, it was one of the biggest movies as far as extras being used. In some of the opening scenes, you can see just how many extras were being used for the film.

One of the problems I have with silent films is that there seems to be a lot of talking going on, but they only give you the readers digest version of what is being said at times. With The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, I sometimes felt I was missing something. For example, they make Phoebus out to be a womanizer at the start of the film. Esmeralda likes him from the start, but the film makes it clear that Phoebus has no real feelings for her. Then at some point in the film, with no real explanation, Phoebus and Esmeralda have promised to be married. I thought I had missed something at some point, but that may not have been the case after all. It wasn't the only time I felt a little confused by the events in the film. As it turns out, two reels were dropped from the film once it was released for home rental. It is said that 10-15 minutes of film is still missing. Maybe this helps explain some of the gaps that I felt were there.

Lon Chaney's makeup for this film was supposed to be his most extreme yet. To me this is one of the things that holds up well in this film. Even better than his makeup though, was how well Chaney sells the character of the hunchback. I can understand how he became a popular actor in silent films. Chaney seems to throw everything he has into his character, and then some. Patsy Ruth Miller and Norman Kerry also do a wonderful job, but it is truly Lon Chaney's film.

Even though this was the first time I have watched this film, there were scenes I remembered from it. Either they were used in other films, or in a documentary somewhere. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame ends up being a longer film than I thought it would be. Most of the older films I have watched run a little over an hour, but this one came in around the same time a film from today usually runs. I enjoyed watching it, even if I did feel like it dragged just a little. But I have a very hard time calling it a classic horror film. It is much more the drama film that it claims to be. Still, I want to thank CRwM for inviting me to review a film for his blog. I truly hope we see many more years of blogging from you.


Jed Cooper said...

well howdy to both of you folks. This one has always been one of my favorite silent horrors. At least I consider it a horror movie anyway, lol. But I am also a Lon Chaney Sr fan too, as well as a fan of Jr.

I have been able to watch several of Chaney's silent movies, and have always been impressed with how much of himself he put into his work. He was called the "Man Of A Thousand Faces", and did his own makeup. But his real talent seemed to be the ability to place his body into amazing positions, which he could maintain for filming purposes. Many of the characters he made famous, did not involve elaborate facial makeup, as much as some makeup coupled with amazing body contortions.

I recall one film in which he played an armless knife thrower in a circus. For that role he learned to use his feet to throw knives, light cigarettes and perform some other amazing things. He kept his arms heavily taped along his sides, and everyone, except one confidant, thought he had no arms.

If I recall correct, for his Hunchback role, he fashioned a device that would cause his body to be twisted and give him a large part of the grotesque appearance we saw on screen.

A great review Miss Heather, as normal maam. Since this may well be your first silent film, I would encourage you as time permits to watch some more. They take some getting used to in my view, lol. But better than reading close captioned translations for foreign language films, since the wording stays up for much longer periods of time.

I have found silent films to show an actor's real talent, or lack of it at times too. Their body language and facial expression really highlights their abilities to sell their role, if they have that talent. To me Chaney Sr. certainly had that talent, and lets it show well in this flick.

Sorry to have been so silent here for far too long too Mr. CRWM. But I will try to correct that now too.

Shon Richards said...

Phoebus is my main irritant in every Hunchback movie. In the book he is a colossal jerk and yet he gets rehabilitated in nearly every movie.

Lon Chaney was amazing, wasn't he? First time I saw this movie I was just stunned by him.