Monday, September 28, 2009

House of Silent Scream: Know when to fold 'em.

It's possible that you might be reading this blog even though you have no interest in the horror genre. You might have some obsession about glow-in-the-dark plastic fangs or maybe you've mistaken me for somebody else. For the unlikely few who read this, but no other horror blogs, it's a real pleasure to introduce you to Curt, master o' The Groovy Age of Horror and one of the horror blog world's essential figures.

I could talk talk talk about Curt's blog: His wide and varied interests, his thorough explorations of ideas and works, his humor, his smarts. But I want to actually get to his guest post, so I'll focus on just one thing. Of all genuinely popular blogs I know, Groovy Age is the only one that evolves out in the open. If Curt starts diggin' on Green Lantern or neuroscience or whatever, then Groovy Age will incorporate it. And incorporate it well. Most horror blogs find a schtick and they stick with it. You'll have a handful of aggregator fodder rituals designed mainly to capture Horror Blip points and a few running gags, but you don't risk the dip in readership by going too far off the reservation. But not Curt. With the Groovy Age you can watch somebody deeply in love with genre entertainment explore everything that means, going where it takes him rather than trapping it into easy, lazy concepts and categories. It's the reason Groovy Age remains required reading no matter where Curt takes it.

Ladies and germs, I am very proud to present Curt Purcell!

Richard Sala's comics are stuffed with visual elements, character types, and narrative tropes that seem ripped from the iconic stills and posters that have glommed together in my imagination to form some impression of what the more lurid silent serials may have been like. I've seen almost no silent cinema--NOSFERATU, VAMPYRE, METROPOLIS . . . that's about it--but Sala's comics certainly made me curious about the distinctly European arch-villain genre. When CRwM invited me to participate in "House of Silent Scream," it seemed like the perfect excuse/motivation to finally delve into some of that material.

I turned to DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER, Fritz Lang's 1922 two-part, four hour adaptation of the original novel by Norbert Jacques. I'm sorry to say, I found it to be a transitional fossil of mainly historical interest.

For a thriller that promises suspense and action, it moves at an excruciatingly leisurely pace, making for a very long four hours indeed. It delivers, pretty modestly and without much pizzazz, only meager dollops of the stuff that makes Sala's comics so fun--disguises and secret passageways and hypnotism and all that sort of thing. Then, what little visual punch it strives for depends more on effects that are now atrociously obsolete than on the striking designs and compositions that make NOSFERATU and METROPOLIS enduringly iconic classics that will never cease to look amazing.

What disappoints me most about the film, though, is the way it doesn't seem to grasp its own core concept. Mabuse is supposed to be a mysterious arch-villain and master of disguise--so why do we see his real face within the very first frames, and for much of the movie thereafter?!? From the beginning, he's never a mystery to the audience, and he only becomes more familiar, further weakening his air of menace.

Having said all that, I can see glimmers of promise that certainly must have shone brighter back in the day. However obsolete it looks to me now, I'm not terribly surprised that DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER was popular and influential.


K. R. Seward said...

Saw The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist there. [A kind of Perils of Pauline, if Pauline were a corpse, written by Michael O'Donoghue.]

But I wasn't bright enough at the time to know what a blog was or that one might find obscure comic book parodies there. cough late adopter cough

And yes, I come here for the laughs, not the horror per se. Good writing knows no genre (tho' plenty of it is genre). And fun is fun.

This blog has all of the above--thanks.

dfordoom said...

The last Dr Mabuse movie that Lang did, The 1,000 Eyes of Dr Mabuse, is a lot more fun. Made in 1960, after his return to Germany. A very underrated movie.

CRwM said...


I recommended Testament as well. The Mabuse films of Lang might be that rarest of beasts, a series where the sequels were the equal or better of the original.

dfordoom said...

I want to see Testament but I haven't tracked down a copy yet. It's definitely on my To Buy list.