Directed by Paul Wegener [Other horror films: Der Golem (1915), Der Golem und die Tänzerin (1917), Die Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920)] & Stellan Rye [Other horror films: N/A]
One of the earliest full-length horror movies ever made (despite also being a self-described “romantic drama”), Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague) is a true piece of horror and cinema history, and while that doesn’t mean that the film is utterly amazing, this movie still has a lot of charm, and is worth seeing.
While certainly tame by today’s standards, the story is still pretty fun, and occasionally even creepy. Making a deal with the devil-morality tales have never been high on my enjoyment list, but this movie makes it work out pretty well, despite the age of the film.
Certainly, drawbacks are present – while we do get some good action toward the third and fourth acts, the first two are muddled with, well, romantic drama sequences. It is worth noting, though, that despite this, even at an hour and 22 minutes, generally speaking, Der Student von Prag doesn’t feel as though it drags at any point. Sure, these melodramatic scenes are a bit much, but you’re still invested enough in the characters so that it doesn’t really come across a burden.
There are also some scenes that don’t feel believable (for instance, the ease in which multiple people can break into the mansion of a Count strikes me as a security threat), but it’s a small thing. Believe it or not, though, there are a few creepy scenes, especially one toward the end when the main character, Balduin, realizes he has no reflection. That was well-shot, as was the downbeat ending (though, without a doubt, you can see it coming from a mile away).
Three actors stand out above the others, being Paul Wegener (Balduin), John Gottowt (Scapinelli), and Lyda Salmonova (Lyduschka). Wegener (also the director of this film) gives an incredibly expressive performance throughout, and sure, it’s occasionally over the top, but what else would you expect from a silent movie? Gottowt does a damn fine job playing the sinister Scapinelli, and has an engaging screen presence. While Salmonova doesn’t have much to do in the last few acts, she’s fun throughout her appearances early on.
Germany was, as far as I’m concerned, the undisputed king of horror from the release of this film (1913) to around the mid-1920’s, and while this certainly isn’t Germany’s most memorable silent horror flick, or their most enjoyable (plenty of others come to mind), having watched this three times now, I can say that it does stand the test of time despite it’s flaws.