Directed by F.W. Murnau [Other horror films: Satanas (1920), Der Bucklige und die Tänzerin (1920), Der Januskopf (1920), Schloß Vogelöd (1921) Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)]
Obliviously much more a drama than a horror, Faust: Eine deutsche Volkssage still has enough dark elements in it for it to clearly count as horror, which I’m grateful for, because otherwise, I’d probably never have seen this beautiful-looking movie.
The story here is one, of course, of a morality tale, in which Mephisto makes a wager with an angel that he can corrupt Faust, and the angel’s all like “Brah, men are too good to corrupt, I take your wager and if I lose, the world is yours.” And of course, through the tragedy and misery, the grace of God reigns supreme, and because of love, Mephisto’s wager fails.
Now, I can do without all of the religious bullshit, but I admit that I love how some movies back then had the cojones to work within such a strongly fantastical story. Morality tales were the basis of horror films (just look at 1913’s Der Student von Prag), and stories that took place primarily in Hell have too been done (Italy’s 1925 Maciste all’inferno), so a movie like this that deals with a theological wager between two high entities is certainly welcomed. And you know that, if a newer movie did this, it would just look ridiculous, but here, it doesn’t look too shabby at all.
The pleasure of watching silent films is seeing exactly how much they were able to do with the limitations they had, and there are plenty of scenes in this film that really look great, and in fact far more impressive than modern-day special effects. While I do wish the latter half of the story had had more carnage in it (aside from that provided by the religious bigots who were going to burn a woman to death for killing her child, but the only reason that child died was because the religious bigots considered the woman a ‘whore’ and thus she had no support system – just another reason to stand against religious beliefs, I feel), I cannot deny that the special effects here all look stupendous.
Emil Jannings (Die Augen der Mumie Ma and Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) was solid as Mephisto, though there were a few light-hearted scenes surrounding him and a woman who was chasing after him (played by Yvette Guilbert) that I could have done without. As Faust, Gösta Ekman had an expressive and expansive range, and came across very impressively. And as for Camilla Horn – well, let me put it this way: I’m not usually one to find women from older movies attractive, but her – hubba hubba. I mean, she was one smokin’ piece, as the kids say, and her performance too, once the story turned more tragic, was certainly admirable.
Valentin, played by William Dieterle (the aforementioned Das Washsfigurenkabinett being his only other venture into horror) was a solid character, big and strong, until he went after his sister’s lover (after saying, basically, that she should put herself out more) and then calling her a ‘whore’ and also calling for her death. So basically, fuck this guy.
So with a fine cast, amazing special effects, and an interesting set-up, Faust is definitely one of those German classics that people like me sometimes like to bring up. It’s a damn fine piece of cinema, and while it’s not a personal favorite from the silent era for me personally, it’s still very much worth seeing.