Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Directed by Tod Browning [Other horror films: The Unknown (1927), London After Midnight (1927), Dracula (1931), Freaks (1932), The Devil-Doll (1936)]

Having seen this twice now, I wish that I could like it more. The problem is, though, that the finale seems to come out of nowhere, and there’s a certain incoherence when it comes to the ending of the film. Many comment that it seems some scenes where removed, and it’s easy to see why.

Ignoring that for now, the rest of the movie is decent. The atmosphere is solid, what with a decrepit mansion (it doesn’t look too dissimilar from the mansion in Dracula, from four years earlier), some mystery, a village afraid of vampires, and all that stuff.

The cast is solid, but generally unmemorable. You have big names such as Lionel Barrymore (1926’s The Bells and 1936’s The Devil-Doll), Bela Lugosi (Dracula, The Black Cat, and many others), Lionell Atwill (Doctor X, The Vampire Bat, Mystery of the Wax Museum, Secret of the Blue Room, and others), and a few unknown names who did decent also, such as Elizabeth Allan, Henry Wadsworth, and Carroll Borland.

Problematically, because of the mess of the plot, I don’t really think many of these actors really get to shine. Lugosi, of course, is good, but while I appreciated Atwill and Barrymore, neither really blew me away.

Apparently this film was originally an hour and 15 minutes, but 15 minutes were cut, which was, from my understanding, mostly comedic additions. If, instead of an hour, this had been 75 minutes (with the additional 15 minutes being plot-orientated, finale information), Mark of the Vampire wouldn’t feel as disjointed as it sometimes does. Make no mistake, this isn’t as bad as Vampyr, but most definitely this could benefit from some explanation, given how the ending, again, seems to come out of nowhere, and felt utterly convoluted.

A final note, this is generally considered a talkie remake of the unfortunately-lost London After Midnight from 1927. That film, too, had something of a surprise ending, but I suspect it was probably laid out better than it was here. There was a reconstruction using still photographs by TCM, released in 2002, so in some form, the original story is out there.

As for Mark of the Vampire, I appreciate some of what it was going for, but otherwise, having seen it twice, I find it underwhelming.

6/10

Ye ban ge sheng (1935)

song at midnight

Directed by Weibang Ma-Xu [Other horror films: Ye ban ge sheng xu ji (1941), Wu ye jing hun (1956), Du mang qing yuan (1961)]

Often considered China’s first horror film, Ye ban ge sheng (or Song at Midnight, as it’s commonly known) is a piece of history in many ways. This Chinese adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera has much of the tragedy and suspense you’d hope to see, but it’s also muddled due both to the worn print and lengthy run-time.

To be honest, when I first saw this one years back, I don’t remember what I thought. Part of this may be because it was during October, and getting a feel for an individual horror film in a month where I watch at least thirty to forty (or as many of two hundred and seventy-five) can be difficult. Suffice it to say I didn’t remember all that much about this one before watching again, which may have helped temper my expectations.

The biggest problem with the movie itself is the almost two hour run-time. The first fifteen minutes of this movie were borderline incomprehensible, even with English subtitles. Easily, fifteen to twenty five minutes could have been cut, and I think it’d have brought a better sense of pacing to the movie.

Though not the film’s doing, the commonly-available print of this film has really been through the wringer. Audio issues, visual issues, odd cuts, it can sometimes be a hassle to get through. Once the story starts picking up around twenty minutes in, things tend to come across more comprehensively, but then a subplot later on sort of loses me a bit.

Given that this movie isn’t that well-documented, I can’t much point out performances I thought were good. The individual playing the Phantom of the Theater House was extraordinarily solid, and probably stole the show. Others, including the younger protegee, were good, but none captured the utter tragic existence of the Phantom (a twenty-minute flashback explaining how he came to be, each minute more heartbreaking than the last, stood out as one of the best segments of the film).

Really, the story could be riveting at times. There’s also some creepy scenes to keep us going (an early one with a troupe of actors exploring a rather decrepit theater house stands out, along with the unmasking), and some good revenge at the end. At times, the film felt a bit more like a silent film than American peers at the time, and the fight sequence toward the end felt weak, but generally speaking, this is a good film.

Sadly, what probably holds Ye ban ge sheng back the most is the atrocity of the print. I think that even those who are fans of classic horror would struggle with much of it, and that can certainly lead to a more negative feeling about the story. This movie is a classic, but I just don’t think it holds up as well as it should, not through much fault of it’s own. Just below average sounds about right, sadly.

6.5/10

Mad Love (1935)

Mad Love

Directed by Karl Freund [Other horror films: Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932)]

This is a classic of 30’s horror, and a definite recommendation to any other fans of the golden era of the genre.

Based off the French novel Le Mains d’Orlac (in English, The Hands of Orlac), this movie may be short (just around an hour and eight minutes), but it carries with it a lot of suspense and solid acting. The story works better here than other adaptations or rip-offs of the novel I’ve seen (such as Hands of a Stranger from 1962) because it focuses more on the crazy surgeon as opposed to the character who got a hand transplant.

Peter Lorre is the reason that this works so well – his character is so utterly insane that it’s rather amazing watching his onscreen performance (especially the conclusion). How he attempted to mess with Colin Clive’s character was both creative and rather creepy. Lorre’s by far one of the best reasons to watch this, which is saying something, as it’s already a really good film. Clive (who played Henry Frankenstein twice before his early death in 1937) was solid here too, as was Frances Drake, but Lorre, unsurprisingly, blew them out of the water.

One of the actresses was used almost purely for comedic relief, and was the one real downside of the film. Admittedly, when she said, referring to a wax statue, “it went for a little walk,” I laughed quite a bit. The director of this film, Karl Freund, also directed The Mummy, which is where that line originates from, so hearing it pop up again was pretty funny.

Mad Love is one of those films that might not seem as though it’s in the same league as Frankenstein or Dracula, or even Freaks, but it’s a shining light during the 30’s horror output. 1935 was also one of the last decent years for horror until 1941 or so, which only helps it’s case. Certainly the story is well-crafted, and the conclusion rather suspenseful, showing Lorre’s full madness, so if you’re a fan of the classics of the genre, and you’ve not yet given this a watch, I’d recommend doing so, as it’s just as spectacular now as when I last saw it.

8.5/10