Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (1924)

Waxworks

Directed by Leo Birinsky [Other horror films: N/A] & Paul Leni [Other horror films: The Cat and the Canary (1927), The Man Who Laughs (1928), The Last Warning (1928)]

A far more well-known silent anthology than Unheimliche Geschichten (1919), this Paul Leni film (commonly known as Waxworks) has an entire different set of problems, but at the same time, still comes out a slightly better film.

With two stories comprising most of the hour and 23 minute film (each story an average of 38 minutes), the biggest issue with Das Wachsfigurenkabinett is that it’s tone isn’t that consistent. The first story is a bit of a light-hearted adventure, with jaunty sequences and music. The second was a much slower, almost somber, historical piece about Ivan the Terrible. And the last sequence was a mere six minutes or so, which is where most of this movie’s horror elements come from.

So an adventure/history/horror mix is certainly an interesting idea, and the framing story (a writer comes up with stories on some waxworks figures) is certainly decent, but how is the movie as a whole?

The first story, starring Emil Jannings (previously seen in the 1918 Die Augen der Mumie Ma) as a Caliph, was lot of fun, with some great looking set pieces and an enjoyable story. The second, with Conrad Veidt (from 1919’s Unheimliche Geschichten and 1920’s classic Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) was certainly more in the vein of horror, but the story didn’t do much for me until the pay-off at the end. And the third sequence, with Jack the Ripper/Spring-heel Jack was just too short to really warrant strong opinions one way or the other.

For any anthology movie, I feel that there should be a base of three to four stories, and not counting the framing story, Waxwork had two, all things considered. And while one of them was pretty fun, and many sequences looked cool (along with a fight on top of a temple), this movie didn’t have what I really look for in anthology films.

Paul Leni, who later directed such titles as 1927’s The Cat and the Canary, 1928’s The Man Who Laughs and The Last Warning (perhaps one of my favorite silent horror films), did an okay job, but again, the tone didn’t really work for me. That said, this is still considered a classic for a reason, and providing that you’re able to locate the right print, if you’re a fan of silent flicks, this is still worth a watch (if for nothing else, the expressionist set pieces), but all-in-all, it falls a bit below average for me.

6.5/10

Schatten – Eine nächtliche Halluzination (1923)

Warning

Directed by Arthur Robison [Other horror films: Nächte des Grauens (1917), Der Student von Prag (1935)]

Known most commonly as Warning Shadows, this German classic, originally titled Schatten – Eine nächtliche Halluzination (what a mouthful that is), is a somewhat difficult movie to talk about. On one hand, I deeply appreciate and like the idea of what director Arthur Robison was going for, but on the other hand, past a certain point, I can’t help but think that the movies drags.

It’s not a lengthy film, at only an hour and 23 minutes. But most silent films have intertitles (in order to get dialogue across to the audience), and Robison decided to opt out of using those. Which means without paying attention to the characters and their relationships with each other, given there is zero dialogue given throughout the film, you’ll most likely feel lost.

Which is, in theory, a neat idea, and really lends to the film’s expressionist and often moody feeling. But after forty minutes, it’s a bit much.

The plot, in which a shadow-player’s (think a magician of sorts who focuses on manipulating light and shadows) arrival at a dinner party exasperate the already struggling relationship between a baron and his flirtatious wife, is decently fun, although I do think there’s a few too many characters afoot. The route the film takes is an interesting one, and while I do think it drags, I’d say the story works out pretty well.

This is true, in part, due to many factors. Most of the actors and actresses do well at expressing themselves without the use of intertitles, with Alexander Granach (also in the classic Nosferatu), Fritz Kortner, and Ruth Weyher standing out the most.

The color scheme for the version I saw was mostly a purple tint, which I thought went a long way in helping create the moody atmosphere of the flick. The score, too, added to the effect. While the score I heard wasn’t at all the original (an electronic portion showcasing that much), it went from dark and brooding to festive in all the right moments. Lastly, the visuals of the movie were pretty cool, which, given it’s an expressionist movie, you probably wouldn’t expect anything less.

Given all of these positive elements, though, I just can’t get beyond the fact that, after half the run-time, I found myself losing focus. In truth, I feel sort of ashamed of it, as this is one of those classic movies you really want to like and spread the word on, but I was struggling to care past a certain point. Because of that, despite the plenty of positive aspects, I’m giving it a bit below average.

That said, this is one of those films I recommend anyone check out, because I think that it’s the type of movie that most people would get a kick out of, at least to a certain extent.

One last note: Arthur Robison, the director, made 21 movies, most of them lost with time. The only other movie of note is a 1935 version of Der Student von Prag, the 1913 version being the first intact full-length horror film, which was previously reviewed. Just a little factoid.

Warning Shadows is worth a watch, but like I said, don’t be surprised if you find it a little sluggish.

6/10

Schloß Vogelöd (1921)

Haunted Castle

Directed by F.W. Murnau [Other horror films: Satanas (1920), Der Bucklige und die Tänzerin (1920), Der Januskopf (1920), Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922), Faust: Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)]

Directed by F.W. Murnau (who later directed both Nosferatu and Faust), Schloß Vogelöd (or The Haunted Castle) does a pretty good job at creating an interesting early mystery/horror hybrid, held back by it’s length and related, some of the scenes.

This compelling story, revolving around possible lies about a three-year old murder, has a lot of mystery and secrets, with a twist or two, throughout. It has a moderately dark atmosphere, and is overall a fun movie.

It does run on a bit longer than it really needs to, though. At an hour and 22 minutes, I can’t help but think that things dragged a bit through some of the acts (this movie is divided into five acts), especially the second and fourth. There’s a dream sequence that, while not overly lengthy, feels a bit out of place, and I could have done without that.

Arnold Korff (who played the host) and Paul Hartmann (Oetsch, who was accused of killing his brother) both do really well in their roles, and while no one in this movie does a bad job (aside from maybe Julius Falkenstein, and that may have just been because his character was more comedic relief than anything else), Korff and Hartmann stand out the most.

To many, if not most, The Haunted Castle would be a minor German movie, a silent mystery, of little interest. Personally, I think the story is very solid, and while many may not, I’ve seen this movie twice and still consider it a horror flick, albeit one very borderline. Regardless, though, if you like silent movies, or are willing to give one a shot, aside from the fact that this runs a bit long (though I would recommend the 1 hour and 22 minute version over the 55 minute, more common, cut), I think you’d enjoy this one.

7.5/10

Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920)

Golem

Directed by Paul Wegener [Other horror films: Der Student von Prag (1913), Der Golem (1915), Der Golem und die Tänzerin (1917)]

A true classic of the silent era, Der Golem, wie er in der Welt kam (a prequel to the lost 1915 Der Golem) is a great watch, even if you’re new to silent flicks.

The one caveat is that if you do seek this movie out, make sure you find a version with a score. I’ve seen this twice before, both times with a score, but for this most recent rewatch, I was watching a truly silent version, which I don’t like doing and can affect the film. That said, I will do my best to not let that interfere.

The setting, a slum that the Jewish population are forced to dwell in, was captivating, and showed some inklings of the impressionist style that Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is better known for. Homes made of stone, the people wearing little more than robes, really showed the desperate situation the Jews found themselves in, and when they’re told they’re to be expelled by the emperor, it really helps show why one of them would go to the lengths of crafting a Golem.

Which is somewhat ironic, as one of the reasons they’re being expelled is due to their practice of dark magic, which, by creating a Golem, sort of proves the emperor’s point. But that flawed logic aside, I do get where they’re coming from.

Not much of the cast really stood out aside from Albert Steinruck, Paul Wegener, and Lyda Salmonova. Really, the standout is Wegener’s performance as the titular Golem, a very Frankenstein-monster esque creation. He didn’t express all that much a range of emotion, but he did have, at times, a very threatening presence (not all that far removed from Frankstein’s monster from the 1931 classic Frankenstein).

There’s many prints of this flick floating about. This time around, I saw the 1 hour and 42 minute version, which, at times, does occasionally feel as though it’s dragging. Still, there’s shorter versions out there if you want a more digestible taste of this flick. Der Golem, wie er in der Welt kam isn’t my favorite silent horror flick, but it is a classic for a reason, and I’d highly recommend a watch at least once in your life.

7.5/10

Unheimliche Geschichten (1919)

Unheimliche

Directed by Richard Oswald [Other horror films: Der Hund von Baskerville, 3. Teil – Das unheimliche Zimmer (1916), Der Hund von Baskerville, 4. Teil (1916), Nächte des Grauens (1917), Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray (1917), Nachtgestalten (1920), Cagliostro – Liebe un Leben eines großen Abenteurers (1929), Der Hund von Baskerville (1929), Unheimliche Geschichten (1932)]

The first anthology horror movie ever made, Unheimliche Geschichten (known as Eerie Tales, or Uncanny Tales) further cements Germany’s domination in the horror genre, but also presents us a mixed bag of uninspired stories.

Out of the five stories within this anthology (The Apparition, The Hand, The Black Cat, The Suicide Club, and The Spectre), the only one that I really didn’t like was the final story, The Spectre, which is based off a poem and has a much more light-hearted feel to it. But that’s not to say the other four stories are good – in fact, really, only one story is above average, being The Suicide Club, while the other three are either average or below, being held back by either my perceived unoriginality or too stagy a vibe.

The Apparition is, for the most part, decent, and there is a rather spooky vibe to it, and I even like the ending reveal, but it was just lacking additional meat to the story. The Hand was decently well done, but again, there’s not much to it. Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, The Black Cat was enjoyable to a degree, but just fell short of actually captivating me. The Spectre, which is unfortunately the worst story within and the worst to end the flick on, wasn’t my thing whatsoever.

The framing story wasn’t amazing, but I’m giving that a break – being the first anthology horror movie (preceding the 1945 classic Dead of Night by 26 years), I don’t expect an amazing set up. The actors throughout were okay, but some were prone to overacting even within the silent era of film, which is saying something. Perhaps Conrad Veidt did the best, playing roles in all five stories, along with the framing sequence (something also done by both Reinhold Schunzel and Anita Berber).

Unheimliche Geschichten is a piece of history, and for fans particularly of anthology horror movies, it might be worth a look, but to say that it is occasionally stale, and comes across far more average than you could hope, would be understating it. By no means a bad film, when all is said and done, there are plenty of other silent German films I would recommend before this one.

6/10

Die Augen der Mumie Ma (1918)

Eyes of the Mummy

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch [Other horror films: N/A]

This is a moderately difficult flick to talk about, mainly because it straddles the line between horror and non-horror. Ultimately, I do think that Die Augen der Mumie Ma (The Eyes of the Mummy, as it’s commonly known) is a horror movie, but I would not at all excuse anyone else for thinking otherwise.

If you’re expecting an actual mummy, as many viewers tend to, then that might lead to many of the disappointments this movie brings. It’s a heavy drama-laden flick, not to mention romance, which overshadows the horror aspects. Luckily, toward the end, things do pick up. Not that much, though. While I’m a fan of the ending, it comes in far too late to make that positive an impact, and unfortunately, there were too few scenes prior that had much a threatening feel to them.

Another thing that I can’t help but criticize: most of the times, actors in silent flicks are about as good as you would expect, with a few standing out above the others. Here, it just seems to me that many of the actors’ and actresses’ hearts weren’t into it. Harry Liedtke was fine, but didn’t have the power to really carry the protagonist side of the plot, and sadly, neither did Pola Negri (her dancing didn’t do much for me either, on a side-note).

Emil Jannings did the best, by far, with his performance. While he was nowhere near as good as other early mad men (he’s no Lorre from Mad Love, or Barrymore Svengali), to be sure, and he didn’t get a hell of a lot of characterization, I still felt that most of the time, Jannings came across as a threat. I just wish he had more screen-time to do so.

Die Augen der Mumie Ma will probably disappoint most horror fans going in expecting a Nosferatu or Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. Perhaps one of the few missteps Germany took during their reign over the horror genre (and it is entirely possible that this flick was meant far more a drama/romance than horror), this movie just doesn’t have much to recommend, especially considering far better movies that came out around the same time.

5/10

Friend Request (2016)

Friend Request

Directed by Simon Verhoeven [Other horror films: N/A]

Throughout this film, I couldn’t help but think of the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake – this movie is a generic, cookie cutter Hollywood production, just as the ANOES remake was. It had sequences similar to the remake, along with some settings not too far removed from A Nightmare on Elm Street. It also had a sucky ending, which isn’t to say the rest of the film was stellar.

But let’s not get overwhelmed. The story is a simple one: a strange, socially awkward girl tries to befriend Laura, but when she becomes too obsessed, Laura unfriends her from Facebook. Devastated, the girl, Marina, kills herself. And now all of Laura’s friends are being killed by Marina’s spirit.

Honestly, the plot’s not a terrible one – there were portions I found pretty interesting. But there were also points I found extraordinarily bothersome (in short, how idiotic and incurious the authorities and Dean of the college are about the fact Laura is unable to delete specific videos on her Facebook account – instead, she’s punished for something she’s not able to control). Some plot points just don’t make much sense.

And speaking about not making much sense, let’s talk about the last twenty minutes, when one character apparently loses it and snaps. Now, I get that the situation is a stressful one, but given what we were told about this character, his actions made no sense whatsoever, and seemed to just be added to throw in another threat (which lasts all of two minutes). Oh, that reminds me, why exactly did Laura not tell her boyfriend that a previous friend was trying to kill her? Seemed like something he might need to know.

But the real ending is bad also, which is a bit of a trend this film has. Laura, to end this curse, has to destroy Marina’s laptop (the police never found the spot of suicide, just saw the video). But apparently, that wasn’t in the cards. And at the end, it’s not fully explained what happens. There are a few choices, so I guess just pick and choose how to interpret it. One more thing about the problems with the film: it ends with some atrocious dubstep song. Now, I don’t dislike dubstep as much as I used to, but God, what a bad song to end the film with.

All of that said, there are some positives. Many of the actors and actresses do decently well with what they’re given. And the story, despite the glaring problems throughout, actually isn’t a terrible idea. Though I just remembered the CGI wasps that pop up over four times throughout the film, so any other positives are beyond me. Friend Request is Hollywood tripe. Like I said, I can’t help but compare it with the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Both were shit products to make money off teenagers. Sad thing is it works. Friend Request has a hell of a lot of flaws, and it’s certainly below average. And some people wonder why I often stick to lower-quality films. Points are given for the interesting story, such as it was.

5/10

Die Präsenz (2014)

die pra

Directed by Daniele Grieco [Other horror films: UFO: It Is Here (2016)]

Found footage is a very rarely well-done style of horror. Off the top of my head, I can think of only around five found footage flicks that I really liked.

This German flick, known as The Presence, has little to offer that countless other found footage movies don’t. The best I can really say is that the setting (a German castle and the surrounding woods) looks pretty cool, occasionally there are some worthwhile scenes, and the actress Liv Lisa Fries does a good job. Everything else, while not bad, was utterly unable to enthrall.

The ending was more or less a jumbled mess of jump scares (be them loud noises, sudden camera static, or a face popping up out of nowhere), and the surrounding narrative, the tapes being recovered by the police, just made me feel additionally apathetic.

Just a word of advice – I get that, in making a found footage movie, the events on camera are supposed to be real, but every time I see “This video was located at the crime scenes. Investigators still have no explanation for the events,” I want to kill myself. If literally no one buys that it’s real, what the hell is the point? It’s found footage filmmaking 101, and the best examples of the genre came to pass over ten damn years ago.

To be clear, though, I enjoy more than a few found footage movies, but the genre is so over-saturated that it’s almost hard to take seriously anymore. Is Die Präsenz any worse than any other run-of-the-mill found footage? Probably not. But is it better? Not really.

Seeing it once was enough, and upon seeing it twice, I must say there really just isn’t any point to it.

5/10

Der Student von Prag (1913)

Student

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.

7.5/10

Stung (2015)

Stung

Directed by Benni Diez [Other horror films: Galaxy of Horrors (2017, segment ‘Kingz’)]

What could have been a moderately enjoyable comedic horror romp, Stung came out far more stale than I’d have expected.

Giving credit where credit is due, the two main actors and actresses, being Matt O’Leary and Jessica Cook, were cute, and moderately adorable, together. They had some decently awkward exchanges that are always fun (well, not for those participating, anyways), and for the most part, felt real to me.

About everything else fell flat, though – even before the atrocious shift an hour or so into the movie, plenty of parts felt far more filler than substance. Hell, some parts even felt boring, which isn’t quite what I feel this movie was aiming for. Other portions felt generic, and I’m not entirely clear whatsoever on what Lance Henriksen’s purpose was, insofar as his character was concerned.

But then you hit the hour mark, and it just gets worse, culminating in the two characters making love in the back of an ambulance when, surprise surprise, hundreds of giant wasps start attacking. And cut to black. So not much of a conclusion, and honestly, pretty underwhelming all-in-all. I also didn’t care whatsoever for Clifton Collins Jr.’s character, but the less said about that aspect of the film, the better. I’d take Mosquito (1994) over this any day.

4.5/10