Thursday, November 17, 2011

Decade in Review: 1920s

By Chris Dimick

Some things never change.
The 1920s face all the same problems we have here in the future:
Blood sucking vampires, spooky haunted castles, rogue dinosaurs, and deformed power-hungry freaks. But enough about Washington DC. Ba-da-Bing!

With last week’s screening of 1929’s Blackmail, the RDHP officially marked off the first of nine decades of horror. Our goal is to view one horror movie from each year from 1920 to the present. Consider the 1920s housed.

But before we move on with our final eight films, and house their respective decades, let’s take a look back at the 1920s films we screened during the project… and the impact they made on our bloody hearts.

RDHP 1920s Ratings and Review

Average decade rating:
C-rating: 2.96
N-rating: 2.65
RDHP joint rating: 2.8

A Summary of the 1920s
Let’s be frank here. There were times we fell asleep during the 1920s movies. We are, after all, modern men with modern attention disorders used to modern horror movies: the ones with sound, splatter, and sauciness.
That said, the 1920s just might be the most surprising decade for the RDHP.

Going in, Nick and I were somewhat apprehensive about the level of entertainment the 1920s horror movies would provide. I was the type who would take in one or two silent movies a year on the big screen just for S and Gs, but hardly an avid lover. Nick was the type who had never seen a silent from front to heal.

What we found throughout this journey within the 1920s is that a good story never sours. And neither does good cinematography. Films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Waxworks and The Man Who Laughs have timeless storytelling ability that in many ways still moved Nick and I (pity in the case of Hunchback; humor in the case of Waxworks, awe in the case of Laughs).

The visuals presented in Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari were so innovative that they still held true upon our viewing. The German Expressionism style of half painted, half shadowed dream like sets created an otherworldly viewing experience. Add in the creaky, half destroyed prints we watched, and these films did what any good horror movie past or present should do… they made us think, cheer, wonder, and finally, gave us the creeps.

Of course they weren’t all great. Chris didn't like the preachiness and slowness of Faust, while we both agreed that The Haunted Castle, with its pointless plot, uninteresting visuals and “surprise” ending we saw a mile away, was one of the worst films we’d ever seen. Ever. Ouch.

That is the thing with the 1920s films, whether they were silent or not (another interesting thing in this decade; we watched the film industry transition from silents to talkies around mid decade). When a 1920s film is good, it is great. But when it is bad, it is intolerable. Hence a few z's.

But even when we were watching a 1920s film that didn’t quite nestle in our happy lap, Nick and I were both grateful for the experience. Each film was like a time capsule to a world much different from our own. We enjoyed the fashion, the mannerisms, the morales, and the general culture of each of these films.

The lesson learned from this decade of viewings: don’t underestimate the silent/early talkies of the 1920s. They are beautiful, imaginative, and still have the ability to punch your emotional guts.
Just don’t watch them tired. Seriously… that’s risky.

FROM 1920 TO 1929
Below we present a summary of each of the 1920s films.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Screened Feb. 3, 2010 (Film #11)
C-Rating: 4.5
N-Rating: 4.5

Chris said: The movie is motion picture art. It’s official, Caligari has become by far my favorite silent movie. Unlike Cesare, not only didn’t I fall asleep ONCE during this enthralling quiet tale I actually found myself wishing for more movie at its conclusion.

Nick said: At first the schizo-scenery in Dr. Caligari feels a bit strange (as I imagine a descent into madness would), but as the film progresses you find yourself eagerly wanting to see new and more disturbing backdrops (again, as I imagine a descent into madness would feel like)! I found myself confused at times, but didn’t seem to mind as it felt natural in the context of the film.

Most memorable scene:
Crazy nightmare/dream like sets.


The Haunted Castle
Screened May 31, 2011 (Film #66)
C-Rating: 0.3
N-Rating: 0.2

Chris said: Spoiler Alert. I do this with your sanity in mind. In case those lingering questions above made you want whatsoever to watch this movie, I am obligated by the state of Illinois to protect you from the danger of watching this near maddening movie by way to revealing the surprise ending and burying this movie six feet under. I hate spoilers. HATE THEM. But this is for your own good.

Nick said: Off the top of my head there were two things that irked me about The Haunted Castle:
The ‘castle’ wasn’t even a real castle! There was no moat infested with ravenous alligators or imposing walls that held imprisoned dissidents of the evil Lord of the castle! This made me feel cheated… but not more than my second point…
There was no ‘haunting’! You heard me right! Not only do they have the audacity to set this tale in a namby-pamby castle, but you will find nary a supernatural spook lurking therein! How dare you Haunted Castle! I mean, COME ON!

Most memorable scene: 
 Blurry transfer, so bad it looked like a guy removed his head when the pulled off a wig.

Screened Nov. 24, 2009 (Film #2)
C-Rating: 4.3
N-Rating: 3.0

Chris said: Parts of this were boring, but come on, it is a silent move shot 88 years ago. You have to watch with patience, and when you do the payoff is unrivaled by any modern horror film. Max Schreck is mesmerizing as the vampire. He steals every scene, and can still send a chill up your spine with his inhuman like movements. This is a true classic."

Nick said: That rating comes with an asterisk. The film gets 3.0 for Nick-watchability. What get's that extra point and a half in the overall review? There are some great moments and shots for its time -- it made me wish I grew up Amish so I could experience this flick without the history of other horror films scratching at my mind. Modern peeps beware: this isn't your grandfather's horror flick -- it's your great grandfathers!
P.S. The sleepwear in this film was EXTREMELY realistic (a personal sticking point with me).

Most memorable scene:
Insane coffin exit!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Screened Sept. 6, 2011 (Film #75)
C-Rating: 2.0
N-Rating: 3.2

Chris said: Can one actor's performance carry an entire film? Can someone be so great that you can overlook other flaws and faults and declare a movie entertaining based on the merits of one person. I don't believe so, but if anyone has ever come close, it is Lon Chaney Sr. in this film.

Nick said: Poor Quasi! Chris fell prey to the peer pressure of the mob in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and began hating on your movie! I on the other had didn't cave in under the pressureI wanted to fit in and be cool just like all of the other kids who were ragging on your work to make themselves feel and look better, but Quasi, you showed me something I had never seen before: an impressive silent film.

Most memorable scene:
QuasiModo’s whipping, Phoebus’ girly hair!

Screened Dec. 1, 2010 (Film #47)
C-Rating: 3.0
N-Rating: 2.3

Chris said:  Growing up in the balls-cold one minute, well-diggers-ass-hot the next mid-West, one learned to take comfort in the old adage “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” Such is the case in this week’s film “Waxworks,” which features not one but three semi-entertaining stories!
If you didn’t like the first love story set in the mid-east, just wait five (or 30) minutes and you’ll be treated to the Ruskie-style torture fest of Ivan the Terrible! Not that into torture (you don’t like torture, what is wrong with you, sicko?), then take another 5 and be treated to the slap-happy-stabbings of good old Spring-heeled Jack… or as his disemboweled friends call him, Jack the Ripper.

Nick said: Ok, so as many of you may or may not know I'm fresh back from a mission trip to Africa, which was amazing. I always knew life was different in other parts of this beautiful blue ball of ours, but knowing that things are different and experiencing the difference are immeasurably different. Coming back to the States after the being in Africa for 2 weeks left me feeling out of step, irritable and a bit conflicted. If ever there were a week during the project where I needed pure escape, it was this week! Unfortunately (for me) Waxworks was on the docket. While it had a lot going for it (innovative story idea/cinematagraphy, anthology goodness, great production value, etc) I simply could not swallow the silent pill this week.

Most memorable scene:
Springheeled Jack’s step.

The Lost World
Screened Aug. 24, 2010 (Film #25)
C-Rating: 4.1
N-Rating: 4.0

Chris said: What kid doesn’t love dinosaurs? I’ll tell you what kid, a communist brat! Take them away, boys and lock ‘em up in the CIA raptor pen (I know they have one). Waterboard what’s left of ‘em after that if you like, the filthy non-dino-loving asshole.
One might hear the words “special effects driven 1925 silent film” and expect a one way trip to wrist-cutting-boredom-ville. But The Lost World’s special effects amazingly hold up enough to still be fun and amazing to see. These aren’t your CGI T-Rexes smashing through a bathroom and slicing into a John-riding lawyer (Confession, I saw 1993’s Jurassic Park seven times in the theater during its original run. Yes, I was obsessed.)
But that doesn’t mean Lost World's creatures aren’t realistic-looking. I mean, have you ever seen a dinosaur? No. Then how do you know they didn’t look or behave as they did in this film?

Nick said: I can absolutely see why people were blown away by this film when it came out - the effects were absolutely amazing! After seeing some advance footage in 1922, the New York Times ran a front page article saying "these monsters of the ancient world, or of the new world discovered in the ether, were extraordinarily lifelike. If fakes, they were masterpieces."
Personally, I'd even go so far as to say that they were better than what was being produced 55 years later!

Most memorable scene:
Fierce dinos/monkey man

Screened Feb. 15, 2011 (Film #56)
C-Rating: 0.1
N-Rating: 2.3

Chris said: Preachy and boring. Put these together in a movie, and the result is my lowest RDHP rating to date. Faust was part religious propaganda, part self-indulgent snoooooooooooooze fest.
Not a second of this film will entertain or illicit any human emotion beyond the feeling to turn off the screen and do something more useful with your time; like do your taxes, clip your nails, or watch paint dry.
Faust, you Fail.

Nick said: As a horror movie Faust might not make the grade, but as a study of the time and people who made it I think it has merit.
Germany, 1926. 8 years after the most horrifying war the world has ever seen that robbed a generation of its brethren, and a nation of its dignity and prosperity. When I look at Faust, I see many parallels to the lives of the German people who may have been watching it in theaters when it was released; parallels that most likely would have evoked strong emotions in them.

Most memorable scene:
Faust beard!

The Unknown
Screened April 6, 2010 (Film #20)
C-Rating: 3.6
N-Rating: 3.5

Chris said: Why can't men just walk up to the MAC counter at Macy's and buy lipstick to their hearts content? If you are a man, you know this answer. But for all the ladies... a man could never bring himself to actually purchase lipstick from a store. That would be admitting we love lip-plumper. No, man's lust to be with a woman -- to the point of hacking off his appendages -- is for those glorious times when the girlfriend or wife leaves her home, giving the man unabashed access to her cosmetics cabinet.

Nick said: Who knew I could have been a silent movie star? Unbeknown to me I have been honing my skills to play an armless knife thrower my entire life! Hands full but need to open that door? Use your feet! Clothes on the floor, but it will take to long to bend over and pick it up? Use your feet! Need to flush the toilet while brushing your teeth and combing your beard? Use your feet!

Most memorable scene:
The pure irony of cutting off ones arms for love.

The Man Who Laughs
Screened June 15, 2010 (Film #29)
C-Rating: 3.8
N-Rating: 4.0

Chris said: Definitely the most elaborate of the silent’s we have seen in the RDHP, the huge talented cast, decorative sets, and outside-studio filming really made this movie worth watching. This one is emotional, and even tugged on my cold man-heart.
It even got a good junior high laugh out of me, as the dog’s name in the movie is, I shit you not, “Homo.” Yep, which led to lines like “Where are you taking me, Homo,” and “Quit licking me homo.”

Nick said: This film, like it's main character (whether he realized it or not), had a lot going for it . From the opening scene I immediately was impressed with the shooting style, sets and acting... it felt as if I were watching a modern-day movie - not a film from 1928! Which, needless to say, is very impressive.

Most memorable scene:
Homo the dog; Its modernness.

Blackmail (w/ short The Skeleton Dance)
 Screened Nov. 8, 2011 (Film #83)
C-Rating: 3.9
N-Rating: 3.0

Chris said: This was Hitch’s first full length film, shot in 1929 when he was just 30 years old. Yet it fits both the style and themes of some of his best work in the 1950s and early 60s. Stunning blonde, conflicted Heroine? Check. Molasses thick tension based on human interaction? Check. Murder, plotting, and psychological drama? Check. Wicked inventive camera angles and dramatic use of light. Check. Dramatic ending in a larger than life setting (this time the British Museum of History)? Double check!
It takes some artists a lifetime of work to distinguish their creative voice and style. Surprising it seems Hitchcock had this sorted out from the start.

Nick said: When all is said and done, like Chris I honestly want to be able to say "Alfred Hitchcock was Alfred Hitchcock before he knew who Alfred Hitchcock even was." But at this time in my journey of life I can't honestly get there... and I'm ok with that. I look forward to some future time in my life when I'll meet Alfred in a darkened room and we will share many tense and memorable moments together where I'll get to know and appreciate his 'genius' more. After all... how many times have you said 'what I wouldn't give to experience that for that first time again'?

Most memorable scene: 
Exposed Bloomers!

Silence is golden, at least we thought so when we wrote this RDHP bit to accompany our post on 1927’s “The Unknown.” In honor of the only decade on our docket to feature silent films, we present a replay of this classic RDHP bit, written all the way back in April 6, 2010.

Things the RDHP Wish Were Silent:
The 1927 film "The Unknown" was made at the tail end of the silent era. The RDHP have come to quite enjoy these silent movies, mainly due to the fact that they are a relaxing oasis in the otherwise ear-splitting world. Here are a few other things in life we feel everyone would be better off not hearing.

Chris's Take (aka, Venting is Therapeutic):

Car horns
Enough with the friggin' honking already! Seriously, your douche-bag convention won't start until you get there, so chill out and wait for traffic to start moving, ass.

What is with all that chomping! Are you half horse? And seriously, is work really the best place for you to have a 30 minute cell phone conversation about how much Becky pissed you off. If you don't have enough work to keep you silent, I can give you some of mine!

Next-door Neighbors
It is common knowledge that getting ass-ramingly blown out on cocaine and screaming Lady Gaga songs at the top of your lungs is just so much more fun on a Tuesday night. Screaming is so fun, one just has to do it at random times regardless of how thin the apartment walls are. Yay!

Rush Limbaugh
This mutherf*$%er just needs to stop his cry-baby right-wing whining. Every time he opens his mouth, all that can actually be heard is jack-ass braying. And really, all he is doing is giving more mental ammo for those southern Michigan militia nuts to start firing off real rounds into politicians. Morality won last election, the rich lost. Get over it, and shut the hell up, you piece of sh*#.

Sarah Palin
See note above. Apply, rinse, repeat. Sarah, please crawl back under the tundra rock you came from. Only idiots think you are clever or folksy or whatever word you are using now to describe your stank-ass.
Guess what sweetie, by the time the next election comes around your quickly fading "beauty pageant" looks will be long gone, along with your chance of being elected to any office higher than PTA president. Your 15-minutes are working on an hour now, hag. Be silent!

Public Transportation Cell Phone Talkers
Everyone on the bus just loves hearing about how messed up you are going to get this weekend. Really, we do. But do you have to scream your mundane mouth-dribbling at the top of your lungs? Where is my real-world mute button, scientists? You can put Buzz Aldrin on the moon, kill him, then reanimate his lifeless corpse for a dancing show, but you can't give me a "shut-the-f-up remote?" For shame.

Celine Dion
Not one pleasant sound has ever come out of this mushhead's mouth hole. Celine, it is horrible, just as it has always been. Please stop signing... better yet, just be silent all together.

Movie Theater Patrons
If I have ever had the urge to kill, it is when people won't shut their big yappers in a theater. Oh, and those of you who think texting or checking your blinding bright phone during the movie is okay, you are assholes too.
But let's stick to the movie talkers. Please shut up before I put a gun in your month. I just bought one, and is waiting on the background check. The next person who talks after the opening credits, so help me...

Nick's Take (aka, We Promise He's Not Crazy):

Does the sound of the serrated edge of a dinner knife on one's teeth drive anyone else mad?
Am I alone in this one?
(crickets chirp) ...Hello?

Mouth Noises
My wife has sold me on the horrors and atrocities of mastication.

American Idol
This show (and its sounds) make me want to flee the country.

Cats In Heat - Especially at 4am
(tears hair out then laments the lack of more hair to tear out)

1920s, Housed by the RDHP!

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