The Unknown 1927
The Unknown is a compelling 1927 silent horror film directed by Tod Browning, starring the great Lon Chaney in a memorable and transformative performance. It is based on the uncredited novel of Mary Roberts Rinehart, with visual poetry photographed by cinematographer Merritt B. Gerstad (The Man Who Reclaimed His Head 1934, Night at the Opera 1935, Watch on the Rhine 1943, noir Conflict 1945).
The film tells the story of Alonzo the Armless, a criminal on the run who disguises himself as a circus performer. Alonzo is a criminal on the run who pretends to be armless, hiding his double-thumb deformity so as not to be recognized by the authorities who know his unmistakable trademark. In the circus, he falls in love with the beautiful Nanon, played by Joan Crawford, a young woman with a fear of being touched by men’s hands and arms due to a traumatic experience in her past that is never touched upon. Alonzo goes to extreme lengths to win the love and loyalty of Nanon who feels safe in his presence and safe with his friendship. He gets an ironic kick in the thumbs after he journeys to secure her love when he learns she has fallen in love with Norman Kerry as Malabar the strong man.
Tod Browning knows how to shock the audience with his unorthodox narratives, (Freaks 1932). I will be delving into Browning’s fascinating work further down the road here at The Last Drive In.
Lon Chaney’s performance in The Unknown is nothing short of extraordinary. Known as the “Man of a Thousand Faces,” Chaney was renowned for his ability to physically transform himself for roles. In this film, he goes to great lengths, strapping his arms tightly to his body and contorting himself to create the illusion of armlessness. His physicality and expressions convey the torment and obsession of his character, making Alonzo a haunting and sympathetic figure.
As the story unfolds, Alonzo’s twisted obsession with Nanon and his desperation to win her love lead to a series of shocking and macabre events, culminating in a horrifying climax.
“The Unknown” is celebrated not only for Lon Chaney’s remarkable performance but also for its dark and disturbing narrative, which explores themes of obsession, identity, and psychological horror. The film is a classic of silent cinema and stands as a testament to Chaney’s unparalleled talent for bringing complex and tortured characters to life.
Lon Chaney’s performance as Alonzo the Armless in “The Unknown” is widely regarded as one of the highlights of his illustrious career. Chaney’s portrayal of this complex and tormented character is a testament to his extraordinary talent and dedication to his craft. Chaney’s commitment to his roles was legendary, and in “The Unknown,” he physically transformed himself to an astonishing degree. He bound his arms tightly to his body to create the illusion of armlessness, a feat that required incredible discipline and contortion. This dedication to authenticity is a hallmark of Chaney’s performances, and it adds a layer of realism to the character.
Despite the absence of dialogue in silent films, Chaney was a master of conveying emotions and intentions through his facial expressions and body language. As Alonzo, he effectively conveys the character’s inner torment, obsession, and desperation. His ability to emote without words is particularly striking and contributes to the depth of the character. Alonzo the Armless is a deeply complex character. He is a criminal on the run, but he also harbors a twisted obsession with the object of his affection, Nanon. Chaney’s performance brings out the character’s dark and multifaceted nature, making Alonzo simultaneously sympathetic and unsettling. This complexity adds layers to the film’s psychological horror elements.
The Undying Monster 1942
The Undying Monster is a 1942 Gothic horror film directed by John Brahm and based on the novel of the same name by Jessie Douglas Kerruish, originally published in 1922 and often hailed as one of the finest works in the werewolf genre. The screenplay was written by Lillie Hayward and Michael Jacoby.
Released by 20th Century Fox in 1942, The Undying Monster is a classic B-movie that stands out for its exceptional craftsmanship. Directed by John Brahm, who would later make a name for himself with a brief stint in A-list cinema (known for films like “The Lodger,” “Hangover Square,” and “The Brasher Doubloon”), showcases Brahm’s talent for infusing an A-level sensibility into a B-movie experience. He would eventually venture into the medium of television.
The Undying Monster distinguishes itself as a well-executed gem because of John Brahm’s eye for drawing out a plausible mystery on screen, combined with a talented cast including James Ellison, Heather Angel, John Howard, Bramwell Fletcher, Heather Thatcher, Aubrey Mather, and Halliwell Hobbes.
The film tells the story of the Hammond family, with Heather Angel as Helga and John Howard as Oliver who live in a remote English mansion that has been plagued by a mysterious and deadly curse for centuries.
John Hammond is the descendant of a fated lineage plagued by a malevolent curse, one that has long cast a shadow over his family, claiming the life of the eldest heir in each generation. Faced with the impending doom of this dark legacy, John enlists the assistance of a trusted friend to delve into the haunting mystery that has tormented the Hammonds for centuries.
Their relentless pursuit of the truth leads them down a winding path of discovery, unveiling an age-old Viking curse that dooms the Hammond men to transform into insatiable beasts once they reach a certain age.
The Hammonds are no strangers to tragedy, as each male member of the family has met a gruesome and untimely death. When the curse strikes again, killing the family’s patriarch, the authorities become involved.
John Howard, (renowned for his role as Paramount’s Bulldog Drummond) plays Oliver an unwitting “victim” of the ominous family curse when his beloved canine companion meets a tragic end at the hands of an unseen killer on fog-laden night, soon thereafter, a person is killed by the same unknown force prompting the intervention of Scotland Yard to delve into the sinister mysteries that shroud the Hammond family’s dark history. Hammond’s delicate sister Helga is the woman in peril, and Walter the butler (Halliwell Hobbes) is definitely hiding something. Dr. Jeff Colbert (Bramwell Fletcher) is a suspicious character too, perhaps he has his eye set on Heater Angel though her love interest is James
is he just jealous of Robert Curtis’s (James Ellison) attraction to Heather Angel, or is there something more going on? He is certainly hiding something.
The Undead 1957
The Undead is a 1957 American horror film directed by Roger Corman and written by Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hanna who wrote Attack of the 50ft Woman in 1958.
Pamela Duncan plays prostitute Diana Love, enlisted by two psychic researchers to undergo a hypnotic regression conducted by a psychologist, Dr. Pendragon (Richard Garland), Under hypnosis, Diana is transported back in time to the Middle Ages, where she assumes the identity of Helene, a condemned witch facing execution by beheading.
As Helene, Diana becomes embroiled in a complex and perilous plot involving witchcraft, sorcery, and a vengeful sorceress named Livia, played by 50s scream queen Allison Hayes. Throughout the film, Diana/Helene experiences a series of trials, facing both supernatural and human threats, as she tries to find a way to alter her fate and escape her impending execution.
Mel Welles plays Smolkin the Gravedigger, Dorothy Newman plays the witch, Meg Maude, Bruno VeSota plays Scroop the innkeeper, Billy Barty is an animated mischievous imp, Dick Miller is a leper, and Richard Devon is Satan himself.
Corman is known for his resourcefullness – filmed in 6 days, the sets for the film were all built inside a converted supermarket.
This was one of a handful of reincarnation films in the late 50s to be inspired by the book ‘The Search for Bridey Murphy’ by Morey Bernstein
The prop bats were left over from Corman’s It Conquered the World 1956.