The Changeling (1980) “How did you die, Joseph…? Did you die in this house…? Why do you remain…?”

The Changeling 1980 wheelchairs are scary

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Here’s a blogathon that will enlighten you about many truly wonderful artists, actors, & filmmakers who proudly hail from the Great White North country of Canada! Kristina of Speakeasy  and Ruth of Silver Screenings are paying tribute to Canada… So this New Yorker is doing her part to join in with a classic ghost story that will give you the ‘pip and the whim whams!’ After all even Martin Scorsese thinks this film is one of the 11 scariest films he’s ever known!

I’m always grateful when I’m asked to join in on one of these marvelous celebrations, and my gratitude continues, so without further ado…

Door Opens Changeling

O Canada & The Changeling — IMDb trivia tid bits- The house seen in the movie in real life doesn’t and never actually did exist. The film-makers could not find a suitable mansion to use for the film so at a cost of around $200,000, the production had a Victorian gothic mansion facade attached to the front of a much more modern dwelling in a Vancouver street. This construction was used for the filming of all the exteriors of the movie’s Carmichael Mansion. The interiors of the haunted house were an elaborate group of interconnecting sets built inside a film studio in Vancouver.

The name of the history group was the Seattle Historical Preservation Society. The name of the campus where Dr. John Russell ( George C. Scott ) taught music was the University of Seattle though interiors set there were filmed at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada.

Though predominantly filmed in Canada, the picture was set in Seattle, USA where establishing shots were filmed. These included the Rainier Tower, the SeaTac Airport, the University of Washington’s Red Square, and the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge. Some location filming was shot in New York. Most of the movie was filmed in Vancouver and its environs in British Columbia with Victoria in the same Canadian province also used. Interiors set at the university were shot in Toronto in Canada’s province of Ontario.

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THE CHANGELING (1980)

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Minnie Huxley: “That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.”

The Changeling was produced by Lew Grade who tried to start up his own production company that never quite made it, however during this time he was responsible releasing Boys From Brazil 1978 and On Golden Pond 1981 and our featured ghost story The Changeling. The story is by Russell Hunter and the screenplay was written by William Gray and Diana Maddox. Directed by Peter Medak (The Ruling Class 1972, The Krays 1990, Romeo is Bleeding 1993)

Director of Photography John Coquillon (The Impersonator 1961 The Conqueror Worm 1968 Cry of the Banshee 1970, Straw Dogs 1971, Cross of Iron 1977, Absolution 1978, The Osterman Weekend 1983) Coquillon has a magical touch of creating environments that seemed closed in whilst surrounded by the a vast natural world. Because the players are about to implode from too much twisted pathology & secret sin eating, his camera work translates a tense universe on screen so well, that it elevates the narrative to a more uncomfortable level.

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Rick Wilkins is credited for the film’s stunningly haunting score, but that effectively poignant yet eerie music box theme was composed by Howard Blake as part of a work called Lifecycle which is a collection of 24 piano pieces using only 24 keys.

The film stars George C. Scott as John Russell as a tragic figure of loss, Trish Van Devere as Claire Norman, Melvyn Douglas as Senator Carmichael, Jean Marsh as Joanna Russell, Barry Morse as the Parapsychologist, John Colicos as Captain DeWitt, Madeleine Sherwood as Claire’s mother, and Ruth Springford as the Historical Society’s creepy secretive Minnie Huxley.

The Changeling (1980) is one of those rare masterpieces that fall into the cerebral tale of otherworldly & supernatural torments that are defined as ‘intimate drawing room’ ghost stories. Much like The Uninvited (1944), Dead of Night (1945), The Innocents (1961), The Haunting (1963), Ghost Story (1981), Lady in White (1988),  and The Others (2001) 

Abject sadness

The Changeling is a SUPERIOR ghost story permeated with a moody angst, atmosphere and some of the most chilling moments in classical haunting/ horror cinema. It is said that the movie is based on actual events that took place at a mansion called the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion not in Canada but in Denver Colorado. Writer Russell Hunter claims he witnessed these events while living in the house during the 1960s. IMDb trivia tells us that ‘The Chessman Park neighborhood in the movie is a reference to Cheesman Park in Denver, where the original haunting transpired.’

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I saw The Changeling upon it’s theatrical release in 1980 and believe me when I say that those ‘frightening’ jarring moments are as effective as they were 36 years ago, they can still cause that jump out of your seat reflex!. The house used in The Changeling is as imposing and chills inspiring on it’s own. “The house was totally created by set designers and you won’t forget its eerie corridors, stairway, and dark rooms.” -John Stanley from Creature Features Movie Guide. As Stanley figures, this memorable ghost story operates on 3 though I count 4 different levels.

1) as a pure ghost story 2) as the journey of John Russell’s struggle with loss 3) as a morality tale about good vs evil. And 4) a tale of murder, power and greed.

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George C Scott plays John Russell a concert pianist/ music professor is haunted by the vision of witnessing both his wife (Jean Marsh in a tiny flashback role before she is killed) an daughter die in a freak car accident. The film opens with this tragic event, in order to set the pace for Russell’s unbounded grief and inconsolable trauma. Russell decides to pack up the Manhattan apartment, including little Kathy’s red rubber ball and moves to Seattle (Canada) where he has taken a new teaching job. The atmosphere is grim and rainy, cold and alienated as we understand how heartbroken John Russell is. Waking in the middle of the night sobbing, he cannot fathom, living in this world without his beautiful wife and daughter. John needs a large house that is removed from everything so that he may compose without being bothered by neighbors. The realtor Clair Norman (Trish Van Devere- Scott’s wife at the time. This would be their 8th film together) who is an agent for the Historical Preservation Society shows him the old Chessman Park House which has been unoccupied for twelve years.

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Trish Van Devere appeared in her own ghost story, the more toned down surreal The Hearse (1980)
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Van Devere in outre creepy The Hearse 1980

John is curious about the reasons behind the house being empty for so long, but Claire being fairly new to the society can’t give him an answer, except that the society hasn’t tried to find a new tenant for the house. Curiouser and curiouser. She also explains that there had once been plans to renovate the house and turn it into a museum. She thinks the house would be a perfect place for John to compose because of it’s sizable music room. So John moves in and begins teaching at the university, his classes become a big hit, with students accepting the SRO conditions.

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John Russell: “It’s my understanding… that there are, uh… twenty-three students registered… for this series of lectures on advanced musical form. Now, we all know it’s not raining outside, and unless there’s a fire in some other part of the building that we don’t know about, there’s an awful lot of people here with nothing better to do.”

As John gets settled in, he is invited to a cocktail party/fund raiser for the Historical Society where he sees Claire again, also meeting Mrs. Norman her mother played by Madeleine Sherwood. Senator Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas) who is on the board and one of the Historical Society’s biggest donors is making a speech…

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At six a.am. Russell is aroused from bed by a loud pounding noise echoing through the house, reminiscent of the sonic assault that Clair Bloom and Julie Harris experienced in The Haunting 1963. It is one of the first moments that clue us in that something is wrong with the house. John assumes it’s the old pipes and so forgets about the incident.

John has a quartet of students over to work on a chamber piece. After they leave, he hears what sounds like dripping water, or someone taking a bath. The kitchen sink tap is running, so he shuts it off, but he can still hear running water from somewhere in the house. He follows the noise up to the 3rd floor. In a truly frightening moment. In the bathroom he sees a tub filled with water and the faucet still running. As he shuts off the water, he sees for a brief second the face of a little boy peering up at him from under the water… It is still one of THE most frightening scenes that I can recall.

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John sits at the piano working on a beautifully simple melody that he is recording on his reel to reel tape recorder. One of the keys is sticking, and with John not being able to find the rest of his new melody yet, stops playing.

The handyman Mr. Tuttle (C.M. Gamble) comes in to tell John that he’s got a replacement water heater for the one that’s been banging on the walls with cannon balls, John leaves the piano and sees to the job. the lone key that would not depress while John was playing intones as if an unseen finger has pressed it. This eerie moment is the second cue that John is not alone in the house

Claire comments while John is listening back to his composition that it sounds like a lullaby. She also finds the little rubber ball that was Kathy’s. A token of her John chooses to keep as a reminder of his little girl. Claire realizes that this has hit him hard, and so invites him to come horseback riding with her since it’s a lovely day.

John has flashback nightmares of the day his wife and daughter were killed. He wakes up sobbing. But what is peculiar that it is once again at 6am and the eerie pounding is reverberating through the house once more. Mr. Tuttle is once again called in to look the boiler over again, it’s most likely trapped air in the pipes. Tuttle tells John, “A furnace is like anything else. It’s got habits.It’s an old house. It makes noises.”

John is now drawn into the mystery of the house, the noises and the vision of the little boy. He visits the Historical Society in order to find out if there have been accounts of ghostly sightings with previous owners. Clair chalks up John’s anxiety to the trauma he’s been through losing his family believing it to be all in his head. But Miss Huxley (Ruth Springford) one of the eldest Society members pulls John to the side and lays it on the line. He should never have been allowed to rent that house, and that Claire had business circumventing the Society’s rules. “That house is not fit to live in. No one has been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people. “ Huxley just confirms John’s suspicions that there has been something tragic connected to the house and it is indeed haunted.

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CapturFiles_44 the door opens by itself
While John pushes all his weight against the door, it will not budge. Once he steps back, the door opens with ease as if by unseen hands

There is a scene afterwards where John is leaving the Chessman Park house and a tiny stain glass window blows out from the inside leaving the shards on the ground in front of him. Something is definitely trying to get his attention and hold it. So he goes back inside back up to the third floor and opens a door that at first seems to be merely a linen closet.
But he discovers that the shelves are covering up a hidden bedroom. The ungodly pounding begins once again while John hammers at the lock until it breaks, Pushing his weight against the door, he cannot open it. Once John gives up, the door creaks open on it’s own leading into a darkness that exudes a fowl shadowy heaviness.
He walks up a decrepit cobwebbed staircase that leads to a time-forgotten dust covered attic room. There he see an old fashioned wooden wheelchair small enough to be a child’s. The wheelchair seems to embody a kind of foreboding terror. Why?

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John finds a dusty old music box. Also the red glass that burst outward onto the grounds in front is subtly shown missing from the stain glass panel from this attic’s window

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Aside from the fact that everything in this child’s attic room seems petrified, the wheelchair acts as a symbol of a child who might have suffered in that house. For whatever primal spark the chair ignites in us fear chills. John finds a child’s desk with a notebook dated January 1909, which have the initials C.S.B. There is also a music box, that when open mysteriously plays the exact melody John has been wrestling with at the piano. Like an old tune he’s heard before but can’t remember the rest of the notes. He has been directed to this room, by the pounding, the window pane shattering, the vision of the little boy in the bathtub, and from the beginning the melody that underscores Johns consciousness. All trying to lead him to a dark secret that needs to get out and be exposed to the light of day.

John plays the music box lullaby for Claire swearing he had never heard the melody before in his life then he proceeds to show her his reel to reel recording of the song he thought he was composing. The two are identical… it is a poignantly creepy moment, as it somehow binds John to the house in a way that feels precious and imminent- showing how the house is influencing him in much the way certain events controlled Eleanor (Julie Harris) in The Haunting.

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Claire tells John “I agree it’s a startling coincidence” John swears he’s never heard that melody before

While the co-incidence isn’t necessarily frightening…  All the while it gives me the ‘pip and the whim whams’ ( heard David McCallum use that line in an episode of Marcus Welby. Been waiting to find a place to use it…)

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John meets with a Parapsychologist at the University played by the wonderful Barry Morse

Claire has researched the house back to 1920 but can find no record of anything significant happening that would make sense of the experiences John is having. He begins to realize that the house isn’t trying to drive people out, more importantly something or someone it is trying to reach out for help.

John shows Claire the attic room. Then the two go to the Historical Society to look up any records of the immense yet lonely house. They find out that the last people who occupied the house left there after only two years. back in 1967. That’s when the Society took control of the old Chessman Park House with a grant bestowed by the Carmichael Foundation representing Senator Carmichael ( Melvyn Douglas) Oddly, there are no files for the house prior to 1920, they are missing! So John and Claire ask Miss Huxley about the records of who lived there around 1909. She tells them that a man named Bernard lived there with his son and daughter but sold the house a year later after a terrible tragedy.

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Clara's grave

Once John and Claire go through library newspaper records they find a story about  a Dr. Walter Bernard, whose seven year old daughter Cora died from injuries sustained by being hit by a coal cart. Could the initials C.S.B. stand for Cora Bernard? John and Claire then go to the family cemetery to visit the graves of Cora, her brother and parents. John wonders if Cora is reaching out to him, because he lost his own daughter and she sees him as a kindred spirit. Claire encourages John to leave the house no matter what the reason. That his suffering is linked to the house now.

John reminisces about his lost wife and daughter by looking at old photographs. Suddenly the pounding begins again. When he goes to investigate, he see’s Kathy’s little red rubber ball, bouncing down the long staircase, thump thump thump thump. This moment is yet again, one of THE most frighteningly memorable scenes in classical horror history. On the outward level because it is inexplicable, yet it is also heart breaking because it tears at the wound John is already bleeding from about losing his little girl. Terrifying and sad is a potent combination and makes for a superior ghost story.

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John takes the little ball and drives to a near by bridge and throws the tiny object into the water below. But… when he returns home, the little red ball which is now wet from the river, bouncing down the long staircase yet again!!! The scene just amplifies the shock from the prior scene and does so in a way that isn’t cliché

The wonderful character actor Barry Morse plays a parapsychologist form the university who sets up a séance with mediums Leah and Albert Harmon (Helen Burns & Eric Christmas) Once at the house they already sense a presence there, which leads Leah who is psychic up toward the creepy attic room.

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CapturFiles_57 “You’ve suffered a cruel loss John Russell. you’ve lost a wife and child. The presence in this house is reaching out to you through that loss"
“You’ve suffered a cruel loss John Russell. you’ve lost a wife and child. The presence in this house is reaching out to you through that loss.”

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They begin to hold the séance John, Claire and her mother and the Harmons. Leah Harmon begins to ask questions of the spirits. She begins doing automatic writing by scribbling on a piece of paper, hoping that messages will appear through the written scrawlings. “The spirit is that of a child not at peace.”
But it is not Clara who had been killed by the coal cart. It is that of a young boy named Joseph. who died in that house and is begging John to help him. Leah keeps repeating the question, “Did you die in this house? Did you die in this house, how did you die?

Leah is in a deep trance, asking the little boy how he died with no audible answer. The camera swings around the house leading from the third floor down the staircase following the invisible presence as it moves toward the gathering. It’s an effective use of camerawork as what is unseen to us is made quite palpable. A glass and a few other trigger objects such as the tin tube that are on the table, fly into the air across the room and shatters to pieces.

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Once everyone leaves, John listens back to his reel to reel tape recording of the séance and begins to hear the faintest voice of a child answering Leah’s questions. Words are imprinted on tape like -‘ranch’ ’Sacred heart”  ‘well’ ‘Can’t walk’ and “medal.” John psychically connects with past events, he sees the vision of the boy and how he came to an end in the house. A little boy is being drowned in his bathtub by his father in that attic room. The music box is playing the song until he succumbs and the box is turned over. The source of the pounding is now represented by the boy’s little fists pounding against the tub as he struggles against drowning. The last words John hears on the tape recording is “My name is Joseph Carmichael.”

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Claire listens to the tape and cries. She recognizes Sacred Heart as an Orphanage that used to operate in the area. Claire is frozen in terror, as she looks upstairs. When John goes to look, we see the child’s wheelchair at the top of the stairs. Yet another chilling moment well paced and placed.

The secretive and nefarious Miss Huxley fills Senator Carmichael in on John and Claire’s nosing around the house’s past. He’s afraid they will find out that he was born in the old Chessman Park house in 1900, his mother dying during child birth.

There is a great mystery, tragedy and evil deeds surrounding the Senator, the little ghost child Joseph. If I give away too much of it, it would spoil the story and ultimately the climax.

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LIttle Girl:Boy in the well

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Without giving away too much, another frightening sub-plot is when John and Claire track down the ranch house belonging to a Mrs Grey (Frances Hyland) whose daughter had frightening visions that same night as the séance.
She dreamt of an impish boy, almost wicked in his appearance as he tried to reach up through the floor boards and staring at her.

Mrs. Grey worried about her daughter Linda’s night terrors. She starts sleeping in her mother’s room, so she allows John and Claire to dig up the bedroom floor, which sits atop an old well. Until a few nights later, Linda in a somnambulist’s state wanders into her bedroom and sees the image of the little boy floating under the water staring at her. The Changeling continues to employ moments that are starkly frightening. John digs up the floor down to the bottom of the well, where he not only finds a little boy’s medal that comes up from the dirt like a flower shoot popping out of the mud. John also finds the bones of a child.

John and Claire call the police but only give them limited information of how they knew to look under the floorboards of Mrs. Grey’s house, and they have no suspicions as to the identity of the skeleton.

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John tries to talk to Senator Carmichael on his private jet, the police take him away thinking he is a crazy protester.
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Senator Carmichael-Melvyn Douglas is more than a bit worried
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Actor John Colicos plays police Captain DeWitt who is a personal friend to Senator Carmichael, and impresses upon John to leave the Senator alone… or else!

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John Colicos plays Captain DeWitt a friend of Senator Carmichael and who is dauntless in his investigation to get to the truth behind John and Claire’s meddling and what the connection between the skeleton in the well, an old medal and Senator Carmichael who thinks they are trying to blackmail him.

I’ll leave the rest of this phenomenal ghost story/murder mystery for those who haven’t seen it yet. But perhaps I’ll add just this last bit of shock treatment to entice those who aren’t faint of heart…

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HIDDEN HORROR-
written by Don Sumner for the section on The Changeling (1980) in Hidden Horror edited by Aaron Christensen and William Lustig.

“It is interesting that The Changeling should be a Hidden Horror rather than a recognized household classic. The film swept the Canadian Genie Awards, winning Best Picture, Actor, Actress and several technical awards, and returned fair U.S. box office receipts $12 million against it’s approximately $600K CAN production budget. Still, it under-performed when compared to other 1970s Canadian horror efforts and remains lesser known. than its brethren to this day… For example, that same year’s Prom Night had the benefit of rising scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis while David Cronenberg’s Scanners featured a game-changing head explosion. “

As far as I’m concerned The Changeling will forever remain one of the most captivating cinematic ghost stories that has retained it’s haunting quality after all these years.

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This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying ‘It’s been a ball’

 

Carnival of Souls (1962): Criterion 60s Eerie Cinema: That Haunting Feeling

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The Criterion Blogathon is hosted by three truly prolific bloggers, and I want to thank them for allowing me to join in paying tribute to the collection of landmark, art-house & original films from around the globe! Hosted by Aaron at Criterion Blues, Kristina at Speakeasy and Ruth at Silver Screenings!

When they started to hint that this blogathon was going to be BIG… none of us had any idea just how BIG!!!! BIG was!

Criterion Eerie Cinema of the 60s -‘That Haunting Feeling!

The trend of classical Gothic ghost stories in a decade of disorder…

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Carnival of Souls 1962:

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  • “When we are young we read and believe the most fantastic things. When we grow older and wiser we learn with perhaps a little regret that these things can never be. We are quite, quite wrong!” Noel Coward, Blithe Spirit

  • Is all that we see or seem… But a dream within a dream?” Edgar Allan Poe – A Dream Within a Dream

  • “I don’t belong in the world”Mary Henry-Carnival of Souls 1962

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Carnival of Souls (1962) was produced & directed by Herk Harvey who originally shot industrial & educational geographical shorts and found himself traveling all over the United States. He came across some inspiring locations when he decided to try his hand at an intellectual horror story. When he stumbled onto the abandoned Pavilion in Utah, which at one time was a grand party spot in the earlier part of the century, between the corrosive salt water air and the years of neglect, Harvey knew that he had found the right place to film his arty horror film.

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Saltair Pavilion: Historical photograph

Carnival of Souls doesn’t rely on it’s sparse dialogue to tell it’s story, for it’s the visual cues, and the spasms of unreality that become the narrator. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) is a ‘liminal’ wanderer , a heroine who is in a state of transition who occupies both sides of a threshold between reality & oblivion.

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When Mary experiences bouts of her non-existence in public places, where people act as if she isn’t there, and when all noises and sounds go away and she is stuck in a silent world… she can touch a tree and the chirping of birds re-connects her to reality. This image represents the liminal space she occupies. But don’t get smart alecky with me, I know the difference between liminal and a tree limb! just a co-incidence people just a co-incidence…

After having several unfortunate mis-dealings with corrupt distribution houses like Hertz Lion on it’s initial release, and small indie companies that packaged the film as part of collection of B-Movie horror box sets in 1989. In 2000 Carnival of Souls received it’s rightful induction into the Criterion Collection when they put this beautifully artistic horror gem in their extraordinary catalog.

Herk Harvey was a devotee to Ingmar Bergman and more specifically his cinematographer Sven Nykvist (The Virgin Spring 1960, Through a Glass Darkly 1961 Persona 1966, Pretty Baby 1978, The Postman Always Rings Twice 1981, The Unbearable Lightness of Being 1988). Harvey tried to impart this inspiration to his camera guy Maurice Prather, in terms of how he envisioned lighting the film.

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Here’s a dismissive description of our female heroine aside from ‘misfit heroine’ which at least the character sees herself as an ‘outsider’… going through some life altering surreal journey … from Roger Ebert in 1989: “The movie stars Candace Hilligoss, one of those worried blonds like Janet Leigh in Psycho (1960)…

When women have something praying on their minds , it’s called worry, or if she takes that worry further and voices her anxiety, it’s called hysteria. If the same situation befell a man, he’d be a courageous loner trying to find his way through a challenge. No look of worry on his face. It would be called ‘determination.’

Film critic Roger Ebert also had this to say about Carnival of Souls back during it’s revival in 1989. Carnival of Souls” is a odd obscure horror film that was made on a low budget in 1962 in Lawrence Kansas., and still has an intriguing power. Like a lost episode from “Twilight Zone”, it places the supernatural right in the middle of everyday life and surrounds it with ordinary people. It ventures to the edge of camp, but never strays across the line taking itself with an eerie seriousness.”…{….} And another effective moment when she’s in a car on a deserted highway and the radio only picks up organ music.”

Harvey came up with the story but it was scripted by writer John Clifford, who fashioned his hallucinatory version of the story as a psychological fun house ride in the same mold of Rod Serling’s anthology series, Twilight Zone. I got the same vibe myself when re-viewing the film, as it reminded me of the Hitch-Hiker episode with Inger Stevens. You can see the correlation between the heroine falling into a nether space that mimics life’s mundane locations, yet something is quite off — between her reality and the connection to those places. The tone of Carnival of Souls is somber and the colors are monochromatic which allows for the emergence of the “Man” to project even more supremacy over the mood and motion because of the lack of grey areas. He stands out superbly as the film’s boogeyman. Carnival of Souls is a story that doesn’t rely on elucidating or crucial dialogue. It is driven by eerie & arresting visual cues.

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Carnival of souls is hauntingly gritty, menacing and an ethereal nightmarish journey that our ‘misfit heroine’ (source -Jarenski) -archetype Mary Henry must roam through in order to find her place in the world… it is a visual and sensory driven allegory. Mary Henry, straddles the plain between reality and unreality, life & death, belonging & alienation, an outcast who is “unfit for the mundane world.” The film works based on the premise that Mary is unusual, an outcast or outsider. Even the people surrounding her act jittery, a bit bewildered and uncomfortable by her strange manner.

Gene Moore was responsible for the score that consists of REUTER ORGAN with exposed pipes. He had access to the Reuter Organ Factory and became inspired to use it as the musical undercurrent of calliope. It also gave Harvey the idea to use this motif as Mary Henry’s profession, and place of employment. With all the organ inflections and swells it is only Mary and us, who ever hear the magnificent instrument playing, filling out all the nuanced spaces without intruding, it is subtle and multi-layered for such a powerful instrument, that works well with the macabre carnival atmosphere.

The art and set direction are literally the real locations that Harvey and Clifford felt inspired by. They would sneak the crew in to film before getting booted out. The amusement park Pavilion called the Saltair, was shot in Great Salt Lake City Utah.

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With the exception of Candace Hilligoss who trained in New York City as a method actor under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg, and character actor Sidney Berger as the lascivious neighbor John Lindon, the rest of the cast is virtually unknown non actors. Herk Harvey had requested that they scout for an accomplished New York Actress, and they found Hilligoss! Although Harvey refused to give Hilligoss any cues or background motivation for her character. She, like the other players had no rehearsals nor were they allowed or given any re-takes.

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Herk Harvey himself plays the ever-present ‘the Man’ as he is credited, who is the sinister presence that stalks Mary throughout the film. He creates an unsettling presence like the lurking archetype of ‘Death.’

Both Herk Harvy and John Clifford evaluated the final film saying that it had the art-house feel that they were shooting for, in their words  “The visual style with an Ingmar Bergman look & the mood of a Jean Cocteau film.” with a supernatural theme.

The film could also be viewed slightly in the realm of a Neo-Realist work, ‘Post WWII, Italy working under the constraints of a war torn nation, they were filmed in real locations with non-professional actors.’ -Gary J. & Susan Svehla

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Carnival of Souls attains a gritty naturalism, with the non created sets or the use of recognizable actors, except for Candace Hilligoss who wasn’t even given any direction about her character’s motivation! ironic for a method actor who trained under the master Lee Strasberg… Hilligoss’ state of un-ease was authentic…

The make up for what I’m calling the ‘Dead Ensemble‘ came about because of the budgetary restrictions. Using egg whites, yes egg whites, what happened as a happy accident was a chilling & effective look of rotting flesh, and the pale gray glow of death. The egg whites created the pasty grey and flaky tone due to the use of B&W film stock.

To get permission to film the car plunging into the Kaw River in Kansas, the film crew had to agree to pick-up the tab for any repairs to the bridge. In fact the police attempted to arrest Harvey for attempted murder til Harvey showed it to be a simulation for their film and not a real accident.

Filming the entire movie in a month much of the footage was executed with guerrilla -like shooting tactics because they would have to get in and out of the settings, grab the few shots on that location due to not having permits to be there or to close the streets for filming! Most of the audio was post-dubbed, so it was an impossible task to get the syncing just right.

Sadly, With all the financial problems and the lack of recognition that the film failed to get initially turned both Herk Harvey and John Clifford off from making another picture.

The film opens on a street of a Midwestern heartland town where three young women in a car are being challenged to a drag race by a gang of young hoodlums. When the driver agrees, the girls begin to tear up the road and head over the very narrow bridge. All three including Mary Henry (Hiligoss) plunge off the bridge into the murky waters below. As the car falls beneath the clouded river, the film’s credit’s ripple over the surface of the water, creating an eerie prelude to the story.

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drag race begins

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This image strikes me as a portrait of Americana- a photo that Shelby Lee Adams might have taken. The menfolk almost looming like apathetic vultures over the car wrecked in the river below

out of the water onto the landing

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another similar view -the men looking down on Mary Henry -objectification & a silent pronouncement from the patriarchy!

The sole survivor, Mary emerges from the cold river, drenched like a drowned and rotting water lily, smeared and splattered in mud. While the rescue party arrives on the scene, local townspeople are there, and the police work on raising up the submerged car, Mary walks out of the water staggering onto the jettee. Mary is asked about the other two women in the car but she tells them that she doesn’t remember anything. Mary just walks away from the scene of the accident.

As if the entire ordeal was just a dream you wake from to find that it isn’t real, it hasn’t happened, Mary walks away and returns to her job at the organ factory. She tells her boss that she has decided to make a change in her life. She has taken a position as a church organist in another city in Utah. When her co-workers gossip about Mary’s decision they remark in a bit of foretelling dialogue, giving away some dreary foreshadowing of things to come for Mary , “If she’s got a problem, it’ll go right along with her.”

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“Mary it takes more than intellect to be a musician… put your soul into it.”

Mary leaves town, she drives past the scene of the accident. She begins to experience a sense of panic, of trepidation washing over her , but she makes it across the bridge safely. It’s nighttime, shes driving by herself and she sees the abandoned pavilion which instantly sparks her interest. But when she reverts her gaze back to the road she sees directly in front of her a vision of the pale faced stranger who’s sinister presence startles her, and for a moment she veers off the road. Managing to gain back control of the car she makes it onto the road and continues driving til she gets to the gas station.

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The only music Mary can get on the car radio is organ music…

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Once there, she is haunted by either strange hallucinations or actual supernatural contact of a sinister man (Herk Harvey) with a macabre pale dead face in a off the rack suit and then a tuxedo.
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The monochromatic frames work to intensify the look of the ‘Man’ who literally appears to be part of the seducing void & darkness moving around Mary.
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Mary meets her new landlady at the boarding house where she’s taken a room, near the church where she’ll be the organist.
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The minister tells her that the congregation would be interested in meeting their new organist but she coldly replies to him. If they say I’m a fine organist that should be enough”
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“We have an organist capable of stirring the soul” sure but consider the fact that she’s a ‘lost’ soul herself!

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She makes it to her new rooming house, getting ready for bed she catches another glimpse of the ‘Man’ outside her bedroom window. In the morning , she goes to her new job at the church. The minister (Art Ellison) tells her that he’d like the congregation to meet her as she’s the new organist and part of the community now. Yet, odd bewildered Mary isn’t interested in this ceremonious display, he imparts a fatherly cliché to her “You can’t live in isolation from the human race.”

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the ‘Man’ appears at the church looking strangely at the stain glass panel, what is he thinking? it’s an interesting juxtaposition of the image of a pious figure being gazed at by the figure of ‘death’

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Mary feels cut off from the world and is believed to be crazy by the people she encounters. She also becomes drawn to a decaying old amusement park where the ‘Man’ who visits her hallucinations, escorts her into a waltz of the dead in the empty ballroom. Meantime, the police are back at the scene of the accident pulling up the wreckage of the car from the river. Mary is pursued by the sleazy roomer at the boarding house, John Linden who’s got plans on getting Mary in the sack!

From CRITERION The Liner notes by Bruce Kawin–there are fun references to other movie titles like “Call it Orpheus meets An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge–organ

there are similarities.. After the accident she plays the church organ without any religious conviction and has a date without desire, She is accused of having no soul.
She feels cut off and doesn’t know why and to find out the reason is to be destroyed : To synchronize with and , quite literally meet her fate.

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Mary can see Saltair Pavilion from her bedroom window

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The film is filled with signals and omens that forewarn that something has shifted in Mary’s life either through her dreams or her new reality. John Clifford’s script seems inspired by the old expressionist fantasy dramas and Harvey’s direction allows the atmosphere to embrace a weird style, that could easily have been a silent film. Carnival of Souls depends much on visual cues, and a quirky narrative filled with curiosity, honesty and repressed primal fear.

Once Mary walks away from the commotion of the accident she drives to a local garage for assistance. She sees the ‘Man’ and flees on foot. (This is very reminiscent of the Twilight Zone episode called The Hitchhiker starring Inger Stevens being stalked by what looks like a hobo, but just might be death himself trying to take her back with him.)

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Inger Stevens is Nan Adams in The Hitch-Hiker episode of Rod Serling’s brilliant anthology sci-fi/fantasy show The Twilight Zone The Hitch-Hiker aired on Jan. 22 1960.

On Mary’s day off she goes shopping, and in the midst of a retail transaction she becomes disconnected from her surroundings. First people refuse to acknowledge her as if she’s not there. (great idea for a film effect right M Night Shyamalan? yeah as I was saying) Then Mary begins to lose her sense of hearing. Nothing seems to make noise, there isn’t a sound to be heard.

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While shopping in the department store, the people around Mary act as if she isn’t there. As if she were a ghost… 

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“why can’t I hear anything?”

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Mary becomes hysterical when she thinks the older gentleman at the water fountain is the ‘Man’ Dr Samuel’s tells her she’s hysterical and that she should control herself…

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She flees to the tranquility of the city park and leaves the urban stresses behind her, and suddenly her senses start coming back to her. Once she lays her hands on a tree trunk the natural world let’s her in again. She can hear bird’s chirping and becomes connected to reality again. But this is only shortly lived as it lasts briefly before, she thinks she sees the ‘Man’ standing by the a water fountain. Mary becomes hysterical. Dr. Samuel’s comes to her aide, tells her she’s hysterical and to control herself. He takes her to his office across the street.

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Mary- “It was more than just not being able to hear anything, or make contact with anyone. It was as though, as though for a time I didn’t exist. As though I had no place in the world. No part of the life around me.” Dr. Samuels-“And then you saw this, this man?” He tells her that perhaps the Man represents a ‘guilt’ feeling. She tells him that it’s ridiculous. Mary  “Well I know one thing. If my imagination is playing tricks on me, I’m gonna put a stop to it!” He tells her she’s strong willed. She tells him that she’s survived if that’s what he means. He tells her that the Pavilion holds some kind of meaning to her. She’s going out there alone and prove that it’s just her imagination.

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She tells him she has no interest in being with other people. She also figures that her unease is somehow connected to the abandoned Carnival/Pavilion. So fixated on it is she, that she feels compelled to return there and try to exorcise these recent terrors. While visiting it during daylight she interprets it as a harmless place. But… she is unaware of the ‘Man’ lying beneath the surface of the water… waiting for her.

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cast the devil out

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Mary is cast under the spell of the lurking dead and the strange draw to the abandoned & desolate Saltair

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“Profane… sacrilege What are you playing in this church. Have you no respect Do you feel no reverence? Well I feel sorry for you… and your lack of soul. This organ the music of this church these things have meaning and significance to us. I assumed they did to you. (to Mary it was just a job) But without this awareness I’m afraid you cannot be our organist. In conscious I must ask you to resign”
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At Church Mary is compelled to play the organ like a feverish madwoman, beyond the control of her hands, she hits the keys and creates dark progressions. Her music becomes malevolent on the pipe organ (Much like Siohban McKenna’s Emmy in Daughter of Darkness 1948) As Mary strokes the keys inflamed, overcome and aroused by the inexplicable desire, she sees images of the ‘Man’ and the others, the dead ensemble rising from the water, then waltzing at the Pavilion, moving in a quick pace, toward her. The jump cuts are very effective, as if they create the illusion of the dead ones hurling themselves at her. The minister interrupts Mary’s day-mare he cries ‘Sacrilege’ and he dismisses her from her post at the church.

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CRITERION liner notes: All the music with the exception of the jukebox is the organ.

“The organ is the music of Mary’s mind and of the world in which she finds herself. the world as a gain the way things are. It may be that she imagines her story in her own terms. With a soundtrack as cold as she is said to be, or that she ‘really’ lives for awhile in a world where the dead intrude. The underscoring and the underwater undead make it likely that what we see and hear is her windscreen. But the horror film can have it both ways.”

“An alternate world and an imagined one. Aside from the music the most artistically daring element of this film-one that defies a central convention of the horror genre -is its flight from romanticism , it’s concentration not on a foaming monster or on the hammering bosom of a Hammer heroine, but on a cold fish. If she is a magnet for the Gothic , there is nothing exciting or sexy about it. The thrills of this carnival are cold ones…. bits of death.”

The ‘Man’ continues to pursue Mary, she sees him everywhere, even while she’s playing the organ. The minister shows Mary around town and she asks him to accompany her to the Pavilion. Strange too, Mary can see it from her bedroom window.

When she returns to the rooming house Mary has to rebuff the seedy lecherous John Linden (Sidney Berger) who keeps trying to insinuate himself into Mary’s apartment. She also sees the ‘Man’ again.

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Mary is fixated on the Pavilion in the way Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) is fixated on Hill House. The Pavilion has become a catalyst, a place of connection to Mary who til now has been literally disconnected from the living world. The old rusted machinery of the ballroom, and the rusted collapsing spiral staircase reveal the old is enticing both women who don’t belong in this world that is new and young and vibrant. Both Eleanor and Mary Henry exist in a dust filled space of detachment and estrangement.

Mary accepts a date with her sleazy predatory neighbor Lindon, but refuses to drink, dance or be held close. They go back to her room, she sees John’s face become the ‘Man’s’ reflection in the mirror. The next morning she checks out of the rooming house, determined to leave this town behind. She is detained by car trouble. Dropping off the car at the gas station even proves to be an ominous affair.

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at the garage the man

Having been fired, wanting to leave town, the car is the garage, she goes to the bus depot, but can’t buy a ticket because no one hears or sees her. She tries to get onto the bus, the dead ensemble are inside laughing approaching her She tries to get on the train, they close the gate on her. she runs, there is a motorcycle cop, but he pulls away, as does the taxi cab that doesn’t see her…she runs the organ and the heels of her shoes, in a frenzy, her inner monologue why can’t they hear me, why can’t I hear anything.

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Trying to buy a bus ticket people walk right over her, the teller doesn’t acknowledge her. She is invisible to the world.
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She tries to get onto the train. they close the gait in her face. She is not there…
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Mary screams… “Why can’t anybody hear me!!!”

She attempts to buy a bus ticket, and becomes separated from the world again, so she attempts to just get on the bus. Jumping through the open door of the idling bus, she is confronted by the passengers, the dead ensemble.

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She meets with Doctor Samuels again in his office. He sits and listens with his back to her, she tells him “I don’t belong in the world” As the psychiatrist turns to answer her, it is revealed to be the ‘Man’ sitting in the chair. Mary screams… and wakes up in the garage. For a moment Mary is allowed to acknowledge the experience as a dream.

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Mary to Doctor Samuel’s chair back -“You’ve got to tell me what to do!”

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Mary drives away from town, directly to the Pavilion. The outside lights are illuminating the dead ensemble dancing. Mary sees herself as one of them. She’s dancing with the ‘Man’, caught in his embrace. The quick cuts create a frenetic dizzying night torment. The dead ensemble begin to chase Mary onto the sand by the beach. Then the scene changes to the austere sky and bleached out white of daylight.

There she is haunted by strange visions involving the pasty-faced wraith who continues to be a menacing force. Mary  is disconnected from the natural world, and the people around her experience her as odd perhaps even crazy. Even the most ordinary and mundane places like church, retail shops, parks, train stations and doctor’s offices are not safe as the pale-faced wraith that shadows her seems to be everywhere.

It is this feeling of isolation & being alienated by the world that draws Mary to the eerie abandoned Pavilion. At the Pavilion she is escorted by the ‘Man’ to come join the dance with the ‘pale-faced pushing up daisy’s gang’ in the empty ballroom.

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the end

The quick cuts of the ‘Man’ are appropriately horrifying because of the lack of grey tones, he appears with the ghastly pasty white face in dark contrast to his evening wear and the dark corners in which he appears to be occupying.

The power in the Pavilion comes on and the festive lights come up in the ballroom -the dead ensemble in their evening attire are waltzing. She see herself as one of them, she is dancing with the ‘Man’- she screams and runs but they chase her down to the beach. Now it’s daytime, the cold light of day at the Pavilion-slipping in and out of a dream, reality, darkness & light or belonging of terror.

We see the police, the minister of the church and the locals are investigating Mary’s disappearance. Mary’s car is still at the Pavilion. There are many sets of footprints leading down toward the beach and then… they end abruptly.

Is she trapped between the world of the dead or the world of the living? Mary Henry avoids death throughout the film as she is stalked and seduced by the pale-faced ‘Man’ with the mocking gaze and the ‘Lifeless Mob’, the ‘Dead Ensemble’ but it might just be a tryst she’ll have to show up for eventually…

Just to recap- The opening prelude shows us Mary rising from the cold waters of the river, her hair splattered with mud, she staggers onto the river bank passing the rescue party. She moves awkwardly as she emerges. It is perhaps the most powerful scene in Carnival of Souls, as Mary Henry indifferent toward ‘rescue’ or ‘deliverance.’ The extraneous attempt are mocked by the reality that Mary doesn’t seek salvation, and soon will embark on a nightmare journey trying to find her way out of purgatory. She is lured to the deserted Pavilion, trying to exorcise the nightmarish wraiths that stalk her even in the stark light of day.

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The film fell into obscurity for a while because of a bad deal struck with the corrupt Hertz-Lion Company to distribute the film in small theaters , who either didn’t understand or didn’t care to embrace Harvey/Clifford’s vision for the film. So Hertz Lion packaged it as a B-Movie venues exclusively, and playing at drive ins in the Southeastern U.S, not allowing it’s intended urban city Indie arty audience to see it. The Company also kept the profits then went out of business in 1964. Leaving Harvey and Clifford unpaid, the film lab who struck the release print unpaid as well. Carnival of Souls was edited for release to be used as double billing. The film was butchered by Hertz Lion, sacrificing mood and the script’s intelligibility for the sake of a shorter print, which would be easier to distribute.

Now you may suppose that the film’s continuity was sacrificed by this, yet Carnival of Souls does not seem to suffer from lack of atmosphere, unique camera work or said continuity, the film still deserves the art-house label as Herk Harvey and John Clifford originally intended.

Even after  ‘it languished in obscurity’ due to the dubious distribution strategy by the corrupt Hertz Lion Company and despite all the cuts and edits from the original film, Carnival of Souls has gained a tremendous cult following,

It’s one of my favorite classical horror films of the 60s! With many of us discovering this horror gem on late nite television with it’s spooky programming like Chiller Theater, Creature Feature and Night Fright on WOR Channel 9 in New York… all of which I was nourished on as a really young horror fan in the 60s & 70s.

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Candace Hilligoss was frustrated with Herk Harvey because he gave her NO motivation for her character, little to no explanation for Mary’s actions. Coming from the method school of acting, this created a conflict with her role, yet the blank stare and the disconnection to the narrative inadvertently or unconsciously created the no- affect heroine that propelled Mary even further into a netherworld caught between reality and unreality. Sound and silence. Visibility and imperceptibility. Mary Henry walks through the film perplexed and alienated.

Hilligoss would appear in one more horror picture from the 60s Corpse of the Living Dead (1964) a gruesome horror whodunit with a heavy dose of cynicism and sadism, Del Tenney style.

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Carnival of Souls has a visual narrative that is somewhat like a dark poem, or a funeral dance.

I’ve read an interesting essay that touches on a corollary between Carnival of Souls and Robert Wise’s 1963 ghost story The Haunting based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House. From Hidden Horror the chapter on Carnival of Souls by Prof. Shelly Jarenski- They make a few interesting comparisons. Such as the prelude… “… And we who walk here… walk alone.” in my malleable childhood mind, both the prelude and the coda stayed with me like a creepy lullaby or maudlin soliloquy. Jarenski says “The film’s core themes are encapsulated in that line uttered by the misfit heroine Eleanor Lance.”

Jarenski also mentions that ‘Eleanor seemed happiest becoming a ghost, belonging to the house.’

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the haunting

Words like ‘we’ or ‘walking’ does create an ominous ambiguity. That Eleanor will either join the collection of lost souls in Hill House or be doomed to walk alone for all eternity in ‘isolation and despair.’

Jarenski asserts that Carnival of Souls can be understood as a corollary to the more ceremonious and celebrated The Haunting because “It portrays what being part of the community of the dead, while simultaneously feeling utterly alone, looks like.”

Source From: More Things Than are Dreamt of- they point out the idea that The Haunting is much more than just a ghost story. As Shirley Jackson wrote in her novel, “During the whole underside of her life, ever since her first memory Eleanor had been waiting for something…”

Because of the key player Eleanor Lance not being a professional para-psychologist or a willing believer, what surfaces during the story’s reveal is that we are witnesses not just to a haunting, but a lonely woman, a disillusioned spinster, most likely a virgin who is yearning for release.

Mary Henry is also an isolated outcast, drawn to something possibly nefarious, but it’s something better than being a nothing, or being invisible around regular people… “I have no desire for the close company of other people.”

Mary Henry goes through portends and psychic spells that tamper with her senses, spells that are jarring and utterly frightening. The idea of abject ‘horror’ as with The Haunting (1963) or Daughter of Darkness (1948) doesn’t necessarily prove or disprove the existence of a supernatural force behind the fear that is awakened. The apprehension of evil, the supernatural or the fine line between life and death are made a disturbing odyssey as we aren’t sure what is happening to Mary or us. The disturbing tone as Jarensky puts it, is ‘atmospheric oddness.’ The oddness that is familiar in Robert Wise’s The Haunting as Hill House’s angles were all ‘odd’ leaving one to feel that there is one big distortion as a whole. Mary Henry has been shifted off the mortal plain, journeying through a dizzying quagmire of nocturnal terrors or daytime sensory ordeals and alienation from the world.

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I’ve made my own connection with another stunning picture that deals with the fine line between death and life, reality and unreality. I’m talking about Tim Robbins in Jacob’s Ladder (1990) where the hero also takes a grotesque and frighteningly nightmarish journey from life… through death…

So is it a ‘death journey’, a collective hallucination, or is Mary Henry going mad?

From the booklet notes of CRITERION by Bruce Kawin

“In Carnival of Souls (1962) one place is allowed to be blatantly creepy: The Amusement park where ghosts rest under the water and rise to dance. The rest of the world appears both normal and somehow wrong and part of what is wrong about it -and within stand encompassing it- it the liminal protagonist , Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) For she has gone wrong , and in the world with her. It may be her subjective world, as in the Cocteau and Bergman films that producer -director Herk Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford admired, but it is ours as long as we are in the theater, and it look too much like the real world outside the theater for comfort.

Mary Henry could also be said to be the archetypal “alienated heroine’, ‘the misplaced heroine’ or as Jarenski calls it ‘the misfit heroine’ who also feels like she lives on the fringes of society, with no place she truly belongs.

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Now this is where Mary Henry and her queer mannerism, church organ playing that becomes almost diabolically fevered, and the peculiar magnetism to either attract men or repel them still puts me in mind of director Lance Comfort’s Daughter of Darkness (1948) concerning the odd Irish lass Emily ‘Emmy’ Beaudine (Siohban MacKenna) Emmy too, was the church organist, who aroused every man in the county with a supernatural allure, yet she repelled dogs, horses and the womenfolk. And, when a man did want to go further she would scratch their eyes out or murder them in a fevered rage. Emmy is a wild thing, driven out of town for being one of the devil’s own. When Emmy played the organ, she became entranced not unlike Mary Henry, often she would lose herself in long drawn out musical conflagration to darkness. But was it supernatural or a monstrous feminine morality play about women’s primacy.

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Both women, provocative and strange possess a power to attract and repel, with Emmy’s boxer and Mary’s neighbor Linden. Mary plays the organ with a “pragmatic irreverence.” When the minister admonishes her, calling it ‘sacrilege’ she leaves her town “I am never coming back!

The parishioners talk behind her back, “If she’s got a problem, it’ll go right along with her.

But even as Mary is seen as renegade, wicked or immoral she still doesn’t seem comfortable in her own skin, not as much as the people on the periphery of her world are. Those who inhabit the tenuous wall between life & death.

When Mary states that she feels separate from other people, we are dropped into a scene where the outside world that invades and surrounds her, loses all it’s sound. It is a marker to how she is cut off from the world.

Julia Kristeva the scholar who expanded brilliantly on Freud’s postulations on the sub-conscious & fear in his The Uncanny describes something that is pervasive through Carnival of Souls. The film takes the mundane, the familiar and these familiar points of reference, department stores, city parks, train stations and brightly sunlit beaches, suddenly become ‘out of place’ This is what happens to Mary Henry as she bares witness to the manifestation of the uncanny. She experiences a ‘profound psychological disturbance’ that is virtually impossible to describe.

As Jarensky says, “everything seems familiar to her, and yet she feels an inexplicable sense of separateness.”

With each time the sinister and other-worldly ‘Man’ shows himself to Mary, the film begins to spiral into a nightmarish hazy Kaleidoscope of eerie unreality. It not only seems like an assault on Mary, it makes us really uncomfortable as well, causing us anxiety.

Carnival of Souls has an enduring eerie charm that has sustained it’s cult status for years. Part of what works so well for this unique film is the lack of direction Hilligoss got from Herk Harvey leaving her as authentically lost as her character Mary Henry wandering through a netherworld too frightening to navigate. Low budget, filled with happy accidents that when viewed in retrospect bares the look of an art-house horror though unintentional the low grade quality creates a haunting appeal….

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Continue reading “Carnival of Souls (1962): Criterion 60s Eerie Cinema: That Haunting Feeling”

MonsterGirl’s Halloween 🎃 2015 special feature! the Heroines, Scream Queens & Sirens of 30s Horror Cinema!

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Horror cinema was at it’s spooky peak in the 1930s~ the era gave birth to some of the most iconic figures of the genre as well as highlighted some of the most beautiful & beloved heroines to ever light up the scream, oops I mean screen!!!!

We all love the corrupted, diabolical, fiendish and menacing men of the 30s who dominated the horror screen- the spectres of evil, the anti-heroes who put those heroines in harms way, women in peril, –Boris, & Bela, Chaney and March… From Frankenstein, to Dracula, from The Black Cat (1934), or wicked Wax Museums to that fella who kept changing his mind…Jekyll or was it Hyde? From the Mummy to that guy you could see right through, thank you Mr. Rains!

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Gloria Stuart The Invisible Man

Last year I featured Scream Queens of 40s Classic Horror! This Halloween 🎃 – I felt like paying homage to the lovely ladies of 30s Classic Horror, who squealed up a storm on those stormy dreadful nights, shadowed by sinister figures, besieged by beasts, and taunted with terror in those fabulous frisson filled fright flicks… but lest not forget that after the screaming stops, those gals show some grand gumption! And… In an era when censorship & conservative framework tried to set the stage for these dark tales, quite often what smoldered underneath the finely veiled surface was a boiling pot of sensuality and provocative suggestion that I find more appealing than most contemporary forays into Modern horror- the lost art of the classical horror genre will always remain Queen… !

Let’s drink a toast to that notion!

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The Scream Queens, Sirens & Heroines of 1930s Classic Horror are here for you to runs your eyes over! Let’s give ’em a really big hand, just not a hairy one okay! From A-Z

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Phantom in the Rue Morgue 1954

ELIZABETH ALLAN

Elizabeth Allan

A British beauty with red hair who according to Gregory Mank in his Women in Horror Films, 1930s, left England for Hollywood and an MGM contract. She is the consummate gutsy heroine, the anti-damsel Irena Borotyn In Tod Browning’s campy Mark of the Vampire (1935) co-starring with Bela Lugosi as Count Mora (His birthday is coming up on October 20th!) Lionel Atwill and the always cheeky Lionel Barrymore… Later in 1958 she would co-star with Boris Karloff in the ever-atmospheric The Haunted Strangler.

Mark of the Vampire is a moody graveyard chiller scripted by Bernard Schubert & Guy Endore (The Raven, Mad Love (1935) & The Devil Doll (1936) and the terrific noir thriller Tomorrow is Another Day (1951) with sexy Steve Cochran & one of my favs Ruth Roman!)

The film is a Tod Browning’s re-take of his silent Lon Chaney Sr. classic London After Midnight (1927).

The story goes like this: Sir Karell Borotin (Holmes Herbert) is murdered, left drained of his blood, Professor Zelin (Lionel Barrymore) believes it’s the work of vampires. Lionel Atwill once again plays well as the inquiring but skeptical police Inspector Neumann.

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Irena (Elizabeth Allan) and Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore) hatch an intricate plot to trap the murderers!

Once Sir Karell’s daughter Irena ( our heroine Elizabeth Allan) is assailed, left with strange bite marks on her neck, the case becomes active again. Neumann consults Professor Zelin the leading expert on Vampires. This horror whodunit, includes frightened locals who believe that Count Mora (Bela in iconic cape and saturnine mannerism) and his creepy daughter Luna  (Carroll Borland) who trails after him through crypt and foggy woods, are behind the strange going’s on. But is all what it seems?

Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Elizabeth Allan and Carroll Borland Mark of the Vampire
Elizabeth Allan (below center) and Carroll Borland as Luna in Tod Browning’s Mark of the Vampire (1935)
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Elizabeth Allan and Carroll Borland Mark of the Vampire (1935)

The Phantom Fiend (1932)

Directed by the ever interesting director Maurice Elvey (Mr. Wu 1919, The Sign of Four, 1923, The Clairvoyant 1935, The Man in the Mirror 1936, The Obsessed 1952) Elizabeth Allan stars as Daisy Bunting the beautiful but mesmerized by the strange yet sensual and seemingly tragic brooding figure- boarder Ivor Novello as Michel Angeloff in The Phantom Fiend! A remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s first film about Jack the Ripper… The Lodger (1927) starring Novello once again.

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Ivor Novello is the strange & disturbing Michel Angeloff. Elizabeth Allan is the daughter of the landlords who rent a room to this mysterious fellow who might just be a serial killer. Daisy Bunyon falls captivated by this tormented and intense young man…
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A.W. Baskcomb plays Daisy’s (Elizabeth Allan)father George Bunting and Jack Hawkins is Joe Martin the regular guy in love with Daisy
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Michel Angeloff (Ivor Novello) to Daisy Bunting (Elizabeth Allan) “Stay away from me… don’t ever be alone with me…{…} -You trust me, no matter whatever I’ve done?”

The Mystery of Mr. X (1934)

There is a murderer loose in London who writes the police before he strikes with a sword cane, he signs his name X. It happens that his latest crime occurs on the same night that the Drayton Diamond is stolen. Robert Montgomery as charming as ever, is Nick Revel the jewel thief responsible for the diamond heist, but he’s not a crazed murderer. The co-incidence of the two crimes have put him in a fix as he’s now unable to unload the gem until the police solve the murders.

Elizabeth Allan is the lovely Jane Frensham, Sir Christopher Marche’s (Ralph Forbes) fiancé and Police Commissioner Sir Herbert Frensham’s daughter. Sir Christopher is arrested for the X murders, and Nick and Jane band together, fall madly in love and try to figure out a way to help the police find the real killer!

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HEATHER ANGEL

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Heather Angel is a British actress who started out on stage at the Old Vic theatre but left for Hollywood and became known for the Bulldog Drummond series. While not appearing in lead roles, she did land parts in successful films such as Kitty Foyle, Pride and Prejudice (1940), Cry ‘Havoc’ (1943) and Lifeboat (1944). IMDb notes -Angel tested for the part of Melanie in Gone with the Wind (1939), the role was given to Olivia de Havilland.

Heather Angel possessed a sublime beauty and truly deserved to be leading lady rather than relegated to supporting roles and guilty but pleasurable B movie status.

The L.A times noted about her death in 1986 at age 77 “Fox and Universal ignored her classic training and used her in such low- budget features as “Charlie Chans Greatest Case and “Springtime for Henry.”

Her performances in Berkeley Square and The Mystery of Edwin Drood were critically acclaimed… More gruesome than the story-lines involving her roles in Edwin Drood, Hound of the Baskervillles or Lifeboat put together is the fact that she witnessed her husband, stage and film directer Robert B. Sinclair’s vicious stabbing murder by an intruder in their California home in 1970.

Heather Grace Angel was born in Oxford, England, on February 9, 1909.
Heather Angel in Berkeley Square (1933) Image courtesy Dr Macro

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1932)

Heather Angel is Beryl Stapleton in this lost (found negatives and soundtracks were found and donated to the British Film Institute archives) adaptation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holme’s thriller Originally serialised in The Strand magazine between 1901 and 1902.

In this first filmed talkie of Doyle’s more horror oriented story it calls for the great detective to investigating the death of Sir Charles Baskerville and solve the strange killing that takes place on the moors, feared that there is a supernatural force, a monstrous dog like fiend that is menacing the Baskerville family ripping the throats from it’s victims. The remaining heir Sir Henry is now threatened by the curse.

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Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)

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Douglass Montgomery as Neville Landless and Heather Angel as Rosa Bud in the intensely superior rare gem The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)

Mystery of Edwin Drood (played by David Manners) is a dark and nightmarish Gothic tale of mad obsession, drug addiction and heartless murder! Heather Angel plays the beautiful and kindly young student at a Victorian finishing school, Rosa Bud engaged to John Jasper’s nephew Edwin Drood. The opium chasing, choir master John Jasper (Claude Rains) becomes driven to mad fixation over Rosa, who is quite aware of his intense gaze, she becomes frightened and repulsed by him.

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The brooding & malevolent Rains frequents a bizarre opium den run by a menacing crone (Zeffie Tilbury), a creepy & outre moody whisper in the melody of this Gothic horror/suspense tale!

Angel and Hobson

Valerie Hobson plays twin sister Helena Landless, the hapless Neville’s sister. (We’ll get to one of my favorites, the exquisite Valerie Hobson in just a bit…) When Neville and Helena arrive at the school, both Edwin and he vie for Rosa’s affections. When Edwin vanishes, naturally Neville is the one suspected in his mysterious disappearance.

OLGA BACLANOVA

Olga Baclanova

Though I’ll always be distracted by Baclanova’s icy performance as the vicious Cleopatra in Tod Browning’s masterpiece Freaks which blew the doors off social morays and became a cultural profane cult film, Baclanova started out as a singer with the Moscow Art Theater. Appearing in several silent films, she eventually co-starred as Duchess Josiana with Conrad Veidt as the tragic Gwynplaine, in another off-beat artistic masterpiece based on the Victor Hugo story The Man Who Laughs (1928)

Freaks (1932)

Tod Browning produced & directed this eternally disturbing & joyful portrait of behind the scenes melodrama and at times the Gothic violence of carnival life… based on the story ‘Spurs’ by Tod Robbins. It’s also been known as Nature’s Mistress and The Monster Show.

It was essential for Browning to attain realism. He hired actual circus freaks to bring to life this quirky Grand Guignol, beautifully grotesque & macabre tale of greed, betrayal and loyalty.

Cleopatra (Baclanova) and Hercules (Henry Victor) plan to swindle the owner of the circus Hans, (Harry Earles starring with wife Frieda as Daisy) out of his ‘small’ fortune by poisoning him on their wedding night. The close family of side show performers exact a poetic yet monstrous revenge! The film also features many memorable circus folk. Siamese conjoined twins Daisy & Violet Hilton, also saluted in American Horror Story (Sarah Paulson another incredible actress, doing a dual role) Schlitze the pinhead and more!

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Anyone riveted to the television screen to watch Jessica Lange’s mind blowing performance as Elsa Mars in American Horror Story’s: Freak Show (2014) will not only recognize her superb nod to Marlene Dietrich, but much reverence paid toward the Tod Browning’s classic and Baclanova’s cunning coldness.

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( BTW as much as I adore Frances McDormand, Lange should have walked away with the Emmy this year! I’ve rarely seen a performance that balances like a tight rope walker, the subtle choreography between gut wrenching pathos & ruthless sinister vitriol. Her rendition of Bowie’s song Life on Mars…will be a Film Score Freak feature this Halloween season! No I can’t wait… here’s a peak! it fits the mood of this post…)

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Baclanova and Earles

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“You Freaks!!!!”
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Gooba Gabba… I guess she isn’t one of us after all!

here she is as the evil Countess/duchess luring poor Gwynplain into her clutches The Man Who Laughs (1928)

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Continue reading “MonsterGirl’s Halloween 🎃 2015 special feature! the Heroines, Scream Queens & Sirens of 30s Horror Cinema!”

Postcards From Shadowland No.13

Act of Violence
Act of Violence 1948 directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Van Heflin, Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh
Chaney Hunchback
Lon Chaney in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923
Baby Jane
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? 1962 Directed by Robert Aldrich and starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford
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Bedlam 1946 directed by Mark Robson Produced by Val Lewton and starring Boris Karloff and Anna Lee
Bette Davis in Dead-Ringer
Bette Davis and Bette Davis in Dead Ringer (1964) directed by Paul Henreid and co-starring Karl Malden and Peter Lawford
Blondell and Tyrone Nightmare Alley
Joan Blondell and Tyrone Power in Nightmare Alley 1947 written by Jules Furthman for the screen and directed by Edmund Goulding
CabinInTheSky
Cabin in the Sky 1943 directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Lena Horne and Ethel Waters
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Crossfire 1947 directed by Edward Dmytryk starring the Roberts- Robert Young, Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan
Day the Earth Stood Still
The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951 directed by Robert Wise and starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe
Devil Commands
The Devil Commands 1941 directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Boris Karloff and Anne Revere written for the screen by Robert Hardy Andrews
Title: OLD DARK HOUSE, THE (1932) • Pers: STUART, GLORIA • Year: 1932 • Dir: WHALE, JAMES • Ref: OLD005AA • Credit: [ UNIVERSAL / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ]
THE OLD DARK HOUSE, THE (1932) GLORIA STUART and BORIS KARLOFF Dir: JAMES WHALE
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Dr JEKYLL AND MR HYDE 1931starring Frederick March & Miriam Hopkins and directed by Rouben Mamoulian
Farley andThey Live By Night
They Live By Night starring Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell. Directed by Nicholas Ray
Fontaine and Anderson Rebecca
Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca 1940
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Phantom of the Opera 1925 starring Lon Chaney and Mary Philbin
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Tod Brownings Freaks 1932
Gloria Odds Against Tomorrow
Gloria Grahame Odds Against Tomorrow 1959 directed by Robert Wise
Josette Day Beauty
Josette Day in Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast 1946
Judith Anderson Rebecca
Judith Anderson in Rebecca 1940
Leigh and Thaxter Act of Violence
Janet Leigh and Phyllis Thaxter in Act of Violence 1948
Louis Calhern Marlon Brando Julius Caesar 1953
Joseph L. Mankiewitz directs Louis Calhern & Marlon Brando in  Julius Caesar 1953
Ls metropolis
Fritz Langs’ Metropolis 1927
M castle's sardonicus
William Castle’s Mr Sardonicus 1961 Starring Guy Rolfe and Audrey Dalton
Maclean the children's hou
William Wyler directs Shirley McClaine in Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour 1961co-starring Audrey Hepburn and James Garner
Mary Astor and Van Heflin Act of Violence
Mary Astor and Van Heflin Act of Violence 1948
Odds Against Tomorrow Shelley Winters and Robert Ryan
Odds Against Tomorrow Shelley Winters and Robert Ryan 1959
Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird
Gregory Peck in Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird 1962 written by Harper Lee with a screenplay by Horton Foote
Robert Ryan The Set-Up
Robert Ryan in Robert Wise’s The Set-Up 1949
Sam Fuller's The Naked Kiss, Constance Towers
Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss 1964 starring Constance Towers
Samson and Delilah-Hedy Lamarr
Cecil B DeMille’s Samson and Delilah 1949 -starring Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature
Taylor and Jane Eyre
Robert Stevenson directed Bronte’s Jane Eyre 1943 starring a young Elizabeth Taylor and Peggy Ann Garner
The Children's Hour
The Children’s Hour Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine
The Haunting
Julie Harris and Claire Bloom in Robert Wise’s The Haunting 1963
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George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead 1968
Walk on the Wild Side barbara Stanwyck
Barbara Stanwyk as Jo in Walk on the Wild Side 1962 directed by Edward Dmytryk
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane Bette
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962 Bette Davis and Victor Buono

HAPPY FRIDAY THE 13th- Hope you have a truly lucky day-MonsterGirl

EDGAR G.ULMER’S: THE BLACK CAT (1934) “ARE WE BOTH NOT… THE LIVING DEAD?”

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“The phone is dead. Do you hear that, Vitus? Even the phone is dead.”

Karloff and Lugosi promo shot

THE BLACK CAT (1934)

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THE BLACK CAT (1934) U.S. (Universal) runs 65 minutes B&W, was the studio’s highest grossing picture in 1934. The film was also ranked #68 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movies. Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and written for the screen by Ulmer and Peter Ruric.
Also titled: House of Doom; The Vanishing Body (the alternative British title was used in it’s re-release in 1953 as a double bill with The Missing Head an alternative title for the “Inner Sanctum’s” offering Strange Confession.

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula
Tod Browning’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1931) starring Bela Lugosi
Boris Karloff  in Jame's Whales Frankenstein
Boris Karloff in Jame’s Whales Frankenstein 1931

With the success that Universal Studios garnered from Tod Browning’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1931 starring Hungarian born actor Bela Lugosi, and the equally sensational popularity of Mary Shelley’s adapted Frankenstein 1931 directed by James Whale starring Boris Karloff, it would seem only natural for the studio to harness the cult popularity of these two stars, creating horror vehicles to pair them together in. This is the first of the collaboration between Boris and Bela. Also both stars were equally billed in terms of their leading roles. In Lew Landers The Raven 1935, Lugosi dominated as Dr. Richard Vollin and in Lambert Hillyer’s The Invisible Ray 1936, the emphasis was more on Karloff’s complex character Dr. Janos Rukh. The Black Cat was a huge success for Universal and opened up the flood gates for seven more films featuring the collaboration of Karloff and Lugosi; Gift of Gab (1934), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), Black Friday (1940), and You’ll Find Out (1940).

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Edgar Allan Poe

Although The Black Cat 1934 claims in it’s opening credits that the film is ‘suggested’ by Edgar Allan Poe’s story from 1843 the film bares no resemblance to his short story, nor did Poe ever pen a single word about Satanism in all his volumes of the curiously macabre. The film does evoke the spirit of Poe’s fixation with morbid beauty, the preservation or perseverance of love after death, the suggestive ambiance, conflation of beauty and death and the unconscious dread of the uncanny. The architectural lines seem to also evoke the nihilistic sensibilities of Jean-Paul Sartre‘s ‘No Exit’ or a Kafka-esque fantasy of entrapment, with a mood set forth of futility and hopelessness.

Bela climbs the stairs

“Don’t pretend, Hjalmar. There was nothing spiritual in your eyes when you looked at that girl.”-Werdegast

Poelzig and his women in death

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‘the beast’ or the wickedest man in the world Aleister Crowley

Karloff’s character Poelzig is actually based on the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley. Ulmer and Ruric were inspired by an odd news story circulating in the world press shortly before the making of the film. Stranger than fiction, it seems a naive young couple who were visiting a remote home of a magician, became entangled in the occult rituals involving an unfortunate animal sacrifice, a victimized black cat named Mischette. The magician was Aleister Crowley, and the isolated location was his Abbey of Thelema in Sicily. The press got wind of this when Crowley accused one of his writer friends Nina Hamnett of libel in a London Court. Hamnett had mentioned Crowley in her 1932 autobiography Laughing Torso.

The passage that incited Crowley’s vengeful wrath was Hamnett’s description of his days at the Abbey of Thelema “He was supposed to practice Black Magic there, and one day a baby was said to have disappeared mysteriously, There was also a goat there. This all pointed to Black Magic, so people said, and the inhabitants of the village were frightened of him.” Crowley became known in the public’s perception as ‘the wickedest man in the world.” It was from this story that the seed of sensationalism gave rise to the idea for The Black Cat which emerged as a tale of savagery and horror for Ulmer.

So, in actuality the title has nothing to do with Poe’s short story at all, as it merely alludes to Dr.Vitus Werdegast’s (Lugosi) all-consuming fear and dread of cats. A more faithful adaption would be The Living Dead (1934) directed by Thomas Bentley, and Tales of Terror (1962). The Black Cat (1941) starring Basil Rathbone was more of an old dark house mystery.

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Roger Corman directs Peter Lorre in Tales of Terror 1962

This mysterious and decadent tale was directed by Austrian born Auteur Edgar G.Ulmer’s who was part of the vast succession of émigrés of high-art who came to America, Ulmer passed away in 1972.

It is one of the darkest films of the 30s.The Black Cat is an effusive, atmospheric and brutal masterpiece of decadent horror among some of Ulmer’s other interesting contributions (People on Sunday 1930, Bluebeard 1944, film noir classic Detour 1945, and the wonderfully lyrical science fiction fantasy The Man From Planet X 1951).

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Influenced by the German Expressionist movement, the film lays out a sinister territory, strange and foreboding, unsavory and dangerous, clandestine and provocative. Ulmer worked for Fritz Lang in the early days living in Germany involved on films including Metropolis (1927) and M (1931). He also worked with F.W. Murnau on Sunrise (1927) Ulmer also worked with Max Reinhardt, Ernst Lubitsch in the 20s and Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnermann and cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan,who was responsible for Metropolis’ miniature sky-scapes and vast edifices.

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On the set of The Black Cat
Boris and Bela in Edgar Ulmers The Black Cat
Boris and Bela on the set of Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat

The Black Cat is considered to be Ulmer’s best film, though his career did start to maneuver it’s way downward into poverty row’s fabulous cinematic gutter toiling in low budget features, after beginning an affair with a script girl named Shirley Castle Alexander who was married at the time to one of Carl Laemmle’s favorite nephews. At the time Laemmle was head of Universal Studios, and so Ulmer was essentially blackballed by the mogul from Hollywood. Another factor might have been Ulmer’s unwillingness to sacrifice aesthetic sensibilities over commercial profits.

Ulmer and Shirley got married and wound up moving to New York City spending many of his years working on low-budget films. He began this part of his career by making bargain-basement westerns under the pseudonym John Warner directing a series of cheap ethnic-market movies incorporating groups like Ukrainian,Yiddish and African Americans, before he moved onto the more stylish low budget thrillers.

Edgar Ulmer in the directors seat

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Edgar G. Ulmer

The Strange Woman poster

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By the 1940s Ulmer wound up back in Hollywood but had already resigned himself to making poverty row productions. All of which I find thoroughly enjoyable, such as his Bluebeard (1944) starring the ubiquitous John Carradine, Strange Illusion (1945) and film noir cult classic Detour (1945) starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage who’s battered and desolate characters actually fit the noir cannon with an authentic realism despite the anemic budget. I also love The Strange Woman (1946) and another great film noir  Ruthless (1948) with Zachary Scott.

Ulmer still remained a very productive director with PRC, even if it was one of Hollywood’s bastard children. Studio head Leon Fromkess never gave Ulmer enough money to fund his pictures, Ulmer wanted to produce high art films and first class effects as his origin had come from a place where he was such a ”visual artist as well as a filmmaker. The one good by-product of the deal was that it gave him creative license to run with what ever vision he had for a working project of his.

Boris and Bela on the staircase

Director Ulmer also doubled as set designer on The Black Cat to create a work of visual stateliness, beautifully stylish and elaborate with its collection of modernist set pieces, working with the art direction and set design of Charles D. Hall and cinematographer John J. Mescall’s (The Bride of Frankenstein) vision of the striking, uniquely cold and Futuristic Modern Gothic art deco ‘castle fortress’ and it’s interior shots creating the arresting landscape of luxury belonging to the enigmatic Poelzig’s (Karloff) inner-sanctum.

The eclectically sharp and angular camerawork establishes a stylish Machine Age imagery and eerie symmetrical aestheticism. Mescall’s camerawork creates a very non-Hollywood and non-stereotypical horror film, filled with a sense of melancholy responsiveness from the heavily influenced authentic Eastern European films of the period. There’s also a quality of cinematic eroticism with Mescall’s use of muting the focus within the shot to create an added emphasis on suggestive sexuality, as the camera dances through various scenes.

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Boris High Priest

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Poelzig down the spiral stairs

The stark use of light and shadow, the well defined contrast of light and dark with it’s cold black spaces and diffuse whites constructing margins that pay homage to the expressionistic lighting used by German Expressionists film makers of the 1920s and early 30s. The atmosphere is oppressive as well as claustrophobic with an added air of perversity that effervesces within the elegant framework.

Ulmer co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Ruric (who used the pseudonym Paul Cain for his hard edged detective novelettes for pulp magazines, with screenplays such asGrand Central Murder 1942 and Mademoiselle Fifi 1944). Their script for The Black Cat deals with a deadly game of chess, ailurophobia (fear of cats) rather taboo and provocative subjects such as war crimes, ‘Satan Worship’, human sacrifice, being flayed alive, drug addiction and the underlying perverse fetishism of necrophilia.

Heinz Roemheld’s blustering classical score, with the pervasive use of work from classical composers, all set the stage for a mélange of sadism, decadence, erotic symbolism, torture and hedonist themes of pleasure pain and death. The underscoring of this deliberate use of slow, solemn and imposing classical music emphasizes the atmosphere of entrapment and hopelessness.

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Boris Karloff as the imposing Hjalmar Poelzig

Karloff’s character, Hjalmar Poelzig’s morbid and unwholesome preservation of his deceased wife whom he stole from Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), having manipulated Werdegast’s wife into marrying him telling her that her husband died in the war, ultimately murdering her and then forcibly marrying Werdegast’s daughter is all very salacious material. Werdegast’s wife’s body is kept in a state of suspended animation like a sleeping doll which is visually shocking and gruesome. He tells Werdegast that his daughter too is deceased but in actuality she is Poelzig’s new young bride. a drugged sexual slave. The film possesses so many strange and disturbing elements. The allusion to incest, sacrificial orgies and the heightened presence of music drawing heavily from Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B and Schumann’s Quintet in E Flat Major, op.44, Tschaikowsky and most notably for me, Beethoven’s movement no.7, a personal favorite of mine.

The film was made just prior to the strictly enforced production guidelines of The Hayes Commission that policed all the sin and immorality on the silver screen. Allegedly there were various edits to the production that Universal insisted upon, but the film still bares a very deviant and erotically depraved tenor to the narrative’s mise en scéne.

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When Universal executives both Carl Laemmle Jr and Sr. screened the film they were horrified by Ulmer’s rough cut, they insisted that he edit the film and so they hacked it up and toned it down. And actually Bela Lugosi himself was unsettled at the thought of his protagonist showing lusty desires for the very young American girl Joan. Ulmer reluctantly went back and edited some of the harsher scenes out, including the infamous ‘skinning’ sequence, A comparison to the original script from the final version shows that many of the most disturbing elements, including a more unabashed orgy at the black mass, were quickly snipped away and scenes which were more violent and containing more suggestive elements were exorcized like the devil.

But in a subtle victory of wile, Ulmer added a few more scenes showing Karloff taking Lugosi through his historical dungeon artifacts of the encased suspended beautiful women in glass, the posed dead bodies in perpetual lifelike form as if by taxidermy, collecting them as his fetish, the idea of possessing them eternally as an ‘object’ in a state of death, the theme of necrophilia must have slipped by the Laemmles.

Women in glass cases

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Poelzig’s women in glass cases preserved. The imagery is reminiscent of Poe’s fixation with death and beauty, and the conflation of the two

The subject of contemporary Satanism had only been dealt with on the screen once before by Lugosi in his supporting role in the long forgotten and believed to be lost The Devil Worshipper (1920 German) Die Teufelsanbete.

Universal’s marketing department downplayed the aspect of Satanism in the picture, nervous that the idea of devil worship might not be acceptable to the public theater goer as entertainment. So in actuality the original version must have really pushed the boundaries farther and been even more sinister. British censors found the film so offensive and unacceptable that the British print of the film, entitled House of Doom replaces any reference to black magic, using less disturbing references to ‘sun worshipper’, (silly) which essentially obliterates the entire transgressive significance and it’s impact.

Carl Laemmle had given Ulmer a free reign on the story’s content, but kept a close eye on the director in other respects. Ulmer had not been given the larger budgets that either Dracula or Frankenstein had been endowed with. He was also given a very short span of time to shoot the film, a mere fifteen days. This did not deter or side track Ulmer at all who was used to working with small budgets, and knew how to construct a film that looks as elegant as any largely budgeted project. He began imagining the story, scrapping many scripts that Universal had been collecting. Any pretext associating the picture with Poe’s short story was cast to the wind. And so he created an entirely new vision. At the core, the film works thematically as a revenge piece. But of course there is so much more bewitching the film’s narrative.

Gustav Meyrink novelist The Golem Prague Jew
Prague Jew Gustav Meyrink novelist The Golem
The Golem
Paul Wegener in the adaptation of Czech writer Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem

In the 1960s Peter Bogdanovich interviewed Ulmer in ‘The Devil Made Me Do It‘ who recalled another theme that influenced The Black Cat. He had been in Prague… and met novelist Gustav Meyrink the man who wrote The Golem as a novel. Like Kafka, Mayrink was a Prague jew who was tied up with the mysticism of the Talmud. They had a lot of discussions, contemplating a play based upon the Fortress Doumont which was a French fortress the Germans had destroyed with their shelling during World War I. There were some survivors who didn’t come out for years. The commander who ultimately went insane three years later was brought back to Paris, driven mad because he had literally walked on a mountain of bodies and bones. “The commander was a strange Euripides figure.Ulmer told Bogdanovich. (Euripides being an archetypal figure as a representational mythical hero, an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances. Also Euripides voluntarily exiled himself, rather than be executed like his colleague Socrates who was put to death for his perceived dangerously intellectual influence.)

Much of the ambiance of this historic incident is reflected in Bela Lugosi’s dialogue in The Black Cat.

Werdegast-"I can still sense death in the air"…
Vitus Werdegast– “I can still sense death in the air.”

“And that hill yonder, where Engineer Poelzig now lives, was the site of Fort Marmorus. He built his home on it’s very foundations. Marmorus, the greatest graveyard in the world.” – Vitus Werdegast

Within The Black Cat is there an aesthetic tension between Expressionist Caligarism and The New Objectivity movement or Neue Sachlichkeit, which begin in Habsburg Central Europe at the dawn of the Nazi era? The New Objectivity espoused a new attitude of public life in Weimar Germany with it’s art, literature, music and architecture created to adapt to the changing mood of the culture. It was characterized by a practical engagement with the world, which was regarded by Germans to be an inherently American style or the cult of objectivity, functionalism, usefulness, essentially- Americanism. While the film injects a modern wholesome American couple into the plot, they are mired down in the decaying ghosts of the past atrocities and sins perpetrated not only on the land, but by presence of the vengeful and malignant atmosphere. An atmosphere represented within the framework of a very Caligarian milieu. This creates a friction or contrast by injecting the fresh American presence into the plot, surrounding them within an environment of an arcane and non-naturalist landscape.

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The Expressionist Caligarism was started by director Robert Wiene who’s surreal masterpiece Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or Das Cabinett des Dr. Caligari will always be remembered as the iconic ultra-expressionist watershed moment of the genre. ‘Caligarism’ Painters turned set designers Walter Röhring and Walter Reimann were responsible for the brilliant expressionist style which influenced other films with both the ornamental patterns transfixed in the dysmorphic repertoire of shapes and configurations that permeated the set designs for 20s science fiction films like Andrew Andrejew’s AELITA – Queen of Mars 1924.

Aelita Queen of Mars
AELITA- Queen of Mars 1924

The use of the color black or more accurately, the absence of light, can also been seen as part of the symbolism in The Black Cat: We are the voyeurs to this claustrophobic madness, as spectators we see the horror as highlighted by the stark blackness of the clothes, the black trees which are filmed in silhouette against a blackened sky. Poelzig is often silhouetted in distinctive blackness. This use of the color black or again more accurately in lighting it with the absence of any color or ‘light’, is used thematically as a way of installing a sadistic marker of the imagery.

expressionist black Poelzig

Cast of Characters:

  • Boris Karloff is Hjalmar Poelzig
  • Bela Lugosi is Dr. Vitus Werdegast
  • David Manners is Peter Alison
  • Julie Bishop is Joan Alison (as Jacqueline Wells)
  • Egon Brecher is The Majordomo to Poelzig
  • Harry Cording is Thamal Werdegast’s faithful servant
  • Lucille Lund is Karen Werdegast
  • Henry Armetta is Police Sergeant
  • Albert Conti is Police Lieutenant
  • John Carradine plays the Organist (uncredited)

Boris Karloff plays Haljmar Poelzig who is perhaps one of his most impressively darker characterizations. His all black attire, strangely androgynous hair style, and exaggerated use of make-up accentuates his features giving him the appearance of extreme and austere wickedness. Karloff’s eyebrows arch, his eyes flare and the use of his black lipstick make him almost deathly. Jack Pierce (The Man Who Laughs 1928, Dracula 1931,Frankenstein 1931 White Zombie 1932, The Mummy 1932 Bride of Frankenstein 1935 ) was responsible for the subtle yet dramatic make-up.

Karloff’s voice, his wonderfully lilting voice is typically modulated within the drift of his dialogue. He is remarkable as the incarnation of profane evil, with his icy cold reserve and detachment from the world.

Both protagonists are enigmatic, Karloff’s Poelzig’s utter malevolence and Lugosi’s hero Dr. Vitus Werdegast who is sympathetic yet also damaged, callous and obsessed by his lust for revenge, make both these disparate figures, magnetic archetypes that are equally compelling.

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Boris and Bela in a high stakes chess match, a game of death

The film takes place in Hungary, starting out with scurrying masses boarding the grandeur of the Orient Express. The Allison’s are on their way to Budapest,Visegrad for their honeymoon. American Newlyweds Peter a mystery writer and his new bride Joan Allison board the opulent train. David Manners who plays spare hero Peter Allison had portrayed Jonathan Harker in 1931’s Dracula opposite Lugosi, and again appeared as the leading man with Karloff in The Mummy 1932. Jacqueline Wells plays Joan. At first the young love birds have their compartment all to themselves until Dr. Vitus Werdegast, psychiatrist and veteran of World War I, a captive who has just been released from a prisoner of war camp after 15 years imprisonment, (Ulmer himself was a refugee of Hitler) enters the compartment due to a mix up needing a place to sleep. He tells the young couple that he is on his way to visit an ‘old friend.’

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Vitus Werdegast -“So you are going to Visegrad”
Peter Allison- “Yes to (sounds like) Gaermbish by bus.”
Vitus Werdegast– “Gaermbish is very beautiful, I too am going very near there.”
Peter Allison– “for sport?”
Vitus Werdegast (raising his eyebrows, looking down and speaking more to himself) perhaps… I go to visit an ‘old friend'” (spoken with a dark unpinning of hatred)

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While Joan and Peter fall asleep the gentle yet peculiar Werdegast becomes fixated on her, stroking her hair while her husband Peter who is now awake watches silently for a moment. Werdegast explains that his wife and daughter were left behind when he was sent away to prison.

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Vitus Werdegast- “I beg your indulgence my friend. Eighteen years ago I left a girl, so like your lovely wife… To go to war. Kaiser and country you know… (serious look, deeper inflection) She was my wife. Have you ever heard of Kurgaal? (Peter quietly nods ‘no’) It is a prison below Amsk. Many men have gone there… Few have returned. (taking in a deep breath) I have returned. After fifteen years… I have returned.”

Out in the rain let's share a ride

On their way

Bus Crash

Joan injured in crash

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When the honeymooners get off the train, it is pouring rain… they agree to share a bus ride with Werdegast , but there is a storm and the desolate rain soaked roads are treacherous, causing the bus to crash. The bus driver dies, and Joan is injured in the wreck. Needing to seek shelter Dr. Werdegast recommends that they join him at his friend’s home, the Castle Poelzig, so he can take care of the young bride.Werdegast treats Joan’s injury, injecting her with a powerful hallucinogen called hyoscine.

The name Poelzig is an homage to Hans Poelzig set designer/architect of the 1920s who’s version of Der Golem was stunning. Real life Poelzig was responsible for the astonishing Prague set that underpinned the mythic mood of The Golem.

In Hans Poelzig’s own words, “The effect of architecture is magical.” And he meant that literally as he believed that every building was a living thing, had it’s own musical rhythm and a mystical sound that could be ‘heard’ by the those who were initiated into the world of magic. Though a very private man it was known that Poelzig dabbled in magical arts, holding spiritualist seances with his wife at their home and using their daughter as a medium.

According to Poelzig’s biographer, Theodor Heuss, his library was “filled with the works of mystics, the occult sciences and astrology”  he was in the pursuit of the mysteries of eternal forms that he erected and revered through his sacred work constructing his grand style architectural designs as his ‘magic’ medium. Poelzig also found cinema to be an environment for his magical sensibilities, jotting in his notebook “Film… the magic of form-the form of magic… Devil’s Mass…” 

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Architect Engineer Hans Poelzig who indulged in the magical arts and believed that buildings had a soul…

Poelzig intrigued a lot of people with his mysterious persona. Director Max Reinhardt hired Engineer Hans Poelzig to build sets for his theatrical stages. Ulmer was one of the architect’s junior assistants who later worked on the set of The Golem as a silhouette cutter for Paul Wegeners monumental production. Ulmer had studied architecture in Vienna and so carried that knowledge with him which sheds light on his sense of set design.

Hans Poelzig had a grand imagination, a creative fortitude and a host of eccentricities, one of which was to be at times a very overpowering presence and domineering personality.

Architect Engineer Hans Poelzig

This left an impression on Ulmer, who took those memories from Germany to Hollywood and created a cinematic resurrection of designer Hans Poelzig’s persona in the image of Karloff’s shadowy devil worshiper Hjalmar Poelzig, creating the shades, shadows and the template for Ulmer’s mystical engineer sadist of The Black Cat’s.

F.W. Murnau’s Faust 1926 too, definitely bears it’s influence on Ulmer who worked as a crew member on the film. Faust, in terms of cinema of the Satanic, was a major studio production who’s main protagonist was the Devil and who was a complex character, and not merely a vehicle for a simple horror themed picture, it sprung from a confluence of intellectualism and metaphysical ponderings.

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Murnau’s Faust (1926)

DEVILS OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION IN CLASSICAL FILM

Stefan Eggeler-illustrations for Gustav Meyrink-Walpurgisnacht-(1922)
Stefan Eggeler-illustrations for Gustav Meyrink-Walpurgisnacht-(1922)
Dante's Inferno
Dante’s Inferno

The Black Cat does seem to be one of the earliest illustrations of the Satantic cult film. While the era of Silent Film had a slew of films that dealt with the devil and black magic, (Dante’s Inferno 1911,The Student of Prague 1913, Henrik Galeen’s The Golem 1914 Thomas Edison’s The Magic Skin 1915, The Black Crook 1916, The Devil’s Toy 1916,The Devil’s Bondswoman 1916, Conscience 1917, Murnau’s Satanas 1919, Der Golem 1920,The Devil Worshipper 1920, Dreyer’s Leaves of Satan’s Book 1920, and 1921’s Häxan, Nosferatu 1922. The Sorrows of Satan 1926 and  F.W. Murnau’s Faust 1926 ) After the economic crash of 1929 these very recognized landmark films seem to disappear.The 30s had The Black Cat 1934 and The Student of Prague (1935), both these films might be the protracted essence of the Satanic Expressionism of 20s German cinema.

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Dante’s Inferno 1911
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Director F.W. Murnau’s expressionist extravaganza Faust 1926

The ‘devil worship’ film or ‘Satanic’ cinema evokes our primal fears, paranoia and unconscious dread that is implicit toward the ‘Other’ As was in Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s brilliant portrayal of this very paranoia. Satanic films trigger our fears of the intrusion of an outsider who infiltrates society, or rather the comfortability of our moral landscape. It also sign posts our secret pleasures which are derivative or surrogate as catharsis by way of the horrors of satanic power. In the 40s the few offerings were, William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941, Maurice Tourneur’s Carnival of Sinners (1943) and Mark Robson/Val Lewton’s literate and intensely woven The Seventh Victim (1943) and Thorold Dickinson’s imaginative masterpiece The Queen of Spades 1949.

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director William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)
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The 7th Victim (1943) a shadow play about a devil cult by Val Lewton
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Thorold Dickinson’s story about a pact with the devil  The Queen of Spades 1949

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Black Cat Lobby Card

While Universal had successes with both Dracula and Frankenstein, The Black Cat is a more intensely layered film with it’s hidden and not so implicit meanings. It has a depth that explores the undercurrent of the 1920s aestheticism and fascination with magic. There are heterogeneous elements that run through both compelling performances by Karloff and Lugosi’s characterizations.

Manning, Karloff and Bela

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Poelzig enters Peters room

"Next time I go to Niagra Falls"
“Next time I go to Niagra Falls”

karloff and lugosi at the desk

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Werdegast “You sold Marmorus to the Russians… scurried away in the night and left us to die. Is it to be wondered at, that you should choose this place to be your house. A masterpiece of construction built upon the ruins of the masterpiece of destruction… the masterpiece of murder. (he laughs) the murderer of ten thousand men returns to the place of his crime. Those who died were fortunate. I was taken a prisoner to Kurgaal, Kurgaal, where the soul is killed… slowly. Fifteen years I rotted in the darkness. Waited… not to kill you, to kill your soul… slowly. Where is my wife Karen and my daughter?!!!!”

Poelzig“Karen? Why what do you mean?”

Werdegast“I mean you told Karen I had been killed, I found out that much in Budapest. I mean you always wanted her in the days at Salzberg before the war, always, from the first time you saw her. I mean that after you saved your own hide and left us all to die in Marmorus, you took Karen and induced her to go to America with you. I traced the two of you there. And to Spain and to South America and finally here. Where is she?”

The film is also powerful in it’s evoking of the horrors of World War I, which was still a very haunting specter in the public psyche. Most Universal films offered escapism, in contrast The Black Cat confronts the viewer with a bit of historic retelling of the nightmares of war, more penetrating than the usual concocted monsters the studio was proffering.

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“Where is she?”
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Poelzig- “Vitus.. you are mad”
Poelzig “She died two years after the war”
Vitus Werdegast -“How?”
Poelzig “Of pneumonia, she was never really very strong you know.”
Vitus Werdegast- “(crying) And the child… our daughter?”
Poelzig “Dead…”

Karloff’s aloof and restrained malevolence guided by the subtle intonations of his melodious voice tethered to Lugosi’s sympathetic and often poignant performance as the broken Vitus Werdegast, in particular the scene when he first sees his dead wife Karen exhibited as if in a museum, suspended in death, evoking authentic tears, Why is she like this?” All set to the maudlin Ludwig Van Beethoven’s ‘Symphony no. 7: Second Movement.’

Beethovin’s symphony no. 7 often used in films and a most powerfully contemplative piece underscores Karloff’s soliloquy as the camera glides through the dark and dank dungeon of Marmorus taking us on a tour of the decaying deathly oxygen of the place.

Poelzig leads Werdegast through the subterranean enclosures of Marmorus. It is here that Werdegast sees his wife who had died two years after he was in prison, and that his Karen (Lucille Lund) is now encased in glass.

Poelzig reveals the perfectly preserved body of his wife in necrophilic stasis, that he’s encased in glass like an immoral specimen of his unholy fetishism. This might be the only other reference to Poe and his morbid preoccupation with beauty in death. He reveals the dead body of ‘their’ beautifully angelic wife, encased in her crypt like glass vessel. Poelzig lies to Werdegast telling him that his daughter is also dead.

Werdegast is devastated and demands retribution but Poelzig insists that fate must wait until the ‘outsiders’ are gone. Of course Poelzig intends to kill the Americans, sacrificing Joan, but forces Werdegast to play a diabolical game of chess the outcome for which the lives of the young couple hinges upon. Werdegast loses and Joan is then taken to another room to await Poelzig, as she is to be his next sacrifice at the black mass ritual during the dark of the moon, in his Bauhaus ceremonial inner sanctum of worship, his sepulcher of debauchery, his sadistic sanctuary, the archaic shrine to the devil.

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“Very well Vitus I’ll shall take you to her”
Being led to the bowels
The camera focuses on the darkened spiral staircase heading downward toward the dungeon and then again as Poelzig and Werdegast ascend from the subterranean nightmare.

Taken to the bowels

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Poelzig “Come… Vitus… come are we men or are we children? Of what use are all these melodramatic gestures. You say your soul was killed, that you have been dead all these years. And what of me… did we not both die here in Marmorus fifteen years ago ?… Are we any the less victims of the war than those whose bodies were torn asunder. Are we not both, the living dead? For now you come to me playing at being the avenging angel… childishly thirsting for blood. We understand each other too well. We know too much of life. We shall play a little game Vitus. A game of death if you like. But under any circumstances, you shall have to wait until these people are gone. Until we are alone.”

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Werdegast, Poelzig and the Karen under glass

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“You will find her almost as beautiful as when you last saw her… Do you see Vitus I have cared for her tenderly and well.” Is she not BEAUTIFUL… “
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“I wanted to have her beauty always”-

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“Why’s she… why’s she like this…?”- 

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Poelzig has finished his nihilistic sermon. The camera as spectator angles back on the two men walking slowly again. What ever remained of the man, Vitus Werdegast has now been annihilated.

The essence of which makes the film as disturbing and queasy as any in this contemporary age of violent horror films. Ulmer convinced Laemmle Jr to let him make a film in the European Caligari style, surreal, post modern and artistic. The one condition was that he use Poe’s title for the picture. The story line is hallucinatory, dream like and nightmarish, framed within the architecture of a set that becomes part of the character of the plot. Poelzig it is revealed is the High Priest of a Satanic Cult, there is a scene where we catch sight of him reading a book entitled The Rites of Lucifer, which promotes the customary sacrifice of virgin blood while Werdegast’s beautiful blonde daughter Karen believed to be dead, sleeps next to him most likely kept in a drug induced cataleptic state, to maintain her appearance of a morbid deathly slumber in order to feed Poelzig’s penchant for conflating sexuality with death.

Poelzig and Karen bedroom scene

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The dark of the moon, tis tonight
“The dark of the moon, tis tonight”

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Hjalmar Poelzig owner, engineer and designer of the castle is an intense and eccentric man who’s castle rests upon the bloody ruins and remains of Fortress Marmorus and the slew of graves where the dead betrayed soldiers, victims of his treason during World War I are buried. Poelzig is as removed from his treacherous past as is his Modern castle which denies it’s bloody legacy.

Werdegast accuses Poelzig of betraying the Hungarians to the Russians, while he was the commanding officer of the Fort during the war. Telling him that he was responsible for leaving him and the other soldiers to die or be captured. He also believes that Poelzig stole his wife and child when he was sent to prison, and that they must still be in the fortress somewhere. Poelzig has a room secretly hidden especially for his satanic black masses. As the conflict unfolds, the young couple become the unwitting hostages of these two men.

One of these men is an unorthodox heretic who is consumed with power, death, sublimation and perverse sensuality. The other is blinded by revenge and hatred for the man who destroyed his life. He also has an all consuming fear of cats, and early on in the film kills Poelzig’s black cat, although Poelzig is seen carrying around a black cat with him while he glides around his house as he revisits the women he has encased in glass.

We are first introduced to Poelzig as he is laying on a bed with his young wife Karen, a quite provocative image by 1934 Hollywood standards. The vision is sterile and hypothermic, surrounded by glass, chrome and steel. As the camera moves into Poelzig’s bedroom lair, we see him as he rises up from a prone position emerging in silhouette like a wraith.

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Once Joan enters the castle Poelzig is drawn to her, as she is young and attractive possibly baring a resemblance to his dead wife. As the narrative progresses, it becomes even more strange and uncanny, as Poelzig’s dead wife is revealed to have been married to Werdegast, who believed he died during the battle of Marmorus. She marries Poelzig but he murders her soon afterwards, raising their daughter and then in an imbroglio of incestuous lust, marries the ethereal young girl, it’s so creepy and blasphemous.

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“Please child, listen to me we’re all in danger, Poelzig is a mad beast I know”
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“I know… I’ve seen the proof-‘He took Karen my wife murdered her and murdered my child”

Werdegast tells Joan “Did you ever hear of Satanism, the worship of the devil of evil? Herr Poelzig is the great modern priest of the ancient cult. And tonight at the dark of the moon, the rites of Lucifer are recited. And if I’m not mistaken, he intends you to play a part in that ritual. a very important part. There child, be brave, no matter how hopeless it seems. Be brave it is your only chance.”

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the grand staircase Poelzig, Werdegast walk

Vitus,Hjlmar and Servant

Game of Death

Game of Death- Karloff and Lugosi match wits with a game of chess in order to decide our heroine's fate

Vitus loses at chess

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“‘I’m Karen… Madam Poelzig”
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“Karen do you understand me, your father has come for you”

Peter and Joan in danger

Peter Allison behind the bars

Joan is won in the game of death chess

Cult group Karloff ascends the stairs

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When Poelzig wins the chess game, Peter Allison is chained up and locked away in the dungeon below. Werdegast is spiraling into madness now and has his loyal servant Thamal merely pretend to be loyal to Poelzig in order to help his true master Werdegast. Joan meets Werdegast’s daughter Karen who wanders into her room like a lithe spirit. She introduces herself as Madam Poelzig. Joan tells her that her father is actually alive and in the castle waiting to rescue her. When Poelzig finds out he brutally kills Karen and leads Werdegast to find her body in order to torture him further.

Poelzig’s ascends the grand staircase as his cult guests begin to gather around him. the image is pictorial and impressive. as they ready themselves for the Satanic ritual. The soulless expressions on their faces is quite chilling.

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Poelzig begins his intonations to the dark master as Joan is led towards the alter.

Karloff improvises giving a compelling invocation to Satan yet actually consisting of a few harmless latin non- sequesters, phrases he used from his college latin, like Vino Veritas which basically means ‘In wine there is truth’. Cave Canum, ‘Beware of the dog’ and Cum grano salis which is ‘With a grain of salt.’

Werdegast and his servant Thamal (Harry Cording) stop the ceremony, interrupting the sacrifice and eventually avenge his wife’s death and the plundering and despoiling of his beautiful daughter. They rush Joan away from the ceremony and hide her from Poelzig.

Saving Joan

Vitus and Joan at the sacrifice

This is when Joan tells him that his daughter is quite alive and now been forced to marry Poelzig. Joan’s screams alert Peter who can not enter the barred room. He thinks Werdegast is assaulting her when he is trying to help her find the key to the door and so Peter shoots him, but he lets them escape.

Thamal has been wounded by Poelzig’s servant but rushes to help his master. The two men strap Poelzig to his Art Deco inspired contraption, embalming rack that looks like an angular cruciform, while Werdegast rips away Poelzig’s shirt, grabbing a scalpel he begins to skin his adversary alive.

Joan at the end

Joan on the floor after escape

peter gets the drop on poelzig's servant

Vitus discovers his daughter Karen dead

Vitus dead Karen

Karloff and Lugosi hand fight 2

Karloff and Lugosi hand fight

Strapping Poelzig to the Flaying cross

Flayed Alive 1

Flayed Alive 2

Flayed Alive

Flaying again

Flaying Karloff's face close up

Flaying Karloff Bela close up

Bela's revenge final

I’ll leave it here. It’s enough that you’ve seen Poelzig flayed alive. The film deserves a fresh re-viewing. I hope you’ve enjoyed my little overview of this striking masterpiece of Gothic horror featuring two of the most iconic genre stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Please let me know what you think, and please… be kind to black cats…

Your Black Cat loving MonsterGirl