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

Hyper-Masculinity/Hidden Frailty: The Robert Ryan Aesthetic in Film Noir

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Robert Ryan’s death July 11, 1973 with a special nod to Karen & The Dark Pages for their spectacular tribute to this incredibly real man!

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“Ryan was unfailingly powerful, investing his tormented characters with a brooding intensity that suggests coiled depth. Cut off from the world by the strength of their ‘feelings’ his characters seem to be in the grip of torrential inner forces. They are true loners. Ryan’s work has none of the masked, stylized aura of much noir acting. He performs with emotional fullness that creates substantial, complex characters rather than icons.”Foster Hirsch-FILM NOIR: The Darker Side of the Screen

Clearly Robert Ryan’s infinite presence in film and his numerous complex characters manifest an embracing universal ‘internal conflict’ of masculinity. I tribute certain roles the actor inhabited during his striking career. Though he was cast more often in the part as the imposing heavy, the depth and breadth of Ryan’s skill with his rough-hewn good looks should have landed him more roles as a lead male capable of such penetrating levels of emotion. He had a depth that suggests a scarcely hidden intensity smoldering at the surface.

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Robert Ryan as Montgomery in Edward Dmytryk’s Crossfire 1947
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Robert Ryan in Act of Violence ’48

A critic for the New York Times reviewing Act of Violence (1948) wrote about Robert Ryan’s persona as the madly driven veteran bent on revenge, Joe Parkson calling him “infernally taut.”

Frank Krutnik discusses ‘Masculinity and it’s discontents’ in his book In A Lonely Street, “In order to make the representation of masculinity in the noir thriller, there follows a schematic run-through of Freudian work on the determination of masculine identity.” Claiming Freud’s work can be co-opted into film with an emphasis of it’s relevance to analysis of the cultural machinery of patriarchy.” He discusses patriarchal culture which relies heavily on the maintenance of a gender-structured ‘disequilibrium’ with it’s roots in the myth of the Oedipal Complex. Involving not only the power-based hierarchy of male service to masculine power but the established normative gender values which inform both the male and female figure.

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Act of Violence Robert Ryan as Joe Parkson co-starring Janet Leigh

Many of the characters in Ryan’s noir world are informed by a cultural ‘determinacy of the phallus’ that authorizes toughness and strips the limits of desire as an obligation to masculine identity. Patriarchal power structure predetermines a fixed and limited role that creates a destiny of submission and impotence in Ryan’s characters. But within the framework of these extreme male figures lies an intricate conflict of varying degrees of vulnerability and fragility.

Ryan manifests this duality within hyper-masculine characters. Outwardly physical, confrontational, and hostile, Ryan is a master at playing men who suffer from alienation and inferiority surrounding their own ‘maleness’ and self-worth. He was never just a dark noir brute or anti-hero but a complex man actualized through layers of powerful dramatic interpretation. His performances suggest a friction of subjugated masculinity bubbling within.

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Ryan as Earl Pfeiffer and Barbara Stanwyck in Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night

The trajectory of the male through the Oedipus Complex encompasses the male subjectivity which is a principle issue in the noir ‘tough-thriller.’ The ‘existential thematic’ link to the Oedipus myth concerns questions of male desire and identity as they relate to the overarching law of existing patriarchal culture substituted for the original fearsome ‘divinity.’ This element is one of the driving psychological themes underlying in any good classic film noir.

In this post I put my focus primarily on Ryan’s characters within the framework of each film and while I discuss the relationship between him and the central players I do not go as in depth as I usually do discussing his co-stars or plot design.

I apply this thematic representation to much of the roles engendered in the films of Robert Ryans‘ that I’ve chosen to discuss here. A patriarchal power structure establishes the tragedy of man’s destiny, a fixed and limited role in the character’s own destiny as there is a predominant power that threatens them into submission and sheds light on their own impotence. So many of the noir characters in a Robert Ryan noir world are shaped by a cultural authority structured through ‘determinacy of the phallus’ that authorizes toughness in the male identity that strips away the limits of desire, as an obligation to ‘masculine identity.’

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Ryan’s stoic boxer Stoker in Robert Wise’s The Set Up

I’m focusing on particular Ryan’s roles within a noir context that depict archetypal hyper-masculine tropes and the problematic strife within those characters. Whether Ryan is playing the deeply flawed hero or the tormented noir misfit, his characters are afflicted with an inherent duality of virility and vulnerability, an inner turmoil, alienation, persecution and masochism. It’s a territorial burden that Robert Ryan so effortlessly explores.

These films show Ryan’s trajectory through forces of menacing restraint and poignant self-expression. Within a noir landscape, the schism of stark virility and tenuous masculinity exposes the complexity of alienation, masochism and frailty. Robert Ryan’s performances are a uniquely fierce and formidable power.

I’m discussing: The Woman On the Beach (1947) haunted & emasculated coastguardsman Lt. Scott Burnett, Caught (1949) neurotic millionaire Smith Ohlrig, The Set- Up (1949) noble over- the-hill boxer Bill ‘Stoker’ Thompson, Born To Be Bad (1950) misanthropic & masochistic novelist Nick Bradley, Clash by Night (1952) cynical misogynist projectionist Earl Pfeiffer, Beware, My Lovely (1952) morose psychotic vagrant handyman Howard Wilton,On Dangerous Ground (1952) unstable, alienated violent cop Jim Wilson, Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) racist persecuted ex-con Earle Slater.

Within the framework of these ‘extreme’ male figures lies an intricate conflict with varying degrees of vulnerability & fragility within the male psyche. The narratives don’t necessarily flesh out this conflict plainly, but Ryan’s performances certainly suggest and inform us about the friction of this subjugated theme bubbling to the surface as he manifests the duality within his hyper-masculine characters. Robert Ryan was a master at playing men who suffer from alienation and inferiority surrounding their own ‘maleness’ and self-worth.

Robert Ryan

Ryan is never just a dark noir ‘brute’ or anti-hero but moreover a complex male who is actualized through layers of powerful dramatic interpretation. A complexity of stark virility and ‘tenuous maleness’ as the narrative witnesses Ryan’s trajectory transforming him through various dynamic forces of menacing restraint and poignant self-expression. Outwardly physical, confrontational, hostile and ultimately masculine, and the schism that is inwardly emotional, alienated, self deprecating, masochistic and fragile within the film noir landscape. Robert Ryan’s performances still maintain a uniquely fierce and formidable aesthetic of the ‘suffering-marginalized man.’

Continue reading “Hyper-Masculinity/Hidden Frailty: The Robert Ryan Aesthetic in Film Noir”

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. It also represents a cultural aesthetic that was emblematic of WW1.

Ulmers The Black Cat is melancholy poetry that articulates its substance within a half-light dream world. There are overcast clouds of menace, with modern Gothic gloom and impenetrable dark spaces. A wasteland of lost hope, it is a land of the dead.

Karloff is driven by his profane lust and twisted faith and and Bela is a ghost of man n a deadly excursion into vengeful rage.

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.

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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
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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.

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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

In a premonitory monologue the driver had spoke of ancient malevolence in Marmorus during the years of the war. “the ravine down there was piled twelve-deep with dead and wounded… the little river below was swollen, a red raging torrent of blood”

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

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Stefan Eggeler-illustrations for Gustav Meyrink-Walpurgisnacht-(1922)
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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”

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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”
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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.

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Joan on the floor after escape

peter gets the drop on poelzig's servant

Vitus discovers his daughter Karen dead

Vitus dead Karen

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Karloff and Lugosi hand fight

Strapping Poelzig to the Flaying cross

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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

The Night God Screamed (1971) – Leave Your Faith, Fear and Sanity at the Water’s Edge. Part II

“Scream – So they’ll know where to find your body!”

THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED (1971) 

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Directed by Lee Madden (Angel Unchained 1970, The Manhandlers 1975) he offers us another cult hippie psycho drama feeding off the unsettling vibe and turbulence of the Charles Manson hysteria.

Charles Manson
The notorious mass murderer Charles Manson

No matter how often I think I’ve uncovered the most obscure cult thriller there’s always another lurking under a rock somewhere for me to feast my wide eyed stare upon, mouth agape and mind working over time to integrate the confluence of cultural debris that emerges like the dregs when you roil the sediment secretly settled on the bottom of the cinematic barrel. This is one such obscure film.

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Starring screen beauty Jeanne Crain (Leave Her To Heaven (1945), Pinky (1949) A Letter to Three Wives (1949). The Tattered Dress (1957)

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the beautiful Jeanne Crain

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who probably would have rather been given a better role and script, plays the frail and persecuted Fanny Pierce. Alex Nicol  plays Fanny’s husband the man in search of his own prosperous church in a better neighborhood. Preacher Willis Pierce (How could we ever forget Nicol’s wonderfully grimy, pathetic and bizarre character Mickey in 1958s The Screaming Skull, or his dizzying performance as the drunken loser husband Jay Fowler in Look in Any Window 1961) No… he’s gotten to play a man’s man plenty , but he is sort of a victim magnet.

Alex Nicol Ruth Roman Look in Any Window
Alex Nicol and Ruth Roman in the provocative Look in Any Window 1961
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Alex Nicol as soiled oddball Mickey in one of my favorite cult classics The Screaming Skull 1958

Dan Spelling plays the bourgeois Judge Coogan’s son, and irritatingly preppie Peter. Barbara Hancock plays sister Nancy Coogan, Dawn Cleary plays sister Sharon and very busy actor and stuntman Gary Morgan plays little brother Jimmy.

The judges son

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The Night God Screamed opens with a foreboding shape floating as if gliding on top of water, through the eerie sylvan landscape wearing a monk’s robe, his large draped cowl like hood is obscuring the man’s face altogether. He grips an arcane cruciform staff. He approaches a small pond inhabited by the frolicking free love rejects, society’s much reviled flower children of 60s & 70s sub subculture. In other words, as South Park’s irreverent and outrageous Eric Cartman would say ‘dirty hippies’ having lots of random sex and getting high.

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The pervasive cut-off tone reveals that they belong to a Manson-esque cult,who is lead by the vitriolic Billy Joe Harlan, a fanatical cult leader who baptizes a few followers and then proceeds to spout a trippy fire and brimstone rant, his own distorted anti-socially virulent version of the Gospel. Much like Manson, his rhetoric engenders a lot of animosity toward the establishment, law enforcement or if you will ‘pigs’ , citizens squares, and anybody who doesn’t see the world through Billy Joe’s lens.

Billy Joe is a violent socio-path who commands his fledgling minions to destroy any phony preachers, combat pigs and try and bring his new version of the Gospel to the youth of America.

Hung up on how Christ was betrayed, he riles his flock of murderous flower children to manifest the power to punish those who do not follow his gospel. To make an example of the dangers of dissension and betrayal he chooses a young girl who has refused to be baptized. And so he gives the word to his faceless hooded angel of death named ‘The Atoner’ to drown her in front of the flock.

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“They was all just a bunch of sinners, Lord, fighting and bothering each other…but I saved them, Lord! I showed them that using dope was the way to turn on to You!”

“We got trouble! The Heat won’t leave us alone! They want to bust us for being hooked on You! Them pigs is watching us, Lord…they don’t dig our kinda thing!”

As this soldier of God, known as THE ATONER executes the young girl in front of the mindless youth, the rest of the nasty flock watches without doing a single thing to help the poor girl as she is submerged under the baptismal waters, causing her to drown.

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The film cuts away, to a scene where wife and good christian Fanny Pierce (Jeanne Crain) is bringing groceries to the mission where her preacher husband (Alex Nicol) is feeding a hungry collection of bums and down and outers. Right before she can make it inside with her bag of groceries, a very unsavory bum with quite an unattractive tongue, mugs her for the brown paper bag of food, leaving her standing ironically empty handed and assaulted right outside the very soup kitchen where she and her husband have been trying to bring the good works of Jesus to these poor destitute men.

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Fanny starts to have her own a crisis of faith, and becomes disillusioned with her husband and his mission. Preacher Willis Pierce appears more worried about the loss of the groceries than concern for his own wife’s safety. He possesses a resolute patriarchal hubris with his grandiose dreams of bringing the gospel to his people, much like Billy Joe, yet not imbued with the vengeful and malevolent fortitude.

Willis wants to build a sizable church in ‘better areas of town’,that would mean more money, more offerings and more notoriety to his name. This is the kind of man Billy Joe despises and is on a crusade to annihilate with his cult of venomous sycophants.

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Fanny tells Willis- “God isn’t going to make our house payment!”

In a ridiculous gesture, Willis’ scheme is to erect his new mammoth wooden cross at the revival meeting he plans on holding later on that night. He believes that this will help bring in enough cash of ‘offerings’ to start up his new church. So, without consulting Fanny, Willis spends an enormous amount of money on the large, ludicrously enormous artifact that symbolizes Jesus’ sacrifice but smacks of Preacher Willis’ own egoism. He has used all their savings on this religious ‘manstrosity’, that he will erect in the revival hall which he has rented in a more affluent part of town.

As they haul the large wooden totem across the countryside on top of their old truck , the tension between Fanny and Willis grows. Fanny tells Willis that she’s sacrificed over twenty five years of her life in service to his cause. Willis tries to convince her that the giant cross will be their ‘meal ticket.’

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While stopping at a gas station, Billy Joe and one of his religious biker culties Izzy (Richard Smedley Brain of Blood, The Abductors 1972,The Naughty Stewardesses 1975 ) espy the Pierces and their truck with the cross tied on top and pull in along side them with their motorcycle. It’s here that sets forth the moment of confrontation with fate, and the narrative’s tragic and violent relinquishment of faith sparks.

Billy Joe begins to question Preacher Willis, fascinated with his sizable wooden cross and wants to know what he plans to do with it, asking about the plans for the revival meeting.

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It is a moment that points out the deliberate contrary notions of religion, while simultaneously forging an ironic relationship between the extreme zeal, the unfettered fanaticism of the two very self styled evangelists.

Willis prideful and avid enthusiastically offers his fund-raising motivations for his ‘mission’. Billy Joe begins to formulate his vexation, and sets out to dispense Willis with his wrath for his being a false and ‘plastic prophet’. And so as the Pierces continue on their road trip to the revival meeting, Billy Joe summons his nefarious apostles and unleashes his craving to destroy Preacher Willis.

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“We’re going to a revival meeting tonight… We’re going on a crusade! Just you, and me Izzy… And the Atoner!”

At the College Lecture Hall, Preacher Willis gives his sermon. Unfortunately it does not bestow upon him the funds needed for his plans to build up his church in a ‘good’ neighborhood. After the sermon, Fanny and Willis’ assistant Paul go outside, leaving Willis by himself in the revival hall.

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In a scene that is quite disturbing as the events happen mostly in an utter bluish darkness or diverted to the realm off camera, the cult attacks Willis. They are draped in shadow. Billy Joe begins to persecute Willis, pronouncing him as a ‘ false prophet’ demanding that he be put to death. And so while Billy Joe’s followers restrain and torture poor Willis, the Atoner slowly and painfully nails Willis to his own mundanely magnificent cross.

Fanny is startled by the screams of her husbands who is crying out in agony. She comes back inside the hall, but shrouds herself in the darkness, afraid for her own life, As he cries “Fanny Help me For God’s sake Help me.’ She remains motionless, doing nothing to help him… he is left to die alone now himself a Christ-figure of the film.

The scene switches to a court room, where Billy Joe and his cult followers are all on trial for the murder of Willis Pierce. Judge Coogan pronounces a death sentence on the hippie messiah. Billy Joe explodes into a tirade.

Billie Joe in Court

“You son of a bitch! You DUMB son of a bitch! YOU’RE MAKING ME A MARTYR! AHAHAHAHAHA!”

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While Billy Joe is convicted and sentenced to death, the remaining cult members encircle and besiege Fanny vowing revenge for Billy Joe. Fanny who was already starting to devolve in her encumbered world, now anguished with guilt for not having helped her husband Willis in his moment of horrific need, wanders away in a somnolent haze.

She remains in this state of disassociation for the rest of the film. The judge hires Fanny as a sort of matron to help with his two sons and teenage daughters who need to be kept in line, shown morals and keep them from acting too wild while their parents go away on a weekend vacation. The Judge grounds the kids and makes them stay in the house with Fanny who is still wholly uptight and out of her mind with guilt over her husbands brutal death.

This breathes even more agitation into the film which is saturated with male hubris and female hysteria, the archetypal hysterical woman lives once again in the embodiment of Fanny Pierce.

On the way to bringing Fanny to his house for the weekend, the Judge dismisses her worries about the two hippies on motorcycles who seem to be following them, and then goes on to instill some social relevance in the bigger picture. “Those kids, like the ones who murdered your husband… they come from broken  homes… poor education… they’re just dropouts! Not like ‘my’ kids!”

Of course we are to understand that this is a cue of foreboding irony, reflexive and dilating, as Fanny is charged to take care of the Judges adult teens, who inadvertently become mixed up in the nightmare, as the Atoner and remaining worshipers take siege of the household and terrorize Fanny and the teenagers. Fanny becomes even more unhinged, amidst an ensemble of entitled youths who are the binary figures of the film’s contemporary youth culture. One set of outliers rebelling against a system that reviles them, and the other just as combative and anti-social, yet given the opportunities to reflex their personal freedoms because of affluence, and social capital. Dan Spelling as Peter Coogan, the judges eldest son, is a bit of a social superior, a quiet sociopathic teen who’s poison is brewing under the surface of his perfectly pressed pants and yuppie tennis sweater.

Continue reading “The Night God Screamed (1971) – Leave Your Faith, Fear and Sanity at the Water’s Edge. Part II”

Postcards From Shadowland no. 9

1933 das testament der dr. mabuse
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse 1933 Fritz Lang
Ace In The Hole
Ace in The Hole – Billy Wilder
Aroused 1966
Aroused 1966 Anton Holden
Bayou 1957
Poor White Trash aka Bayou 1957-Harold Daniels
Blues in the night
Blues in the Night 1941-Anatole Litvak
Edward G Robinson-Little-Caesar with Douglas Fairbanks jr. and Glenda Farrell
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy-Edward G Robinson is Little-Caesar (1931) with Douglas Fairbanks jr. and Glenda Farrell
Experiment in Terror Ross Martin as Red Lynch
Experiment in Terror – Blake Edwards directs -Ross Martin as Red Lynch
Gene Tierney Tobacco Road 1941
Gene Tierney Tobacco Road 1941 directed by John Ford
George Pujouly  Brigitte Fossey Forbidden Games Jeux interdits 1952 René Clément
George Pujouly Brigitte Fossey Forbidden Games (Jeux interdits) 1952 directed by René Clément
Granny-The Southerner
Granny-The Southerner-Jean Renoir
Jeux Interdits
Jeux Interdits
knock on any door
Knock On Any Door 1949 Nicholas Ray
Lena Cabin in The Sky
Lena Horne-Cabin in The Sky 1943- Vincente Minnelli
Lon Chaney in He Who Gets Slapped
Lon Chaney in He Who Gets Slapped 1924 Victor Sjöström
Modern Times Charlie Chaplin
Modern Times Charlie Chaplin 1936
Never Take Sweets From A Stranger
Never Take Sweets From A Stranger 1960 Cyril Frankel
Night of The Demon-Tourneur
Curse of The Demon- 1957 Jacques Tourneur
Peter Lorre in The Man Who Knew Too Much1956
Peter Lorre in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much 1956
Rashomon
Rashomon 1950 -Akira Kurosawa
Repulsion
Roman Polanski’s Repulsion 1965 Catherine Deneuve
The Cobweb
The Cobweb-1955- Vincente Minnelli
The Last Laugh-letzte mann and emil-jannings in
The Last Laugh 1924-with emil-jannings directed by F.W Murnau
the sweet smell of success
The Sweet Smell of Success 1957-directed by Alexander Mackendrick written by Clifford Odets
Viva Zapata with Marlon-Brando and Jean Peters-
Viva Zapata 1952 with Marlon-Brando and Jean Peters-Elia Kazan directs

A Trailer a Day Keeps the Boogeyman Away! Goodbye Gemini (1970)

“Jacki and Julian have evil twins. Each other.”

GOODBYE GEMINI (1970)

Goodbye Gemini film poster

Based on the screenplay by Edmund Ward and the novel ‘Ask Agamemnon’ by Jenni Hall, the film stars British cutie Judy Geeson as Jacki and Martin Potter (Fellini Satyricon (1969),Satan’s Slave 1976) as brother Julian, who play incestuously menacing twins that wear flashy clothes and travel with a creepy black teddy bear in tow, whom they talk to. They insert themselves into high society circles, scheming and submerging themselves in the underground Swinger scene in London.

Jacki and Julian

The murderous siblings kill their landlady right before they get themselves invited to a party where all the ‘swingers’ hang out. Bi-sexual brother Julian is a little too enamored of his sister Jacki, and is quite possessive of her affections. Once they attract gambler Clive Landseer (Alexis Kanner) who is heavily in debt, the deadly sequence of events unfold, as Clive manipulates Julian into helping him concoct a plan of blackmail and ultimately murder. The film’s flash and trash derives it’s sensationalism from the inhabitants of ornamental transvestites, swingers, and the beautiful people of London’s counter-culture.

A little romp

It’s and obscure film from director Alan Gibson who worked on Journey To Midnight (1968) and a few of the episodes in 1968-1969 for the resulting tv series that followed called Journey to the Unknown Gibson directed another psycho-sexual thriller Crescendo (1970) Of course there’s also his, The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) and Dracula A.D. (1972)

Dracula+AD+1972+1

Goodbye Gemini party

Goodye Gemini lobby card 4

Goodbye Gemin lobby card 5

Goodye Gemini lobby card 6

Goodbye Gemini

It’s an interesting moody and untempered piece of psycho-sexual 70s fare, that also co-stars veteran British actor Michael Redgrave as James Harrington-Smith, Mike Pratt as Rod Barstowe, Marian Diamond as Denise Pryce-Fletcher and Freddie Jones as David Curry. Peter Jeffrey plays Detective Inspector Kingsley, and Daphne Heard is Mrs. McLaren.

The film features songs from the soundtrack, “Nothing’s Good and Nothing’s Free”, “Forget About the Day” with music by Christopher Gunning and lyrics by Peter Lee Stirling. Both performed by Peter Lee Stirling. Plus “Goodbye Gemini” Written by J. Alexander Ryan and Rick Jones , performed by Jackie Lee and “Tell the World We’re Not In” Written by Denis King and Don Black , performed by The Peddlers

Goodbye just for now, from your Cancerian MonsterGirl

Postcards from Shadowland No. 8

Ace in The Hole 1951
Billy Wilder’s Ace in The Hole (1951) Starring Kirk Douglas and Jan Sterling
Brute Force
Jules Dassin’s prison noir masterpiece-Brute Force 1947 starring Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, and Charles Bickford
citizen kane-
Orson Welles- Citizen Kane (1941) also starring Joseph Cotten
devil and daniel webster
William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941
hangover square
Directed by John Brahm-Hangover Square 1945 starring Laird Cregar , Linda Darnell and George Sanders
House by The River
Fritz Lang’s House By The River 1950 starring Louis Hayward, Lee Bowman and Jane Wyatt.
i cover waterfront-1933
I Cover the Waterfront 1933- Claudette Colbert, Ben Lyon and Ernest Torrence
Jewel Mayhew and Wills Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte
Robert Aldrich’s Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte 1964 starring Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotton, Mary Astor, Agnes Moorehead and Cecil Kellaway
Key Largo
John Huston’s Key Largo 1948 Starring Edward G Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Killers Kiss
Stanley Kubrick’s Killers Kiss 1955 Starring Frank Silvera and Irene Kane.
Lady from Shanghai(1947)
Orson Welles penned the screenplay and stars in iconic film noir The Lady from Shanghai 1947 featuring the sensual Rita Hayworth, also starring Everett Sloane
lady in cage james caan++billingsley
Lady in a Cage 1964 directed by Walter Grauman and starring Olivia de Havilland, James Caan, and Jennifer Billingsley.
long dark hall
The Long Dark Hall 1951 Starring Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer
lorre M
Fritz Lang’s chilling M (1931) Starring Peter Lorre
Mark Robson The Seventh Victim
Mark Robson directs, Val Lewton’s occult shadow piece The Seventh Victim 1943 Starring Kim Hunter, Tim Conway and Jean Brooks
Meeting leo-Ace in the hole with leo 1951
Kirk Douglas in Ace In The Hole 1951 written and directed by Billy Wilder
mifune-and-yamamoto in Drunkin Angel 48
Akira Kurosawa’s film noir crime thriller Drunken Angel (1948) starring Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune
Panic in the Streets
Elia Kazan’s socio-noir Panic in The Streets 1950 starring Jack Palance, Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes and Zero Mostel
persona
Ingmar Bergman’s Persona 1966 starring Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson
Queen of Spades
The Queen of Spades 1949 directed by Thorold Dickinson and starring Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans and Yvonne Mitchell
Saint Joan of the Angels 1
Director Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s beautifully filmed Mother Joan of The Angels 1961 starring Lucyna Winnicka.
shanghai express
Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express 1932 Starring Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook and Anna May Wong
The Devil and Daniel Webster
The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941
The Haunting
Robert Wise’s The Haunting 1963. Screenplay by Nelson Gidding based on the novel by Shirley Jackson. Starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn
the Unsuspected_1947
Michael Curtiz’s The Unsuspected 1947 starring Claude Rains, Joan Caulfield and Audrey Totter
Viridiana
Luis Bunuel’s Viridiana 1961 Starring Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey and Fransisco Rabal
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?
Robert Aldrich’s cult grande dame classic starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford-What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? 1962

The Incredible DokTor Markesan-[Essay on Boris Karloff’s Thriller]

The Incredible Doktor Markesan played by Boris Karloff for one of Thriller’s most memorable episodes of the series!

A sign readsNO TRESPASSING ~VIOLATORS WILL BE SHOT ON SIGHT~DokTor Konrad Markesan”

The Incredible DokTor Markesan aired Feb 26 1962 perhaps the most creepy of all the Thriller stories, originally appeared in Weird Tales Magazine and was taken from a story written by August Derleth and Mark Schorer, and adapted by Donald S Sanford and directed by Robert Florey. The rotting corpse make up by Jack Barron, actually predates Romero’s 1968 Night Of The Living Dead, which I feel only made both effectively more creepy by the B&W film.

Mort Stevens score begins as gravely contemplative and day dreamy single notes on the piano beckon us into this episode, then begins the darker,deeper cello strings foreboding and ominous. As the piano resolves into more somber chords, the young Fred Bancroft and new bride Molly drive up to the entrance of Oakmoor. What has happened to the broad green lawns and the servants in starched white uniforms? They proceed to enter the house, the door having been strangely left unlocked. Seemingly vacant, Oakmoor is crocheted in cobwebs, from years of neglect. There is no electricity.Fred lights a candelabra and the couple continue to search for Fred’s Uncle Konrad.As they start to ascend the staircase,suddenly a door creaks open, the music sways from ominous to severe and a sallow, blank, expressionless, Konrad Markesan steps out of the shadows. Uncle Konrad staring up at them, ashen,emotionless, his right hand poised in a state of rigor, he stares off, silent. Fred trying to ingratiate himself awkwardly, remains smiling, excruciatingly strained in the midst of his Uncle’s peculiarly inhospitable behavior. Molly acutely more aware of his uncle’s bizarre presence stands there obviously horrified and uncomfortable while Fred still flounders to make a connection with his relative.Molly chirps out a “Hello” and from the moment Fred holds out his hand to shake his Uncle’s, Markesan turns away and says “come with me” and proceeds to leave the grand hallway.

Continue reading “The Incredible DokTor Markesan-[Essay on Boris Karloff’s Thriller]”

Jo Gabriel’s “Mother May I?” a mixed film mash up…

Singer/Songwriter Jo Gabriel is MonsterGirl. Here I offer my song ” Mother May I?” off my 2005 album release through Kalinkaland Records (Germany). This is my tribute to all of us girl/boys, who refuse to define our gender and continue to dance to the wonderfully androgynous rhythm of life…!

I use a mixed film mash up this time to tell my story…

Here’s to all of us ‘wild childs’ be free and continue to dance to your own song….

Dedicated to my mother, Arleen Gottfried September 8, 1928 – September 19th 2011

Film Footage Credits

Special Nod to an extraordinary found gem : A short film by Rich Ragsdale called “The Sandman” (2007) based on ETA Hoffman  http://www.knr-productions.com/  This is Rich Ragsdale’s Production Company!

Legend by Ridley Scott 1985
The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Theodor Dreyer 1928
1920 Cabinet of Dr Caligari starring Conrad Veidt
Louise Brooks in 1929 Pandora’s Box by GW Pabst
March of the Wooden Soldiers or Babes In Toyland 1934
Lord of The Flies 1963 based on William Golding’s novel
Vintage Footage 1940s Alyce Bryce ” Jungle Drums”

From the short film ‘The Sandman’ by Rich Ragsdale…

http://www.knr-productions.com/  -Rich Ragsdale’s Production Company!

More Men Doing Science….!

Continue reading “More Men Doing Science….!”