#114 House of Wax

Watched: June 11 2017

Director: André De Toth

Starring: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Roy Roberts, Charles Bronson

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 28min

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House of Wax is an old favourite of Sister the Oldest, stemming from her love of Vincent Price in her teenage Goth days (we’ve all been there). A remake of Michael Curtiz’ Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), it stars Price as Professor Henry Jarrod, an eccentric sculptor who works with wax figures.

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His obsession with his Marie Antoinette hints at his brewing insanity. Then again, she’s quite the looker!

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When Jarrod’s business partner Matthew Burke (Roberts) is in need of some quick cash, he proposes to the artist that they burn down the museum to collect the insurance. Jarrod, who has a close, personal relationship with all his creations, is not exactly on board, so Burke tries to kill him. The museum burns down and Jarrod disappears and is thought to have perished in the fire.

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In reality, he has but gone the way of his figures

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Fast forward a few months, and Burke dies under mysterious circumstances, his body disappears from the morgue, and his delightful (possible) fiancée Cathy (Jones – a.k.a. She of the Tiny Waist) meets the same fate. Simultaneously, Professor Jarrod reappears with plans to open a new wax museum, this time with a Chamber of Horrors included, showing historical crimes as well as recent, local ones. Coincidence?

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“Why, yes, there is an incredible likeness between my former partner who tried to kill me and whose body disappeared from the morgue, and my recreation of his death. I really am that good.”

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Sue Allen (Kirk), Cathy’s roommate and only witness to her killer, grows suspicious when visiting the museum and finding that Joan of Arc is the spitting image of her dead friend, though her suspicions are mostly written off as the silly ideas of a hysterical woman. Her own likeness to Jarrod’s Marie Antoinette put her on the artist’s radar, and tensions mount.

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“I told her not to touch the artwork! That’s it. She must die.”

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House of Wax holds up incredibly well and is an excellent and creepy feature. We love the image of the melting wax figures, everything about Cathy (our favourite), Vincent Price’s iconic voice, and the grotesque plot.

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“No ding-ding without a wedding ring!” – Cathy, paraphrased. God, we loved her.

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Originally made in 3D, it is easy to see how that would have added to the experience, and some scenes are clearly inserted mainly for the 3D effect. Unfortunately, we’ve only ever seen it in 2D, but perhaps one day we’ll have the chance to watch it in the same way as its original audience. One can only dream…

What we learned: Don’t kill people’s creative works for money. Or, money and art do not always work well together. Something to that effect.

Next time: Mr Hulot’s Holiday/Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953)

#39 Bride of Frankenstein

Watched: September 10 2016

Director: James Whale

Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester, Valerie Hobson, Una O’Connor

Year: 1935

Runtime: 1h 15min

Liquids consumed: inordinate amounts of wine…

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Dr. Frankenstein learned absolutely nothing from the events of the first film and is back to repeat his past mistakes.

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“I nearly died myself, therefore no one can criticize me!”

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Both the good(?) doctor and his creation survived the burning windmill at the end of Frankenstein and they are back. The creation (KARLOFF! KARLOFF! KARLOFF!) doesn’t exactly redeem himself in the beginning, by killing both parents of the girl he inadvertently drowned in the first film.

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In his defense, he was probably still slightly agitated from all the burning people had been doing to him lately

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Again, the creature is captured, but no chains can bind him! He escapes into the woods where he eventually meets up with a lonely old blind man who takes care of him and treats his injuries.

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Pictured: one of the most beautiful meetings in cinema history

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The old hermit treats him like a person and teaches him humanity and compassion, something his creator failed to do. Of course, eventually angry villagers destroy his peace and he must once again go into hiding.

Meanwhile, Henry Frankenstein (Clive) is nursed back to health by Elizabeth (Hobson). When he recovers, he swears off playing God for the foreseeable future. That is, until his old mentor Dr. Pretorius (Thesiger) comes calling and lures him back in.

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“Behold: the fruit of my loins; the tiny results of my seed!” “Wow! How did you do this?” “Ehm… Let’s not get into the details, shall we…”

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Pretorius befriends the creature and promises him a spouse. They convince (read: force) Frankenstein to assist them, and together the two scientists create a cultural icon (Lanchester).

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The inspiration for many a Halloween costume and gothic wet dream

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If you haven’t seen this one, we have no idea what you are waiting for. The cast is brilliant; the effects are very impressive (such as the tiny seed-people), the sets are wonderfully stylistic and the film is beautifully lit. Like the first installation in the Frankenstein series, the story is loosely based on Mary Shelley’s novel, but a lot of liberties are taken with the story and the characters. They try to pay tribute to the author though, by introducing Shelley with her trophy husband Percy Bysshe and their mutual friend Lord Byron in the beginning of the film, but here Mary sort of comes off as a silly little girl which doesn’t do her justice. Still, it’s a nice nod to the creator of it all (although it gave Sister the Oldest flashbacks to certain scenes in Gothic [1986]).

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“I still love her… But we belong dead…”

What we learned: Dr. Pretorius must have won some sort of masturbation championship to create so much life from his seeds.

Next time: Top Hat (1935)

#26 The Old Dark House

Watched: August 27 2016

Director: James Whale

Starring: Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Melvyn Douglas, Lilian Bond, Ernest Thesiger

Year: 1932

Runtime: 1h 12min

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Sometimes titles are just a perfect summary of the plot. A bickering couple in a car are caught in a storm and soon the road is undrivable. Luckily(?) for them and their hoot-and-a-half passenger (Douglas, who’s amazingly sarcastic and funny) they spot an old (dark) house and make their way there to take shelter from the storm. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Seems a perfectly charming and not at all sinister place to spend the night.

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Upon knocking on the door, they are greeted by The Karloff who mumbles something incoherent to which Douglas comments “Even Welsh ought not sound like that!” Karloff turns out to be the dumb servant to house owners Rebecca and Horace Femm (Thesiger, who looks strangely like Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera), an old creepy sister and brother duo who are less than thrilled about their unexpected visitors. It’s almost as if they’re hiding something in the house they do not want outsiders to see… Still, they reluctantly invite the guests to stay the night and offer them dinner.

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Not even a creepy manservant and a flimsy dress can relieve the tension

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Soon, another couple join them as they too are caught in the storm. This does very little to raise the spirit of Ms. Rebecca Femm (no one can have beds!) but romance blossoms and drinks are had.

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The hosts are thrilled about the whole affair!

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This film was awesome! It’s one of the ones we’ve heard of several times but have never actually seen before. While we expected suspense and horror, we were not at all prepared for how hilarious this film truly is. The dialogue, the gags and the characters, not to mention the use of wonky mirrors and shadows to create the eerie atmosphere, all make this another new favourite to play at parties (which might explain why no one comes to our parties). We’ll definitely watch it again at some point.

What we learned: This is a local house for local people – there’s nothing for us here!

Next time: 42nd Street (1933)

#22 The Island of Lost Souls

Watched: August 21 2016

Director: Erle C. Kenton

Starring: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Bela Lugosi, Kathleen Burke

Year: 1932

Runtime: 1h 10min

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Based on H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau (1896), The Island of Lost Souls opens with shipwrecked Edward Parker (Arlen) being rescued by a floating zoo. After an altercation with the captain he is unceremoniously tossed off the ship to a remote island owned and operated by mad scientist Dr. Moreau (Laughton) where Parker runs into several scary humanoid creatures. This being the 1930s though, everyone is very polite about the whole thing and he is invited to stay the night in Moreau’s house.

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“Oh, they’re harmless. There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever that I have this huge fence outside my house.”

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The creatures in the jungle are the experiments of the good doctor, who we learn was driven from London when one of his experiments escaped. They are mutated and surgically altered animals kept at bay through “religious” doctrine, enforced by “The Sayer of the Law” (Lugosi). Moreau then decides to introduce his only female creation, the Panther Woman Lota (Burke – credited only as “the Panther Woman”), to Parker and see if she’ll seduce him. Because that what fathers do with their daughters.

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“Sure, I may be engaged, but if she’s not really human, am I really cheating?”

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Like Frankenstein, Moreau has a pesky little God complex which will (of course) be his undoing, and like his German counterpart, he will learn that if you create life and mistreat your creation, you gonna get fucked. Meanwhile, the audience are treated to such simple philosophical questions as “what makes a soul?” and “what makes humanity?”

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Again we put it to you to guess who the real monster is

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This film is awesome – easily the best adaptation we have seen of Wells’ novel (which we haven’t read, but we’ve seen three film versions, so we like to pretend we have). It’s beautifully shot and has some great performances. The only thing missing is a song- and dance-number but, fortunately for us, The Mighty Boosh took care of that. Enjoy!

What we learned: Oh so much! Ships make people slaphappy; Bela Lugosi is awesome even in small roles; don’t play God and mess with nature unless you want to be killed horribly; watching Freaks and The Island of Lost Souls back to back before bedtime will give you weird dreams.

Next time: Love Me Tonight (1932)

#21 Freaks

Watched: August 21 2016

Director: Tod Browning

Starring: Olga Baclanova, Harry Earles, Daisy Earles

Year: 1932

Runtime: 1h

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A personal favourite of ours, Freaks is a cult classic everyone should watch. Cleo, a beautiful trapeze artist in a travelling circus, starts flirting with one of the sideshow “freaks,” little person Hans, for fun. When she discovers his wealth, she teams up with lover and resident strong man Hercules to hatch a sinister plot. Hans marries Cleo, breaking the lovely and gorgeous former fiancée Frieda’s heart in the process, only to be poisoned on his wedding day.

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Fortunately, nobody let a little thing like the poisoning of the groom ruin a perfectly good wedding party!

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Even if you haven’t seen the film, you must have come across the chant “Gooble gobble, gooble gobble! We accept her, we accept her! One of us! One of us!” which is how the “freaks” welcome Cleopatra into their midst. She, however, is not impressed and has no intention of being associated more than necessary with the ones she feels are beneath her. She ridicules her new husband and his friends and Hans realises he’s made a huge mistake just before gets sick from the poison.

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Pictured: pure hatred and dawning realisation. And drunk dude.

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The sideshow performers look after their own though, and when they learn what Cleo is doing, they start plotting a little revenge. And what a vengeance! On the road during a storm, the “freaks” go after Cleo and Hercules and make sure they really become “one of us,” turning them into the freaks they so desperately despise.

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“Who’s the freak now, bitch!”

We cannot express how much we love this film. Throughout the main narrative there are loads of subplots revolving around the daily lives of the circus performers which normalise and humanise them, making the actions of Cleo and Hercules even more despicable and leaving no doubt as to who the actual freaks are.

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Hint: it’s not these guys.

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What we learned: “normals” are the real freaks. But we already knew that. Also, Frieda is the most adorable woman you’ll ever see, Daisy is a fool for marrying Roscoe (he treats her like crap!), Venus and Phroso are wonderful people, and American Horror Story: Freak Show owes pretty much everything to this film.

Next time: The Island of Lost Souls (1932)

#11 Un Chien Andalou

Watched: August 10 2016

Directors: Luis Buñuel & Salvador Dalí

Starring: Simone Mareuil, Pierre Batcheff

Year: 1929

Runtime: 16 minutes

Note: Only one sister watched the whole film. Explanation will follow.

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Holy mindfuck, Batman! Un Chien Andalou is a surrealist short film made by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, and as such, you know you’re in for something a bit different. Two seconds in I, the oldest sister, realised I had seen it before, and then I remembered. There’s eye-stuff. Now, none of us is a stranger to gore (in fact, we often revel in it), but… I don’t like stuff involving eyes. I am never prepared for eye-stuff. I can’t even wear contact lenses because I’m scared of touching my own eyes.

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If this freaks you out, do NOT do an image search for this film. Or watch it. It gets worse.

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The Younger Sister couldn’t even keep watching after the first minute (which is where the eye-stuff is) but Sister the Older kept going (despite my phobia). And apart from the scene with the razor blade and the eye it’s an enjoyable watch. Grotesque, absurd and surreal things are strangely attractive, and this film checks all those boxes.

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Ants crawling out of a hand is nothing. Eye-stuff, however…

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Un Chien Andalou is pretty much indescribable, so I won’t even try. Rather, you can watch the whole film here. But be warned: there’s some gory eye-stuff. And no actual dog.

Next time: Animal Crackers (1930)

#1 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Watched: July 30 2016

Director: Robert Wiene

Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover

Year: 1920

Runtime: 1h 18min

Liquids consumed: 1 cider each

 

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This was a rewatch for us, of a classic German Expressionist horror film, and as it’s from 1920 it is readily available on Youtube. The protagonist tells the story of horrible events that transpired during his and his fiancé’s dealings with Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist (aka sleepwalker) Cesare.

The make-up is excellently creepy and so are the costumes (good shoes, lady!). However, the biggest visual voice is the set. It is mostly painted canvas, and the lines, angles and sizes are all distorted, adding to the nightmarish quality of the film in general.

There is also some very good use of shadows, which is something we’ll see again in the next film, Nosferatu, if memory serves. And, as always, there are fragile women and swooning.

For a Norwegian viewer, being exposed to German is fun! As we both did French in school, our German has limited itself to such phrases as “Was ist das?” and “Ich bin ein wiener schnitzel,” which are not very useful. But watching this film in the original language confirmed the similarities between Norwegian and German, and we can now add to our German vocabulary such words as “somnambuler” which is sure to come in handy!

Despite this being a silent film, it is not inaccessible nor does it demand too much of the viewer. It shares many qualities with “modern” horror films, and it is a good example of great storytelling. It is entertaining, creepy, beautiful and grotesque, with a disturbing, eerie atmosphere throughout. All in all, we thoroughly recommend it!