Many modern-day horror movies would appear to be in competition with each other to gross out their audiences with unnecessary overloads of blood, guts and gore (ahem HOSTEL ahem). While there’s nothing wrong with a bit of blood, or a few bucketloads of it, sometimes nothing curls your toes and spooks your soul more than some good old fashioned suspense in the form of the silent horror film.
Most horror buffs will have seen Nosferatu, the 1922 German Expressionist silent film that took unauthorized influence from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Max Schreck’s portrayal of the insanely creepy vampire makes Blade look like Edward Cullen. One piece of advice: don’t watch it when you’re stoned.
This Halloween I was lucky enough to be able to attend a screening of a lesser known but equally influential silent film, Der Golem, in the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. The 1920 film was shown combined with live music from Reflekor, a duo that includes Jan Kopinski on saxophone and Steve Iliffe on keyboards who have previously produced music to accompany other silent films including Nosferatu.
Der Golem tells the story of a rabbi who creates a giant creature from clay to defend the Jews of Prague from persecution, but in true man-makes-monster-to-become-slave style the Golem eventually turns against his master. Directed by Carl Boese and Paul Wegener, it is a visual treat that contrasts the clunky clay figure of the monsterous Golem with the sloping streets and pointed turrets of Prague, creating an eerie Jewish fairytale that could not have foreseen what real-life horror would soon be unleashed upon the European Jewish community.
Silent horror movies have become a lesser appreciated form of art for an over-stimulated internet-obsessed audience of today. But getting the chance to watch the flickering images onscreen with accompanying live music is nothing short of spectacular for any horror obsessive. Forget your slasher dvds, this is where it all began.
Here are a few more silent but deadly treats to keep horror fans simultaneously satisfied and spooked.
• The Monster (1925)
• The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
• Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920)
• The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
The Chapter Arts Centre is showing a variety of horror films this November, including a showing of the silent film The Cat and the Canary on 21 and 23 November with live music accompaniment by Paul Shallcross. Details can be viewed here.