Classics of the Early Cinema Collection: Influential Films of the Silent Era (2003) Horror Movie Review
Horror movies Review
As a distinct genre, horror can be dated back to the gothic literature of the seventeenth century. Since the invention of the motion picture film, there have been many attempts to translate the genre from its literary sources to the silver screen. In this 4-disc collection are four classic horror films that have influenced countless filmmakers and held the attention of obsessive film experts.
Three of the four films were made in Germany, while the fourth is American. All are essentials.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - 1919
Visually unique in every sense, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is arguably the greatest cinematic example of German expressionism. Directed by Robert Wiene, the film is widely regarded as being the first true horror film.
The film tells the tale of a wandering mountebank named Caligari, who uses his powers of hypnosis to control a somnambulist named Cesare. Cesare is made to give prophesies of death to villagers and then he murders them, making the prophesies come true.
Perhaps the first psychological suspense film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari unfolds into a landscape of nightmarish imagery and therein the characters’ own inner turmoil is played out to maximum effect.
Starring Conrad Veidt.
The Golem - 1920
Paul Wegener’s epic tale of a rabbi who creates a monster out of clay is an often-overlooked masterpiece of silent cinema. The story, which was based on an old Hebrew legend, is thought to have been an inspiration to Mary Shelley when she created her classic horror novel Frankenstein.
A wise rabbi sculpts a giant man out of clay and then conjures a dark spirit to inhabit it so that he may defend his people from the persecution and exile they face. Naturally, the clay Golem develops a mind and will of its own, leading to catastrophe.
The Golem cleverly combines history, legend, and social commentary to create a unique vision of persecution, retribution, and finally redemption.
Starring Paul Wegener.
Nosferatu - 1922
Arguably the greatest horror film, and undoubtedly the greatest vampire film ever made, F.W. Murnau’s atmospheric take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula story is a classic of the silent era. Max Schreck, whose name translates to “maximum terror”, plays the title vampire as a repulsive rat-like predator.
The story follows Jonathon Harker and Nina, his wife, as they and all of the denizens of their city become victims of Count Dracula, who spreads the plague wherever he goes. Can Nina’s innocence and bravery end Dracula’s plague and save the city?
When Nosferatu was released, Stoker’s wife sued because the filmmakers failed to get legal permission to adapt the novel into a film, resulting in the changing of the characters’ names. However this version uses Stoker’s original characters’ names.
Starring Max Schreck.
The Phantom of the Opera - 1925
Universal Studios’ beloved production of the Gaston Leroux story is probably best remembered for the iconic performance of Lon Chaney as the Phantom. Directed by Rupert Julian and featuring impressive production design, this film is easily the most famous and revered of all the films included in this set.
A young a beautiful opera singer is abducted by The phantom who lives beneath the Paris Opera House. As the intrigue grows, a young handsome suitor must foil The Phantom’s plot.
Lon Chaney’s makeup in this film has become synonymous with the golden age of silent horror films.
Starring Lon Chaney.
Although all of the films in this collection are classics of the silent era, none of them are shown the respect that they deserve in this shoddy set. While it’s nice to have these four films available in a cheap collection, it’s impossible to overlook the poor quality of this cheap offering from Alpha Video. It’s been over eighty years since these films were originally released and since their copyrights have expired, they’ve become part of the public domain, which means that small independent DVD companies can easily acquire and produce affordably priced versions for home viewing. However, most companies don’t bother to restore these films at all or include any bonus materials.
This is certainly the case with this collection. All four films are presented in such a manner that they are barely watchable. The image is grainy and scratched, the contrast is so extreme that much of the picture is obscured, and the films aren’t even shown at their correct projection speed, which causes the acting to seem disjointed and over the top.
The Limited Edition Box that the four discs are packaged in is flimsy and the artwork is a terrible representation of the films. The box even mistakenly says that the phantom of the Opera was released in 1924, which it was in fact released in 1925. Apparently they couldn’t even be bothered to read the copyright date during the beginning of the film’s credits.
All of these films are available from other companies, which treat them with the reverence that they’ve earned over the years. Two of these companies, Image Entertainment and Kino International (formerly Kino On Video), have produced some fantastic DVDs of these and they painstakingly restore them.
So you be the judge as to which is better; paying less for lesser quality DVDs or paying more and receiving the highest quality versions available.
Here are some links to much higher quality DVDs of the films contained within this set:
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Special Collector’s Edition)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Kino On Video’s Restored Authorized Edition)
The Golem (Kino On Video’s Restored Authorized Edition)
Nosferatu (Image Entertainment’s Special Edition)
Nosferatu (Kino International’s Ultimate DVD Edition)
The Phantom of the Opera (Image Entertainment’s Ultimate Edition)
About Classics of the Early Cinema Collection: Influential Films of the Silent Era (2003)
Starring: Lon Chaney, Max Schreck, Werner Krauss, Paul Wegener
Runtime: 127 minutes
Director: Paul Wegener, F.W. Murnau, Rupert Julian, Robert Wiene