The 1910 Edison Studios production of Frankenstein is the first film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel. Believed to be lost for many years, the film later turned up in the hands of a private collector who proved unwilling to share. By the time BearManor Media released the restored public domain print in 2010, the film was badly deteriorated (yet still watchable). Silent film fans are in for a thrill with Frankenstein, because of some rather dazzling special effects and an innovative visual narrative technique. While Frankenstein displays much of the visual grammar common to circa 1910 films (static camera, medium distance shots with nary a close-up to be found), the film does deliver some sophisticated techniques. Read the rest of this entry
At the first TIFF screening of Alexandre Courtes’ The Incident two young ladies fainted and had to be carted away by ambulance. I wasn’t at that screening, but I bet I can guess when they passed out. The Incident starts out as a promising creepy but psychological thriller, and then… takes a sharp right into straight-up torture porn. I didn’t faint, but I did gag a few times. I left the theater shaky and disoriented, kind of like when you narrowly miss being in a terrible accident, but I was left ultimately disappointed in the uncapitalized promise of the movie.
So what if the inmates really did run the asylum? This question is the foundation of The Incident. We follow aspiring rock star George (Rupert Evans) and his garage band mates. Like most aspiring rock stars, George and his friends have day jobs, in this case they cook and serve to inmates at the Sans Asylum for the criminally insane. We spend a lot of time getting to know George and his band and become familiar with the interpersonal tensions (creative differences?) in the band. And then a terrible storm knocks out the power at Sans, effectively locking the staff inside while the loonies run rampant through the halls. Thank goodness Courtes tells us very specifically that we’re in 1989, since cell phone service would severely handicap this plot.
The basic setup for The Incident is the perfect foundation for a creepy shriek fest. There are some deliciously tense minutes when our intrepid heroes roam through the hallways trying to locate a phone (rotary, no doubt). Each dimly lit corridor has twenty slightly ajar cell doors shooting of it. There is no doubt that an insane inmate lurks behind each one, and the only question is will he be a sadistic killer or a benign nut job? Leaving aside the jump in your seat frights, just seeing a shuffling figure crossing the hall in the distance sends a little chill down the spine.
And then, for some reason, Courtes takes all of this dramatic tension, all of the psychological fright, and flushes it down the toilet. Or rather, boils in a pot of inmate piss along with a sundry of human body parts. Guards are decapitated, noses are ripped from faces, George gets a light flaying… you get the picture. I’m not a big fan of slash and gore in the first place. After I’ve been elevated to a state of high tension, all this torture porn culminates in some pronounced nausea. Worst of all, it feels cheap, as if Courtes (famous for directing music videos – this is his first feature) had no idea what to do with all of the narrative capital he had accumulated.
The wrap up of The Incident is what you will expect. I think I can tell you, with out spoiling because you’ll see it a mile away, George ends up quite mad. But Courtes does not provide a clear narrative path to get us there. There are some seriously unresolved narrative issues which are ultimately just ignored. The Incident does not conclude so much as it just stops. In fairness, after all the sadism you’ve watched, the stopping is a relief, but still not a conclusion.
Q&A with Alexandre Courtes
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Watch the creepy 1920 silent version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide online at YouTube. The incomparable John Barrymore takes the lead.There are countless stage, screen, radio, you name it adaptations of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but this is the greatest of them all, in my humble opinion. And after this scares your pants off, lighten the mood with “Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde“.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is available for viewing all over the interwebs.
Watch at the Internet Archive or download for repeated viewings.
Watch on YouTube:
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the gold standard example of early German expressionism in film, is just plain weird. Today we call it a “horror” film, but it’s not scary. It is disorienting and certainly creepy, but you won’t jump in your seat while viewing it. But if you care about the genre known as “horror,” then you have to confront Caligari. If you care about film history in general, about “film noir” in particular, or Post WWI German politics, you have to care about Caligari. Wait, what?
Ladies and gentleman, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is INFLUENTIAL. Often, this weird little movie is lost in the cacophony of critical extrapolation, exegesis, and anagogy. This point was recently hammered home to me when I had the opportunity to view Caligari, in a theater with live musical accompaniment. This is silent movie heaven to me. My long suffering SO, who frankly does not love silent movies and doesn’t give a rat’s about how any individual film is important, came along. As we left the theater after the screening, he turns to me and says, “Oh, that was terrible!” My response, to offer multiple ways in which Caligari is important, forced me to step back and examine my assumptions about the film. Read the rest of this entry