I have been a fan of horror movies since I was a child. I grew up watching Universal movies from the 1930s and 1940s being shown on various themed TV shows with horror hosts. As an adult, my love for these films has not waned; in fact, it has grown and helped to feed my scholarly interest in film. I use these films in some of the classes I teach in college.
For this series, I will try to limit my choices of film to 2-4 representative examples. Two films, in particular, stand out to me from the 1920s. They both starred Lon Chaney Sr., the Man of a Thousand Faces, and were made by Universal Studios.
The first film is The Hunchback of Notre Dame, (1923) based on the Victor Hugo novel, and it is an extraordinary piece of cinema that stands up today. It was a very expensive production at the time. Estimates range in the $1,250,000 to $1,500,000 range. Given the year, that is a huge sum of money. The movie accurately reflects Hugo’s examination of the capacity of human beings to be intensely cruel to each other and of the abuse of power by those in positions of authority. Wallace Worsley directed the film, and Lon Chaney Sr. gave a magnificent performance as Quasimodo. It is also important to remember that Mr. Chaney created all of his own makeups. If all you know of this story is the Disney version, you need to see this production. I would consider it one of the best and most important films ever made.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925) starring Lon Chaney Sr. is based on Gaston Leroux’s novel and was a huge success. Chaney played the deformed writer who falls in love with a singer and who becomes her kidnapper. This tale of horror and love has been redone numerous times, including the well known stage musical, but none of those productions have reached the sterling height of this extraordinary film. As with the Hunchback, Chaney created this makeup, and his performance is sublime. Again, if you have not seen this film, I recommend it highly.