October is one of my favorite months of the year for several reasons: it is the true beginning of Autumn weather, my birthday is this month, and so is my favorite holiday–Halloween!
This month, I will do two series that fit well with the spirit of Halloween: favorite Horror movies and favorite Horror novels! I will have already begun horror novels, so now it is time for horror movies.
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, both at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA and Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.
Several films, in particular, stand out to me from the 1920s. Two 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. This film is a critique of the misuse of power by those in authority, the capacity of humanity to be cruel, and of unquestioning acceptance of the order of the day. It is a piece of art whose message still resonates today, nearly one hundred years after it was made.
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 second film with Lon Chaney Sr. is The Phantom Of The Opera, and I will cover that movie in another post.