The Sunday Intertitle: Inn Trouble

One of our most enjoyable discoveries of the last few years was Claude Autant-Lara’s L’AUBERGE ROUGE, a wickedly macabre anti-clerical farce set in a mountain inn where the hosts have taken to murdering and robbing their guests. So I was excited to discover an earlier (1923) version of the same legend made by the often brilliant Jean Epstein.

On a bad day/film, Epstein could be dull, but he’s great fun in experimentalist mode, as he is here, essaying a spooky tale literally told after supper by some snobs in periwigs, by candlelight and everything. And it’s great to see him working with macabre material, as he does so effectively in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER.

One could quibble — many of Epstein’s visual experiments are too dramatic for their circumstances. Intercutting between our heroes riding through the night — quick cuts of riders flashing by, hooves cratering mud — with the crowded hostelry ahead — a more languid wide shot, repeated — he creates a degree of hilarity because nothing’s actually happening in the inn. It’s a simple journey/destination treated as if it were a chase to the rescue.

Then, when the innkeeper gestures with his towel to demonstrate that the joint is so crowded you can’t even find a seat, Epstein attaches his lens to the towelled hand and pans it round the room, like a ’20s Sam Raimi. Huzzah! But Eh?

But then, when the creepy old woman sneaks up behind our main guy, and Epstein extends the moment for max suspense, and gives us the subsequent card-reading with giant close-ups (some of them impressionistically blurry) and giant title cards and looming hands — it’s REALLY GOOD. Silent horror films should always go this far. Hardly any do.

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