Archive for The Black Cat

The Sunday Intertitle: Tales of Witless Madness

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2015 by dcairns

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Richard Oswald made UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN twice. The 1932 one is covered here, but for some reason it’s taken me ages to get around to the 1919 one, which stars Conrad Veidt (pre-CALIGARI), Reinhold Schunzel (better known, by me anyway, as a director of thirties comedies), and famed dancer Anita Berber. I knew it used a different sampling of spooky fiction to make up its “uncanny tales” — Poe’s Black Cat appears in both, as does a loose adaptation of Stevenson’s The Suicide Club, but the rest of the bits are different. But I didn’t know that the three actors from the framing structure –who play Death, the Devil and the Whore, coming to life from their portraits and running amok in a bookstore, before leafing through the various volumes in search of diverting yarns — also appear in all the separate storylines, in a variety of guises. It’s a nice idea to bind an anthology together.

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It does cause a slight sense of the repetitive, since nearly all the stories become romantic triangles, and for some reason Schunzel is insane, or goes insane, in most of them. But this minor problem is nullified by the film’s extraordinary tone, which is a kind of Weimar cabaret of grotesque humour. In fact, the movie plays like a spoof of its own remake. The actors are obviously having great fun at the expense of the material. Schunzel proves to be a great creepy toad, prefiguring the qualities Peter Lorre would bring to his early roles in German film, and Veidt gets to do some fine clutching hand stuff. Berber alternates between sexy and horrible at will, and in her final installment, an out-and-out parody of the form, she has a manic schoolgirl naughtiness reminiscent of Miranda Richardson’s Elizabeth I in Blackadder II.

To my surprise, the first story turns out to be a variant on the story — an urban myth — that inspired both SO LONG AT THE FAIR and, less directly, THE LADY VANISHES. Schunzel plays a madman in it who turns out to be a complete red herring.

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In the second episode Schunzel kills romantic rival Veidt and is haunted by his vengeful revenant. Some nice imagery here: Veidt rehearses his HANDS OF ORLAC schtick to campy but chilling effect, becomes a huge translucent Floating Head of Death, and manifests as a series of disembodied footprints, appearing one by one in a series of jump cuts, perhaps the first time that trick was tried. Carl Hoffman’s cinematography frequently surprises and delights with its spooky low-level lighting. All the more sad that Murnau’s film of Jekyll and Hyde, DER JANUSKOPF, with Conrad Veidt, is a lost film: Hoffman shot it.

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I expect that cat’s quite old now.

Then, in The Black Cat, he kills Berber. It was her turn, I suppose. Unlike in the later version, there’s no spooky visuals of the entombed bride, but the cat is endearing, and Schunzel goes off his chump again.

In The Suicide Club, Schunzel finally gets to be hero, and in the last story he’s a cowardly knight humiliated by a fake Scooby Doo ghost show put on by Veidt to scare the interloper away from his flighty wife.

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R. Schunzel, R. Schunzel, let down your hair!

Fun stuff for your next Halloween, I would suggest. The light-hearted approach is novel, and it’s slightly surprising to see a genre being gently ribbed before it’s finished being invented.

Miaow

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on November 1, 2012 by dcairns

Hello, kitty! yes, it’s yet another take on Poe’s THE BLACK CAT, a tale which seems inclined to transmigrate and transmogrify ad infinitum — in this case, it’s part of an anthology film that isn’t really an anthology film, a remake that isn’t quite a remake, and you can read about it in our post-Halloween edition of The Forgotten… if you dare.

Mua-ha-ha-ha-miaow.

Manic Monday

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on March 28, 2011 by dcairns

Dwain Esper’s MANIAC is so inept on every conventional level that it actually achieves an intermittent kind of interest. When a filmmaker has no interest in achieving anything except conning the public out of their money, the results are certain to be poor, but when he’s not good enough to efficiently do even that, you start to get some entertainment oozing back into the thing through the gaping fissures. Add to this that Esper wants to keep more than one ball in the air at once, a wildly unrealistic ambition considering his total ineptitude.

Esper’s balls are ~

1) Straight carny exploitation of sex and violence

2) Mock-medical pseudo-authenticity to lend socially redeeming merits to his film (important for staving off censorship)

3) An atmosphere of the macabre

(3) is sought via story borrowings from Poe’s The Black Cat, and actual film borrowings, seen in these double exposures which mix Esper’s footage of bad actors grimacing, with Guido Brignone’s footage of better bad actors grimacing more effectively in MACISTE IN HELL (1925). I was very glad that I’d seen Brignone’s film first, because otherwise I’d have spent MANIAC wondering what the devil it was and how I could find a copy. The baroque proto-peplum imagery, fusing Dore’s Dante illustrations with the epic rhubarbing of CABIRIA and the shade of Steve Reeves to come, somehow found its way into Esper’s hairy palms and was interpolated willy-nilly into the trash auteur’s ongoing mastur-piece.

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