Celebrating lost and rare silent horror

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Three of the films I had on my list for October turned out to be lost, and another is only available at the George Eastman House. It’s always frustrating to review a lost, archive-only, or incomplete film, since I can only go by what other people have said about it. I can’t provide my own opinions or plot summary.

The Bells, released 15 September 1918, was a very popular story in the late 19th and early 20th century. It’s based on a play of the same name, by Leopold Davis Lewis. In turn, that play was based on 1867’s Le Juif Polonais (The Polish Jew), by Émile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian (who co-wrote almost all their novels, stories, and plays as Erckmann-Chatrian). After Sir Henry Irving made the lead role of Mathias famous in 1871, every actor wanted to play him. Sir Henry played the role until the night before his death in 1905.

The story is set over 24 and 26 December 1833, in Alsace (a border area between France and Germany). Fifteen years before, on the night of Christmas Eve 1818, burgomaster Mathias robbed and horrifically murdered a Jewish seed merchant, Koveski, to pay off his mortgage.

Gradually, Mathias has gone insane with guilt, and begins hallucinating Koveski’s ghost. He also hears Koveski’s phantom sleigh bells. Mathias later dreams he’s on trial for the murder, confesses, and is hanged. When he wakes up, he tries to pull the phantom noose off, and dies of a heart attack.

In the film version, Mathias’s conscience begins torturing him with renewed vigour when he counts out the gold coins for his daughter Annette’s dowry. She’s engaged to Christian, the captain of the local gendarmes.

After a hypnotist wedding guest, Gari, puts the town fool under his spell, Mathias runs upstairs, falls asleep, and dreams of his trial. Gari wrings the confession from him, and he wakes hysterical. Mathias runs downstairs and dies in his wife’s arms.

The film was remade in 1926 with Lionel Barrymore, and again in 1931.

Sorry about the annoying watermark on this public domain image, but this was the best one I could find to illustrate the subject.

Alraune, die Henkerstochter, genannt die rote Hanne (Alraune, the Hangman’s Daughter, Named Red Hanna), released December 1918, is not to be confused with the Hungarian film of the same name from the same year. It was released as Sacrifice in the U.S.

Alraune is a sci-fi horror story very loosely based on Hanns Heinz Ewers’s 1911 novel of the same name. The only similarity is the use of a mandrake root to save a dying child.

A mad doctor (are there any other types in horror films?!) uses a dead man’s sperm to impregnate a prostitute. This child grows up to turn against her creator.

This film can be viewed at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY.

The Last Moment, released 15 February 1928, was directed by Paul Fejos (né Pál Fejős), who fled Hungary in 1923 to escape the White Terror and Horthy régime. It was made on a budget of $13,000.

Like F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh (1924) and Schatten, this story too is told without any intertitles. It had a German Expressionistic style, and, unusually for the time, featured double- and triple-exposures.

Charlie Chaplin absolutely loved it, and after a private screening, arranged for United Artists to theatrically release it.

Director Paul Fejos

An unnamed man decides to drown himself in a lake. Before that final, irreversible step, he flashes back on pivotal moments of his life and the incidents which led up to his suicide—his unhappy childhood; his decision to leave home and stow away on an ocean freighter; his failed attempts to break into acting; his two drama-filled marriages.

The film ends as he walks towards the lake and wades in deeper and deeper, till he’s no longer visible from shore.

Though While Paris Sleeps released 21 January 1923, it was actually filmed in 1920. It stars two of my favouritest actors, Lon Chaney, Sr., and John Gilbert, and was based on Leslie Beresford’s novel The Glory of Love.

Henri Santados (Lon) is a sculptor in unrequited love with his model, Bebe Lavarche. He becomes extremely jealous when Bebe falls in love with rich American Dennis O’Keefe (Jack). Henri joins forces with Father Marionette, a wax museum owner, to get rid of Dennis.

Dennis’s father also disapproves of the relationship, and convinces him to leave Bebe, who asks for a goodbye at Mardi Gras. When Dennis comes to pick her up, Henri tricks her into a compromising position and makes Dennis think she’s cheating.

Dennis leaves heartbroken, and is kidnapped by Father Marionette. He’s tortured in the wax museum. When Father Marionette calls Henri with a report, Bebe hears Dennis over the phone. One of Dennis’s friends rescues him and rushes him to hospital, where his father consents to the marriage.

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A Doppelgänger in Prague

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Released 22 August 1913, The Student of Prague (Der Student von Prag), a.k.a A Bargain with Satan, is loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson” (1839); Alfred de Musset’s poem “The December Night” (1835); and Faust.

In May 1820, we’re introduced to Vive Balduin (Paul Wegener, who played the title role in the Golem trilogy), the best swordsman and boldest student of Prague. Though his friends are enjoying themselves, Balduin is despondent. When an old man, Scapinelli (John Gottowt, né Isidor Gesang), joins his table, Balduin says he’s ruined, and begs the stranger to make him win the lottery, or find him a rich heiress.

Scapinelli agrees to help him, and they seal the deal with a handshake.

Meanwhile, Countess Margit (Grete Berger) and her fiancé go on a hunt, during which it’s revealed they’re cousins, and that Margit is only marrying him because her father desires it. She doesn’t love her fiancé at all.

Who should happen along but Balduin and Scapinelli, just in time for Balduin to save Margit from drowning! As Balduin carries her back to shore, Margit surreptitiously slips an amulet into his hand.

In his dorm, Balduin fences in front of the mirror, then admires the amulet. He accepts a bouquet from a flowergirl outside (Wegener’s real-life, much-younger wife Lyda Salmonova) before visiting Margit.

After this brief visit, Scapinelli comes to Balduin’s dorm and conjures up 100,000 pieces of gold, and a contract. Balduin can’t accept them unless he grants Scapinelli the right to take whatever he wants from that room.

Balduin happily signs, and tries to interest Scapinelli in the mirror. While Scapinelli is moving it from the wall, a Doppelgänger steps out, and all the trouble begins.

Act II begins with Balduin being invited to a ball given by the Governor, in the castle. Thanks to his newfound riches, he’s able to go in style, in a high-class carriage, pulled by bewigged coachmen.

Balduin tries to flirt with Margit during the ball, though she maintains a respectable public image when they’re not alone.

Also by the ball are the flowergirl and Doppelgänger. Soon after Balduin encounters the latter, he vanishes into thin air, and says he’s neither God nor demon, but Balduin’s brother whom he called by name.

In Margit’s salon, she reads a note from Balduin, entreating her to keep her promise and meet him tomorrow at 11:00 in the Jewish cemetery, the most discreet place in Prague. After Margit walks off, the flowergirl steals a handkerchief Balduin gave her.

Act III begins with Margit and Balduin’s meeting. Of course, both the flowergirl and Doppelgänger pop up and scheme to spoil things. The flowergirl gives the handkerchief to Margit’s fiancé, and the Doppelgänger appears by a tombstone.

Though Balduin is Pargue’s best swordsman, Margit’s fiancé nevertheless challenges him to a duel. Her father visits Balduin and begs him not to kill the fiancé, since he’s his sister’s only child, his daughter’s fiancé, his heir, and “the last one to bear our name” (as though women are completely incapable of passing on family names!).

Balduin is on his way to the duel when he runs across who else but the Doppelgänger. This seems the answer to his problems, since his double can commit the act he dares not.

Act IV opens with a de Musset quote about how the Doppelgänger stalks him wherever he goes, constantly shadowing him, even when he tries to sleep. We learn Balduin is no longer admitted to the Count and Margit. Instead, he fills his life with hedonistic pleasures.

After refusing to play a card game against the Doppelgänger, Balduin goes to see Margit. Margit receives him joyfully, but their reunion ends in horror when the Doppelgänger appears.

And thus the final scene of greater and greater horror begins.

Like many horror films of this vintage, this isn’t something you can expect thrills and chills from. It’s more about creating a mood and building towards that final reel. A lot of 1910s features are also hit or miss for me. Feature-length film was in its genesis, in process of finding its voice. The storytelling often isn’t particularly sophisticated, and a dearth of intertitles creates confusion about who a character is and what exactly’s going on.

This film was remade in 1926 with Conrad Veidt and Werner Krauss, and again in 1935 and 2004. The 1913 original is considered the very first German art film, and the world’s first indie film. It also deeply spoke to the alienation many Germans felt as their empire headed towards collapse, sparked interest in psychoanalysis, and set the stage for German Expressionism.

WeWriWa—Eliisabet’s advice

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet immediately follows last week’s, when 17-year-old Lyuba Zhukova privately lamented her ball escort to her friend Eliisabet.

Lyuba’s two best friends, Boris Malenkov and Ivan Konev, have taken turns escorting her to balls since they were gymnasium students, but since Boris acted up in April and was punished with the new-fangled detention, Ivan took his place for their final gymnasium ball before they were expelled. Not only does this mean Boris now gets to escort her to a ball, but Lyuba also promised Boris would have two turns in a row next time.

Lyuba’s friend Eliisabet Kutuzova, always very understanding and full of practical advice, tries to convince her to follow her heart.

“It’s long past time you were honest with both of them. If you really prefer Ivan, it’s dishonest to have them switch turns and pretend you only like both of them as friends. I can see it all over your face. That’s the man you love. If you lead Malenkov on, things might get more complicated than you bargained for. It’s easier to level with someone before things go too far than it is to jilt someone who thinks he’s your beau.”

“Just yesterday we were about to run away to get married and leave for America, but that creep Basil sprung a surprise visit on us and ruined everything. Vanya may have only ever kissed me, but he’s as incredible as a man who’s had a thousand prior girlfriends. I wish I were in his arms right now, doing all the things we used to do during our secret romance in the spring.”

You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan (1917-24):

Seventeen-year-old Lyuba Zhukova is left behind in Russia when her mother and aunt immigrate to America, forcing her to go into hiding from the Bolsheviks and sometimes flee at a moment’s notice.  By the time the Civil War has turned in favor of the Reds, Lyuba has also become an unwed mother.  But she still has her best friend and soulmate Ivan Konev, a band of friends, and a cousin, and together they’re determined to survive the Bolsheviks and escape to America.

As Lyuba runs for her life during the terror and uncertainty of the Civil War, she’s committed to protecting her daughter and staying together with Ivan, her on-again, off-again boyfriend in addition to her best friend and the man who’s raised her child as his own since the night she was born.  The race to get out of Russia, into Estonia, and over to America intensifies after Ivan commits a murder to protect her and becomes a wanted criminal.

Once in America, Lyuba discovers the streets aren’t lined with gold and that she’s just another Lower East Side tenement-dweller.  Ivan brings in dirt wages from an iron factory, forcing them to largely live off the savings they brought from Russia and to indefinitely defer their dream of having their own farm in the Midwest.  And though the Red Terror is just a nightmarish memory, Lyuba is still scarred in ways that have long prevented her and Ivan from becoming husband and wife and living happily ever after.  Can she ever heal from her traumatic past and have the life she always dreamt of with the man she loves before Ivan gets tired of waiting?

WeWriWa—Trapped in two charades

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. To mark the 17th anniversary of the date I finally finished the first draft of my first Russian historical, I’m sharing an excerpt from that this week. I’m also happy to finally have a better cover, though it may change slightly.

This excerpt comes from very early in Chapter 3, “Trapped in Two Charades.” Lyuba, her younger cousin Ginny (real name Mikhail), and her friends are going to a ball shortly after the October Revolution, organized by passionate Socialist and Estonian nationalist Katrin (who hasn’t yet become one of Lyuba’s closest friends).

Lyuba and Ivan were about to run away together the other day, after Lyuba finally admitted she still loves him, but their plans were ruined by an unwanted visitor. Now a series of even worse complications are about to begin and keep them away from resuming their romantic relationship.

Lyuba hates the idea of having to be escorted by Boris, and how she let Boris have two turns in a row because their usual arrangement was thrown off in April. Not every man can be as handsome, tall, and strong as Ivan, but that doesn’t mean she wants to be seen on the arm of someone who’s short for a man, chubby, with large eyes, sickly-colored pasty skin, and terrible manners. To try to repulse Boris, she’s worn an ordinary lilac wool dress instead of something fancy like her purple velvet ballgown.

“Do you have to be escorted by Boris?” Eliisabet whispers as the men climb into the sleigh. “I see how you look at Ivan when you think no one else is looking, and I know you had a clandestine romance in the spring.”

“It’s a long-standing arrangement we’ve had since gymnasium,” Lyuba says in resignation. “They always took turns taking me, and since Boris had detention the last time, Ivan took over for him. If Boris hadn’t had detention, Vanya would’ve taken me tonight.”

The full-size image to be used for the complete cover

I wrote this book from 31 January 1993–26 August 2001, and also simultaneously did a lot of editing and expanding starting in 1995. I did some more editing and expansion during 2001–02, but then didn’t touch it again till April 2011, when I finally was able to open and convert all those MacWriteII and ClarisWorks files held hostage on disks. I spent the next three and a half years editing, revising, rewriting, and polishing it.

Just recently, I did some long-overdue light polishing for a new edition, which includes a number of new lines and passages. Most of what I did was just taking out overused words and phrases, and fixing some wording.

All these years later, I can’t believe I was really 13–21 when I wrote the first draft! I junked or radically rewrote 99% of the original 1993 material, and also did a lot of significant revisions and deletions of the 1996–97 material (from the second major phase), but I don’t know if I would’ve come up with the underlying story at another time in my life. The first seven chapters were a hot mess, but I somehow radically transformed it into the book I’m proudest of having written.

It began its life on a 128K Mac. Part of my family’s first computer will always live on in this book. One of the dedications is to that long-gone machine that was treated like a member of the family.

Miscellaneous Imperial Family photos

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Because I’ve been singularly working on finishing my alternative history in time for its 17 July release, I didn’t have any time left to put together a proper post. Instead, here are some of my photos of Russia’s Imperial Family.

1922 engagement photo of Prince Nikita Aleksandrovich (grandson of Aleksandr III) and childhood friend Countess Mariya Vorontsova-Dashkova. Their oldest son, Prince Nikita Nikitich, appears in my alternative history, as one of the five princes held as ransom by the Eichmann–Kommando in Budapest.

Tsar Ivan V, Peter the Great’s very handsome halfbrother and initial co-Tsar. Though Ivan was very severely disabled, he had a wife and five healthy daughters, and Peter was always so compassionate towards him. He never excluded him from co-ruling, even knowing it was mostly symbolic.

Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich, second surviving son of the rival Vladimirovichi branch of the family. Though he was quite the womanizer and overspender, he was also known as an excellent host, very friendly and cheerful, with gourmet foods and wines by his tables. He and his little brother Andrey were let out of Bolshevik captivity when their captor recognized Boris as the one who’d bought some of his artwork when he was a struggling artist in France.

Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Fyodorovna (née Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine), known as Ella, Empress Aleksandra’s older sister, widow of Grand Duke Sergey Aleksandrovich, in 1887. She later became a nun, and was murdered by the Bolsheviks. In comparison to her sister, she was popular from the moment she arrived in Russia.

Prince Igor Konstantinovich, who marries Grand Duchess Mariya in my alternative history. They have eleven children, ten of whom survive. Had they both lived, he would’ve been a great husband for her, since she wanted so much to marry a nice Russian soldier and have a large family. Knowing she was a hemophilia carrier, and such a sweet person, I gave them eight girls and only three boys. Their second hemophiliac son survives into adulthood and plays a very important role in capturing Hitler alive near the end of the war. Their surprise youngest child, Oleg, is the healthy son they’ve long dreamt of.

Found this among a few blurry pictures while going through my downloads to free up space on my computer, prior to reinstalling and updating my OS. I really hope that photo isn’t what it looks like!

Prince Oleg Konstantinovich, Igor’s favorite brother, said to be the most intelligent of the Konstantinovichi siblings. His death in the war in 1914 devastated their father.