Celebrating lost horror of 1919

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Released November 1919, British film The Beetle was based on Richard Marsh’s 1897 novel of the same name. Upon its release, it outsold contemporary, similarly-themed competitor Dracula. The story is told by four narrators and concerns an Ancient Egyptian god seeking revenge upon a British Member of Parliament.

It initially was released as a serial under the title The Peril of Paul Lessingham: The Story of a Haunted Man in Answers, from 13 March–19 June 1897. It came out in volume form from September to October the same year, with the title it became famous for, The Beetle: A Mystery.

Many believe this book was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s 1903 novel The Jewel of Seven Stars, which also features an Ancient Egyptian theme.

This first film adaptation stars Maudie Dunham, Fred Morgan, and Hebden Foster. It was produced by Jack W. Smith and directed by Alexander Butler. Sadly, the film appears to be lost, though many films presumed lost for decades have turned up in the unlikeliest of places.

Contemporary reviews described it as an Ancient Egyptian High Priestess of Isis (Leal Douglas) turning herself into a beetle to get revenge on MP Paul Lessingham (Foster). This is no ordinary transformation, since she can appear as a woman or man in addition to a beetle. Lessingham turns to his romantic rival for help in defeating this creature.

One reviewer described it as mediocre and more unintentionally hilarious than spine-chilling or dramatic, though the special effects were highly praised. The production was also called to task for its supposed carelessness.

The Haunted Bedroom, released 25 May 1919, is also lost. Its alternate title was The Ghost of Whispering Oaks.

According to contemporary reviewers, New York reporter Betsy Thorne (Enid Bennett, wife of director Fred Niblo) travels to a Southern U.S. depot to investigate a mysterious disappearance. At the depot, she overhears a detective and sheriff saying all reporters are barred from the house and grounds at the centre of the mystery.

Betsy runs across a Richmond maid sent to the house and scares her into agreeing to an identity switch. At the house, Betsy discovers some incredible goings-on, and is terrified by a ghostly figure rising from an organ in the chapel her first night.

Everyone comes running at her screams as she runs away, and the missing man’s sister forbids her from returning to the chapel. The next night, she’s locked in her room during a thunderstorm, and sees the ghostly figure again while escaping through a window. This time, the figure’s in the family graveyard.

Betsy finds an old African-American gentleman who agrees to help her. (Given the era, I wouldn’t be shocked if he were an overly spooked caricature instead of a fully-rounded person who just happens to be a little frightened.) The duo begins investigating the house, starting with the organ.

They discover keys which enable a secret door in the organ to open, revealing a secret passageway to the family tomb. Hiding in there are two crooks whom Betsy discovers were trying to extort a young man accused of the crime.

A collection of eerie tales

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Released 5 November 1919, Unheimliche Geschichten (Eerie Tales) is an anthology film consisting of five creepy stories—The Apparition, The Hand, The Black Cat, The Suicide Club, and Der Spuk (The Spectre).

The Black Cat is based on an 1843 Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, with parallels to “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Both are about murderers who cover up their crimes and eventually are driven mad by guilt.

The Suicide Club is based on an 1878 three-story collection by Robert Louis Stevenson, also of the same name. They’re about a macabre club which is investigated by Prince Florizel of Bohemia and his buddy Colonel Geraldine. The club’s president is criminally-inclined.

The horror starts in a rare bookshop when three people (Conrad Veidt, Reinhold Schünzel, and Anita Berber) step out of paintings to read horror stories. They periodically appear in wraparound segments and play the leads in all five stories.

Their first story, The Apparition, begins with a woman who confides to a friend (Veidt) that her husband (Schünzel) has lost his mind. She rightly divorced him after he tried to strangle her, but now he follows her everywhere. She begs for protection against this madman.

They begin an affair and check into separate rooms of a hotel, where her ex comes looking for her but is turned away due to no vacancies.  That night, her lover totally freaks out when he finds her room empty.

He tries to set his mind at ease with the thought that it was the wrong room, and in the morning asks to be announced in Room 117. Once again he fills with horror when no one is there. Even worse, her name isn’t in the hotel register, and the receptionist claims he arrived alone.

The horror only increases from there.

In The Hand, things start innocently enough at a party, but soon it’s revealed there are two suitors (Veidt and Schünzel) competing for the same lady.

As so often happens with suitors who can’t gracefully accept no for an answer, the rejected one kills his rival. Before long, he’s tortured by ghostly visions of his victim’s hand.

Things go from bad to worse during a séance.

In The Black Cat, a drunk (Schünzel) becomes more and more out of control, culminating in the murder of his wife. Not realising the screams were heard outside, he drags her body into the cellar and walls her up.

Next day, the man who overheard the murder (Veidt) visits, and the drunk claims his wife is out of town. Soon everyone in town is saying the drunk murdered her.

The witness takes his suspicions to the authorities, who come to search the house. Nothing seems outwardly suspicious till cracks start appearing in the cellar wall.

The witness axes an opening, and out jumps the wife’s loyal black cat. The writing’s on the wall regarding his guilt!

In The Suicide Club, a detective (Schünzel) investigates a seemingly empty house and discovers people inside. When he confronts them, he’s told it’s “just” a suicide club.

The members don’t take very well to the stranger in their midst, esp. not after he refuses to join their club. They want to kill him, but the lone woman pleads for clemency.

Her brother (Veidt) tells him he’s part of a club where one can never leave, and takes him to a card game behind a wall inscribed with the famous words “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Whoever draws the spade dies that night.

Der Spuk is set in the 17th or 18th century, in the home of a well-to-do baron (Veidt). All the lines in this story are delivered via poems.

Trouble begins when an injured knight (Schünzel) is brought in to spend the night. The baroness, feeling neglected by her husband, immediately begins flirting with him.

Far from being angry to discover this cuckoldry in the making, the baron encourages her to have an affair. But since this is a horror story, their romance is disrupted by mysteriously moving objects and deathly figures.

When this final story concludes, the bookshop’s owner comes in with police and finds his store empty. The three readers have returned to their paintings.

A twofer of D.W. Griffith horror

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Though many associate director D.W. Griffith with extremely long, preachy, over the top epics, he has quite a multifaceted body of work, particularly before he began making the features he’s best remembered for today. During his five years at Biograph Studios, he directed hundreds of shorts with very diverse subjects.

The Sealed Room, released 2 September 1909, was based on Edgar Allan Poe’s 1846 story “The Cask of Amontillado” and Honoré de Balzac’s 1831 story “La Grande Bretèche.” The latter story takes its name from a manor. A bretèche, or brattice, is a little balcony with machicolations (openings where stones and hot liquids could be poured on invaders).

The King (Arthur V. Johnson) throws a party, and afterwards brings his mistress (Marion Leonard) into a dovecote through a secret entrance. Later he becomes suspicious of her fidelity, suspicions which prove correct.

She’s chutzpahdik enough to bring her lover (Henry B. Walthall) into the dovecote. It’s only a matter of time till the King opens the curtains and spies the unthinkable.

The lovers don’t realise they were seen, and continue merrily cavorting as the King’s men seal the entrance. When his mistress goes to let her lover out, they discover they’re trapped. Panic and terror erupt as the King taunts them on the other side.

Released 24 March 1914, The Avenging Conscience was based on Edgar Allan Poe’s famous 1843 story “The Tell-Tale Heart” and his final complete poem, “Annabel Lee” (1849). The latter concerns a love so strong it creepily continues beyond Annabel Lee’s death. Every night, the narrator sleeps beside her seaside tomb.

Throughout the film, there are quotes from the two literary inspirations.

An unnamed young man (Henry B. Walthall) is raised by his indulgent uncle (Spottiswoode Aitken) after losing his mother in infancy. When he grows up, he throws himself into establishing a successful career. However, his single-minded focus is derailed when he falls in love with Annabel (Blanche Sweet), much to his uncle’s outrage.

As Griffith was so wont to do with establishing his ingénues as sweet and sympathetic, Annabel too is shown cooing over a baby animal, a puppy she rescues from behind a wire barrier.

The young man initially stands firm in his commitment to Annabel, no matter how opposed his uncle is to the match, but later gives in. He and Annabel agree to never see one another again.

There’s a subplot of a romance between a maid (Mae Marsh) and grocery boy (Bobby Harron). Their carefree, unopposed romance stands in stark contrast to the thwarted one of Annabel and the protagonist. Unlike the latter couple, they come from the same social class, and neither has high expectations of conducting oneself a certain way.

The maid and grocer go on to marry, have a baby girl, and create a happy home, while Annabel’s life is very lonely and melancholic, and our protagonist has financial success but not personal happiness.

Annabel continues suffering without her love, while the protagonist becomes consumed by images of death and creepy-crawlies stalking their prey. He decides his uncle, the source of all his personal anguish, must die.

Though he had the perfect chance to take out his uncle during a nap in the office, he chickens out. When his uncle awakes, he asks for money. If his uncle gives it to him, he’ll go away.

His uncle refuses, and a fight breaks out. The protagonist ends up strangling his uncle, little realising he was secretly seen through the window.

Full of terror when the witness (George Seigmann) begins knocking at the door and shouting, the protagonist covers his uncle with a coat. He steps outside and tries to play it cool, but it’s no use. To buy the witness’s silence, he promises to pay him well when his inheritance comes due.

The protagonist hides his uncle’s body in the fireplace wall, replacing each brick very carefully so no human eye can detect anything.

Questions arise about what happened to his uncle, but no one suspects the protagonist, who receives his full inheritance. Annabel soon comes to visit to pay her sympathies, and it seems like the beginning of a rekindled romance until the ghostly visions start.

Annabel is afraid he’s more than just mentally deranged, and leaves.

Sleep provides no respite, as the haunting visions continue. He hies it to a sanitarium in hope of gaining relief from these hallucinations, and returns home believing he’s cured. But his greatest horrors are only just beginning.

Meet Naina, Katya, and Karla

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I’m returning to moving out old posts indefinitely stored in my drafts folder. Originally one of a batch of 20 posts I put together and stored in my drafts folder for the now-long-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop on 24 June 2012, this comes from my first Russian historical and has been changed a fair bit. The published version doesn’t use the pedantic accent marks used here, for starts, and some things have been fleshed out while others (like the pointless roll-calling) have been removed. In the published version, sadistic Mrs. Zyuganova also pushes Klara into the snow, not the mud, seeing as it’s December in Minsk.

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Possibly my favorite subplots in my Russian novels revolve around my orphanage girls. I’d read about how children of “enemies of the people” were treated in orphanages during the Civil War in Felice Holman’s The Wild Children, which I read shortly before beginning the first book in early 1993, but I wasn’t inspired to create a whole series of subplots set in orphanages and playing out over three books till my second major period of working on the first novel.

When I was introduced to what became my favoritest movie, The Inner Circle, in the summer of ’96, and then resumed work on the novel that November [actually September], I knew I had to have orphanage characters too. They include Vera, Natalya, and Fyodora, some of Lyuba’s future stepsisters, and Anya and Leontiy, the children of the couple who took Lyuba and her friends into hiding. Some of the other important orphanage girls include Belarusian Inessa and trio Katya, Naina, and Karla. Naina is the niece of Sonya Gorbachëva, an important secondary character.

Naina and Inessa have always been my favorite of the orphanage girls. Inessa is a very intelligent, headstrong young girl who’s only there because her parents were arrested for an honest, petty mistake, and Naina is as sharp as nails in spite of her young age. Naina first appears in December of 1919, and at barely eight years old is toting a gun.

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“These three will stay in this bunk to make up for the three who departed.” Mrs. Zyuganova leads three new girls into the quarters. “Names, ages, and nationalities?”

“Naína Antónovna Yezhova, age eight, from Pétrograd.”

“Nice necklace. It’s mine now.” She grabs a citrine necklace hanging around Naína’s neck.

Naína slaps her hands away, reaches under her dress, and pulls a gun on Mrs. Zyuganova. “No it’s not. My mátushka gave it to me when I was four. Steal it and I shoot you. My papa gave me one of his handguns before I was taken away, and I’m not afraid to use it.”

Mrs. Zyuganova struggles to collect herself. “Next?”

“Yekaterína Kárlovna Chernomyrdina, age twelve, from L’viv.”

“L’vov,” Mrs. Zyuganova growls.

“No, it’s really L’viv!”

“Kárla.”

“Last name and patronymic?”

“I’m two and from Yaroslavl.”

“Last name and patronymic?”

“I don’t know!”

Mrs. Zyuganova picks Kárla up and throws her into a wall. Then she begins beating her.

“Stop beating her!” Naína bites Mrs. Zyuganova. “She’s only two years old! She is Kárla Maksímovna Gorbachëva. She’s my cousin, and if you hurt her again I will kill you. Remember, I’ve got a gun, and I know how to shoot. It’s not just for show.”

“Quiet that tiny one down!” Mrs. Zyuganova screams.

Naína takes Kárla into another room.

“No, you can’t leave the room you’re assigned to!”

“I am well accustomed to the rules of orphanages by now. I don’t like you. In fact, I don’t think we’ll be sticking around much longer. Just try to stop us. You know you can always get three fresh victims where you found us.”

Mrs. Zyuganova spits in disgust. “We’re ready to round people up to cars. Boys first. Leontiy Ryudolfovich Godimov, Andréy Samuelovich Bródskiy, Ósip Yuriyevich Khrushchëv, Iósif Vasíliyevich Klykachëv, Maksím…”

They go into the car obediently.

“Girls next. Natálya and Fyodora Ilyínichna Lebedeva, Yeléna Vasíliyevna Klykachëva, Svetlána Yuriyevna Khrushchëva, Valentína L’vóvna Kuchma, Irína Samuelovna Bródskaya, Ínna Aleksándrovna Zhirínovskaya, and Ólga Leonídovna Kérenskaya.”

“My brother is on that transport!” Klára howls.

“Tough luck. If you sneak on I’ll beat you. Oh. I would love to get rid of Inéssa my traitor niece. Off you go!”

“Fédya!  Fédya!” Klára screams.

Mrs. Zyuganova pushes Klára into the mud. “Would anybody like to sell his or her place to little Klára Mikháylovna Nadleshina?”

“I would!  I would!” Inéssa screams.

“Stay on that train, Inéssa! I want to get rid of you!”

Inéssa runs to the man approaching and flings herself into his arms. “Dyadya Díma! Take me away and adopt me! I’ve been in this orphanage since my parents got arrested, and Tyotya Dásha beats me sometimes! Adopt me!”

Mr. Zyuganov’s forehead is thrust forward, like a ram’s. He has red-brown hair and gray eyes. “Dásha, is this true?”

“Yes it’s true, now adopt me, Dyadya Díma!”

“Dásha, I saw him! The Leader! He’s promised to bring fair work conditions to the mines in Belarus! Soon you won’t have to work in this hospital anymore!”

“This isn’t a hospital! It’s a phony orphanage! Adopt me!”

“Of course, I’ll adopt my niece if her parents are jailed enemies of the people—”

Mrs. Zyuganova yanks Inéssa from her uncle’s arms and throws her into the girls’ cattlecar. “Goodbye, my traitor niece. I hope they treat you even worse at the new place.”

Klára runs with the train and boosts herself up into the window. Ánya, Véra, and Natálya run with her and boost themselves up next. They all tumble on top of the three newest arrivals.

“We hid under the baggage holds,” Naína says. “We’re very sneaky. After seeing how she treated Kárla, I had to say no and move onto another orphanage!”

Zhang Shichuan

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My Masquerade post is here.

Zhang Shichuan (né Zhang Weitong) (1 January 1889 or 1890–8 July 1953 or 1954) was born in Ningbo’s Beilun District, Zhejiang Province. His dad, Zhang Heju, was a silkworm dealer.

Zhang was forced to leave school at sixteen when his dad passed away. He went to live with his maternal uncle, comprador Jing Runsan, in Shanghai. Owing to his uncle’s business, Zhang got a job at the American company Huayang. He studied English at night.

In 1913, Yashell and Suffert, Americans who’d taken over the Asia Film Company, asked Zhang to be their consultant. Though he hadn’t any filmmaking experience, he gamely rose to the challenge.

Zhang enlisted the help of famed playwright Zheng Zhengqiu, with whom he founded the new film company Xinmin. That same year, they produced China’s first feature, The Difficult Couple.

WWI forced Xinmin into bankruptcy, and Zhang’s aunt, newly widowed, asked him to run their family’s New World amusement park.

Zhang didn’t stay away from filmmaking for long. In 1916, when American films came to Shanghai, he founded the Huanxian company.

His new venture quickly closed, and he returned to running the amusement park. That didn’t last long either, as the park sold in 1920.

In 1922, Zhang, his old partner Zheng, and three other people founded Mingxing. From the jump, he and Zheng had quite disparate aims. Zhang wanted to make money from movies, while Zheng saw film as a catalyst for moral improvement and social reform.

Zhang (left) and Zheng (right)

Despite their juxtaposing views on the purpose of film, Mingxing films were very popular through the Twenties. Mingxing became China’s largest film company. After the 1931 invasion of Manchuria and 1932 Battle of Shanghai, Mingxing brought leftist screenwriters on board to keep up with the times.

Troubles increased when Japan occupied Shanghai (barring foreign concessions) in 1937. Mingxing was destroyed by bombs, though Zhang was able to rescue some equipment and material before relocating to the Guohua company.

The noose tightened in 1941, when Japan occupied the Shanghai International Settlement, previously under British and U.S. control, and melded Shanghai’s remaining film companies into China United. Zhang decided to work for them as a director and branch manager.

1930s entrance to Mingxing, known in English as Star Motion Picture Company

After the war ended, Zhang was accused of treason for cooperating with the Japanese occupiers. He was able to find work at Hong Kong’s Great China Film Company and Shanghai’s Datong Film Company, but his reputation never recovered.

Zhang directed about 150 films over the course of his long career, including China’s first talkie, Sing-Song Girl Red Peony (1931); the first martial arts film, The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple (1928); the oldest known Chinese film surviving in entirety, Laborer’s Love (1922); one of China’s first box office smashes, Orphan Rescues Grandfather (1923); and China’s first feature, The Difficult Couple (1913).