Love, life, and revenge, sideshow-style

Director Tod Browning’s legendary Freaks premièred 20 February 1932, at 90 minutes. Sadly, it was cut to just 64 minutes for the general release, since many scenes were deemed too shocking for public consumption. The original version is lost.

Freaks is based upon horror and mystery author Tod Robbins’s short story “Spurs,” published February 1923 in Munsey’s Magazine. “Spurs” is set in a travelling French circus, where dwarf Jacques falls in love with bareback rider Jeanne Marie.

Jeanne marries him to get his inheritance. She truly loves her partner Simon, and plans to marry him after she offs Jacques. By the wedding feast, Jeanne gets drunk and insults Jacques, calling him a little ape whom she could carry on her shoulders.

A year later, Jacques is retired and living on an estate with Jeanne. She escapes to Simon’s doorstep and begs him to protect her from Jacques, who’s forcing her to make good on her threat to carry him the width of France on her shoulders.

Jacques then appears on a wolfhound, with a sword, and takes his revenge.

Browning convinced MGM to buy the rights, and began working on a screen adaptation in 1927. In June 1931, wonder boy Irving Thalberg gave permission for him to direct. The final script (by primary writers Willis Goldbeck and Elliott Clawson) bore little resemblance to the source material, outside of the basic premise and the wedding feast.

Prolific character actor Victor McLaglen was considered for the role of strongman Hercules; Myrna Loy was cast as evil trapeze artist Cleopatra; and Jean Harlow was chosen as sympathetic “normal” performer Venus. Ultimately, Thalberg decided not to cast any big stars.

Given when Browning began planning this film, plus his long history of collaboration with Lon Chaney, Sr., it’s a given Lon would’ve been in this film had he lived. It’s so painful to think about all the great early sound horror films Lon should’ve left his mark on!

The film opens with a circus barker introducing the most horrifying monstrosity of all time, formerly a beautiful trapeze artist. A woman screams when she sees this creature, whose reveal is saved for the end of the film.

We then enter flashback mode.

Engaged dwarves Hans and Frieda (real-life siblings Harry and Daisy Earles) watch trapeze artist Cleopatra performing. Hans is quite transfixed, so much so Frieda questions if he still loves her. He insists he does, but he quickly begins getting more and more flirtatious and personal with Cleopatra.

Hans asks Cleopatra if she’s laughing at him, and she says no. Many people don’t realize he’s a man, with the same feelings they have.

Before long, Hans and Cleopatra are having a less and less secret affair, and the entire circus is laughing at them. Frieda is humiliated, and confides in Venus for help and comfort.

Cleopatra’s affair with Hercules also becomes less and less secret, to everyone but Hans. When Frieda confronts Hans, he apologizes for not telling her sooner. She wouldn’t care if Cleopatra made him happy, but he only thinks he’s happy.

Frieda delivers the powerful line, “To me, you’re a man, but to her, you’re only something to laugh at.”

Cleopatra and Hercules plot to murder Hans after Frieda mentions his large inheritance.

Other sideshow performers we meet are:

Conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton
Madame Tetrallini, who takes care of the freaks
Half Boy Johnny Eck (sacral agenesis)
Armless Frances O’Connor
Human Skeleton Peter Robinson
Pinheads (microcephalics) Schlitze (a man in real life), Elvira Snow, and Jenny Lee Snow
Bird Girl Elizabeth Green (a large nose and thin bone structure giving a stork-like appearance)
Half-Woman Half-Man Josephine Joseph
Stuttering clown Rosco (Daisy’s husband)
Kind-hearted clown Phroso (Venus’s love interest)
Bearded lady Olga Roderick (the Human Skeleton’s wife)
Dwarf Angeleno (Angelo Rossitto) and his armless wife (Martha Morris)
Sword swallower Delmo Fritz
The Rollo Brothers, Edward Brophy and Matt McHugh
Living Torso, Prince Randian (tetra-amelia; married and the father of four kids in real life)
Koo-Koo the Bird Girl

By the wedding feast, Cleopatra poisons Hans’s wine. When the freaks famously chant, “Gooba-gobble, gooba-gobble, we accept her, one of us,” Cleopatra snaps. During her tirade, she reveals she’s been having an affair with Hercules.

Hans is humiliated, and realizes he’s been played for a fool. He pretends to apologize to Cleopatra and to take her poisoned medicine, while plotting revenge.

During a night thunderstorm, the freaks carry out payback.

Audiences were horrified, and many reviewers expressed revulsion and outrage. It took a $164,000 loss, and Browning had difficulty finding work afterwards. Freaks was the only MGM film pulled from release before finishing its planned run, and it was banned in the U.K. for 30 years.

Today, it’s a cult classic, and garners much more positive reviews.

In that era, a sideshow was just about the only place these people could find work and protection. Mainstream society wouldn’t accept them, and the alternative was life in an institution.

The freaks in this film are the ones with humanity, kindness, decency, loyalty, and morality. It’s the “normal” people who are the villains, with deformed hearts and souls.

Advertisements

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! This year, for my Halloween-themed excerpt, I’m sharing the first half of Chapter 6, “Samhain Proposal,” of Green Sunrise, the hiatused sequel to Little Ragdoll. Here, it’s 1974 in Hudson Falls, NY, where six of the Troy siblings and the three Ryan sisters now live.

This is a shortened, edited version of the rough draft.

“I just love Halloween,” Fiona says as she, Deirdre, and Adicia decorate the yard and Ernestine, Aoife, and Justine decorate the house on a Saturday two weeks before the holiday. “Christmas and Easter decorations are really pretty, but Halloween decorations are really groovy.  I prefer spooky stuff.”

“Halloween, or should I say Samhain, is gonna be extra-special this year,” Deirdre says. “It’ll be a holiday no one’s ever gonna forget, particularly not Ernestine.”

“What are you planning?” Adicia asks as she stands on a ladder to drape Halloween lights over a tree. “Can we be let in on this secret?”

“So long as you don’t squeal to Ernestine.” Deirdre looks behind her to make sure the windows and door are shut, then pulls a wooden box out of her baggy front skirt pocket. “Have a look at what I bought her when I pretended I was studying late at the campus library.”

Fiona pops open the box and squeals at the sight of a ring with a heart-shaped garnet clasped by two hands, with a crown on top. “You’re proposing?”

“It’s time to take the bull by the horns.  This is called a claddagh.  I got a garnet ‘cause red’s her favorite color, and rubies are too damn expensive.  The three symbols represent love, loyalty, and friendship.  They’re traditional Irish wedding and engagement rings.”

“When are you gonna pop the question?” Adicia asks. “Is it gonna be in private or a public event?”

“I think I’ll do it on Samhain night, when we get back from trick-or-treating.  I’m gonna slip it into her candy bag and wait for the results.”

“You’re going trick-or-treating?” Adicia asks. “At twenty-two?”

“We all did it in Poughkeepsie.  Why not take the opportunity better late than never?  You’re going trick-or-treating too.”

“Folks here are nice, even if somea ‘em don’t share our revolutionary principles,” Fiona says. “They won’t care we’re not kids.  I’m going to be a dragon, and Aoife’s gonna be a ladybug.”

“Are you staying home with the baby this year, Adicia?” Deirdre asks.

“Robbie would love to get candy!  My baby’s never gonna lack for anything.  Lenore made him the cutest little monkey costume, and she made Oliver an elephant costume.”

“I’d love to celebrate the traditional Celtic way.  Some folks practice divination on Samhain, predicting stuff like your future spouse and how many kids you’ll have.  We can have fun trying our hand at that.  Some Wiccans and Celts also use the holiday to pay tribute to their ancestors and other loved ones who are no longer here.”

Deirdre quickly shoves the ring box back into her pocket when the door opens and Ernestine comes out with Robbie on her hip.  Ernestine doesn’t notice anything out of the ordinary about Deirdre’s expression and proceeds over to Adicia, handing her the baby.

“He started fussing like he wants to nurse, and I think he wants you instead of grape juice in a cup.”

Adicia’s eyes have lit up at the sight of her child, and she doesn’t wait to go inside to ease him under her blouse.

“It still gets me how happy she looks every time she sees him,” Ernestine says. “She looks like a kid in a candy store.  It’s the kinda look our mother never gave any of us but Tommy.”

“We’ll both be giving that kinda look to our babies soon enough,” Deirdre says. “We’ll be one big happy family, even if it’s a little different from most.”

***

Before everyone sets out for trick-or-treating on Halloween, they meet at Lucine and Zachary’s for Simone’s second birthday party.  Simone is dressed as a tiger and sitting in a chair decorated with pink and purple streamers and balloons.  Some of her friends from daycare are there with their parents.

“I helped frost the cake!” Fiona says. “It looks like a wrapped present, and has cherry filling.”

“What a great unisex costume!” Emeline says. “A tiger can be a boy or a girl.  We had a storytime and Halloween activity for young kids today at the library, and a bunch of ‘em were dressed in such disappointingly sex-typed costumes, like princesses, kings, ballerinas, cowboys, and witches.  If I ever have kids, I’ll give ‘em costumes just like Simone’s.”

“I hope you don’t think Amelia’s and my costumes are too girly,” Irene says. “I know girls can do anything, but I like dressing like a girl.”

“I suggested to your mommy you could be a Colonial girl and a pioneer girl, and I helped her shop for fabric.  I always wanted costumes like that growing up.  They’re feminine without being too girly.”

“How long are we going out for?” Ernestine asks as Allen takes pictures of the cake.

“Simone can probably only handle an hour at most,” Lucine says. “Oliver and Robbie will probably be the same.  Don’t tell me you’re going.”

“Deirdre and I are both going.  We never did it growing up, so we might as well milk it while we can still get away with it.”

“Don’t they have a Halloween party at the university yous guys can attend?”

“I’m a sexy saloon girl, and Deirdre’s a pirate.  Afterwards, we’re gonna try our hand at divination.  Emeline’s coming with us.  It must stink to be all alone on the funnest day of the year.”

“I’m not trick-or-treating,” Emeline defends herself. “I’m just meeting up with them at their house after I’m done handing out candy.”

Lucine pats Emeline on the shoulder. “Hopefully someday you’ll have a husband and a couple of kids, and you won’t always have to tag along with us.  Not that we mind having you, but it’s nice to have your own separate family.”

“I’m not entirely alone.  I’ve got Georgiekins.”

“A cat can’t take the place of people, no matter how nice he is.  I hope you don’t mind you’re in my prayers.  I want you to find love like the rest of us.  Even Ernestine’s gonna lesbian-marry Deirdre at some point.”

“It’s called a handfasting,” Deirdre corrects her. “What the hell kinda term is ‘lesbian-marry’?”

“Well, whatever you call it, it is happening eventually, isn’t it?”

“You better believe it.” Deirdre smiles enigmatically as Zachary lights the candles.

***

Adicia, Ernestine, Deirdre, Fiona, Aoife, Justine, Lenore, Lucine, and Sarah canvassed a twenty-block radius with Irene, Amelia, Oliver, Simone, Robbie, Fritz, and Nessa before heading back to their respective houses.  A few people looked askance at Ernestine’s costume, which consists of a purple corset attached to a very short skirt with black fringes, fishnets, her one pair of heels, black lace glovelets, a dark pink leg garter, and a big purple feather on her head, but no one held back candy.

Source

“Next year, I’m gonna be a sexy French maid,” Ernestine announces as she kicks off her heels the minute they get inside. “It’s a blessing in disguise we were cheated outta proper Halloweens growing up, ‘cause when you’re a kid, you can’t wear fun costumes like this.  Plus I probably woulda gotten stoned for wearing something like this in public.”

“I hope you mean at a costume party for adults,” Adicia says. “You and Deirdre both said this was probably your last year to go trick-or-treating.”

“You didn’t have a true Halloween till you were eighteen either.  I’m surprised you’re not milking all that lost time for all it’s worth too.”

Ricky looks away from Ernestine in embarrassment and takes Robbie from Adicia. “I’ll be upstairs with the little monkey while you girls are down here doing your thing.  I’ll read him Corduroy and The Poky Little Puppy.  Those are his favorites.”

“Don’t be afraid to look at me,” Ernestine teases him as he limps up the stairs.  “Nothing you haven’t seen before.  This is downright modest given somea the stuff in Adicia’s lingerie closet.”

Adicia turns as red as a beet.

“Don’t you go being shy either.  We all do each other’s laundry, and I bought you that dark blue corset with the matching garter belt.  I see it in the wash so often, I guess you’re getting good mileage outta it.”

“Shall we get on to divination?” Adicia asks. “That’s Emeline’s car pulling up.”

Fiona gets the door for Emeline, who’s in a dark green velvet flapper dress. George jumps into Justine’s lap while Emeline finds a place on the davenport.

When Ernestine gets up to pet him, Deirdre stealthily retrieves the ring box from under the davenport and tosses it into Ernestine’s pillowcase full of candy.  Each embroidered her pillowcase differently, so they won’t get them mixed up.  Deirdre’s has shamrocks, Ernestine’s has flowers, Fiona’s has baby animals, Aoife’s has moons and stars, and Justine’s has butterflies.

“It’s not time for candy yet,” Emeline calls when she sees what Deirdre’s doing. “I thought divination was your idea.”

“What method would you like to try first?” Deirdre asks, trying to look and sound as normal as possible. “Tea leaves, Tarot cards, apple peels, I Ching, palmistry, Runes, bibliomancy, lithomancy, podomancy, what?”

“What’s podomancy?” Justine asks.

“Palmistry for the feet.”

Justine and Aoife wrinkle their noses in unison.

“That’s gross,” Aoife says. “I don’t think our feet smell like roses right now.”

“How do you tell fortunes with apple peels?” Justine asks.

“You throw it behind you or drop it into a bowl of water, and the letter it forms is the first letter in the name of the person you’re gonna marry.”

“What if it falls into a lump or a straight line?” Fiona asks.

“If it breaks, it means you’ll never wed.  Other methods for tryna predict if you’ll have a faithful lover or if you’ll ever wed are roasting chestnuts and seeing if they stay close together or drift apart, and separating an egg white and putting it in a bowl of water.  If the egg white sinks, you’ll be alone for the next year.”

“Didn’t all these parlor tricks originate when most girls were married by all of eighteen?” Emeline asks. “They also started before the modern concept of dating.”

“Can I start with the apple peel?” Justine begs.

“Sure, if you know how to peel an apple in one piece,” Deirdre says. “In the meantime, who wants to give me her palm first?”

Fiona scoots over to the coffeetable and gives her sister her hand while Justine is in the kitchen peeling an apple in one unbroken piece.  Deirdre tells her the names of the major lines and mounts, followed by an analysis of the shape, size, and appearance of her hands, fingers, and fingernails.  They’re all laughing at Deirdre’s prediction that Fiona will have at least seven children when Justine returns with her apple peel.

“Does anyone else wanna try counting?” Deirdre asks. “I’m not sure if I’m seeing more than seven, or if somea the extra lines are broken segments of pre-existing lines.”

“Where are these lines?” Justine asks.

“Under the pinky.  They say that you’ll have as many kids as there are lines.” Deirdre gets up. “Close your eyes and I’ll spin you three times.  You toss the apple peel over your left shoulder after the last spin.”

“Are there any boys you like, Justine?” Emeline teases as Deirdre spins her. “Any names you’d like to tell us?”

“There are a couple of guys I fancy, but no one I’d be interested in getting serious with.  I’m having a hard time in somea my classes; the last thing I need is a relationship.”

“Are you failing?” Ernestine asks. “If you’re having difficulties, we might be able to help you.”

“I’m having problems too,” Aoife confesses. “They’re nothing that can’t be fixed.”

Justine throws the apple peel over her left shoulder and holds onto Deirdre for support, her eyes still closed.

“Is that an O?” Emeline asks. “Or maybe a G?”

“I think it’s a U or a V,” Fiona says.

“Oh, brother,” Deirdre says. “That looks like a D to me.”

Justine blushes. “Even if this stuff is for real and not just a parlor game, I’m still five years younger than David.”

“You’ll be old enough for him someday,” Adicia says. “Age differences aren’t so big when you get older.”

“Can we try tasseography now?” Ernestine asks. “I’m mad with curiosity to see if you can see anything concrete in a bunch of loose tea leaves.”

“Maybe you can have some candy with the tea,” Deirdre encourages her. “Do you have a preference for tea?”

“Raspberry green tea with honey, please.”

Deirdre picks up where she left off with reading Fiona’s palm while the water heats up and Emeline pulls out teacups, saucers, the wooden box of teas, and the blue cast iron teapot with a butterfly motif.  Ernestine thumbs through one of her fortune-telling books as she waits.

“This line right above the Heart Line and under the index and ring fingers is the Girdle of Venus,” Deirdre says as Ernestine sips the tea. “It’s usually found in people who are extremely sensitive.  This marking between the Head and Heart Lines is La Croix Mystique.  It means you’ve got a natural gift for mysticism and the occult.”

“That’s groovy,” Fiona says.

Ernestine sets down her teacup midway through her drink and reaches for her pillowcase, hoping to pull out a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, a bag of M&Ms, or a Snickers.  Instead she finds the wooden box on top of her sack of loot.  Curious, she pulls it out and examines it.

“Did anyone else get something like this?  Don’t tell me it’s from some dentist who gave out boxes of coins ‘steada real candy.  We had some awful killjoy back in Poughkeepsie who gave out toothbrushes every Halloween.”

“At least you can do something with money,” Aoife says. “The worst are the dentists and health nuts who give out apples.  Who wants an apple on Halloween?”

Ernestine pulls the box open and finds a folded note propped up on a slight angle.  Even more curious, she sets the box down, neglecting to notice the ring, and reads the note.

My belovèd Ernestine Zénobie Troy, you are my best friend, my life, my soul, my heart, the only best friend and life partner I want for the entire rest of my earthly existence.  We promised this to each other six years ago, but now I’m formally, officially asking you again if you’ll be my best friend, my dear one, my partner through life, even until we’re seventy, and beyond if we live so long.  We’ve been inseparable and interconnected since we were kids, and now I want to make things permanent by having a handfasting ceremony binding us together as wives.  Will you please make my world complete by telling me you’ll marry me?  Love forever and always, Deirdre Apollonia Ryan, Halloween 1974.’”

Deirdre looks at her expectantly. She knows full well what the answer will be, but is unable to breathe until she knows for sure.  Ernestine sets the note on the table and turns her attention back to the little box, letting out a loud, excited scream when she sees the brilliant red garnet in the claddagh setting.

Source

“Yes, of course I’ll marry you, Deirdre!  I’ll belong to you forever!” She jumps up and throws her shaking arms around Deirdre. “Would you like to put the ring on for me?”

Deirdre slips it onto Ernestine’s left hand. “I knew it’d fit you perfectly!”

“This is awesome!” Justine says. “Now you’re gonna be our real sister-in-law, and Fiona and Aoife are gonna be our sisters too!”

“It’ll be so nice to officially be family,” Deirdre says. “Ernestine, how about a June wedding, after finals and papers?”

“June is fine by me!”

“Can we start planning the wedding tomorrow?” Aoife asks. “Is it in good taste for us to reuse our bridesmaid dresses from Adicia and Ricky’s renewal?”

“You can if you want, but it’s always nice to have new clothes for a special occasion if you can afford them.  At the very least, Deirdre and I will have to look for wedding dresses.  I’d love to go back to Mrs. Marsenko’s salon.”

“Better book the appointment for an entire day,” Fiona says. “You know how much Deirdre hates formal clothes.  I bet she’ll try to get away with wearing hot pink, turquoise, or electric green.”

“I’ll have to take you to look for your own engagement ring tomorrow, darling,” Ernestine says. “Does anyone wanna look at how gorgeous my ring is?”

“We all saw it already, but not on your hand,” Adicia confesses.

“Well, I didn’t see it,” Emeline says.

Ernestine giddily dances over to her and thrusts her hand in Emeline’s face.

“Rubies were too expensive, but I know red is your favorite,” Deirdre says. “That’s called a claddagh.  It’s very traditionally Irish.  It represents love, loyalty, and friendship.”

“Very pretty,” Emeline says. “I’m kinda jealous.”

“You’ll get a fellow someday, if you want it enough,” Adicia tries to cheer her up. “Why don’t you try onea those divination games to see if you’re gonna get a fellow within the year, or what the first letter of his name might be?”

“If you walk out the door backwards at night, pick some grass, and put it under your pillow, you’ll dream of your future husband,” Fiona says. “If you eat a dry crust of bread at night, any wish will come true.”

“You can also wear your night clothes inside-out to dream of your future spouse,” Ernestine says, still admiring her ring.

“I don’t wear anything to bed mosta the time,” Emeline confesses.

The others look at her in surprise, barely able to imagine Emeline of all people, the stereotypical quiet, shy librarian, routinely sleeping in the nude.  Justine and Aoife are unable to contain their giggles.

“Well, you know what they say about those quiet ones!” Emeline giggles a little herself. “When it’s really hot, who needs pajamas or sheets if you’re the only one around?  I pulled it off a couple of times at Vassar when my roommate was there, by maneuvering just so.  She never suspected anything.”

“Does anyone else know this?” Deirdre asks.

“I told Lenore awhile ago, and she was kinda blown away too, but she thinks it’s my own personal business.  Speaking of, don’t you think it’s a good idea to go over and tell her and Allen your exciting news?”

“Oh, we will, but first we can do another divination game,” Ernestine says. “You crack an egg, separate the white, and put the white in a bowl of water.  If it floats, you’ll soon be married, or you’ll continue to be happy in an existing relationship.  If it sinks, you’ll be alone for the next year.”

While Deirdre fills a bowl with water and separates a yolk and white into little bowls, Justine gets a piece of paper and starts doing some calculations while Aoife and Fiona dig into their candy.

“What are you doing math for?” Aoife asks.

“I’m figuring out when David and I won’t break the half plus seven rule.  I’ll be nineteen and he’ll be twenty-four.”

“Oh, boy, if only my brother knew what a big crush you have on him,” Aoife says. “Even if he were interested, it’s kinda lowlife for a guy in his twenties to date a teen girl.”

“Lenore was eighteen and Allen was twenty-one when they got together.”

“There’s a smaller difference between eighteen and twenty-one than there is between nineteen and twenty-four,” Emeline says.

Deirdre presents her with the bowl of water and the bowl with the egg white. “Have at it.”

Emeline pours the white into the water, and her heart sinks when the white immediately sinks to the bottom.  She’s not entirely surprised, and knows it’s only a game, but is still a little offended the negative outcome attributed to this superstition had to present itself immediately.  At least the white could’ve floated around for a little bit on a gradual descent to the bottom.

“Remember, you always told us the right guy’s worth waiting for, and that your future spouse will be even more special and appreciated if you had to wait a really long time for him,” Adicia tries to cheer her up, seeing the look on her face.

“Never mind this silly egg white,” Ernestine says. “We’ve got some calls to make.  After Lenore and Lucine,  we’ll call Sarah, David, Julie, Betsy, Mr. and Mrs. van Niftrik, and Gemma.”

“I hope they don’t care how late it is,” Deirdre says.

“That’s a valid point.  Why don’t we hold off breaking the news till tomorrow?  For now it’s just between us.  Why don’t we get back to divination now?”

“Oh, come on, don’t you wanna enjoy some post-engagement sex?” Fiona asks. “We won’t mind if yous guys retire early and leave us without our resident divination experts.”

“Not with all of yous knowing that’s what we’ll be doing!” Ernestine hopes she isn’t turning too red. “It was bad enough when my own parents did that without caring we walked in on them or overheard them!”

“Unless one or both of yous is having her monthly visitor, I’m pretty sure we all know you’ll be doing that anyway after you hit the hay.”

“Yeah, we’re all ladies here,” Justine says.

“We’re not going upstairs to have celebratory engagement sex,” Ernestine reiterates firmly.

“We don’t mind if we overhear anything,” Fiona says. “It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve overheard you.  Though I don’t know if sound carries as far downstairs as it does down the hall.  Me, Justine, and Aoife have overheard Adicia and Ricky doing it too, and we’re not embarrassed to look them in the face afterwards either.”

“This conversation is over,” Ernestine declares. “Now where were we with divination?”

A Symphony of Horrors

One of director F.W. Murnau’s most famous films, and one of the few silents most people outside the fan community know exists, almost became yet another lost film. Bram Stoker’s heirs sued over this unauthorized Dracula adaptation, and a court ruled all prints be destroyed.

Murnau changed all the characters’ names, moved the setting from 1890s England to 1838 Germany, axed many secondary characters, and significantly changed the ending. Nosferatu also kills his victims instead of creating new Vampyres.

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horrors) released 4 March 1922 by the Berlin Zoological Garden’s Marmorsaal (Marble Hall). This was part of Das Fest des Nosferatua party where guests were asked to come in Biedermeier (1815–48) costumes.

It was extensively advertised in Bühne und Film magazine, with stills, essays, production reports, a summary, and a piece on Vampyres by Albin Grau. Hr. Grau was an occultist, artist, and architect who served as production designer and producer.

Grau was responsible for the mystical and occult overtones, and Orlok’s creepy appearance. He got the idea for a Vampyre film during WWI, when a Serbian farmer told him his father was a Vampyre and one of the undead.

The general première was 15 March, by Berlin’s Primus–Palast. The U.S. première was 3 June 1929.

In 1838 Wisborg (a fictional city), Thomas Hutter is sent to Transylvania by his employer, real estate agent Knock, to visit Count Orlok. Rumours about Knock circulate, but one thing known for sure is that he pays his employees well.

Orlok wants to buy a house in Wisborg, and Knock tempts Hutter with extra money. He says Hutter may have to go to a bit of trouble, with some sweat and blood.

Knock suggests Hutter offer Orlok the empty house across from his, and bids him a good trip to the land of the phantoms.

Hutter’s wife Ellen (whose opening scenes call to mind a D.W. Griffith ingénue) is very worried about him, but he assures her he’ll be fine.

Hutter stops by an inn in the Carpathians, and everyone responds with horror when he announces he’s on his way to Count Orlok. The owner warns him not to go any further tonight, saying the werewolf is roaming the forests.

That night, Hutter begins reading a book about Vampyres.

Hutter sets out on his last leg in the morning, and urges his riders to hurry so they get there before dark. They stop before the destination, claiming a bad feeling.

As soon as Hutter crosses the bridge, he’s seized by eerie visions. The creepiness increases when an eerie-looking coachman gives him a lightning-speed ride the rest of the way.

Orlok (Max Schreck, whose surname means “terror”) is displeased to have been kept waiting so long, till nearly midnight, when the servants are asleep.

Orlok’s house gives Hutter the creeps, and he’s further creeped out by Orlok’s weird reaction to his bloody finger. Hutter tries to leave, but Orlok begs him to stay until day, when he sleeps, completely dead to the world.

In the morning, Hutter writes a letter to Ellen to reassure her he’s alright. By evening, Hutter shows Orlok Ellen’s picture, and Orlok remarks on her lovely neck. Orlok also says he’s buying the deserted house across from Hutter’s.

Hutter reads more of his Vampyre book, which makes him even more eager to get out of there. His terror goes through the roof when Orlok stalks towards him.

Meanwhile, Ellen is sleepwalking on the balcony. Her friend Harding catches her before she can fall off, and calls for a doctor. Ellen has a terrifying vision of her husband in danger.

The doctor says it’s just a case of mild blood congestion.

At dawn, Hutter finds Orlok asleep in a coffin. Shortly afterwards, he sees Orlok moving coffins into the courtyard, piling them on a carriage, getting into the one on top, and driving away.

Hutter collapses and is brought to hospital.

Orlok boards the schooner Empusa with coffins full of dirt. Meanwhile, Knock goes crazy under his spell.

While Hutter hurries home, Empusa also draws ever closer to Wisborg, bringing with it the Plague.

WeWriWa—Halloween party ends in mayhem

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

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 comes from the eighth book in my series focused on Max Seward, Jr., and his wacky family, set during autumn 1943.

Max’s cousin Elaine and their friend Quintina have organized a show-stopping school Halloween party, and Max himself has carved sixty jack-o-lanterns. All is going well till the local band starts taking off their costumes.

After these first five girls tackle their favorite bandmembers, it becomes a free-for-all as almost all the other girls rush the gym stage and pile onto the band too.

“There’s my heartthrob.” Kit yanked off the Stalin mask and raced over to Randy as he pulled off the spider head.

“And there’s mine.” Julieanna whipped off the Lenin mask and raced to Jakey as he draped the Dracula cape over the drums.

“That’s mine.” Violet tore off her Mussolini face and raced towards Bobby as he unghouled himself for the evening.

“And mine.” Cinnimin grabbed off the Hitler mask and made for Danny as he took off his football helmet.

“Oh my God, is that Pauly Richardson under the suit of shining knightly armor?” Mickey screamed, removing the disks from her eyes and tackling him to the ground.

I’d opened and converted the fourteen chapter files of this draft about two and a half years ago, but for some reason, the new master file kept crashing when I tried to open it. I had to go back onto my older computer (which has Word, unlike my newer computer), and went through the process all over again.

I’m so lucky that 10-year-old computer still works, I have an external disk drive, and those old files still open in spite of the hoops I have to jump through to convert and reformat them. This particular section seemed to need less extensive editing and rewriting than other parts of the Halloween chapter.

I was only fourteen when I handwrote the first draft, and about twenty when I transcribed it and made some changes. It’s yet another example of how my shorter books need far more extensive rewriting, editing, and restructuring than the books I deliberately wrote at saga-length!

A surrealistic Vampyre story

Director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr: Der Traum des Allan Gray (Vampyr: The Dream of Allan Gray) isn’t the type of film the average person will immediately understand and fall in love with. Even I found it very strange, and I’ve watched a lot of avant-garde and experimental films!

The film is based upon Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly (1872), a collection of five Gothic short stories.

Dreyer began planning Vampyr in 1929, a year after the release of his critically successful but financially disastrous La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. Le Societé Générale des Films cancelled his contract after it bombed, and in return, he accused them of mutilating the film to avoid offending Catholics.

Dreyer sued them for breach of contract, and the lawsuit dragged on till autumn 1931. When he was finally at liberty to work again, he went outside the studio system.

Because the transition from silents to sound happened so quickly, without time to work out the kinks, filming was difficult. Dreyer wanted it to be silent, but it ended up with dialogue used very selectively, explanatory intertitles, and book pages.

In the early sound era, films were often reshot in other languages, with the actors phonetically memorizing their lines. Some were reshot with different actors. In Vampyr, dialogue was mouthed in French, German, and English, so the dubbing wouldn’t look fake.

Much of the dialogue is delivered off-screen or facing away from the camera, to make this process easier. The only actors who didn’t lip-synch were Sybille Schmitz and Nicolas de Gunzburg (billed as Julian West).

The only professional actors were Maurice Schutz (Lord of the Manor) and Sybille Schmitz (his daughter Léone). The others were recruited in trains, cafés, and shops.

Many of the crew members had worked with Dreyer on Jeanne d’Arc, such as art director Hermann Warm and cameraman Rudolph Maté.

Everything was shot on location, with many scenes in Courtempierre, France. Not only did this save money, but it also increased the surrealistic, dreamlike atmosphere. During filming, the château where much of the story transpires served as housing for cast and crew. Unhappily, it was cold and rat-infested.

The German version renamed the protagonist David and ordered certain graphic scenes censored. Other deleted scenes which don’t exist in any known surviving prints include a Vampyre recoiling against the shadow of a cross, and a ferryman guiding Allan and Gisèle with the help of children building a fire and singing.

Dreyer also prepared a Danish version for his native country, based on the German version, but the distributor couldn’t afford to finish the intertitles in that same style. The Danish distributor also wanted the book pages changed into regular intertitles, but Dreyer refused. He felt the book were as much an actor as the humans.

The German première was delayed by UFA (the main production company), since they wanted the American films Dracula and Frankenstein released first. By the Berlin première of 6 May 1932, the audience booed. In response, Dreyer cut several scenes.

The Paris première in September was the opening attraction for a new cinema on Boulevard Raspail.

A Vienna showing resulted in audiences demanding their money back. When this request was denied, a riot broke out, and cops put it down with night sticks.

By the Copenhagen première in May 1933, Dreyer was a no-show.

The U.S. version was titled Not Against the Flesh. A dubbed, heavily-edited version appeared on the roadshow circuit as Castle of Doom a few years later.

Not long afterwards, Dreyer had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a French mental hospital. He didn’t return to filmmaking till 1943, with Day of Wrath (Vredens Dag).

Critical reviews of this international box office flop ranged from negative to mixed. In the modern era, viewers, critics, and film scholars are much more positive. This isn’t a film you watch for the story, but rather the visuals and mood.

This is also one of those films you have to watch multiple times to really start understanding. Its many layers become more meaningful with each new viewing.

Allan Gray (Nicolas de Gunzburg), who’s become obsessed with the supernatural, is aimlessly wandering. One night, he comes to a strange inn, where his sleep is disrupted by an old man. The intruder leaves a package on the nightstand, with the note, “To be opened upon my death.”

In the morning, Allan wanders to a weird castle, which is full of more strange visions and characters. His next stop is a manor, where the old man from the inn lives. Allan sees what looks like a shadow shooting the old man, who dies after he and the servants rush to his aide.

The servants ask Allan to stay the night, and the old man’s younger daughter Gisèle tells Allan her sister Léone is very sick. At that moment, they see Léone walking outside. When they run to help her, she’s unconscious, with bite wounds on her neck.

After Léone is carried inside, Allan opens the package left on his nightstand. It’s an old book about the history of Vampyres, which further fuels Allan’s obsession. From his reading, he learns Léone is a Vampyric victim.

The creepy doctor convinces Allan to give Léone his blood, and Allan’s dreams and visions become even stranger and more urgent. Will he be able to save Léone and defeat the forces of evil stalking Courtempierre?