Waxworks (Paul Leni, 1924)


Waxworks is a German Expressionist “anthology” film, featuring three stories told about certain wax figures. The first story is not really horror, it has some somewhat disturbing moments, but is mostly played for laughs. The other two though, fit comfortably within my understanding of horror, and play on common themes of German expressionist filmmaking. The middle story, is probably the best, and is about Ivan the Terrible’s torture chamber and paranoia. The whole thing is incredibly claustrophobic; the sets have low ceilings, closed walls, long passageways… the performance of Ivan is by Conrad Veidt, the actor who was Cesar in Caligari… and he is freaky. Ivan’s paranoia is not completely unwarranted and an attempt is made on his life, to which he forces begrieved people at a wedding to celebrate despite the fact that the father of the bride has just been murdered in the Czar’s place. Then he tries to rape the bride, tortures her husband and eventually goes mad when he thinks that he has been poisoned. The final chapter is a fantasized nightmare about being chased by Jack the Ripper through an amusement park.

The whole film is very baroque and expressionistic, lots of darkness, altered perceptions, and villainous/disgusting men who abuse their power. It highlights especially, a fear of that kind of authority, especially as it preys on youth and innocence. Even the lighter, first story utilizes this theme, and plays on a sort of distorted perception of a world that seems to trap you like a cage… it’s not in the same league as somehting like Nosferatu, but a fairly unsettling film nonetheless. The Ivan chapter is easily the strongest.

One response to “Waxworks (Paul Leni, 1924)

  1. and begotten, for your horror rec post. description: “God disembowels himself with a straight razor. The spirit-like Mother Earth emerges, venturing into a bleak, barren landscape. Twitching and cowering, the Son Of Earth is set upon by faceless cannibals;” cast: god killing himself, mother earth, and son of earth-flesh on bone; from imdb. sontag quote “one of the 10 most important films of modern times.”

    saw the entry for great movie moments, chungking. my inclusion, wkw, happy together, crying into the tape recorder, itmfl, the birthday song dedication on the radio.

    i had to share, a must read is “Defining Moments In Movies: The Greatest Films, Stars, Scenes, And Events That Made Movie Magic,” fujiwara, ed., (the u.s. title). a book i gift as much as notes on the cinamatographer. and refer to as much as the bresson book and how to read film by monaco. no flippant bullet reviews, but concise and insightful. entries from various writers of film and non film, important. a phone book size book ive found used for mere dollars. an interview about it here: http://alexistioseco.wordpress.com/2007/12/13/qa-fujiwara-black-book/ “The point is, here’s a book that is about people looking at the cinema as if the cinema were nothing but moments. What do we see, and what do we retain in our memories, when we look at it like that? I think the book challenges the whole idea of “the greatest whatever,” like the best movies or albums or whatnot. Because it doesn’t say these are the greatest, it has nothing to do with the greatest. It really is about taking this idea of a moment, and using that to take apart film history and the usual hierarchical notions of what film is.”

    writing so much because your site is a favorite. you’re a true film fan

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