The Unknown (1927) A Silent Film Review

Lon Chaney plays a serial killer with two thumbs on one hand who hides out from the cops by posing as an armless knife-thrower in a traveling circus. He falls in love with Joan Crawford, who is afraid of men’s hands. After strangling her father, Chaney decides to cut off his own arms for real in order to win Crawford’s love, as one does. Chaos ensues. I did not make any of that up.
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The Phantom of the Opera (1925) A Silent Film Review

Here’s a movie that no one really wanted to make. Its production was troubled from the very beginning. From professional spats to last-minute recuts and reshoots, it had disaster written across it. So how did this hellish production end up as one of the most iconic and memorable horror films of all time? Does it live up to its reputation? Is it worth seeing for the casual viewer? We are going to engage in a little silent movie archaeology in order to find out.

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Unboxing the Silents: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on Blu-Ray

Caligari Cover

I am pretty excited about this new restoration, let me tell you. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is an astonishing film, a revered classic that more than lives up to its reputation. Yet, let’s be honest, the home media releases for this film have not been exactly pristine.

Availability

Available on DVD & Blu-ray.

Battered prints, marred by dust, streaks and lines have been the rule for bargain and more expensive releases. Even the best prints released have been a bit shabby and they have long been the only available ways to see this movie. I don’t mean to be a complainer but I have always felt that Caligari deserved better.

Fortunately, I was not the only one wishing for a restored film.

Our friends in Europe have been hard at work restoring an original camera negative (with 35mm prints filling in the gaps) of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and it is finally getting a U.S. release on Blu-ray, courtesy of Kino Lorber. (The restoration is also available on DVD but I will be focusing on the HD version in this review.)

I dare say that most film buffs have seen this film but never before in this quality.

Oh, and I am reviewing the new disc release, not the film itself. For my review of the film’s artistic merit (spoiler: I like it) please check out my movie review here.

Just take a gander at this trailer!

Very nice!

The Look

The introduction states that the first reel of the camera negative was missing and the lost material was restored using release prints. As no German distribution prints exist, the tinting was based on Latin American prints, believed to be the earliest surviving material. Here is what the first reel looks like:

The opening scene
The opening scene

Pretty darn good.

And here is the restored camera negative:

The carnival
The carnival
What is in the cabinet?
What is in the cabinet?
Obligatory Conrad Veidt close-up
Obligatory Conrad Veidt close-up

Oooo!

The Music

The release comes with your choice of two scores. There is the orchestral version performed by the Studio For Film Music at the University of Music, Freiburg. You can hear a taste in the preview clip. I loved the score. Caligari scores too often head in a discordant direction but this one manages to have a smart blend of melody and dissonance.

The other score is a trippy, almost perky, electronic affair from Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky. I tend to like non-traditional scores but I definitely prefer the main score in this release. However, I do appreciate being given a choice.

Extras

The biggest extra is the 52-minute documentary, Caligari: How Horror Came to Cinema. I also rather enjoyed the two sets of comparison clips included to show how the restored Caligari compared to original footage and previous restorations.

Before and after
Before and after
Restoration comparison
Restoration comparison

Buy?

Yes, this is easily the best home media release for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I cannot recommend it enough. Buy it for yourself or the film buff who has everything. I am also pleased that Kino Lorber made this restoration available in both standard and HD formats, ensuring that almost everyone can enjoy this pristine experience.

***

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this film for free for the purpose of reviewing it on my blog. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Bells (1926) A Silent Movie Review

Lionel Barrymore is Mathias, a kindly Alsatian innkeeper who is being crushed by debt. Unable to deny his friends loans or his loving daughter small luxuries, Mathias is on the edge of destitution. When a rich man stops briefly at the inn (with a fortune in gold on his person), Mathias drunkenly robs and murders him. All his problems are solved. Except for that little thing called a conscience…
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Waxworks (1924) A Silent Film Review

A young author (Wilhelm Dieterle) is hired by the owner of a wax museum to write tales about his most popular figures, Haroun al Raschid, Ivan the Terrible and Jack the Ripper. Entranced by his new boss’s pretty daughter (Olga Belajeff) the author sets to work writing about the wax figures. With each new story, the author and his new friend find themselves pulled inside the progressively nightmarish worlds that he has invented.
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