Summer is winding down and not a moment too soon! I could use a few dark and stormy nights. To that end, here are six creepy silent films to set the mood for a night of rain, lightning and… murder.
As usual, this list is limited to films I have already reviewed on the site. I’m not saying they are artistic triumphs (though some can claim that title) but rather that they set the mood beautifully. I hope you enjoy!
The Haunted Spooks (1920)
Let’s start with something light. Harold Lloyd plays a nice kid who wants to get married. When he and Mildred Davis tie the knot, he gets more than he bargained for. She is heiress to a fortune but her uncle wants to scare her off with… ghosts! And yes, it does indeed get dark and stormy.
A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)
This topic wouldn’t be complete without some British moors in the mix. This is a grim story of a barber who falls for a manicurist but she won’t date him even after he slits her fiance’s throat. What can you do with such people? He breaks jail and heads for… the cottage on Dartmoor! (Dun! Dun! Dun!) Yes, dark and stormy.
Seven Keys to Baldpate (1917)
The only surviving silent film of stage legend George M. Cohan, this was a hackneyed chestnut when it was first released. Still, it’s great fun to see Hedda Hopper’s corpse being dragged hither and yon.
Read my review here. I also cover the talkie remake, House of the Long Shadows, which starred Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, John Carradine and… Desi Arnaz, Jr.
The Monster (1925)
Lon Chaney as a mad scientist? Yup! This film is hardly a masterpiece but it’s a fun way to spend an evening. Chaney’s role is fairly small, I hope to allay any disappointment by telling you this in advance. It’s silly but I like the atmosphere.
Read my review here. (I also discuss and debunk the myth that this film ripped off Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr.)
The Bat (1926)
Roland West was one the pioneers of the Old Dark House genre and this is his most famous film. It suffers from the anti-charisma of Jack Pickford as the romantic lead but there are plenty of great character actors to make up for it. Plus, proto-batsignal!
The Cat and the Canary (1927)
This is one of my favorite silent films to just watch and enjoy, it seems to get better with every rewatch. Stylish Germanic direction from Paul Leni + a charismatic Hollywood cast? The perfect blend! Moody, silly, zany and quirky, this picture is just a blast from beginning to end. Without a doubt, the ultimate silent horror-comedy. See it!
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I love all these films, especially this time of year! A nice short I’m partial to in the comedy sub-genre is Keaton’s The Haunted House. Clever two reeler with nifty “scare” gags.
Friend gave us the book Horror in Silent Films years ago which lists many “dark and stormy night” flicks due to compiler/author Roy Kinnard’s grab bag definition of horror movies. Kinnard went all in on his lists, including anything he could find between 1896 and 1929, a ton of shorts no matter how short, feature lengths…if it has “haunted houses, ghosts, witches, skeletons, monsters, hypnotism, the occult” or “presents an overwhelmingly horrific atmosphere,” he included it in his catalogue. Lots, lots, lots of foreign movies, so I’m happy. The unhappy part is, as always, so many are asterisked as lost or fragmented.
Kinnard goes out of the way in his intro to make a point about the thin line between comedy and horror always having been very thin indeed. Reminded me of a quote attributed to both Lon Chaney and Tod Browning: there is nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight :-0
Yes, there is much to be said for the old school creepy atmosphere. For example, A Cottage on Dartmoor is not a horror movie by any means but it does have dark secrets and inclement weather and so I would call it a kissing cousin. The Old Dark House horror-comedy sometimes gets revived but I think the silent era did it best. Of course. 😉
The only one I watched is The Cat and the Canary and quite enjoyed it. It’s a stange mix of creepy stuff and some light stuff. I liked it 🙂
The Bast sounds kind of intersting. I might seek that out.
Yeah, horror-comedies are fabulous!
I’ve got a copy of A Cottage on Dartmoor, but lent it out with some Hitch silents- if memory serves, though, it certainly has the goods (really good piano score nailed it for me). Love movies with that sort of atmosphere. All scenes with the barber and his handy little razor really gave me the willies!
Yes, it’s a rather creepy little confection. I am, however, a little disturbed at how much some people seem to sympathize with and relate to the barber and act as though the manicurist bears some of the blame. As a general rule, women tend to prefer men who are not homicidal in their jealousy. 😉
I prefer the silent version of The Cat and the Canary to the Bob Hope remake. It is more enjoyable.
Yeah, it’s the absolute best 🙂
Your comments on “Cat and the Canary” make me wish you had made it to Cinecon to see “The Last Warning.,” Leni’s follow-up film, with Jon Mirsalis’s live accompaniment. I thought it was, if anything, better than “Cat and the Canary,” but I may have been influenced by the surroundings. Do see it, if you haven’t already, and if the chance ever comes along!
I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned before how much I love “Haunted Spooks,” which was one of those movies that “sold” me on silent comedies. I love the young “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison, who totally gets comic timing at 8 years old.
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