I Have a Mouth, But I Can’t Hear My Scream
Originally written for The Terror Test’s episode 45 on Nosferatu (1922) and Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979).
The video for Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” started my obsession with silent films. The images from Nosferatu are still powerful and I know at least one other person who has been profoundly changed by early cinema: Murray Leeder.
I’ve brought him into this space before because I genuinely enjoy his work as a film scholar. Since he writes on early film, I decided to ask him for a list of favorites. If you have an interest in this era of filmmaking and horror, then his list is a great place to start. He also added some commentary on the “silent horror film.”
Silent horror is an inherently anachronistic concept, since the term “horror film” was not used as a generic label until the 1930s. Many of the films now folded into the category of “silent horror” were received as art films or as melodramas. My book The Modern Supernatural and the Beginning of Cinema speaks to the roots of horror in early (largely pre-1900) and pre-cinema, but my forthcoming book Horror Film: A Critical Introduction will deal with the 1910s and especially the 1920s in more detail.
Making a list of ten silent horror films, I will confine myself to features, and four representations of each of the key traditions (German Expressionism and the emerging American silent horror tradition), in chronological order:
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Warning Shadows (1923)
The Hands of Orlac (1924)
The Avenging Conscience (1914)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The Cat and the Canary (1927)
Page of Madness (1926)
Honourable mention: since post-silent era aren’t specifically excluded, I’ll give credit to the loving Lovecraft love-letter The Call of Cthulhu (2005).
Thanks to Murray Leeder!