[31 Days Of Horror ’19] Mini Reviews: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) and Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933)

Mini Review Day 01: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

The silent era of films is an extra ordinary one, in a time when film was still new, the medium was growing and finding it’s feet. The horror genre was a popular one in the silent era with classic’s such as Nosferatu (1922) and The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920) being some of the more well known and popular ones. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) is another well known one, with a most memorable performance by John Barrymore in the title roles.

The basic story center’s around Dr. Jekyll, a scientist who has always been good to those around him and selfless. Sometimes his work isn’t always agreed upon, however one day he takes his experiments a step further when he finds himself tempted by what he considers ‘bad’. His experiment exposes his evil side, Mr. Hyde who wrecks havoc upon on the streets and commits terrible crimes. Mr. Hyde begins to take over Jekyll more and more and the evil within becomes too difficult to control.

Perhaps more an adaptation in name only, this film has more in common with the early stage plays and adds in a romantic sub plot. The beauty of this silent film is the reliance on visuals with minimal text to sell the story, the actors must convey a lot of emotion and most of the cast do so quite well. As mentioned earlier, the film has a memorable performance by John Barrymore, who does completely disappear into his duo role. The camera tricks and make up are quite astounding to watch, and at times they are quite terrifying and unnerving. The central theme of good vs. evil and giving in to temptation is still very relevant even today, which gives the film a timeless quality. Barrymore’s performance no doubt influenced many who came after him, and this does remain an important work in cinema.

Where there are issues, the pacing is off for parts of the film, which can be expected due to this being a film almost a century old. The minimal text to help tell the story can make some of the scenes confusing, and difficult to understand, a little more text here and there would have been beneficial. The music used throughout the film is very mixed, it does not always match what is on screen and during some heavier scene’s the joyful music made it a little confusing and difficult to focus.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) is a must see silent era film, despite it’s faults it is a wonderful and engaging film. The transformation scenes will certainly stick with the viewer, as will the visual of John Barrymore as Mr. Hyde.

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Mini Review Day 02: Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933)

Horror from the 30’s contains an excellent assortment of films, with Universal Monster Films to RKO’s King Kong (1933), Mystery Of The Wax Museum is another classic that certainly sets itself aside as a unique one. The film has had several remakes, including the Vincent Price vehicle House Of Wax (1953) and it has also inspired many films. There is a strange beauty to this film, in it’s tragic story, characters and the wonderful sets.

The story here is about an artist called Ivan Igor (Lionel Atwill), he creates wax sculptures that are life like and is starting to make a name for himself in London 1921. His backer has other ideas for the museum and wants to see more grotesque creations, the pair have a fight that leads to the Wax Museum burning down. Cut to 1933 in New York, Ivan is ready to reopen his Wax Museum, using other lesser artists to recreate his masterpieces, he is unable to sculpt anymore due the injuries of the fire. At the same time bodies begin to go missing from the morgue, a wise cracking reporter Florence (Glenda Farrell) wants to crack the case to get a good story. She goes with her housemate Charlotte (Fay Wray) to the Wax Museum before it is ready to open, Charlotte is engaged to Ralph (Allen Vincent) who works with Ivan. Upon visiting the not yet opened Museum, a few grizzly discoveries are made.

There is an interesting story at hand, a mystery that isn’t quite too mysterious as it is learned very early on what is going on, but not quite to what extent. The pacing is very well handled, it goes quickly and the story at hand keeps attention throughout. As mentioned the sets are quite a marvel to look at, the Wax Museum is such a great sight and it was well done to have real people play the wax figures to give that authentic feel. The acting is quite good, Lionel Atwill is fantastic as Ivan, a passion filled man for his work, who must live with the aftermath of the fire but still wants to create. Glenda Farrell steals the show as the      reporter, her scenes are memorable, some times quite witty and she just oozes so much screen presence. Fay Wray has always been a wonderful sight, and while her role her is small, she does a great job of playing Charlotte and the third act is a must see.

Mystery Of The Wax Museum is a fantastic film from 30’s cinema, a unique experience that has inspired many films and artists through the years. There is some surprising amount of adult content mentioned in the film, which is quite a shock considering what era it is from. It is a must watch for cinefiles and horror fiend’s alike, there is much to engage with and admire with the film. When seeking this film, ensure you find a copy that has the correct technicolor, it is the best way to see the film.

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Reviews written by Marcella Papandrea

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