Finally, we take a look at the other guys. The most famous monsters from Universal are the big three of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man. They all had successful franchises that crossed over with each other and made the studio a ton of money. I guess think of them as Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. But they weren’t the only monsters in the business. Universal dipped into urban legend, science fiction, and horror fiction and brought us some other fantastic monsters to populate our nightmares.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Overview: A singer at the Paris Opera House becomes the obsession of a mysterious, disfigured phantom.
Silent: There have been many retellings of Gaston Leroux’s gothic classic but the two that stand out the most couldn’t be more different. One is a stage musical that everyone knows at least one tune from, and the other is a silent ‘20s horror film. It is probably a matter of taste which you prefer but it struck me as odd that the two most famous would be one that is done in silence and another with big operatic songs. The two versions also seem to exist in different genres. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical is a doomed love story while 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera is about a stalker who won’t take no for an answer and will kill his way out of the friend zone if that’s what it takes.
Chaney Senior: Lon Chaney, whose son would play the Wolf Man and son of Dracula, designed his own make up for this movie based around the description taken straight from Leroux’s book. His Erik is not a handsome man with burns that can be covered with a tasteful half mask. No, his Erik has a head that is essentially a skull with flared nostrils, big eyes, and crooked teeth. His Erik is a monster, frightful to look at and full of madness. The scene in which his mask is pulled away is still shocking today, and in the ‘20s had them fainting in the aisles. Chaney is an incredible actor to watch as, even covered in makeup, he is still incredibly expressive. His body language speaks volumes and even in a silent movie there is a clear understanding of what he is saying and meaning at all times, something that comes from being raised by two deaf parents.
Scale: The incredible sets used for this movie create a feeling of grandness and enormity, as hundreds of extras fill the screen during the chandelier scenes and the masked ball. More so than the later Universal Horror movies, this movie feels big and like an event. The underground catacombs seem endless and the vastness of the scenery create a feeling of seeing something epic unfolding. The other cast are great and, as silent actors, they are full of huge expressions and wide eyes. However, in Chaney’s shadow they simply provide someone for him to act against.
Overall: I will admit that I struggle with silent movies. The pacing can be tough and they require complete undivided attention even when nothing is happening. However, this movie, even at an hour and forty minutes (much longer than others in this revisiting of these movies), was a breeze. Even during the scenes where nothing was happening, the shadows promised dread that was to follow and the movie constantly delivered.
Featured Image: Universal Pictures