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February 19, 2022

Silent Screams: Waxworks (1924)

The anthology film is popular in the indie world, especially with genre filmmakers. This popularity is predicated on the notion that it is 'easier' to make a series of short films and compile them as a feature with a wraparound story. A vast majority of these schlock-y, shot on video masterpieces are in direct response to Stephen King's Creepshow (1982). Which was a response to Hammer's early Tales from the Crypt (1972). Which was heavily influenced by Paul Leni's Waxworks (Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) from 1924. This was, quite possibly, the first feature-length anthology.

Clocking in at 83 minutes, the film is definitely a feature but may not be considered wholly a horror film. A writer, hired by the proprietor of a wax museum is tasked with telling the stories of three of the sculptures in the establishment using himself and the daughter of the proprietor of the museum as models. The first story is a comedic fantasy and details the exploits of a young hero trying to steal a great sultan's 'wishing ring.' The second story is a pretty intense adventure about the tortures that Ivan the Terrible inflicted on people and his level of enjoyment of such (until he chooses the wrong person). Finally, the last story is about Jack the Ripper (also called Spring-Heeled Jack in the film). The writer falls asleep while writing and he, as well as the owner's daughter, are pursued by the fiend.

The film is in German and, as would be expected, looks as if it was part of the German expressionist movement of genre in the late teens and early twenties popularized by Weine's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Murnau's Nosferatu. The cast are veterans of horror and fantasy. Conrad Veidt (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Casablanca) plays Ivan the Terrible and Werner Krauss (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) plays the roles of Jack the Ripper/Sping-Heeled Jack.

 Watching the film, one can see the best practices of short fiction at play but the film doesn't make the same mistake as most modern anthologies. The wraparound story is usually an afterthought. Written long after the completion of the shorts in order to bring them together in some manner, no matter how tenuous. This script by Henrik Galeen does not have that issue. The premise is integrated into the feature and utilized throughout. It is part of a complete narrative with a framing gimmick that works (much like the aforementioned Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt).

So, without further adieu, ladies and gentlemen please enjoy Paul Leni's Waxworks. Don' fall asleep, though, the Ripper may get you!

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