(Paul Leni, US 1927, 84 min., 16mm)
Silent Tuesdays. Paul Leni came from Germany to work for Universal in 1927 and was really the founder of the studio’s reputation for horror films, starting with this iconic adaptation of John Willard’s hugely popular “old dark house” play The Cat and the Canary (which surprisingly still gets an occasional outing on the stage even today). Leni gave Willard’s relatively straightforward scare-stuff a strong sense of the unreal and eerie, investing it with a creepiness amounting to near-perversity. This is the film that started it all: relatives gathering in a ghostly house to hear a will read, sinister servants, billowing curtains in empty corridors, vanishing bodies replaced by reappearing corpses, horrible faces appearing unexpectedly, comic relief to “take the edge off” (it doesn’t), and a beautiful heroine (Laura La Plante) at the center of it all whose fate hangs in uneasy balance, all done with Leni’s darkly imaginative style and Gilbert Warrenton’s fluid cinematography. There are pleasurable chills aplenty to be had here. Live piano by Philip C. Carli.
Special support provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.