CAPSULE: One of the earliest examples of the horror omnibus film, this 1919 macabre work stars Conrad Veidt, Reinhold Schunzel, and Anita Berber as three fantastical paintings that come to life in a bookshop and share the horror stories they are reading. There are five stories, mostly familiar. Veidt was not yet the horror film star of Germany, but this film would go a long way to make him one. [I will not rate the film on the same scale I put modern films, but it is well worth a look.]
Among the classics of the British horror film is a set of anthology horror films produced by Amicus: DR TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1964), TORTURE GARDEN (1967), THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970), ASYLUM (1972), TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972), VAULT OF HORROR (1973), and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1973). They were all apparently inspired by Ealing Studios DEAD OF NIGHT (1945). But the history of the anthology horror film goes back considerably further. Even before Conrad Veidt appeared in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920), he starred IN UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN (1919), better known as EERIE TALES or UNCANNY TALES. This is a film that has long been missing and recently has been found again. As of this writing it is available on YouTube.
The setting is a mysterious bookstore. Watching over the customers are three paintings showing respectively a prostitute, Death, and the Devil. When the shop closes the three leave their paintings and have themselves a high old time playing and reading horrific stories out of the books. There are five stories, mostly familiar including Poe's "The Black Cat," "Dr. Tarr and Professor Feather," and Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Suicide Club." "The Hand" by Robert Liebmann is also told. The first story, "The Apparition" by Anselma Heine is an oft-told story that Terence Fisher later also adapted to a full-length film. The three actors star in each of the stories as well as the framing sequence.
Director Richard Oswald was not a newcomer to fantasy anthology films. Three years earlier he had filmed a dramatic version to TALES OF HOFFMAN (1916). He had also directed two of the parts of an adaptation of DER HUND VON BASKERVILLE (1915). This same year, 1919, Oswald had made his most famous film, DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS, a sympathetic portrait of a gay man being blackmailed. The gay man was also played by Veidt.
I would have to say that if this film came out two years later it would be considered to be part of the German Expressionistic movement. Certainly if the sequences are not expressionistic, they are shot in a manner that is melodramatic. The acting is exaggerated at is invariably is in silent film and particularly expressionist film. A problem with silent film is that it is really a slow medium for telling a story because the actors have to slow down for florid gestures. The stories have to be stripped to the bare minimum to make time for the body language. It makes the telling almost operatic. But there is enough plot to keep the viewer interested. It is surprising how similar this is to the horror films of the 1970s.
See EERIE TALES on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAaEqSwe8SU
(On YouTube you can turn on subtitles clicking the CC icon in the lower right of the screen.)
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0010821/combined
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper