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the History of Horror Movies

Edgar Allan Poe was one of the most popular gothic horror authors of the 19th century. It was only natural that his poems and stories would be adapted to film during the early days.

In 1908 Murders in the Rue Morgue was filmed as Sherlock Holmes in the Great Murder Mystery, in 1909 The Pit and the Pendulum was filmed, as was The Cask of Amontillado under the title of The Sealed Room. In 1912 the first version of the Raven was filmed and it was filmed again in 1915.

right: the Raven from 1912 filmed by the Eclair American Film Company

Also in 1915 German actor and director Paul Weggener collaborated with Henrik Galeen to film a version of Der Golem from the old Hebrew legend about a man made from clay by a Rabbi. Weggener filmed another version in 1920 in which he collaborated with Carl Boese. This version is a recognized cinema classic.

left: Paul Weggener as Der Golem from the 1920 version.

But it would be 1920's German film, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari directed by Robert Wiene that would be the first full fledged horror feature film. Werner Krauss plays Dr. Caligari, a sideshow owner who exhibits a somnambulist, Cesare played by Conrad Veidt. Cesare, in a dream state recites predictions of the future and eventually kidnaps the heroine of the film. After the authorities chase the escaping Cesare it is discovered that he is a patient in an asylum under the influence of the asylum's director ... Dr Caligari!! After killing Cesare, Caligari himself becomes an inmate in the asylum

The film is remarkable for it's impressionist sets designed by Hermann Warm, the top quality of Robert Wiene's directing and the cinematography by Willy Hameister.

above left: Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari and Conrad Veidt as Cesare.
above right: the impressionist set design of Hermann Warm

Then in 1922 an unauthorized version of Bram Stoker's classic vampire novel Dracula would be transformed into the German classic, Nosferatu directed by the great F. W. Murnau.

The film, written by Henrik Galeen, makes perfect use of dark sets and stark photography by Fritz Arno Wagner. Galeen's screenplay introduced some of the cinema legend of vampires including the belief that vampires disintegrate in sunlight (in Stoker's novel, Count Dracula wanders London streets during daylight).

above: An original German poster for Nosferatu 1922

A nightmarish excursion into darkness, it was the perfect gothic horror template for all future horror films, most especially for those in the immediate future of filmdom. It remains one of the best films in cinema history adapted from the Dracula novel and some believe the film is even superior to Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi.

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