MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Maciste in Hell (1925)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

Maciste, played by Bartolomeo Pagano, was first introduced as a supporting character in the early Italian silent film, Cabiria (1914.) Muscular Pagano (a.k.a. Ernesto Pagani) stole the show and soon, the onetime working-class dock worker found himself earning 750,000 Lire per year as the star of the popular Maciste franchise that lasted over a decade into the 1920s and was later revived in the ‘50s and ‘60s as part of the popular sword and sandal epics of that era. Similar to Hercules in Greek mythology, Maciste is an enormously vigorous champion with an equally powerful sense of morals. In Maciste in Hell, considered the best of 26 films and, our hard-bodied hero travels down to the bowels of Hell. 

Although it runs one hour and 37 minutes, the 2019 tinted restoration scored with the often-used Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz will probably take film buffs and historians almost twice as long to get through given the many opportunities to hit “pause” and study the gorgeous visuals. Everything in this film is worthy of scrutiny. When combined, the costumes and makeup, sets, props and in-camera effects (including facial regeneration) serve not only as an excellent example of what could be accomplished technically in the silent era of Italian cinema, but also as a moody foundation for the weird and wonderful mise-en-scéne seen in future generations of Italian cinema maestros including Margheriti, Bava, Freda and Argento. Not to mention Fellini, who saw this film in his first outing to the cinema as a young boy.

The story is quite complicated, mixing Catholic morality with ancient Roman and Greek mythology. We’ve got King Pluto, his wife and daughter and a bunch of demons in the underworld. There’s a troublesome devil named Barbariccia who comes to earth to cause trouble and capture Maciste, who thwarts him, saves babies and reforms a playboy deadbeat dad named Giorgio and convinces him to go back to the lovely Graziella before finally being dragged to Hell. He’s only allowed to remain for 3 days lest he kiss a woman. Enter Prosperina, Pluto’s wife, to tempt him. Now in a furry devil’s uniform, Maciste has the strength of 10 lesser devils. Something no one considered. He sets about kicking minion ass, traps the treasonous Barbariccia during a coup against Pluto and frees the masses. For his help, Pluto sends him back home. On his to the river Styx to hitch a ride home, Proserpina captures him one final time. Our hero is once again a furry, tied to a mountain. 

A few years later, Graziella and Giorgio’s toddler prays for him (and the Pope) on Christmas night. The boy’s prayer frees Maciste, who finally heads home for the holidays. The film ends with a shot of an angel. There’s also a floating octopus and a dragon ride. I don’t know why but it really doesn’t matter. It’s the kind of film you just have to let wash over you in all its mad brilliance, tentacles, devils, angels and all.

You can watch this on YouTube.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: The Lost World (1925)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was first on the site on October 5, 2021.

Adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel, The Lost World is most famous for its stop motion special effects, which were created by Willis O’Brien and predate his work on the original King Kong.

In some prints of this film, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself appeared in the opening, introducing what audiences were about to see. Just a few years earlier, he had shown a test reel of O’Brien’s effects to a meeting of the Society of American Magicians, including Harry Houdini. The audience was certain they had seen true footage of dinosaurs and Coyle refused to say where he had acquired the footage. It even made the front page of the New York Times, which said that Doyle’s “monsters of the ancient world, or of the new world which he has discovered in the ether, were extraordinarily lifelike. If fakes, they were masterpieces.”

The first feature-length film made in the United States — and probably the world — to feature model animation as the primary special effect, this was also the first movie to be played on an airplane.

Professor Challenger (Wallace Berry) has been ridiculed for announcing that dinosaurs are real, yet he accepts an offer to field a team to rescue the scientist Maple White, along with that learned man’s daughter Paula, sportsman Sir John Roxton, news reporter Edward Malone, Professor Summerlee, Zambo and Challenger’s butler Austin. I mean, if you live in style, I always say take your servant to meet some kaiju.

Well, their trip is filled with peril, plenty of dinosaurs and an apeman who nearly kills them multiple times before they bring a brontosaurus back to London. Unlike Kong, beauty does not kills the beast and the gigantic quadruped sauropod swims on down the Thames to freedom.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 19: The Unholy Three (1925)

The first of eight movies that Lon Chaney would make with director Tod Browing (The BlackbirdThe Road to MandalayLondon After MidnightThe UnknownThe Big CityWest of Zanzibar and Where East Is East are the others),

Tweedledee (Harry Earles) is a small man who leaves the circus when he assaults a young heckler and starts a riot. He’s joined by the incredibly strong Hercules (Victor McLaglen), Professor Echo (Chaney), a ventriloquist who becomes pet shop owner Mrs. O’Grady and his pickpocket girlfriend Rosie O’Grady (Mae Busch), who pretends to be his granddaughter.

Their new scam? Sell pets, deliver them and come back and steal everything. Their scheme brings in the innocent Hector McDonald (Matt Moore), who falls for Rosie. Browning was always using the duality of identity in his films and this one has every character nearly becoming someone else, but their crimes bind them.

The Unholy Three was remade in 1930, directed by Jack Conway. Chaney returned as Echo and Earles as Tweedledee, while Hercules would be played by Ivan Linow and Rosie by Lila Lee. This movie proved that Chaney was not only the Man of a Thousand Faces, but also the Man of A Thousand Voices. It’s the only film in his career where Chaney would speak.

FANTASTIC FEST: The Lost World (1925)

Adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel, The Lost World is most famous for its stop motion special effects, which were created by Willis O’Brien and predate his work on the original King Kong.

In some prints of this film, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself appeared in the opening, introducing what audiences were about to see. Just a few years earlier, he had shown  test reel of O’Brien’s effects to a meeting of the Society of American Magicians, including Harry Houdini. The audience was certain they had seen true footage of dinosaurs and Coyle refused to say where he had acquired the footage. It even made the front page of the New York Times, which said that Doyle’s “monsters of the ancient world, or of the new world which he has discovered in the ether, were extraordinarily lifelike. If fakes, they were masterpieces.”

The first feature-length film made in the United States — and probably the the world — to feature model animation as the primary special effect, this was also the first movie to be played on an airplane.

Professor Challenger (Wallace Berry) has been ridiculed for announcing that dinosaurs are real, yet he accepts an offer to field a team to rescue the scientist Maple White, along with that learned man’s daughter Paula, sportsman Sir John Roxton, news reporter Edward Malone, Professor Summerlee, Zambo and Challenger’s butler Austin. I mean, if you live in style, I always say take your servant to meet some kaiju.

Well, their trip is filled with peril, plenty of dinosaurs and an apeman who nearly kills them multiple times before they bring a brontosaurus back to London. Unlike Kong, beauty does not kills the beast and the gigantic quadruped sauropod swims on down the Thames to freedom.

The version that played Fantastic Fest has the score interpreted by Sirintip, whose origins and influences stretch across three continents and cultures: Thailand, Sweden and America. The young performer has stated, “I want to also appeal to people who don’t know anything about jazz… while inspiring and challenging the people who do listen to jazz in a new way.”

Fantastic Fest @ Home is featuring a series of silent films reimagined with the music of five artists from GroundUp music. Beyond this film, there’s also Aelita: Queen of Mars with a score by Snarky Puppy’s Chris Bullock, Sirintip rescoring The Lost World, PRD Mais taking on Waxworks, Bob Lanzetti covering Nosferantu and House of Waters playing music for MenilmontantLe Voyage dans la Lune and Ballet Mecanique.