I recently tracked down and viewed the ultra-rare, ultra-cheap, "lost" horror film "The Horror" (1933). There is little information out there about this film, and much of that is wrong or contradictory. The print that I saw (at the Library of Congress) was a mess. It was fragmentary (only about 35 minutes- half of the total running time), and looked like someone had edited it with a weed whacker. Scenes were out of order, and the first five minutes exist as soundtrack only. According to some unconfirmed reports, the film is supposedly based on the Sherlock Holmes story "The Valley of Fear", although it shares more in common with "The Sign of Four". But the plot is still closer to Conrad Veidt's "Furcht" and Monogram's "House of Mystery" than it is to Conan Doyle. So here is what I could make out of the mess:
Years ago, John Massey stole an idol from a temple in India, and was cursed by the high priest. One day, Massey realizes he is being watched by a Hindu on the street. He becomes fearful that he will soon be killed. During a storm, a mystic seeks shelter in Massey's home. He gazes into his crystal ball and sees danger for the household. Massey begins to go mad and sees a number of startling hallucinations, including eyes staring at him from the darkness, a boa constrictor crawling across his wife's sleeping body, and imagines himself turning into a Neanderthal-like creature. Running through the house in terror, he is attacked by a gorilla which emerges from the shadows. In the morning, he is found frothing at the mouth, having slipped into total insanity.
That's a very liberal synopsis, because what survives of the print is so confusing that I had to fill-in-the-gaps more than once. "The Horror" never received a theatrical release. The existence of posters and lobby cards indicates that there was an intended release, but (for some reason which has only been speculated) the film was never shown, at least not legit . It has been alleged, however, that the film got some kind of release in Japan. In the mid-40s, Pollard re-cut and shortened the film, retitled it "John the Drunkard", and released it to churches and civic groups. The print in the LC is supposedly the re release cut, but I'm not entirely sure that is the case. For one, it carries the original titles. Aside from some very brief opening narration by Pollard, who says something like "The tale of John the drunkard is a sad one...", there are no references to drinking or alcoholism. The editing is extremely choppy. Scenes begin and end abruptly, and there is no clear narrative flow. About half of the movie consists of romantic interludes between the chauffeur and the maid. Star Leslie King, an established NY stage actor, mugs and overacts his way through every scene he is in. Nyreda Montez, who featured prominently in the advertising, only appears for about 3 minutes. Raja Raboid, the vaudeville magician who plays the mystic, sneers and glowers like a Victorian-era villain twirling his mustache. Gus Alexander plays his dwarf assistant. Well, not really a dwarf, but certainly a short assistant. His participation is limited to guiding the gorilla around the house. The gorilla looks like a hybrid between a typical early '30s Halloween gorilla costume and a very large mouse. There is one randomly inserted shot of a barking dog, accompanied by someone on the soundtrack saying "woof woof". The canned music score runs non-stop throughout the entire film. The real surprise was the Jekyll & Hyde transformation of John Massey into a Neanderthal. The camera dissolves were fluid, and the makeup was unexpectedly good for such a low budget film. After the transformation (and it's never explained why he suddenly turns into a hairy, tusked monster) Massey runs around the house like a chimp, screaming non-stop at the top of his lungs for a good five minutes. It's no surprise that "The Horror" is a stinker of a film. But it's also fascinating to watch, and I give high credit to anyone who can make more out of it than could I.
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