The Living Dead
the living dead | richard oswald | heinz goldberg | jeno szatmari | based on | short story | edgar allan poe | robert louis stevenson | comedy | sci-fi | paul wegener | maria koppenhofer | blandine ebinger | germany | eugen klopfer | harald paulsen | roma bahn
Film: The Living Dead (Unheimliche Geschicten)
Director: Richard Oswald
Writers: Heinz Goldberg, Richard Oswald and Jenõ Szatmári
Starring: Paul Wegener, Maria Koppenhöfer and Blandine Ebinger
This is a movie that I found thanks to Letterboxd when looking for horror from 1932. I didn’t know much about this aside from the title and that it was on YouTube. It wasn’t until settling in to make sure I had the right movie that I saw it was from Germany and starred Paul Wegener. I recognized him as the director and star from 1920’s The Golem. That was about the extent of what I knew.
Synopsis: a crazed scientist murders his wife, walls her up and then flees. A reporter sets out to track him down.
This movie starts with a couple in a car. The man driving is Frank Briggs (Harald Paulsen). He is a journalist. With him is his fiancée, played by Mary Parker. I believe she is a dancer or something along these lines and they’re on the way to her performance. As they’re going, Frank hears a scream and he wants to investigate. There is only one house in the area and it belongs to Wegener. He lives there with his wife. While working in his laboratory, she comes in with her cat. An accident happens, destroying what he’s working on. He kills her in his anger.
Frank shows up and Wegener sends him away. He gets the police involved when he learns Wegener’s wife is missing. Wegener is brash and annoyed with the cops being there. They make a grisly discovery that causes him to go on the run. Frank is hot on his trail. It leads him to a mental hospital with a dark truth and to a secret society where its members want to commit suicide.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap for this movie as I don’t want to spoil things. This one is also difficult due to a lack of character names for people and they are also in German. Regardless, I enjoyed this movie. In the opening credits I saw that this was based off a couple Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories as well as combining elements from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Suicide Club. I never heard of this last one, but I’m now intrigued. We are also getting The Black Cat from Poe as well. The other story from him is one that I’m not familiar with and doesn’t seem to be adapted much. It is interesting is that we would see Roger Corman do this with Poe stories, or just slapping the names of them on his movies, but this is what Brian De Palma would do with like Body Double or Phantom of the Paradise. What I mean here is taking elements and combining them together. It makes sense when dealing with short stories since they would need to be lengthened to make a feature.
To delve a bit deeper into this, I was explore the character of Wegener. He is credited as Mörder which I’m guessing is murderer. This character is diabolic. He is a mad scientist for one. I’m not sure what experiment he is working on when he gets mad at his wife, but he snaps. What I also like about him is that he’s arrogant, which we see with the police when he comes to Wegener’s house. There is also this odd sequence at the mental hospital which was quite creepy. I’ll come back to that shortly. It shouldn’t come as a shock, but Wegener’s character also runs this secret society. This is where he becomes a Bond villain. I know that Fu Manchu serials and movies were out, so I’m wondering if that influenced here. Wegener’s look and intensity he brings to the role is spot on for me. I wanted to make sure that was known.
Now there’s not a lot to the story, but I did want to go over to the more important set pieces. The first is the mental hospital. Wegener goes in and hides when he flees from the police. Frank goes in as well. When he goes upstairs, we see people begging to be let out. The ‘doctors’ claim that they’re all mad. What is terrifying here though, the people in the rooms might be the doctors and nurses. There is a dinner scene that pulled my attention. It is tense. The other one would be the suicide club. I think from this point, the movie is conveying an anti-suicide message from how things play out. This is a dark subject to deal with where all these characters who are members are waiting to see if they draw the ace of spades and for their time. We see that some want it to come up, while others not so much. This makes me want to see what elements were taken from the Stevenson story.
Next, I will take this over to the acting. I’ve already said my piece on Wegener. I thought that Paulsen was solid as the counterpart to him and our hero. He goes through a lot for this story, I will say that. While looking at the cast list, I saw Eugen Klöpfer as Chefarzt. I took German as my foreign language in college and I remember that arzt is doctor, making him the chief. He is creepier with how things play out. I would say that the acting across the board is good, especially for those in the hospital and the club we go to later.
The last things then would be with the filmmaking. I’d say that the cinematography is fine. It is early in cinema do they don’t do a lot that stood out. I did like the sets from Wegener’s house to the mental hospital and then to the secret club later. They were all good. The latter has an interesting set up when it shows how those that draw this card are killed. It is a bit out there, but I commend the movie for trying what it did. It is a bit futuristic, which I can always appreciate. Other than that, the soundtrack was fine for what was needed.
In conclusion, this is a movie I had never heard of and I thought that it was an interesting watch. I like that the movie is combing a couple Poe stories with a Stevenson one. It makes for some intriguing set pieces. There is dark subject matter that gets explored, something I wouldn’t necessarily expect for the era. I thought that Wegener is solid as our lead, Paulsen is good as his counterpart and the rest of the cast was solid for what was needed. The filmmaking was fine as well. If I did have an issue, it ran too long and I lost interest for a stretch. Regardless, I found this to be an above average movie. I would revisit this to see what I might have missed now that I’ve seen it as well.
My Rating: 7 out of 10