Sunday, October 27, 2019

One more 'Man Who Laughs' followed by two 'Nosferatus,' but please hold the 'Phantom'

An original lobby card for 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), which I'm accompanying today at 4:30 p.m. in Wilton, N.H.

Halloween: the busiest time of the year for a silent film accompanist!

It's mostly because people who otherwise aren't into the genre still enjoy seeing 'Nosferatu' and the Lon Chaney 'Phantom' this time of year.

And the inherent other-worldliness of silent cinema lends itself to a kind of out-of-body experience that fits well with the Halloween zeitgeist.

So each year, I do a certain number of 'Nosferatu' and 'Phantom' screenings. But I also try to work in some other worthy pictures to give them exposure.

This weekend, I did Murnau's 'Faust' (1926) up in Brandon, Vt.—not strictly a Halloween film, but it has all the needed elements. It was well received.

And this year has been a big one for Paul Leni's 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), mostly because the appearance of the title character inspired the look of 'The Joker' of Batman fame, currently being reinterpreted by Joaquin Phoenix and Co. in the just-released "back story" picture.

I've done it twice already, and will be tackling it again at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theater in Wilton, N.H., where I've done a monthly silent film program for more than 10 years now.

Oddly, this year prompted only a single 'Phantom of the Opera' screening: a week ago in Natick, Mass.

Coming up this week: A double dose of Nosferatu. One of these years I'm going to get screenings sponsored by a cosmetic dentist.

And I haven't yet done 'Nosferatu,' although that will change quickly with back-to-back screenings this week: one on Wednesday, Oct. 30 in Townsend, Mass. and then on Thursday, Oct. 31 (Halloween itself!) at the Colonial Theatre in Keene, N.H.

It's appropriate that I'm playing the Colonial on Halloween, as this is the very same theater where I was scared out of my wits in 1971 by the original 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' starring Gene Wilder.

Really! I was seven years old, and when tubby German boy Augustus Gloop gets stuck in a factory pipe, I remember running up the aisle to get out of there.

I was found in the ladies room and brought back into the theater just in time to see the Blueberry Girl rolled off to the juicing room.

Never mind Nosferatu and Phantom. In my book, Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka beats them all!

Scarier than any vampire.

Hope to see you at 'Man Who Laughs' this afternoon. And if you need a last final blast of creepiness to get into the Halloween spirit, I'm doing 'Nosferatu' on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Townsend (Mass.) Library, and again on Thursday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theater in Keene, N.H.

For more info, the press release for the Keene screening is below. Wishing all boys and ghouls a deadly Halloween!

Just hoping no trick-or-treaters show up at my place as Gene Wilder.

* * *

Definitely not a time to play 'Me and My Shadow.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Classic vampire thriller 'Nosferatu' flies into Colonial Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 31

Celebrate Halloween with pioneer silent horror movie on the big screen with live music—see it if you dare!

KEENE, N.H. — Celebrate Halloween this year with a classic silent horror film that gets scarier as the years go by.

'Nosferatu' (1922), the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula,' will be screened with live music on Thursday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H.

The screening will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

General admission is $8.50 per person.

'Nosferatu' (1922), directed by German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, remains a landmark work of the cinematic horror genre. It was among the first movies to use visual design to convey unease and terror.

To modern viewers, the passage of time has made this unusual film seem even more strange and otherworldly.

It's an atmosphere that silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis will enhance in improvising live music on the spot for the screening.

"The original 'Nosferatu' is a film that seems to get creepier as time goes by," said Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based musician who accompanies silent film screenings at venues across the nation.

"It's a great way to celebrate Halloween and the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places," Rapsis said.

In 'Nosferatu,' actor Max Schreck portrays the title character, a mysterious count from Transylvania who travels to the German city of Bremen to take up residence.

In the town, a rise in deaths from the plague is attributed to the count's arrival. Only when a young woman reads "The Book of Vampires" does it become clear how to rid the town of this frightening menace.

Director Murnau told the story with strange camera angles, weird lighting, and special effects that include sequences deliberately speeded up.

Although 'Nosferatu' is suitable for all family members, the overall program may be too intense for very young children to enjoy.

Modern critics say the original 'Nosferatu' still packs a powerful cinematic punch.

“Early film version of Dracula is brilliantly eerie, full of imaginative touches that none of the later films quite recaptured,” Leonard Maltin wrote recently.

Critic Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader called 'Nosferatu' "...a masterpiece of the German silent cinema and easily the most effective version of Dracula on record.”

Despite the status of 'Nosferatu' as a landmark of early cinema, another scary aspect of the film is that it was almost lost forever.

The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was an unauthorized adaptation of Stoker's novel, with names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain rights to the novel.

Thus "vampire" became "Nosferatu" and "Count Dracula" became "Count Orlok." After the film was released, Stoker's widow filed a copyright infringement lawsuit and won; all known prints and negatives were destroyed under the terms of settlement.

However, intact copies of the the film would surface later, allowing 'Nosferatu' to be restored and screened today as audiences originally saw it. The image of actor Max Schreck as the vampire has become so well known that it appeared in a recent 'Sponge Bob Squarepants' espisode.

‘Nosferatu’ will be shown on Thursday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H. General admission is $8.50 per person; for more info, call (603) 352-2033 or visit

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