Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Devil-Doll (1936)

I will be the first to admit that I am not a fan of modern day horror movies. Even when they are supposed to be kinda funny, I just don't see the point in all the blood, guts and gore. Nor do I really see the point in watching something that is meant to prey upon my fears to scare me. I just ... never saw that as a positive, really. So it was with a fair bit of trepidation that I started recording some of the "horror" movies on TCM this month. I decided to give them a try because I reasoned I knew nothing about the beginnings of the genre and like most movie genres, I may prefer the classics to the current fare.

Would you believe me if I told you Lionel Barrymore was in this photo?

Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) is a wrongly convicted man. He was framed by his three partners for robbing the bank they jointly owned and killing a guard. He has been sent away for almost 2 decades when he finally escaped with a fellow inmate, Marcel. The two throw the police off the chase and end up at a laboratory where Marcel's wife, Malita, has been carrying on her husband's experiments. The project they are trying to complete is shrinking humans to 1/6th their size. When Lavond sees what happens when the humans are shrunk, he soon develops a plan to seek revenge on his former partners. Ooooo-kay.

I wouldn't go so far as to call this a great movie, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless. I expected a horror movie, but what I saw was something more layered than strictly a horror tale. It had romance, emotion, humor - the whole bit. The ending, instead of being a scare-your-pants-off kinda ending, was actually the ending you would expect on a good drama.

Having said all that, there are plot holes and hilarious bad science premises galore, that you can pick at if you chose. There is some "camp" acting mixed in with a fair bit of good acting. The "camp" factor is cemented when Barrymore goes full-on drag waltzing around the police as a sweet grandma-ma type character who has an assistant that looks like the Bride of Frankenstein (see photo below) complete with white streak, dark eye makeup and way over-acted wide eyes that look half crazy for dramatic effect. If that isn't camp, I don't know what is. And, even though it made it less of a horror movie probably, I loved it all the more. And you know what? Barrymore was TOTALLY believable as the old lady. I had to do a double-take to realize it was him.

Seriously - is it homage or rip-off?

Even more surprising to me is how the special effects aren't bad at all. I mean, we are talking 1936 and I don't think anyone watching this 70 years later would be pointing to the screen and laughing at the effects. It appears the filmmakers were smart enough to use very simple techniques which make it look solid on film.

The ending, which I won't give away, took me by surprise. Not because of what happened necessarily, but because how wonderfully Lionel Barrymore portrayed his emotions and showed his character trying to suppress them. It was a powerful bit of acting that wasn't overdone (like the Barrymores tend to do as a whole) and it was just, superb.

At a run-time of under 80 min - I definitely recommend this one as a time capsule of what I assume is somewhat representative of the early horror genre. It isn't strictly horror so it has a little bit of something for everyone - drama, crime, romance, horror, sci-fi, emotions, revenge ... even a miniature "half-wit, inbred orphan" that acts like a little nymph when she is shrunk down. Intriguing, no? :-)


kda0121 said...

I really liked this movie. Didn't the ending seem almost pre-code? Who would've thought that Lionel would get away with his revenge? I thought for sure he would meet a grisly end or at the very least get apprehended. And wasn't Maureen O'Sullivan a vision?

Jennythenipper said...

I'm glad you are doing the classic horror thing too. I still have two movies left to watch in my Netflix queue and four to blog.

I haven't seen this yet, but I'll keep an eye out for it.