Monday, June 6, 2011

Psychobabble’s 120 Essential Horror Movies Addendum: ‘Faust’

In this feature on Psychobabble, I’ve been creeping through 90 years of horror cinema to assemble a highly personal list of the genre’s 120 most monstrous works, decade by decade.

As the list evolves, I’ll be including a retroactive addition or two to installments past. Here’s one.

7. Faust (1926- dir. F.W. Murnau)

Murnau used the hoary parable of Dr. Faust selling his soul to Old Scratch as a leaping off point for some of his most striking images. Forget the proselytizing and focus on puppet demons galloping through the cosmos on horseback, a demonic contract flaming into existence without pen ever touching parchment, and a Godzilla-sized Satan looming over the village he is about to plague with the plague. Even some of the religious imagery, such as a radiant archangel with giant wings, is mighty enough to impress secular viewers. But it is the visions of evil and horror that ignite this film, and considering how completely Murnau jettisoned Stoker’s Christian symbolism from Nosferatu, one can reasonably suspect that Murnau made Faust with phantasmagoria higher on his agenda than piety. At the same time, this version of Faust is more explicitly religious than the German folk myth and Goethe’s play on which it was based. The director’s intentions may be debatable, but his results are not. Faust has not had the cultural impact of Nosferatu or The Last Laugh or Sunrise, but it may be Murnau’s masterpiece. And don’t be fooled by the numerous critics who’ve taken issue with Emil Janning’s broad performance as evil Mephisto; the actor’s non-stop leering and scenery munching are nearly as fun to watch as Murnau’s ever inventive imagery.

Tune in next week for Psychobabble’s 120 Essential Horror Movies Part 4: The 1950s!
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