Monday, October 1, 2012

Psychobabble's 150 Essential Horror Movies: Addition 1

Every day this October, I'll be adding a film to Psychobabble's 120 Essential Horror Movies to bring the list up to 150. Today’s addition is:

6. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923- dir. Wallace Worsley)

In the coming years, horror would cease to be such an international commodity as we’ve seen so far. In the 1930s, the United States, and one studio in particular, would hold a near monopoly on the genre. However, the film usually cited as the inaugural Universal Horror appears here with some reservations. Though this adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris has long been categorized as a monster movie because of Lon Chaney’s pain-defying transformation into Quasimodo, the idea of classifying a disfigured human as a monster has hardly aged well. But is he our monster? As is the case in the similarly dicey Freaks, the public may say “yes,” but the film answers with an emphatic “no.” In fact, no member of Universal’s iconic monster canon commits an act of cruelty comparable to the monarchy-approved torture of both “the hunchback” and our heroine, Esmeralda. Nor is any character responsible for such acts of compassion as Quasimodo’s rescue of Esmeralda and her tending of his wounds after he is tortured. No, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is not a monster movie in the mode of Dracula or The Wolf Man, but a Horror movie of humankind’s cruelty like Freaks or Witchfinder General. And though Chaney’s make-up, which involved twenty pounds of debilitating plaster strapped to his torso, invites us to stare, so does every aspect of Wallace Worsley’s spectacle, from the 15-acre recreation of 15th century Paris to the cast of thousands to stuntman Joe Bonomo’s astounding acrobatics along the cathedral’s face. All testify to the film’s place as a “super jewel” production. What lingers longest in the imagination is not the voyeuristic pleasures of The Hunchback of Notre Dame but the depth of its title character. While the other characters generally fulfill heroic and villainous archetypes, Quasimodo embodies the range of humanity: its pitifulness and its pity, its scorn and love, its violence and tenderness. He is one of the few humans in a sea of monsters.  

See this piece in context as part of Psychobabble’s Essential Horror Movies of the 1920s here.
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