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Silent Screams: Rob Zombie’s Top 5 Silent Horror Movies

The rock star and ‘Halloween’ filmmaker weighs in on his favorite quiet-but-deadly vintage horror flicks: “They’re so far removed from what movies now are”

Mary Philbin and Lon Chaney in 'Phantom of the Opera.'

Mary Philbin and Lon Chaney in 'Phantom of the Opera.'

Everett

As a director, Rob Zombie makes horror films that are as loud as his music — dark, grungy, old-school grindhouse movies full of screaming women and buzzing chainsaws. As a fan, however, his taste often runs toward the silent horror of the 1920s: “What I love about these films is they’re so far removed from what movies are now,” the former White Zombie singer explains. “I mean, they were never silent because there was always live musical accompaniment, but they feel like such a different experience when you watch them.”

If funded, Zombie’s next film, 31, will tell the story of five people who are kidnapped in the five days leading up to Halloween. While waiting to see if the project comes to fruition (the drive ends tonight), the director got on the phone to discuss some of these films, picking his five favorites and explaining why they remain so captivating.

1. Nosferatu (1922)
“There’s something so hypnotic about silent movies and Nosferatu especially. And I just think Max Schreck and Bela Lugosi are the two greatest vampires ever on screen.”

2. The Unknown (1927)
“I got to see this one at the Silent Movie Theater in L.A., and there was this old man playing the organ along to it; he was about 95 years old and had actually played live organ to it when the movie was released in 1927. So it was just pretty mind-boggling to see this guy who was playing the organ for silent movies when he was 13 years old, and he was still doing it. I asked him afterwards, ‘Was there a certain score that you would always play?’ And he said, ‘No, I would make up something different every time I watched it.’ It’s so much more than a movie — it’s like you’re getting a once-in-a-lifetime concert at the same time.”

Max Shreck om 'Nosferatu.'

 3. West of Zanzibar (1928)
West of Zanzibar is just mind blowing. The movies back then, the plotlines are so sinister, because the Hays Code hadn’t come into effect yet to ruin movies by trying to clean them up. The things that are going on in these movies are so diabolical and strange.”

4. Phantom of the Opera (1925)
“I’ve seen this with the full orchestra at the Disney Concert Hall and it was just mind-blowing. There are movies now where it doesn’t matter how spectacular they make something, you sit there going, ‘OK, that’s two actors on a green screen, and then a bunch of technicians built that stuff later on a computer. Who cares?’ But when you watch something like Phantom of the Opera with this giant opera house with the chandelier falling and the catacombs, you’re like, this all was built by live humans. If there’s 1,000 extras, there’s actually 1,000 people on set that day.”

5. London After Midnight (1927)
“I’ve never seen it, because it’s the great lost film of all time. It was somehow destroyed, but Tod Browning later remade it as a movie called Mark of the Vampire with Bela Lugosi. I can’t believe that it’s lost; the movie industry was so new that they figured, ‘Ah, we already showed it. Who the hell is ever going to watch this again?’ It’s not even an obscure movie — it was made by a major director at the time with Hollywood’s biggest star, Lon Chaney. But still, ‘Eh, whatever, let’s melt it down for the silver.’ It’s just one of those films where you see the picture and go, ‘God, if there were ever one movie I wish I could see, this would be it.'”

Reporting by Josephine Yurcaba

In This Article: Rob Zombie

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