The Beast Called Fame

Musical Double Feature: Phantom of The Paradise and Shock Treatment

Whether adapted from stage or produced strictly for the big screen, musicals have been popular since the emergence of sound film technology. Choreography and music interwoven delight the imaginations of young and old alike, with lavish sets and perspectives that would be impractical in a theater. Adding in elements of kitsch and horror have given us classics like Little Shop of Horrors and Hedwig And The Angry Inch, yet one of the most common themes in musical film is a rags-to-riches tale. Set within the entertainment industry, characters of humble origins realize their dreams of making it big. Sensationalizing the notion that anybody could be discovered and revealing the grotesque addiction to reaching celetoid status.

Brian DePalma and Richard O’Brien would deliver darker takes on show business within the musical film genre. Inspired by German expressionism and classical gothic horror, Phantom of The Paradise and Shock Treatment are satirical journeys through the shadowy side of striving to become famous. De Palma’s rock opera would lament the loss of self and exploitative hallmarks of celebrity isolation. While O’Brien’s musical would be ahead of its time, predicting round-the-clock access to the rich and elite. Both films would achieve cult status in varying degrees and ask their audiences what would they give to be adored on stage?

Phantom of the Paradise

In 1969, a young Brian De Palma had overheard a popular Beatles song turned into unbearable elevator muzak. Igniting an intense disgust within the director to hear art transformed by corporate America for a quick buck. Combined with his personal demons of pitching ideas to indifferent studio suits, De Palma created Phantom of The Paradise. A Faustian musical, taking notes from Leroux’s The Phantom of The Opera and Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Grey

The film begins with a grim introduction by Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone. Preparing the audience to meet the mysterious and Spector-esque record tycoon, Swan. Surrounded by 2-way mirrors and bodyguards, the genius producer seeks a unique sound to open his new music venue, The Paradise. 

While hundreds of acts vie for his attention, Swan takes notice of the passionate and naive composer, Winslow Leach. Having written a cantata based on the German legend of Faust, Swan steals Winslow’s music and disposes of him. Brutalized and mangled in a record press accident, he is reborn as a masked Phantom. Terrorizing performers as they rehearse bastardized versions of his songs for opening night.

But Swan casts an irresistible lure, promising the cantata will be performed by the perfect songstress, Phoenix. Winslow is compelled to bind himself through infernal contracts signed in blood, when tempted with his heart‚Äôs last desire. 

With Swan shrouded in surveillance and secrets, the cameras keep rolling. Tapes pile up in his vault, having recorded the darkest moments of Winslow and Phoenix. The Paradise’s mirrored walls shine distortions of dreams turned into obsession. Splitting from their innocence and integrity, leaving only empty reflections of fame. Winslow, now as the Phantom, rewrites his cantata as a confessional acceptance of his metamorphosis. Acknowledging his new founded villainy and the internal battle of angels and demons. Torn between the success of his masterpiece and saving the soul of Phoenix from Swan and the horrors of celebrity.

Shock Treatment

After a few unproduced ideas for a sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Richard O‚ÄôBrien would release Shock Treatment in 1981. Considered an ‚Äúequal‚ÄĚ to the cult film without referencing the events of its campy predecessor. It features music adapted from previous scripts and shared themes with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Poe‚Äôs short story William Wilson

Brad and Janet Majors reside in the domestic doldrums of their hometown Denton, Texas. Now transformed into a Stepford suburbia of mindless entertainment addicts, the town is taken over by DTV. A television studio owned by fast-food tycoon, Farley Flavors. The Majors become guests on ‚ÄúMarriage Maze‚ÄĚ, a game show that is quick to publicly humiliate them. To save their relationship, Brad is committed to ‚ÄúDenton Vale” for treatment. A psychiatric hospital that is also a reality show/soap opera. 

But perceptions are warped through multiple camera angles and walls of television screens. The neuro-specialists are actually character actors and counseling is a series of commercials. Farley Flavors and DTV slowly seduce Janet with stardom. Brainwashed by pharmaceuticals and her own ego, she becomes a self-obsessed monster. Along for the ride is the entire town of Denton. Lost within its role of audience participation and Farley’s plot of take-out therapy and world domination.

Circling the series of events befalling The Majors is Betty Hapschatt and Judge Oliver Wright, hosts of ‚ÄúDenton Dossier‚ÄĚ. An investigative show that gets canceled just as Janet‚Äôs star rises. Oliver and Betty suspect a conspiracy is taking place as others vanish within their on-air personalities. Fearing for Brad and Janet‚Äôs sanity they decide to intervene as fame and ‚Äúmental hygiene‚ÄĚ spreads like a virus through Denton.

‚ÄúAre you one of those that finds this emotive form of presentation is overly manipulative?‚ÄĚ

There is a rigid dichotomy between the mysticism of Phantom of The Paradise and the science of Shock Treatment. Yet both offer villains with good publicity that hook us with a litany of false pretenses. The only real power they have over us is what we give them when tempted with our dreams coming true. Both musicals expose the power of desire and how weak human morality can actually be. The soundtracks to DePalma‚Äôs and O‚ÄôBrien‚Äôs musicals become allegorical representations of abandoning humanity for excess and fame. The track listing offers ballads of sacrifice and catchy commercial jingles foreshadowing the dirges to come. 

What stands out most is the eerie prediction of reality television in all of its extremes. In the climactic scene of Phantom, Swan plans to marry Phoenix and assassinate her on live television. While in Shock Treatment, Farley Flavors is content to package and sell a fad fixation on mental health by exploiting the private lives of the audience to push products and ratings. 

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, both films make use of mirrors and themes of character-splitting that beg the audience to look at themselves. Reflect on our indifference to commodifying the human experience and the rate at which we consume celebrity culture. To recognize our own faces in the screaming crowds at The Paradise or among the spectators of DTV Studios and consider the normalcy of unreality in the name of entertainment. 

Further Reading

Unproduced Rocky Horror Sequel Scripts

Swan Archives: Phantom of the Paradise fansite

Originally Published October 2021

The Hellraiser Puzzle Box: History and Influence of the Iconic Artifact

Shivering with sweat in a dark room, a man kneels on bare floorboards. Illuminated by candles, he works feverishly to solve the puzzle box in his hands. An ornate construction, made up of sliding panels and mysterious chambers. The air flexes with a distant tolling bell as polished pieces click into place. Out of it, a banal melody plays on a hidden mechanism. The din is reduced to a naked scream as the gates of hell open.

What is your pleasure, sir?

Clive Barker‚Äôs horror novella, The Hellbound Heart was first published in 1986. Dissatisfied with other film adaptations of his work, Barker made his directorial debut with Hellraiser in 1987. An almost verbatim adaptation of the novella. The film was the beginning of a multimedia franchise expanding on The Hellbound Heart. With each sequel peeling away more layers of Barker‚Äôs dark dreamscape. The doors of which are opened by a 3-inch cube called the ‚ÄúLament Configuration‚ÄĚ.

The box was originally called ‚Äúthe Lemarchand Configuration‚ÄĚ in Barker‚Äôs novella. Known to most humans as only a rumor on the lips of a derelict. Several boxes were thought to exist but few were willing to track one down. Described as charts of the interface between the real and realer still. A box would break the surface of the trivial delights of human condition. The novella mentions one being locked away in the vaults of The Vatican. Another said to have been used by the Marquis De Sade while imprisoned in the Bastille.¬†

All boxes were said to be created by a French craftsman, Philip LeMarchand. Previously famed for creating mechanical birds, he constructed a tool in the form of a toybox. A puzzle that to solve would mean to travel across the schism. LeMarchand‚Äôs background would develop later in Epic‚Äôs Hellraiser comic series that ran from 1989-1993 with the support of Barker. In them, LeMarchand was described as a mass murderer using human fat and bone in the construction of his boxes. The film Hellraiser IV: Bloodline would portray LeMarchand as an ingenious toymaker hired by an aristocratic occultist. The crafting of lament configuration would curse LeMarchand’s bloodline.

The existence of multiple boxes seems to have found its inspiration by way of the occult world. Some suggest it is reminiscent of the 13 Crystal Skulls mythology. Or more seriously, The Key of Solomon, a Renaissance grimoire of seals that command spirits. Barker once explained wanting access to hell in the book and movie. ‚ÄúExplored by something rather different than drawing a circle on the floor with magical symbols around it.‚ÄĚ The idea of a puzzle came from childhood memories of his grandfather. A ship‚Äôs cook, having returned from a trip to the Far East with souvenirs. After one particular trip, Barker was given a carved wooden puzzle box.

In The Hellbound Heart, the Lemarchand Configuration was described as smooth, black lacquered faces with hidden pressure points. A surface reflecting faces of souls caught up in the obsession. Inside were the mirrored innards of fluted slots and oiled pegs. The cinematic version of the Lament Configuration was made of polished wood and brass. Special effects designer, Simon Sayce had studied ancient writings and symbolism from North Africa to China. He notes the inlaid characters of box’s brass work were inspired by surgical tools from an exhibit at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Later to be seen in the film as the disembodied torture devices summoned by the box.  

The instructions to solving the Lament Configuration were part pragmatic and part metaphysical. The puzzle requires a cunning mind and nimble fingers. But to truly open it requires a dark desire for knowing. Desperate individuals seeking pleasure beyond mortal understanding. ‚ÄúYou have to become aware of the Lament Configurations‚ÄĚ, claims Doug Bradley. Longtime friend of Barker and actor that portrayed lead cenobite, Pinhead. ‚ÄúAnd then you have to find one, and then solve the puzzle. It‚Äôs not just the physical act of opening the box. It‚Äôs the motivation behind it.‚ÄĚ

Barker’s Configuration has lent its inspiration to the modern urban legend/Creepypasta called The Devil’s Toybox. Part of a Halloween roadside attraction in rural Louisiana. It is described as a single room shack with 6 inward facing mirrors. The attraction’s challenge is to step inside for as long as possible without losing your mind. Another inspired object of the same name is used by paranormal investigators. These Devil’s Toy Boxes are much smaller mirrored contraptions. Popularized by Joshua P. Warren on Coast to Coast AM, it is believed to create an endless loop of energy. Some claim it attracts spirits and demons. Others utilize it to trap and remove negative entities.

The puzzle box remains an iconic artifact. Possessing an intricate mythology splashed across the pages of books, comics, and the big screen. Inspiring artwork, jewelry, toys, and a wide variety of other replicas. Many online merchants peddle puzzles that might offer access to paradise instead of hell. What kind of doors can you unlock with your own Lament Configuration? What is your pleasure?

Originally published Spring 2021

Additional Links:

Master of Puppets: Jan ҆vankmajer‚Äôs Surrealist Horrors

As a card-carrying surrealist with an introverted philosophy, Jan ҆vankmajer is one of the most influential and obscure multimedia animators of Central Europe. The Czech director‚Äôs techniques in puppetry and stop-motion animation tap into the souls of everyday objects, characterized with deadpan tones. The unforgettable absurdity of his films and spiritual references, disgust and delight fans of the avant-garde and horror alike. 

The Surreal Life

Jan ҆vankmajer was born in Prague in 1934, describing himself as an introverted child. Enthralled by traditional European puppetry, he spent most of his time creating worlds within his imagination and giving life to unconventional objects. Often recalling his love for a Punch & Judy booth he received as a Christmas gift. In the ‚Äė50s he pursued his interests in theater, studying at the School of Applied Arts in Prague and enrolling in the Academy of the Performing Arts‚Äô puppetry department. But it would be the multimedia theater, Laterna Magika, that would introduce ҆vankmajer to film. While not particularly known for creating horror, Jan ҆vankmajer‚Äôs uncomfortable aesthetic and understanding of surrealism as psychology invokes a horror from within. Utilizing diverse techniques that allow the audience a peak through the lens of grotesque divinity. His body of work favors gothic literature and Slavic mythology. Reimagining multiple works of Edgar Allen Poe in more contemporary settings, he offers a unique take on surrealist horror that will haunt his audience for years.

Fall of The House of Usher

In 1980, Jan ҆vankmajer released a short film based on Poe‚Äôs Fall of The House of Usher. Staying faithful to the original story, he replaced the characters with a system of objects in an exploration of tactile stimulus. Claiming that the sensation of touch is often utilized in Poe‚Äôs psychological studies of characters. ҆vankmajer‚Äôs result was shot in black and white without actors, focusing on longing pans across patterned surfaces and stop motion animation. With a foreboding film score that‚Äôs reminiscent of American b-films, a free roaming coffin crawls through a thorny briar and sentient furniture sinks itself in a swamp. Transforming the classic tale of grief into a very pure definition of surrealist horror.

The Pendulum, The Pit, and Hope

҆vankmajer‚Äôs 1983 surrealist horror short borrowed from Poe‚Äôs The Pit & The Pendulum and Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s story, A Torture by Hope. Filmed from a grainy monochrome POV, our protagonist is captured by unknown enemies. A hooded figure leads the audience through claustrophobic catacombs to a mechanical torture chamber. With whimsical renderings of hell painted across the scenery, it vaguely gives the impression of a carnival funhouse ride. Bags of grain act as counterweights to the swinging pendulum as our prisoner struggles against his restraints. Resisting the slow domination of machines, he dances back and forth with little sparks of freedom. Brief rays of hope taunting the audience beyond the faint shadow of exhaustion.¬†¬†


Updating Goethe‚Äôs version of the German legend of Faust, ҆vankmajer simultaneously honors Franz Kafka with 1994‚Äôs feature length film of the same name. Set in a mundane metropolis, the film deviates from the erudite title character by portraying him as a depressed drudge stuck in a looping rat race. Ignoring subtle harbingers at first, he is lured into an otherworldly puppet theater where he finds himself in the dressing room, holding a script. In a very meta scene, he defines himself as ‚ÄúFaust‚ÄĚ, by reading lines out loud. Jaques‚Äô famous line from Shakespeare‚Äôs As You Like It is made gospel with an opening cue and Faust takes the stage. Approached by life sized wooden marionettes of an angel and devil, Faust is goaded at the cross roads. Will he pursue a path of righteousness or devote himself to the dark arts? Worldly pleasure and unlimited knowledge prove too tempting to refuse, and so Faust strikes the infernal bargain. Staged in a dilapidated guignol, the jerky motions of human puppets are unsettling for anyone that grew up watching the Puppetmaster films. When the cue light blinks red to alert Faust that the Devil has come to collect his due, he finds himself just another marionette hung on the wall. Controlled by the hands of fate, the quest for power always comes with strings attached.¬†¬†


2005‚Äôs Lunacy is ҆vankmajer‚Äôs surrealist horror comedy, thematically focused on Edgar Allen Poe‚Äôs “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” and “The Premature Burial“. This feature length movie parallels The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as well as utilizing historical elements of the life of Marquis de Sade. Since his mother‚Äôs passing in a mental institution, Jean regularly has nightmares of being dragged off by hospital orderlies. Struggling with his loss, he encounters a strange fellow while making funeral arrangements. The man claims he is the Marquis de Sade and had also recently lost his mother. Forging an acquaintanceship, he suggests Jean voluntarily commit himself to help ease his grief and nightmares. Desperate for penance, Jean agrees and admits himself to an asylum managed by a friend of the Marquis. As a patient he is subjected to extreme methods of treatment ranging from indulging in decadent pleasures and vice to vicious corporeal punishment and acts of violence. All part of Dr. Murlloppe‚Äôs vision of freedom by balancing mind and body. There is a great deal of misdirection with the introduction of each character and blurred lines of who are the patients and who are the doctors. Some aspects of ҆vankmajer‚Äôs Lunacy feel like a melancholy drama as seen through the eyes of Clive Barker, while other scenes echo the loneliness within Jodorowsky‚Äôs Santa Sangre.

The Ossuary and Other Controversies

Jan ҆vankmajer‚Äôs films were heavily restricted for over 2 decades, as his disturbing imagery and gritty aesthetic were considered politically undesirable. Although his work was never officially banned in his country, the distribution was suppressed after the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The regime installed in the fall of 1969 was infamous for its cultural repression. Filmmakers, particularly those of the “Czech New Wave,” were among the most severely persecuted. In 1970, ҆vankmajer was commissioned to document The Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora. Shot in black and white, the result was a 10-minute-long feature entitled, Kostnice (The Ossuary). Loosely described as a real-life ‚Äúhorror documentary‚ÄĚ, the Sedlec Ossuary‚Äôs creation came from a mass grave of nearly 70,000 casualties of the 14th century‚Äôs Black Plague and 15th century‚Äôs Hussite Wars. Kostnice features long textured shots of tomb stones and intricate repurposing of human remains. Overdubbed with an actual tour-guide’s exhibit monologue as she addresses a group of children with flat frankness and warped humor. Svankmajer did not shy away from themes of exploitation and tourism, which was considered an unacceptable subversion by the Czech Communist authorities. The film maker was forced to replace the soundtrack with a jazz arrangement of the poem “How to Draw the Portrait of a Bird” by Jacques Pr√©vert. A scathing critique of his short film, Leonardo‚Äôs Diary, arose in 1974 after its debut at the Cannes Film Festival. A Czech film critic negatively regarded it as ‚Äúa strange piece of fantasy without socialist content‚ÄĚ. ҆vankmajer would again receive scrutiny for a spoof documentary titled Castle of Otranto. It featured a demented archaeologist interviewed by an actual well-known newscaster. The censors did not want ҆vankmajer to mix fact and fiction for fear of distorting the public‚Äôs view of news media. He was asked to instead cast comedians to which he refused.

Children’s Horrors

Often, Jan ҆vankmajer has turned to Slavic folktales and the terrors of childhood for inspiration. Once suggesting that children stand outside of good and evil and seek the meaning of mortality within dark fantasy. His surrealist horror movies made for children, while mild to the average fan of the genre, tend to be the most disturbing in his catalog. The innocent perspective of a child breathes life into the mundane and sets the stage for the cruelest lessons in life.

҆vankmajer‚Äôs most well-known film is his reimagining of Lewis Carroll‚Äôs Alice in Wonderland. Released in 1988 and simply titled Alice, the film is a mesh of live action, stop motion, and puppetry. Actress Kristyna Kohoutova plays the title role and asks the audience to close their eyes at the beginning of the movie. Only by blinding their adult selves can the viewer really begin to truly see. Alone and bored in her bedroom, Alice witnesses a taxidermied rabbit on her shelf come to life. Breaking free from its display, the rabbit adorns itself in elegant clothes before disappearing into a desk drawer. Alice follows through a labyrinth of furniture and cupboards, filled with endless bones and bobbles. Before the notion of The Backrooms was ever acknowledged, ҆vankmajer‚Äôs Alice created a whole series of the sub-levels to out-creep any pasta. Enter the bottomless sewing bag of your great auntie! While remaining true to Carroll’s original story, the juxtaposing fears of a child are closely explored. In some undulating dream states, Alice becomes an animated porcelain doll. Helpless and ignored by the rest of the world while at other times creatures of bones and glass eyes seize her liminal form. Between doll and flesh, child and adult, Alice is lost in this menagerie all contained within a singular house. The film Alice is somewhat of a spiritual successor to ҆vankmajer‚Äôs 1971 film, Jabberwocky. Loosely based on Carroll’s poem and a children’s book by V√≠tńõzslav Nezval. While less brooding than Alice, it contains many of the same visual elements of rotting fruit, doll cannibalism, and sentient origami.

Little Otik

2001’s Little Otik (also known as Greedy Guts) is ҆vankmajer‚Äôs most purposeful surrealist horror film that drips with dark humor. Based on the Czech fairy tale Otes√°nek, it bears a resemblance to Pinocchio and Little Red Riding Hood. Containing an ambiguous moral which leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Karel and Bozena are a miserable couple, unable to conceive a child of their own. While on vacation, Karel digs up a stump from the yard that somewhat resembles a baby. Initially meant as a joke, he presents it to his wife in an attempt to cheer her up. Bozena is instantly smitten with the log and swaddles it in her arms as if it were a real infant. Upon naming it Otik, the lump of wood comes alive. Suddenly she‚Äôs devising a plan to fake her pregnancy for when they return to their apartment in the city. Karel is horrified as Otik cries out in hunger, a thrashing mass of roots and branches screaming for food under the bare cabin bulb. Begging his wife to end the madness and chop it to pieces, the couple violently wrestle with an axe as Otik shrieks for sustenance. These fevered scenes of stop motion and minimal light mirror Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. One wonders if ҆vankmajer imagined what kind of child Cheryl would have conceived after her encounter with the deadite trees. Bozena‚Äôs motherly instincts triumph and the couple take their Golem-like child home. Struggling to keep the stump fed, Otik’s maw is a ghastly knot in the center of its would-be face. A swirling death portal of teeth and tongue. Its insatiable appetite nearly scalps Bozena and soon the family cat goes missing. Growing in size with each culinary sacrifice, roots reach out for another meal. Once the mailman goes missing, Otik is locked in the basement and discovered by a suspicious little girl next door. She understands exactly what Otik is and vows to feed him.¬†

Manly Games

Walking away from the heavier tones of ҆vankmajer‚Äôs work, Manly Games is less surrealist horror as it is a violent comedy. A short film with the simple premise of a sports fan watching television. A former soccer player and devoted fanatic returns to his flat with a case of beer and snacks to watch his game. The athletic event itself is an animation style popularized by Terry Gilliam‚Äôs work on Monty Python‚Äôs Flying Circus. With upbeat elevator muzak, each athlete is brutally disfigured by everyday mundane objects like scissors, plungers, meat grinders and toy trains. Their collapsed skulls of clay are nailed shut in a coffin, only to return to the soccer field and resume the game. The crowd cheers wildly for each bloodless death. After an intermission of a basket of kittens (yes really), the game ball is kicked into the sports fan‚Äôs apartment. Manly Games is hilariously absurd, remarking on desensitization toward bloodsports in all their violent glory.

Disassociative Denouement

Jan ҆vankmajer retired in 2018 following the release of his film Insect. His unique aesthetic of cultural and spiritual allusion has influenced multiple generations of artists like Terry Gilliam, Guillermo Del Toro, and the Brothers Quay. The childlike simplicity of some of his short films feel strangely familiar, anchored in the shared subconscious language of memory. Faintly echoing Sesame Street‚Äôs psychedelic animations of the 70s and 80s. In his closeted world, ҆vankmajer almost seems to obsess over the horrors of childhood and disassociate with themes of food and death. When questioned about these fixations, Jan admitted he had not yet fully closed the door to his childhood and continues to have dialogs with that chapter of his life.

“If there were no such obsessions, that we have been dragging behind us from our childhood, then what would we create from?” 

Further Reading

Jan Svankmajer by Keith Leslie Johnson

The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer by Gaby Hartel

With These Hands: A History of Mad Love

The 1930s were peak in Hollywood’s Golden Age of horror. Universal led the way with its legendary monster movies and Paramount added sophisticated suspense to the genre. In 1935, MGM decided to release the horror-thriller Mad Love, directed by Karl Freund and starring Peter Lorre in his American debut. Lorre, a highly publicized talent, harnessed a dark glamor with his emotive acting. Bringing an amalgamation of repulsiveness and vulnerability into each role that the audience sympathizes with against their will.

His Love Was a Pitiful…Hopeless Madness

The famous surgeon, Dr. Gogol sits in private box at the¬†“Th√©atre des Horreurs”, just as he has for the last 47 nights. Blissfully gazing upon Madame Yvonne Orlac as she is tortured on stage as the Duchess. Having sent flowers and notes to her dressing room for each performance, he finally approaches her dressing room on closing night. Yet he is crushed to learn she is married to concert pianist, Stephen Orlac. As he wraps up a tour, Yvonne retires from the stage to join him at last. The¬†dejected¬†Gogol comforts himself by purchasing the theater‚Äôs¬†promotional wax figure of Yvonne from the lobby. Having it delivered to his private chambers to do with as he pleases, without fear of rejection.

While enroute to meet with his wife, Stephen is mangled in a terrible train wreck. Crushing his hands which must be amputated to save his life. Yvonne is desperate to preserve her husband’s livelihood and begs Dr. Gogol for a miracle. His surgical genius is struck with divine inspiration and Stephen is given a hand transplant. The donor of which being a recently executed knife thrower from the circus. The surgery is a success, but Stephen is repulsed by his transplants that require long and expensive treatments. They don’t take to playing the piano as they once did but now seem to have a talent for knives. The Orlacs are forced to sell all their valuables as the bills pile up, straining their marriage much to Gogol’s delight. With murder hanging in the balance, Stephen descends into madness. Luring Yvonne to Dr. Gogol for answers, like a fly to a carnivorous plant.

I have conquered science! Why can’t I conquer love?

Mad Love was the first of many remakes of Orlacs H√§nde (The Hands of Orlac). An Austrian silent horror film directed by expressionist veteran, Robert Wiene. This version focused more on the unraveling of Stephen as the protagonist. Rejecting his evil willed appendages and featuring a con man as the villain. Wiene‚Äôs film itself was inspired by a 1920 French fantasy/horror novel, Les Mains d’Orlac. Written by Maurice Renard, it is cited as one of the earliest appearances of body horror.

Mad Love is less faithful to Renard‚Äôs novel than Frankenstein or Dracula are to their origins in gothic literature. Which comes as no surprise that the script writer, John L. Balderston, had previously written on those film adaptations along with The Mummy and The Bride of Frankenstein. Balderston expanded on an otherwise minor character by combining the novel‚Äôs benign doctor with ‚ÄėSpectropheles‚Äô. A grotesque figure clad in white that haunts Stephen Orlac‚Äôs wife throughout Renard‚Äôs version. Regarded as the ghost of the train accident in the book and on screen as Dr. Gogol, a ghoul in white surgical scrubs. Both personal devils of Mrs. Orlac that must be faced before all is lost.

Balderstone had composed the film‚Äôs dialog with Lorre in mind, at points calling for the actor to deploy his “M look”. Referring to Lorre‚Äôs breakthrough role as Hans Beckert, a child murderer in Fritz Lang‚Äôs 1931 thriller, M. A Weimar Republic-era movie that would type cast the actor for the rest of his career. The tortured Stephen Orlac is played by, Colin Clive. No stranger to horror as the memorable Dr. Henry in Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Keye Luke appears as Gogol‚Äôs assisting surgeon, Dr. Wong. Best known for his role as Lee Chan in the Charlie Chan films and appearing with Peter Lorre in 1938 film Mr. Moto‚Äôs Gamble. Edward Brophy plays Rollo the knife thrower, on his way to the guillotine. Brophy had also played a knife throwing circus performer named Rollo in the 1935 movie Freaks. Possibly setting the cult film within the same cinematic universe as Mad Love.

Other film adaptations include¬†The Hands of Orlac¬†(1960) directed by Edmond Grevilleand¬†Hands of a Stranger¬†(1962) directed by Newt Arnold. The premise of a killer transplant inspired a number of other films such as¬†The Crawling Hand¬†(1963),¬†The Hand¬†(1981), and¬†Les Mains de Roxana¬†(2012). On television it had influenced a segment of Rod Serling’s¬†Night Gallery¬†and the¬†Doctor Who¬†serial, ‚ÄúThe Hand of Fear‚ÄĚ. A variant of the theme was used in an unproduced project of Alfred Hitchcock,¬†The Blind Man¬†and parodied in¬†The Simpsons‚Äô ‚ÄúTreehouse of Horror IX‚ÄĚ.¬†It has even been suggested that Mad Love directly inspired the visual style of Orson Welles‚Äô¬†Citizen Kane.

 ‚ÄúEach Man Kills The Thing He Loves‚ÄĚ

Though upon initial release Mad Love was a commercial failure, it has grown a devout following through the years. Amassing an audience that appreciates Freund and Balderston weaving as many horror tropes within their movie as they could. From set designs to borrowed lines, the film pays tribute to its expressionistic roots and other heavy hitters in the genre.

The film title Mad Love is more obviously in reference to the sadistic obsession Gogol has for the actress and the skin-crawling scenes of his entitled wooing. Perhaps it also regards Yvonne‚Äôs devotion to her husband, Stephen. Resorting to desperate measures to care for the wreck-mauled pianist. Including reaching out to a repugnant stage-door johnny and admittedly trading on his unrequited feelings. Unknowingly evoking a madness in their lives that can only come from ‚Äúlove‚ÄĚ.