SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (14)
August 16, 2021
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite unfinished masterworks, legendary obscurities and cherished almost-weres.
LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT
My first encounter with London After Midnight came in the form of a goth band. I was a teenager, in high school, and not aware of their namesake at the time. I did groove tirelessly to their creepy keyboard solos. (Salute to you, Sean Brennan: I’m listening to Psycho Magnet as I write this.)
When I learned that the band was actually named after a long-lost silent movie from 1927, I was perplexed. Even in the ’90s, the concept of a “lost film” went way over my head. Surely there couldn’t be NO copy anywhere? Didn’t they back up films in the old days like we do our hard drives?
Then, as teenagers do, I thought… meh. If it was lost it couldn’t have been that great anyway. I continued to groove, unbothered.
Serendipity occurred in the form of being hired by Famous Monsters of Filmland twelve years later. Forry Ackerman, our honorary editor, worshipped Lon Chaney and every film he’d ever starred in — and FM reconnected me to my goth roots through silent films: Murnau’s Nosferatu, Leni’s Man Who Laughs, Wiene’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Watching these films was like smoking clove cigarettes in black lace and walking down a dark city street.
I’m a little embarrassed that it took me a bit to understand just why London After Midnight, a vampire picture based on director Tod Browning’s story “The Hypnotist,” was so revered. Its signature image — a sinister, smiling Chaney with a mouth full of sharpened teeth and a top hat — is so iconic it’s inspired everyone from California goth bands to film director Jennifer Kent, who referenced the look for her own Babadook.
Now I get it. This was Lon Chaney, man of a thousand faces, who did his own effects makeup for horror icons like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Phantom of the Opera. He was horror fans’ first star. And a missing masterpiece released barely three years before Chaney died from throat cancer complications at a mere 47? No wonder it’s haunted us for decades. The last print was supposedly destroyed in an MGM studio vault fire in 1965. No one’s seen it since.
Forry’s FM used to include what he called “filmbooks”: narrative plots of movies alongside set photos that were designed to let kids “see” films they weren’t able to pop into a VCR and watch. The concept seems elementary and useless in the digital age. But given that no one can see London After Midnight anymore, going back to look at that filmbook from Issues 69 and 80 by someone who actually saw it is pretty fucking magical.
Of course, even if the film resurfaced now, there’s no way it could live up to its legacy (especially because Browning basically “remade” it as a 1935 talkie called Mark of the Vampire starring Bela Lugosi). Perhaps that’s the way it should be. London After Midnight exists only in our collective imaginations as a series of black and white set photographs featuring Chaney’s horrific visage, and that shared imagined movie has had more cultural impact than any halfassed Hollywood blockbuster.
SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: SERIES INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Luc Sante on WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | Peggy Nelson on THE CURSE OF QUIXOTE | Adrienne Crew on POOR DEVIL | Bishakh Som on KATE BUSH BOOTLEGS | Douglas Wolk on BIG NUMBERS #3 | Devin McKinney on THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA | Mandy Keifetz on BACKFIRE | Heather Quinlan on TRANSITIONAL DISNEY | Michael Grasso on STEELY DAN’S 2nd ARRANGEMENT | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on THE GREAT MOVIE RIDE | Josh Glenn on LE HIBOU PHILOSOPHE | Lynn Peril on 70, GIRLS, 70 | Ron Wimberly on SHIRATO SANPEI | Holly Interlandi on LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT |Stan Chou on TYRAEL’S MIGHT | Nikhil Singh on JOURNEY TO IXTLAN | Brian Lozano on BLOWN BANNER | Adam McGovern on THE LEON SUITES | Sajan Saini on BRISCO COUNTY | Heather Kapplow on LORD OF LIGHT | Greg Rowland on SOLARNAUTS | Christopher-Rashee Stevenson on FLEDGLING | Crystal Durant on TURN-ON | Ran Xia on BYRON’S FRAGMENT | Carolyn Raship on BURNT BRONTË.
NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): TIME | THE POST OFFICE | ARDUIN | PAGE EDGES | SUMMATIONS | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | SHIRATO SANPEI | THE LEON SUITES | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.