Phantom of the Opera (1925)
If you´re familiar with horror history, the name Lon Chaney (senior, in that case) should not only ring a bell but set the belltower on fire, so to speak. Hailing from the silent age, Chaney was properbly the first genuine horror "star" in classic era hollywood. Movie genres weren´t as defined back then like they are now (more than ever, unfortunately) so some might argue that this first (and closest) adaption of Gaston Lerox´s Phantom of the Opera is acutally more melodrama than horror but what the fuck. From the adaptions I´ve seen this definitely kicks the most butt and is by far the most frightening. The sheer freaking evilness of that scene where the Phantom and his Captive Christine Daae are sitting on the piano and he starts banging the living fuck out of the keys while she´s almost unconcious with fear should make Andrew Lloyd Webber and his kitsch-bomb musical version bow in shame.
But first off, a little bit of history: This is a "lost" kind of film and isn´t likely to recover in it´s original shape forever. The reason for that is that there were two cuts upon the initial release date that got juxtaposed with a remake about 1929 which had most of the same cast (not Chaney though). So, the version you´re likely to see isn´t really the complete film. More frustratingly, the remake itself is not complete, they simply cut between the two versions at some points which will properbly confuse some. Once that is out of the way though, it´s still a mesmerizing experience even in this non-authentic version. The key point is of course Chaney´s performance. Even when wearning a bland mask (and, to make that point, without any dialogue), he manages to give meaning and depth to every gesture. The actual make up of the disfigured villan is easily the second creepiest makeup in film history, behind only the corpse in Bava´s "Black Sabbath". Reportedly, Chaney who always applied his self-designed make up in every film he was in, went as far as using fish hooks tearing up his nose from behind is head to make the Phantom seem like "well, there is no nose!". Most of the other cast goes to pieces in face of his performance but there´s no doubt that for it´s time, this was an absolute quality production. The story itself is totally washed out these days, I´m sure everybody has seen at least one of those adaptions. What I found rather cool is that the "romantic" touch nearly everybody who tried has interpreted is rather absent from this version - the Phantom´s desires for his prey are clearly sexual in the most vicious way. That freak has no aims of starting a normal life with his new found true love, he wants to "possess" her, meaning keeping her prisoner in his underground torture chamber estate. His backstory is rather vague, he´s not noly escaped from Devil´s Island but is also "a master of the black arts". I want that on my passport.
Even if you´re not into silent films at all you should see this at least once in my opinion. It was one of horrors forebarers and milestones. In many ways this feels less dated to me than many of it´s succesors made decades later (in terms of make up of course I think it´s properbly most famous successor would be Freddy Krueger), but could also be that today´s undeground culture is so hot for retro that it makes one wonder what effect it would have when released today. Give it watch, this is some seriously great shit.