Saturday, October 26, 2013

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Movie 1

Various intrigues form against the backdrop of 15th century Paris where the peasants are preparing to revolt against the aristocracy. Caught up in all of this are Quasimodo (Lon Chaney), a horribly disfigured bell ringer, and Esmerelda (Patsy Ruth Miller), the beautiful gypsy girl whose kindness to him earns his fierce loyalty and protection.

Quasimodo was for a long time one of the central and essential Universal monsters, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) was considered one of its horror classics. Not so much these days. There's no denying the film's classic status. Filmed on a lavish scale with impressive sets, a sweeping storyline, and star Lon Chaney wearing one of his most iconic make-ups, the film is an impressive achievement in silent cinema.

But is it a horror movie, and is Quasimodo a monster? If you look at it for its display of humanity's horrific treatment of other people, then yes this movie could be a horror movie, as could many other historical fictions, but aside from the gothic majesty of Notre Dame cathedral, you'd be hard pressed to find any true horror trappings here. As for Quasimodo, technically, because his deformities veer him from normal human appearance, he's a monster, but these are physical birth defects, and this is no doubt why his face and form have quietly vacated the line-up of Universal's monsters over the past few decades. It's just not pc to consider someone physically handicapped a monster. However, much like the Frankenstein monster, Quasimodo is a pitiful character with whom the audience sympathizes. He's treated terribly by everyone else except Esmerelda and the priest he serves. This leads him to understandable rage at the end where he gleefully throws huge stone blocks, and pours boiling lead down onto the revolting peasants in the street below. Even though his motivations are understandable, his actions remove any sympathetic feelings for him as he commits these acts, not just from the viewer, but Esmerelda, too. So, whether or not he's a monster I leave to you to decide.

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