Silent Halloween at the Indiana Landmarks Center (2017)

Nosferatu?! Nosferatu?! The famous 1922 silent film? Count me in.

I originally saw this movie years ago in Bloomington, Indiana. A graduate school colleague played in a band that composed an original score for Nosferatu. Each year M played their original composition as the silent film was shown at a local venue. This time I would be hearing Mark Herman accompany the film on an organ, the traditional musical instrument for silent films.

And Sammy Terry, the iconic horror film host in Central Indiana, was back. He posed for photos with fans and emceed the event. The audience was entertained with his standard guillotine act.

The participants in the scream contest were amazing this year. The winner was a man. My favorite? The woman who when asked by Sammy Terry to describe a favorite horror movie or recent horror experience replied, “The night that Trump won.” (As you can imagine, in a state where two-thirds of voters voted for Trump, her response didn’t go over so well. But it did delight several of us in the audience.)

Sammy Terry also hosted the costume contest. This year’s theme, keeping with the film, was vampires. Awards were given for best traditional vampire, best creative vampire, and best couple vampire. Of course, not everyone came dressed as a vampire. The winner of the traditional category left me perplexed; I don’t know what she was but she was not a traditional vampire. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what the creative vampire winner was either, but it was a cool costume. (A steampunk plague doctor perhaps?)

One thing was new this year: live streaming on Facebook. A cameraman followed the action on the stage and in the audience. At the end of the evening, Sammy Terry announced that 10,000 people watched their inaugural living streaming.

As usual, Mark was happy to be back playing in Indiana. (He lives in California but is from Indiana.) And also as usual, the audience loved him.

The movie Nosferatu was, of course, delightful. It was creepy but, like other silent films, some things did not age well and produced laughter instead of horror. The scenes of Count Orlok walking down empty town streets with his coffin tucked under his arm elicited laughter—the scene was so absurd. The creepiest bits were when the camera showed his shadow walking up the stairs to Ellen’s bedroom. The tall slender form of the vampire with long fingers and nails cast a frightful sight: shadow on the stairs.

The movie was well attended. I sat in my usual spot wondering if my companions would show up this year. (Three years ago I struck up conversations with people sitting by me. Each year since then we have sat in the same spot.) Alas, they didn’t show up and I was left thinking that perhaps they had other engagements this year—until Dave stopped by to say hello. They had arrived late and found seating elsewhere. And then at intermission I looked for his daughter, only to turn around and see that she sought me out too.

Indiana Landmark’s tradition of Silent Halloween (now in its fifth year) is an awesome way to celebrate the season—Sammy Terry, Mark Herman, and silent horror films. Oh yes, and if you are lucky, you may encounter acquaintances made and renewed during previous Silent Halloweens.

Silent Halloween at the Indiana Landmarks Center (2016)

I continued the Halloween tradition of celebrating the festivities at the Indiana Landmarks Center. For the past several years, the center has shown silent films accompanied by an organist in their renovated 19th century Methodist church.

The night consisted of organ music, audience-participation activities, a costume contest, a raffle, and films—a silent film short and the feature presentation.

Mark Herman returned again this year from Pasadena to provide the organ music for the films as well as music for other evening activities. He clearly enjoys his role at Silent Halloween and the audience loves him, reciprocating with standing ovations.

Sammy Terry, the iconic horror film host in Central Indiana, also returned this year to emcee the event. Sammy Terry is also beloved by many in the audience who grew up with him—Sammy Terry is the longest running TV horror film host. Robert Carter started introducing horror films on TV as Sammy Terry in 1962; his son Mark took over the role in 2010.

Before showing the night’s silent films, Sammy Terry entertained the crowd with typical Sammy Terry activities. He picked volunteers from the audience to come on stage and answer trivia questions about Indiana. Which was the first city in the world to be completely electrified? (Wabash) Where was baseball invented? (Fort Wayne) (I realized that some of the answers I knew, I knew from watching the state bicentennial documentary Hoosiers: The Story of Indiana!)

As another activity, Sammy Terry picked volunteers from the audience to attempt to provide the most blood-curdling scream. Several of those screamers were quite impressive.

The short silent film of the evening was Laurel and Hardy’s Habeas Corpus (1928). A rich doctor, who is slightly off of his rocker, hires the goofball pair. Their task? Steal a body from a gravesite for the doctor to use in his experiments. (Not an uncommon thing in the late 1800s. I thought back to a recent story I heard about Benjamin Harrison’s father unexpectedly being discovered in the Ohio Medical College when the authorities were looking for a different body that was snatched from an adjoining grave.)

The feature film of the evening was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920), starring John Barrymore. Barrymore gained praise for his performance as the two main characters. And I could see why. The story is a well-known tale by Robert Louis Stevenson that explores man’s dark side. Dr. Jekyll, an upstanding young doctor who selflessly devotes himself to helping the poor, is corrupted by his father-in-law to-be who cannot fathom how a man could be as good as Dr. Jekyll. Once unleashed, Dr. Jekyll’s dark side cannot be contained but takes over and destroys not only himself but in a twist of justice, the father-in-law to-be who caused Dr. Jekyll’s downfall.

The night was a great way to kick off the long Halloween weekend. In a delightful twist of fate, I found myself sitting next to the same couple that I did last year (!) and making the acquaintance of the fabled daughter I heard about the previous year.

I was surprised this year that the event did not sell out—there appeared to be seats still available. I was then surprised a second time when people started leaving in the middle of the feature film. Perhaps these were no movie buffs or silent film aficionados? Perhaps they only attended to see (and get pictures with) Sammy Terry? Perhaps they are early birds rather than night owls. It was perplexing?

In any event, I’ll be back next year. I am curious which silent films they will show in 2017…

Silent Halloween at the Indiana Landmarks Center (2015)

After last year’s festivities, I returned to the beautifully renovated Methodist church to enjoy another night of Halloween entertainment and silent films.

Mark Herman, world-renown organist, was back. He played before and during the films, initially introducing our non-film entertainment for the evening, Sammy Terry.

Sammy Terry? Apparently he is an Indianapolis-area icon, hosting horror films since 1962. Lots of people in the audience seemed to know him from their youths. He emceed the raffles, pulled audience members to the stage for a men-vs.-women trivia contest, and used his guillotine on yet another audience member.

The highlight for me was the silent films. I was treated to a Buster Keaton flick (The Haunted House) that I had never seen. It was great seeing his antics larger than life and to hear audience members who were being introduced to Keaton for the first time laughing at his expressions and pratfalls.

Next up was Lon Chaney’s classic The Phantom of the Opera. Unfamiliar with the tale or the book the movie is based on, the film was a delight to see. On occasions the quirks of exaggerated physical expressions and movement elicited laughter.

I spend another delightful evening at the Indiana Landmark Center celebrating Halloween with others by watching silent classics. What will they play next year?

Movie review: The General (1926)

I first discovered Buster Keaton around a dozen years ago. I quickly devoured all of his silent films that I could find. I recently revisited The General.

Buster Keaton was one of the masters of the silent film genre. He is known for the physical feats in his films, which inspired Jackie Chan decades later.

In The General, Keaton shows off some of his physical prowess but not to the extent that he does in his other films. His use of physical expressions to tell the story speaks to his position among the greats of the silent genre.

The movie utilizes what became a well-worn movie theme: boy loves girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl. Keaton plays a train engineer in lover with his train (The General) and a woman. The story begins at the start of the Civil War and every man is signing up. Keaton’s beloved refuses to talk to him until he is in uniform. Only he can’t seem to get in uniform. The recruiters refuse to recruit him: he is more valuable to the cause as a train engineer.

Through twists and turns and several train chases, Keaton manages to learn about and then foil Northern plans of attacking the South. In the end he saves the day, joins the army, and wins the girl. The General is a good intro to Buster Keaton and his silent films.

Silent Halloween at the Indiana Landmarks Center

Silent films. Accompanied with organ music. In the historic Indiana Landmarks Center. This was not something I could pass up, even when the weather turned nasty and slushy snow was streaming down—the first snow of the season.

I love the Indiana Landmarks Center. It is such an amazingly restored building. (See my earlier blog post about touring the Center.) In honor of the evening, I silently thanked Cook for all of the money that he donated towards the renovation. I smiled as I overheard again and again people marveling at the building.

Before the evening festivities began, I entertained myself by wandering the building, visiting what was the main entrance of the church with staircases flanking the grand fireplace. I peered in at the wooden-lined Cook theatre. And I visited my favorite fireplace out of the five in the building—located in the bottom floor art gallery—a beautiful aqua-tiled fireplace in the Arts and Crafts tradition.

The theme for the evening was pirates. Many people had dressed the part for the costume contest. Still others simply dressed in costume—witches, The Riddler. (I learned from a nearby conversation that the image of witches arose from the medieval practice of women being brewmasters—they had brooms to sweep the grain, cats to kill the mice who ate the grain, and cauldrons to brew the beer.)

I laughed whenever I looked at a certain gentleman who came as the Pointy-Haired Boss from the Dilbert comic strip. Apparently his hair pretty much stands on end by itself. He just shaved his head, teased out the two tufts, and viola!

The evening was full of food, drink, conversation with strangers, a costume contest, door prizes, and of course, silent films. We were fortunate to have the world-renown Mark Herman playing the organ while the silent films rolled across the screen. His playing fed the emotions of the films but was unobtrusive; the music informed the films but did not overpower them—the way good organ music accompanying silent films should be.

The film list started with a cartoon: Felix the Cat The Ghost Breaker (1923). (In modern parlance, Ghost Breaker means Ghost Buster.) It was a treat to see the real Felix the Cat, who was more cat-like in his behavior than later renditions of him. Early cartoonists did some neat effects, such as ripples down Felix’s back—neat effects that just weren’t continued in more modern cartoons.

Next we were regaled with a short from Stan Laurel during his pre-Laurel and Hardy days: Mr. Pyckle and Dr. Pride (1925). Laurel’s take on the classic story was a visual treat of his physical humor. The evil Dr. Pride stole ice cream from kids, popped bags next to women that made them faint, and shot spit wads at kids and adults alike.

The feature film was The Black Pirate (1926) with Douglas Fairbanks. It was amazing to see the physical ruggedness of Fairbanks in action, leaping and performing feats on his own. More often than not, the film elicited chuckles from the audience. (Special effects from the early movie days do not often fare well with modern moviegoers.)

I left the beautiful Center not only laughing at the movies and in reactions to the guffaws from the moviegoers seated behind me, but by spotting the Pointy-Haired Boss one final time.