Updated: Jan 11, 2020
Film Name: Eerie Tales
Star Rating out of 5: ★★★
Directed by: #RichardOswald
Review by: Jasmine Holly Bullock
Eerie Tales, or Unheimliche Geschichten in German, is a ‘horror’ film that takes the format of an anthology, directed by Richard Oswald. The film contains five tales within an overarching tale. We see the Devil, Death and a Harlot have some fun by reading through scary stories. Eerie Tales is a black and white silent film, which some may not be open to, but nevertheless this didn’t bother me at all. In fact, dialogue is unnecessary because the plots are obvious and the characters are well established via things like the settings they’re in, their clothing, and their relationships.
The three main actors: Anita Berber, Conrad Veidt and Reinhold Schünzel , are included in every story and there is always a love triangle included between them. Some of the stories I was not familiar and others I was; my favourite was The Hand, although the rendition of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat was also pretty good.
The BFI held a screening of Eerie tales, celebrating its centennial anniversary. For a film that was produced in 1919 it’s no wonder that some aspects don’t fit with today’s perception of what makes a good film. For example, the performances are very much over the top and unrealistic, which makes sense when considering that this was the popular acting style in early 1900s Germany. In fact, all the actors involved, especially Conrad Veidt, were extremely well liked and famous at the time.
It’s fair to say that the film is actually more so of a farce, it is not seriously intended to be scary but still: the actual storylines were doing the bare minimum. Things like timeframes and the chronology of events were definitely overlooked and therefore not consistent, which made a lot of moments quite disconcerting and it sometimes seemed a bit lacklustre.
Yet, there were some things that I found impressive when considering that this film is literally 100 years old. The cinematography and special effects used where surprisingly efficient and effective, such as successfully producing the illusion of disappearing phantoms... it was done better than I thought it would be.
The absolute highlight of the screening for me was that it was accompanied by live music, by Stephen Horne, which included the piano and the accordion amongst other instruments. I’ve never seen a show with live music being played in such close proximity to my seat, which was the case due to the small intimate NFT2 room at the BFI. I must say it was a great experience, the acoustics of the room were brilliant and Horne is a remarkable musician.
Prior to the screening, a brief speech was given by Miranda Gower-Qian who is the programme and learning director of the Phoenix Cinema. Gower-Qian explained how Oswald’s production paved the way for many films in the horror genre and the use of anthology formats in film. Whilst Eerie Tales is not necessarily the most entertaining watch, there is no denying that the cultural and historical importance of this film means that it is a film that should be watched by any film lover, it does provide an interesting insight into the early makings of the horror genre in the film industry. Plus, there are a few chuckle-worthy moments, so why not?