Into the Silents

Rate this Entry
2020 looms large on the horizon and many of the first motion pictures ever made are now either over or approaching a century old.

With a century of movies to choose from, and so many of those being modern horror, why should modern haunters watch horror (or other movies) from the silent era?

The stories told a hundred years ago are often the same ones we tell today, but perhaps their limited technology forced them to use more imagination? Watching silents sparks creativity.

Also it's a great way to learn about physical acting. A scare actor might learn body language, movement, expression, and other key acting skills needed to truly draw in customers. I hear some actors say they don't know what to say. Silence is golden!

For all their primitiveness, silents were able to terrify their audiences without any blood/gore (cgi or otherwise). They created fear and suspense with simple lighting, sound (from a live performer) and acting. These old movies provide us with examples examples of setting atmosphere, and teach how to do more with less.

Silent films have a lot more in common with live theater than modern cinema does. Emphasis had to be placed on movement and expression. Everything is exaggerated, as it needed to be at the time, and as we need it to be in the haunt. Also, they knew how to use light! When all you have is black and white, light and shadow are of paramount importance.

I once heard of a haunt where an actor hid in a very small, triangular shadow, created by an old "Drag" -A piece of steel with numerous steel points pulled by a Farm Tractor to break up the soil. They had the steel points facing toward the customers at about a 45 degree angle. Avery bright light shone behind it, which then made a very dark angular shadow in front, and that was the hiding place right in front of the Patrons. The actor had only to stand up to be right in-their-Face! Very effective.

What's missing in some haunts I've seen is they aren't putting attention on character and getting a story across. There too busy on being intense and extreme every room without using a rhythm 1st should build up to what's coming, using some rooms to build story and create tension, uneasiness, atmosphere, a pop scare, repeat than end it with a bang. A sense of menace, building up to the scare, is something to be learned from the old silents.

I understand most haunters will not sit down and watch an old movie, much less a silent one. However, if you are interested in haunt design, in actor training, or in just rising above the other haunters in overall presentation, here are a few you might check out - all free!

Hans Richter-ghosts for breakfast (1927)
Surreal and bizarre. Also, hated by the Nazis, so there's that.


Faust (1926)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1913)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

The Golem (1920)

Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)

Nosferatu (1922)

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923)

The Phantom Carriage (1921)


Alfred Hitchcock - The Pleasure Garden (1925)


The Man Who Laughs (1928)

A Page of Madness (狂った一頁 Kurutta Ippeji) 1926 Japanese silent film

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

If you are REALLY serious bout physical acting, you cannot do better than Bister Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Tyrone Power, or Laurel and Hardy. Geniuses all, and very influential on modern cinema.

Happy Haunting.
Halloween , Everything Else