The Phantom of the Opera
(1925, Dir. by Rupert Julian.)
Why It's Here:
Age hasn't been incredibly kind to most silent films. Most of the blame for this must fall on modern viewers, who have been spoiled by bright colors and loud noises. But if you were to give me the choice between most modern Hollywood horror films and the works of the silent icon Lon Chaney, I know exactly what I'd pick almost every time. Which brings us to The Phantom of the Opera, which tells the ageless tale on a grand (especially for its time) scale, and Chaney's turn as the title "monster". Technology has progressed, yet Chaney's performance works just as well today as it did almost 90 years ago.
The Moment That Changes Everything:
This is an easy one, because everything I love about horror stems from the unmasking sequence and Chaney's contorted face that is revealed to us. It sends chills straight up my spine.
It Makes a Great Double Feature With:
If you want to see Chaney get real crazy and less made-up, check out his 1927 flick The Unknown - in which Chaney plays an increasingly deranged circus star who is obsessed with wooing a peer played by a young Joan Crawford. The man shows of at least a couple dozen of his "thousand faces", and the finale is silent cinema gold.
What It Means To Me:
This is a sentimental pick for the list in a lot of ways, because The Phantom of the Opera was my introduction to horror as a child. It opened my imagination to the possible horrors of the world, and I haven't looked back since. Though it would be easy to shun it in honor of newer and flashier films, that vision of Chaney as the Phantom still pops into my head and reminds me why I love horror all the time. I respect the heck out of that.