Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Season of Horror: Suspense (1913)

We're traveling back in time for a scary short film from over 100 years ago called Suspense. It can be found on the Saved from the Flames DVD.

We see an unhappy looking lady creepily staring through a keyhole at a mother and her babe, and through the note she hastily scribbles, we find out she is Mamie, and she's leaving without notice for the simple reason that the secluded environs are unacceptable to servants. Mamie is too gutless to tell the woman to her face, which is rather reprehensible, and her brief appearance apparently wasn't worth noting in the credits. The real mystery is why she's leaving the key under the mat while The Wife is at home. She must have known The Tramp was coming and would need it.

The Tramp sees her leave and makes his way to the house.

"A Tramp is prowling around the house. Now he is opening the kitchen door. Now he is..."

The Husband is hard at work earning the daily bread and has to stay late. Being a dutiful husband, he calls to ask if The Wife will be alright. She is unaware that Mamie has left and she is all alone with The Tramp sneaking up to her doorstep when she speaks with him.

She soon finds Mamie's note, and considers calling The Husband, but then changes her mind and goes around the house making sure the doors and windows are locked. When she goes to get the baby, she doesn't realize The Tramp is watching her through the window. Super creepy!

She takes the babe upstairs and has the sudden urge to go the window and peer out.

She looks down onto the porch and sees The Tramp, who realizes he's been spotted.

She goes to call The Husband while The Tramp finds the key and lets himself into the house.

The Tramp cuts the phone wire and she is disconnected from The Husband.

The Husband is frantic to rescue The Wife, and runs out and finds the first available jalopy, which happens to belong to someone else.

The Pursuer enlists help from the police to chase after The Husband in the stolen car.

Meanwhile, The Tramp is feeling pretty cocky and taking his time making himself at home and helping himself to the fine sandwiches he finds in the cupboard.

The Wife barricades herself and the baby in the room,

while the police and The Pursuer follow closely behind The Husband.

The Husband is not a bad guy, so when he accidentally hits some dumb cluck who's standing in the middle of the road lighting a cigarette, he stops to pull him out from under his car, which allows the police to close the gap. The Tramp has filled his belly, but not all his appetites are satiated, and he grabs the knife to go in search of anything else that might please him.

The Pursuer and police are within distance of grabbing The Husband. If they stop him, it may spell doom for The Wife.

The Tramp is on his way upstairs with knife in hand.

The Wife knows he is on his way.

The Tramp breaks through the door and easily pushes the bureau away.

The badass Husband jumps from the moving car and runs frantically toward home.

Will he be in time to save The Wife and baby?

So perhaps you're wondering what this flick is doing in a Season of Horror. It's called Suspense, not 'Horror.' Sometimes there is a fine line between what's suspense, what's a thriller and what's classified as horror, because they all can inspire fear. There are times when horror is in the eye of the beholder, though I won't go so far to suggest this film fits into the horror genre, even though it has some horrifying aspects.

If The Tramp pulls an Erich von Stroheim and tosses the baby out the window and then proceeds to cut the mother's heart from her chest, it may clearly place this short film into the category of horror. It certainly shares some of the fears and elements that are commonly found in horror stories. The fear of something stalking you that you cannot prevent from getting at you is at the heart of films about zombies, vampires, witches, and malevolent spirits. The fear of looking out the window and having something looking back at you is also commonly found in horror films, such as Carnival of Souls. We really don't know what The Tramp is going to do to The Wife and baby. He's got a pretty long, sharp knife, and sometimes the most effective horror stories are the ones that allow us to use our imagination to create the horror.

What I know from this film is that the director, Lois Weber, who also plays The Wife, is an amazing director. This short film really packs a punch and in such a timeless way. The fears are still relevant, the innovative camera work remains a delight to the eyes, and the stunts are impressive. If you did not know how cool 100 year old films could be, then this is one of many to convince you. Have I kept you in suspense of the ending? If you want to know what happens, then sally forth.

The coppers chase after The Husband with guns blazing as he makes his way to the house.

The Tramp is alerted by the sounds of gunshots and makes a hasty retreat.

The Husband intercepts The Tramp and delays him until the police can apprehend the criminal.

The Pursuer catches up to The Husband, who has determined that The Wife and baby are safe, and decides not to press charges after realizing the situation. All's well that ends well.

I hope to see more of Lois Weber's work. It's a shame that only 20 out of 200 or more of her films have survived.

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