Halloween is my favorite holiday! It’s a day for self-expression. A day for fun and fantasy. A day for taking control of phobias and fears and turning your back on Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Where’s your power now Fred? Way to shut that mess down.
It’s also a day to indulge in all your favorite classic, creepy, monster, sci-fi horror films.
Therefore, in the spirit of Halloween, let’s pay homage to the original man of horror. The “Man of a Thousand Faces”- Lon Chaney.
Born to deaf parents, Lon learned to express himself and communicate visually. He took his desire to become an actor and created an art form and space for himself that was revolutionary to the motion picture industry. His makeup artistry allowed him to transform and become grotesque characters in films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). He’s regarded as one of the most important character actors of the silent film era. (Wikipedia)
The original “monster maker”, he would scout out the daily call sheets for a studio finding out what types of extras were needed for that day’s shoot. He created a make-up toolbox of possibilities for him to achieve the look and characterizations needed to be chosen for a role. This talent was the impetus for his unparalleled reputation in the burgeoning film industry.
Chaney’s alliance with Director Tod Browning was inspired! Browning was into the macabre and best known for his films Dracula (1931) and the cult classic Freaks (1932) and Lon Chaney had the acting and makeup skills to realize any twisted character the director could come up with.
My favorite movie line is from their 1927 silent film The Unknown – “crack of your ass”. (okay, I can’t swear that’s what he said) But, seriously, as Alonzo the Armless, he threatened his co-star Joan Crawford with bodily harm if she did not bend to his will. Remember Grandma Klump from Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor(1996)? “You might walk over, but you limpin’ back! “Chaney totally went there. Check it out:
Let’s talk about the level of twisted in this movie:
A word of advice, if you’ve got a thing about someone that’s all-consuming and you’d do anything to get with that person, forget about it!
Plot: This crazy man, Alonzo the Armless (Lon Chaney) has a knife-throwing act using only his feet and is in love with Nanon (Joan Crawford) who”can’t bear to be touched.” He has arms but pretends not to for his circus act and so Nanon will talk to him. When it’s discovered that he indeed has arms, he blackmails a low-rent surgeon to amputate them. Sick!
Nanon and Alonzo
After his surgery, Alonzo returns to the circus and his knife throwing act. Hoping to rekindle his relationship, he strolls over to Nanon’s circus wagon to see his rival Malabar, the circus strongman, (Norman Kerry) with his hands all over his love. Holy crap, it’s on! Alonzo schemes to get his girl back by rigging the speed of Malabar’s horses in his act which will dislocate and sever his arms during the live circus performance.
Alonzo’s sick plan is working until Nanon realizes what is happening and tries to stop the performance. And then boom! The”crack of your ass” line. As you saw in the clip, things didn’t really work out the way he saw it play out in his mind.
This documentary, The Many Faces of Lon Cheney, is a great biography for more in-depth background information and presents a great opportunity to discover your own Lon Chaney gem.
Lon Chaney is also the father of Lon Chaney, Jr who was best known for his role in Universal’s “The Wolfman” (1941). The Wolfman is part of the original Universal Monster Franchise including “Dracula” (1931), and “Frankenstein” (1931).
Lon Jr always lived in his father’s shadow and in later years he battled throat cancer and chronic heart disease among other ailments after decades of heavy drinking and smoking. In his final horror film, Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971), directed by Al Adamson, he played Groton, Dr. Frankenstein’s mute henchman.
Chaney’s career in movies and television spanned four decades, from 1931 to 1971.
Make sure to add Lon Chaney, Sr. and Jr. films to your Halloween lineup. Classics!