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Waxworks | Paul Leni’s 1924 anthology masterpiece gets a stunning restoration

Hot on the heels of Eureka Entertainment’s 4k Blu-ray release of Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs comes the German director’s seminal 1924 anthology, Waxworks, presented in a new 2K restoration print on Blu-ray as a part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

This was Leni’s final directorial effort in Germany before he moved to Hollywood where he would helm not only The Man Who Laughs​ in 1928 but also ​The Cat and the Canary, The Chinese Parrot and ​The Last Warning before his premature death, aged just 44, in 1929.

Waxworks is expressionism in its purest form, featuring highly-stylised sets (all designed by Leni), chiaroscuro lighting, and stunning, early performances from future legends: William Dieterle, Emil Jannings and Conrad Veidt.

Leni’s silent (Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) centres on a writer (Dieterle) who is hired by the owner of an amusement park wax museum (John Gottowt) to pen some backstories of his key exhibits: Caliph Harun al-Rashid (Jannings), Ivan the Terrible (Veidt), and Jack the Ripper/Spring Heeled Jack (Wener Krauss). Adventure, history and horror then unfold, with the writer and the museum owner’s daughter (Olga Belajeff) also becoming characters within each ‘startling’ tale.

As there is no surviving original negative of the German print of ​Waxworks​, this newly-restored presentation is composed of the 1926 British print from the BFI and additional film materials (all scanned in 4K and restored in 2K). It’s amazing how much effort has gone into this 2019 restoration, and the end result is truly stunning.

There are also two soundtrack options: a traditional silent movie piano score by composer Richard Siedhoff, or an avant-garde instrumental one by the Ensemble Musikfabrik (which is the one I prefer, check it out in the trailer below).

Amongst Eureka’s special features is Leni’s short films Rebus-Film Nr. 1 (1925-1926). These were animated crossword puzzles originally shown in German cinemas before the main feature. The one presented here comes with English translations, so you can try them out yourself.


  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a new 2K restoration, with stereo and 5.1 surround sound options
  • Audio commentary with film critic Adrian Martin (this scholarly presentation is a perfect primer for students studying Weimar cinema)
  • Paul Leni’s Rebus-Film Nr. 1
  • In search of the original version of Paul Leni’s ​‘Das Wachsfigurenkabinett’​ – An informative interview with Julia Wallmüller (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna 2020), who looks at the film’s production and restoration
  • Kim Newman on Waxworks: The film critic and fiction writer explores the legacy of Waxworks within cinema history
  • Booklet featuring new essays, notes on the restoration process, production photographs and promotional material

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) | Charles Laughton gives Lon Chaney a run for his money as the eye-rolling human gargoyle

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

‘I’m not a man. I’m not a beast. I’m as shapeless as the man in the moon’
In 1482 Paris, as deformed hunchback Quasimodo (Charles Laughton) is crowned during the city’s annual Feast of Fools celebration, gypsy girl Esmeralda (Maureen O’Hara) is on a quest to petition King Louis XI (Harry Davenport) to give her people freedom to enter the city. Making her way to Notre Dame cathedral, she encounters and falls for the vain Captain Phoebus (Alan Marshal), while also capturing the eye of Quasimodo’s protector, Jehan Frollo (Cedric Hardwicke), the King’s Chief Justice.

Sent to stay in the cathedral’s belfry while the King considers her request, Esmeralda is frightened by Quasimodo’s horrific appearance and runs away. Quasimodo then hunts her down on Frollo’s orders, but is captured by Phoebus. While witnessing this, street poet Pierre Gringoire (Edmond O’Brien) stumbles into the Court of Miracles, a ghetto that’s home to a criminal underworld headed by Clopin (Thomas Mitchell), and is sentenced to hang, only for Esmeralda to save his life by marrying him.

The next day, Quasimodo is publicly flogged and, dying of thirst, is given some water by the remorseful Esmeralda as Frollo looks on. Bewitched by the gypsy girl, Frollo kills Phoebus in order that she be charged with the murder. Tortured and sentenced to hang, Esmeralda believes her days are numbered, only for the courageous Quasimodo to carry her off to the cathedral under the law of sanctuary. With time at the essence, Pierre petitions the King for a pardon using the new printing press as his tool, while Clopin rallies the outcasts of Paris to charge the cathedral and rescue Esmeralda. Mistakenly thinking the mob mean Esmeralda harm, Quasimodo takes drastic action to protect her…

Hunchback of Notre Dame 1939_1

‘We extract pleasure from horror’
For many Lon Chaney’s 1923 screen incarnation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame remains ‘the ultimate triumph of horror-spectacle’ (1), and he certainly earned his place in movie history with his tour de force acting and incredible make-up. But the definitive screen Quasimodo surely belongs to Charles Laughton: ‘a frog-hopping, tongue-lolling, eye-rolling gargoyle, yet human enough to break your heart’ (2) in this second screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel.

It’s a perfect description, and Laughton, who also made Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn with co-star Maureen O’Hara in 1939, successfully projects a great deal of humanity behind the sinister makeup, which he described as: ‘horrible, simply horrible. I looked vicious enough to make anyone scream. You have never seen anything as hideous’. But alongside Laughton’s performance, director William Dieterle’s epic has a lot going for it: incredible sets [and some of the costliest ever at the time], inventive camerawork [especially in the bustling Brueghel-like crowd scenes featuring some 3500 extras] and vibrant direction.

At its heart, the film is a romantic adventure, but there are some scenes which are as chilling as anything seen in Universal’s classic horrors of the day: like when Pierre encounters a group of gaunt, deformed beggars crawling out of the darkness; or when the crowd screams with blood lust as Quasimodo is flayed and turned on the pillory. But the most shocking is a scene in which Frollo fails to come to the aid of his ‘adopted son’ when he needs him most, making him the real monster in this tale.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

The film’s biggest strength is Bruno Frank’s screenplay, which not only interweaves Hugo’s love story with court, state and church intrigue, but also underlines everything with his humanist ideals, which only makes this screen adaptation all the more interesting to watch out for its subtexts: Quasimodo suffers a trial that is equal to Christ’s Passion, while Esmeralda can be seen a Mary Magdalene/Saint Veronica-styled figure, especially in the crucial scene in which she brings water to Quasimodo on the pillory. Meanwhile, the plight of gypsies echoes the struggles of the Israelites in the Book of Exodus as well as those of the Jews under the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

The screenplay also makes a star out of the printing press. Described as a ‘horrifying miracle’ by Frollo, who embodies the dark ages, a time when the spirit of man was crushed by superstition and prejudice, the creation of the printing press (in 1450) is one of the most influential events in human history, ushering in a new age of enlightenment which gave voice to new ideas, especially Martin Luther’s protestant reforms and those humanist ideals that play out beneath the surface of this very Hollywood production.

But the final word goes to Laughton’s hunchback: ‘Why was I not made of stone, like thee?’ Thank god you aren’t Quasi, because you are bursting with human kindness. If only there were more like you in this world.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

The OEG UK DVD release includes a fine, though unrestored print of the film, and includes two video extras in which film critic James Olivier discusses both the film and the history of RKO pictures.

The real-life deformed actor Rondo Hatton appears in the King of Fools segment?


(1) The Movie Treasury of Horror Movies, Alan G Frank, 1974, Octopus
(2) A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, Dennis Gifford, 1973, Hamlyn
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