{Cover Reveal/Feature} Alyson Faye Discusses The Real Lost Horror Film Behind The Story Of Silent Scream

The Real Lost Horror Film behind the story of Silent Scream

by Alyson Faye

Silent Scream, my latest horror novella, published by indie press, Black Angel, has been knocking around in the back of my head for a few years before I finally locked it down on paper during the real-life unprecedented lockdown of 2020.

A lost silent horror film from 1928. An inheritance tainted with madness and death. A long-dead film actress whose diary speaks from the grave of evil, corruption and debauchery. A missing film actor whose stardust life unravelled into grotesquerie.

Can a one-hundred-year-old film destroy lives today? How far will Ivy have to go to find the truth? And who will she have to lose along the way?

Midnight’s Terror is coming to a cinema near you – soon. Beware.

You can buy Silent Scream from Amazon UK & Amazon US

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a huge movie buff. Some of my earliest, happiest memories are of glossy MGM musicals and dark shadowy film noirs. I embraced all genres and gobbled them up, and when there was a chance to view a silent film either on TV or at an Arts Centre, (this was the 1980s and 1990s so very much pre-internet and DVD), I grabbed it.

Two stars and contrasting genres stood out from the silent period, (we’re talking before 1928ish) – Douglas Fairbanks swinging on ropes in The Thief of Baghdad (1924) and Lon Chaney, as the titular Phantom of the Opera, in the 1925 film, being unmasked by the heroine, his love obsession and revealing his hideously deformed face to her and to us, the cinema audience – a moment which still shocks. (see photo below). Chaney did his own make-up too and used often painful prosthetics to distort his face, mouth, and eyes.

Lon Chaney (1883 -1930), dubbed ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces, transformed himself into Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, (the first-ever million-dollar picture), Fagin in Oliver Twist, the armless knife thrower in The Unknown, The Blackbird, and Tito in Laugh, Clown Laugh.

I wanted to write a story that blended my love of horror stories, and of old movies. So the gears began to whirr.

I dug into my extensive film book library, barely contained on floor to ceiling shelves which are by now probably holding up the walls. I found, at the dusty rear, a tome which included interviews with a bunch of silent female stars, including three who had co-starred with Chaney. His co-star, Leatrice Joy, interviewed in Drew’s fascinating Speaking of Silents said of Chaney, ‘It was very enjoyable to act with Lon. That’s when I first heard that expression, “Don’t step on it, it may be Lon Chaney . . .” His face was just like rubber… he could change, just like a chameleon . . .’

I recalled I’d read of an (in)famous Chaney horror silent which was long lost and much sought after. I went digging.

The film turned up on a list from 1980 of the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Most Wanted lost films:- along with Theda Bara (the original Vamp as Cleopatra, (1917); von Stroheim’s unedited Greed; (1923), Disney’s Little Red Riding Hood, (1922), Edison’s one-reel version of Frankenstein, (1910), and even a lost Greta Garbo from 1927, The Divine Woman.

However, one film was described as ‘the holy grail’ for film collectors :- Lon Chaney’s 1927 silent mystery ‘London After Midnight’, lost in a fire in an MGM film vault in 1967. Directed by Tod Browning (most famous today for directing the original 1931 Dracula), it was actually the forerunner of that vampire movie and it was released just two months after the first talkie, The Jazz Singer.

There have been many hoaxes over the years claiming film reels have been discovered of the film, oral histories from folk purporting to have seen it decades ago, and even of partial copies existing in South America in wealthy film collectors’ vaults. No reels, to date, have turned up.

I had my touchstone now, the heart of my story – a lost silent film so terrifying that anyone who watched it was driven mad, or killed themselves or even worse – maybe the film itself contained the seeds of evil? Could watching it spread the depravity like a contagion?

I named my fictional film – Midnight’s Terror; and I set the narrative in two time periods -1928, in Britain, during the dying days of silent film making on the cusp of the talkies, and in the present day, with a brief horrific foray, contained on the first page, to the 1970’s.

English language theatrical release poster. A direct copy of this poster was also printed in Spanish.

London After Midnight (aka titled The Hypnotist) has left only a set of production photo stills (as a visual record) and an original script.

Here is Lon Chaney in character as ‘The Man in the Beaver Hat’ in London After Midnight.
From the surviving production stills and the story description, it is surmised Chaney played the first-ever movie vampire albeit possibly a fake one. But note the ‘wings’, eyes and talons.

Trivia :-

Director Jennifer Kent has stated that images of Lon Chaney’s character from London After Midnight inspired the look of the titular character in her film The Babadook. See the poster below.

There was another aspect to writing Silent Scream which was a first for me, especially in this extended form.

I’ve long been an admirer of Sarah Rayne’s superb horror thrillers, (I’ve read them all) where she traverses two or even three time periods, intertwining multiple plot threads and characters, dead and alive, using letters, diaries, and often pieces of sheet music, to allow the characters to speak and tell their disturbing and macabre stories.

I wanted to write a tale where I utilised more fully than I’d ever done before this ‘epistolary’ format. And I wanted to explore writing in the different ‘voices’ of these deceased characters. So I wrote diary extracts, and letters penned by the film’s fictional British leading lady, Mae Miller. (I borrowed and tweaked the name of the famous silent film star, Mae Murray, and combined it with Chaney’s Hunchback co-star, Patsy Ruth Miller), along with extracts from the producer’s autobiography, family scrapbooks and photo albums, and newspaper clippings.

This is the trail of historical breadcrumbs which my two current-day female protagonists, Ivy (who inherits Midnight’s Terror) and Louisa (a great-niece of the leading lady) follow as they try to decode and understand the mystery behind the legendary ‘cursed film. They also are trying to discover the fate of the film’s missing male star, Johnny B. Their quest for answers takes them to the seaside town of Cromer, in Norfolk (the county where I was born).

My 1920’s fictional film hero, Johnny B., is a combination of Fairbanks (his dash and daring), Valentino (his sex appeal and filmic lovemaking) and Ramon Novarro, 1926’s Ben-Hur, (his dark looks and smile). So Johnny is damn near perfect by the standards of 1928!

Dark-haired, saturnine, suave, sexy as hell, masculine and, in my story, doomed by forces he cannot comprehend or beat. His tragic fall from fame and the revelation of his final days are both tragic and horrific. But were great fun to write, which sounds awful since you wouldn’t wish his fate on your worst enemy.

My fictional matinee idol, Johnny B, was inspired by the real-life, Ramon Novarro. Like my character, Novarro’s life ended in tragedy. He was murdered in 1968 and this was at the back of my mind when I was writing.

He too had been a golden star of the silent era, with wealth, fans and one of the most famous faces in the western world. Just like Johnny B.

I loved writing this novella. I don’t write long very often, as I usually write flash fiction, poetry and short stories. So it is a tribute to my passion and enthusiasm for the idea that I reached 18K words! This is my homage to the silent movie era, as well as, I hope, a thumping good read with spookiness and thrills galore.

Extra Notes

In 2002, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) commissioned restoration producer/expert Rick Schmidlin to produce a 45-minute reconstruction of the famous sought-after lost film, using stills photographs and a surviving original script. A year later,this reconstruction was included “The Lon Chaney Collection” DVD set.

Urban myth or true story? : –

It has been said that the look created by Lon Chaney as the vampire-like character, unhinged the mind of a young male cinema-goer, to the extent that he murdered his girlfriend not long after having seen the film. The killer used Lon Chaney’s make-up as his main line of defence during his trial but the court judge didn’t believe him.

Tod Browning remade the film as a sound film in 1935. Chaney had died in 1930. This film, called Mark of the Vampire starred Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi, in the dual roles Lon Chaney had performed in London After Midnight.

The Poster

In 2014, the only contemporary poster known to exist for the film was sold in Dallas, to an anonymous bidder for $478,000, making it the most valuable movie poster ever sold at public auction.

Further Reading and Resources.

Lost Films: Important Movies that Disappeared by Frank Thomson (1996)

Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the Screen by William M Drew – 1989

The Hypnotist (1927) – IMDB

Mark Gatiss BBC4 Documentry – The Man of a Thousand Faces

Six Of The Great ‘Lost’ Movies

BFI Most Wanted

The Boy with a Thousand Faces by Brian Selznick (inspired by Lon Chaney- this is a children’s graphic novel by the author of Hugo Cabret).

A Thousand Faces: Lon Chaney’s Unique Artistry in Motion Pictures by Michael F Blake

London After Midnight : A New Reconstruction based on contemporary sources by Thomas Mann (2016) on Amazon

Wikipedia – London After Midnight

Now considered a lost film, surviving production stills, a Photoplay Edition novel, scripts, and other memorabilia give some feel for the actual film. Author Thomas Mann offers a fascinating reconstruction based on his transcription of a rediscovered 11,000-word fictionalization first published in Boy’s Cinema (1928).

Silent Scream

A lost silent horror film from 1928. An inheritance tainted with madness and death. A long-dead film actress whose diary speaks from the grave of evil, corruption and debauchery. A missing film actor whose stardust life unravelled into grotesquerie.

Can a one-hundred-year-old film destroy lives today? How far will Ivy have to go to find the truth? And who will she have to lose along the way?

Midnight’s Terror is coming to a cinema near you – soon. Beware.

You can buy Silent Scream from Amazon UK & Amazon US

Alyson Faye

Alyson lives in West Yorkshire, UK with her husband, teen son and four rescue animals. Her fiction has been published widely in print anthologies – DeadCades, Women in Horror Annual 2, Trembling with Fear 1 &2, Coffin Bell Journal 1, Stories from Stone, Ellipsis, Rejected ed. Erin Crocker) and in many ezines, but most often on the Horror Tree site, in Siren’s Call and The Casket of Fictional Delights.

Demain published her 1940’s set noir crime novella, Maggie of my Heart in 2019. (Her homage to film noir).

Currently she has stories in the Strange Girls anthology (ed. Azzurra Nox), Burning Love from Things in the Well, and in two Gypsum Sound Tales anthologies:- Amongst Friends and Colp: Black and Grey.

The NHS charity anthology, Diabolica Britannica, which is at the top of the Amazon bestseller horror charts contains a story by Alyson, set in Ilkley. She has a dark poem in the upcoming poetry anthology, Air, from Tyche Books.

Her work has been read on BBC Radio, local radio, on several podcasts (e.g. Ladies of Horror), posted on YouTube and placed in competitions.

More information about Black Angel Press will be announced shortly.

Her blog is at www.alysonfayewordpress.com

Twitter:- @AlysonFaye2

Her publications are listed on her Amazon author’s page: HERE

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